Turning a Burial Urn

Turning Burial Urns

Whether turning a burial urn for a friend or to generate income from your woodturning, burial urns have unique characteristics.

These are not difficult to turn and can be sold for prices up to $600 and more.

Most woodturners can turn these as well as those offered commercially for very rich prices.

Add flutes and reeds and spiral flutes for even more appeal.

The new thread cutting tool, the Thread Champ, is an excellent way to make threaded tops. This is a new approach to mechanical thread cutting we think is superior to others on the market.

The rule of thumb for size is 1 cubic inch of volume for each pound of the weight of the deceased individual. The urn in the photo contains 92 fluid ounces, which are 166 cubic inches.

There are videos on-line about how to measure the volume of an urn, and they make it difficult (and I think often inaccurate). An easy way is to fill the finished urn with water and measure the number of ounces it holds. Convert ounces to cubic inches to find the exact number of cubic inches. One fluid ounce equals 1.80469 cubic inches.

Here is the method I used to turn the burial urn shown:

I used a seasoned piece of American Elm. The wood needs to be seasoned when following this process. A tenon is cut on each end, 3/8 inches long and 3 inches in diameter. These are used to mount in a four jaw chuck.

The final exterior shape is turned and sanded, ready for finish.

Using the Flute Master with a 1/8 inch pointed round-over bit, the reeds are cut as shown.

In the middle of the location for the inlay, the piece is parted. The lower part is chucked in the four jaw chuck for hollowing. My homemade steady-rest was used around the neck to provide stability.

When hollowing is complete, sand and apply several coats of Tung oil finish to the interior (3 to 5 coats as desired). Tung oil is water and alcohol resistant.

Mount the top portion of the turning in the four jaw chuck and hollow. Sand and apply multiple coats of Tung oil finish. Do not hollow through to the upper ½ inch, which is left to mount in the tailstock for the next step.

A male and female joint is turned in the top and bottom, and the two parts are glued together (I use Titebond III). I bring the top and bottom together while mounted in the lathe for a firm and true glue joint.

With the piece held in the four jaw chuck and a steady rest at the neck, the top ½ inch is hollowed

A mortise is cut centered over the glue joint to exactly fit a Mahogany and Holly inlay (from Matt Furjanic at www.inlaybanding.com).

The Thread Champ thread cutter was used to cut 1 x 8 tpi threads to mate the lid and urn. Matching threads are cut in the outside of the urn and in the inside the lid.

Time to apply coats of Tung oil finish for final effect.

This method can be accomplished by any turner.