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Copper Wire Inlayed English Elm Bowl — Woodturning Tutorial

Inlaying metals -- whether precious or otherwise -- into wood often gives the finished article a unique and personal look. In this video, woodturner Tony Barfoot shows us how to inlay copper wire in a turned wooden bowl.

The particular wood used is English elm, a hard and durable wood with interlocking grain which is often used for the seats in Windsor chairmaking, as well as the hubs for carriage and spoked wheels and even wooden pipes in London's underground!

The wire used is ordinary copper wiring, 0.5mm in diameter, used by electricians. Tony will also add a black line just underneath the copper wire to help accentuate it. This line will be made by burning the groove black with another piece of wire.

Tony starts by mounting the blank to the faceplate and then turning a foot for the bowl. Once that has been done he begins to turn and define the shape of the outside of the bowl with woodturning scrapers and gouges. When he's satisfied that he has the right profile, waxes the outside of the bowl to inhibit the superglue from seeping into the fibers of the wood, thus darkening it and making it look "blotchy". He then carefully cuts a groove with a parting chisel -- checking the groove for a nice tight fit.

The next step is to glue one end of the wire into the groove. As stated earlier Tony uses superglue for this, which he applies about half an inch back from the end so that it does not get in the way when he glues the other end down. Once the first end is glued, he uses the back of his knife to straighten out any kinks in the wire as he wraps it around the bowl. Once this is done, he begins to inlay the wire, applying the superglue as he goes. A couple of inches or so before reaching the end, Tony carefully measures and cuts the other end of the copper wire with a sharp knife, making sure the wire is as flush as possible. He then finishes inlaying the copper and waits for the glue to dry (which doesn't take long).

Tony then turns on the lathe and begins to sand the copper wiring flush with the bowl, moving down in sandpaper grades until he's satisfied with the result. He then cuts a smaller groove just under the copper wire for burning a black line in the wood. This is done by friction burning the groove with another piece of copper wire (and make sure you don't burn your fingers during this step).

Once the outside has been finished, Tony flips the bowl around and begins to hollow out the inside of the bowl with gouges and scrapers. Once this is done he cleans up the bowl -- inside and outside -- with sandpaper, again progressively moving through the grits.

The final step is applying the wax finish to the bowl.

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26 Responses to Copper Wire Inlayed English Elm Bowl — Woodturning Tutorial

  1. 187Guitarplayer on December 12, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    Hey, VolksWagen FTW! …nice work =)

  2. sakonhon on December 12, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    Beautiful work! Thanks for sharing.

    I would be interested to know just what finish it is that you use, and if the copper stays the bright colour or whether it oxidises. I would really like to use this technique on musical instruments that I am making if possible. Also, do you have a problem with the copper discolouring the wood?



  3. xBladePhoenix on December 12, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    wow that’s really quite gorgeous

  4. huandogofwar on December 12, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    @tonybarfoot so thats what that was for. i like the lazy way. thanks for sharing

  5. tonybarfoot on December 12, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    @huandogofwar Ideally, I would have remounted the bowl by the rin in “Cole” jaws which would then let me turn the mount of the bottom and refinish the bottom. The climbing clip is called a “carabina” here.

  6. tonybarfoot on December 12, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    @huandogofwar Thanks, By scratching the base, do you mean inside the chuck mount? When you put the base of the bowl in the chuck and tighten it, it grips well enough so that it wont slip and doesn’t scratch. The way i did this (the lazy way) leaves the chuck mount on the bottom of the bowl (the small recess i put in the bottom near the start)

  7. huandogofwar on December 12, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    very nice job. how did you avoid scratching the base when you did the inside?
    by the way we have identical keys down the undersize rope climbing thing (english is not my first language)..great minds think alike i guess

  8. tonybarfoot on December 12, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    Thanks for all the positive comments, I have another tutorial planned, but renovating the house is getting in the way at the moment. I get the copper wide from stripping it out of normal electrical cable.

  9. glasses1ie on December 12, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    Good job Tony, thanks for sharing the idea

  10. TeenWoodworker on December 12, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    Really great look and it looks simple enough, one question, where do you get the copper wire. Thanks

  11. hvolboll on December 12, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    I like the wire treatment great looking bowl thanks.

  12. Aaron751 on December 12, 2010 at 10:33 pm

    I watched completely fascinated Thanks!

  13. moparnut19 on December 12, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    nice idea with the wire… It adds a real nice look.. well i off to the basement to try it in something now..

  14. MrPukashell on December 12, 2010 at 11:35 pm

    Very nice. Great job on the video, will have to give this one a try. Thanks for sharing.


  15. watch4david on December 13, 2010 at 12:27 am

    Nice job. I learned something today, Thanks

  16. WillInquire on December 13, 2010 at 1:03 am

    Very, very nicely done! Quite good to see all th enew ideas I’m finding here, especially ones like this bowl! Thanks for taking the time to make it, mate!

  17. Heptode on December 13, 2010 at 1:09 am

    What;s really nice about these videos is that they are well shot. Not overproduced; but well shot, illustrating the salient points very effectively.

  18. tpgallup on December 13, 2010 at 1:23 am

    Wow – Thanks for a great suggestion! Cant wait to try it.

  19. palmer3977 on December 13, 2010 at 2:17 am

    OMG what a fantastic looking bowl the copper really lightens the piece awesome

  20. JudeErin on December 13, 2010 at 3:04 am

    Lovely project. I have a few elm blanks about that size and now know what to do with them! Did you use ordinary beeswax?

  21. tonybarfoot on December 13, 2010 at 3:31 am

    Hi, the wire is just stripped from some electrical cable. You just need to find some with the diameter you want for your project. I’d be interested to see the result if you do try this.

  22. 285Buckhorn on December 13, 2010 at 4:18 am

    Can’t wait to try this myself. What type of wire did you use? Thanks for posting a helpful video.

  23. Sawhack007 on December 13, 2010 at 5:12 am

    Well done, and looks easy enough, thanks for showing us this. All I needed was some popcorn and I would have been set for more…..

  24. tonybarfoot on December 13, 2010 at 5:32 am

    Hi, I guess that I didn’t really eliminate it, I just cut the wire precisely and cleanly so that it butted up tidily. when you send it the join is surprisingly hard to see.

  25. abike101 on December 13, 2010 at 5:43 am

    How do you eliminate the seam showing where the copper wire ends meet?

  26. Leland Stone on April 22, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    The wood you’ve started with is lovely, and the finished product is delightful; Thanks for the tutorial AND the inspiration! Your combining the two materials isn’t something that would have occurred to me, but now I’m planning possibilities for my own turnings.


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