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Salt Cellar Project

posted by Matt Pierce on May 18, 2011

My latest DIY for Design*Sponge just went live, so I wanted to share with you here as well. I was hesitant to embrace their May theme of flowers, but after some thought, I started thinking... What would I make my Mom for Mother’s Day in a kind of “middle-school shop class” style?

I’ve had some interesting apothecary-type glass bottles laying around from an impulse purchase at American Science and Surplus, and some rough Walnut stashed in the shop. What if I use them both to make a small flower vessel centerpiece? Maybe I add a little salt cellar to it as well? This project goes much easier if you have the right tools, but could be accomplished with lesser machinery with some modifications.

From my rough of Walnut, I cut a piece off and started some rough sanding on the belt sander. You can use a palm sander, but it’s certainly going to take longer. I started out in a conventional shape, but decided to experiment with some facets and angles... just free-form sanding, but making sure my surfaces are all flat. You have lots of ways to experiment here - all square edges, angles, facets, live edges, bark edges... you can pretty much try anything. Rough sand with a heavy grit (60-80) to get the general shape you want.

From there, I mounted the block on the lathe to cut a cellar out of it. I know lathes aren’t readily available in most homes, but you can carve this with hand tools, or even just drill out a surface. Maybe drill out a surface for a ceramic salt cellar to be placed in it? If you’re turning on the lathe, make sure you do it a the slowest possible speed. Since the carving is not centered, it’s going to wobble for sure. Once having the cellar shape cut and sanded on the lathe, I used my drill press and a forstner bit to cut the vessel holes. Measure your vessel and cut a hole just slightly larger. Decide how deep or high you want them sitting... and you could even angle them in for an interesting look. Please be careful if you’re using a hand-held drill and a forstner bit... they usually get unwieldy very quickly.

After all my cuts and holes have been made, It’s time for finish sanding. This is the part I always want to rush, and it pays to relax and go slow. The more sanding you do, the better your surface will feel. I used my orbital sander with grits from 120, 180, 260, and 320. By then, you’re getting wood incredibly smooth, and I further worked the surface with a hand sanding block and 400 grit ultra-fine paper. With that last pass, you’ve got VERY fine dust everywhere, so make sure you either blow it all off with compressed air, or use a tack cloth to clean the wood.

After sanding is complete, you can apply some finish. Since this will be touching something edible, make sure you pick a food-safe product. I have been using OSMO lately and I think it’s great. It’s low VOC and made from vegetable oils and waxes. Apply some OSMO thinly with a soft cloth and follow up with a clean cloth. Then just let it cure for 12 hours. Once cured, you can buff for a little more shine.

Last step - add your favorite finishing salt, and pick a small flower or twig from your yard to complete!