I had a go at making some finger rings out of scrapwood and was stunned with the high quality results. It really is an easy task to turn scrap into objects of beauty and value using only very simple tools.
Wooden rings have never been popular in the past because of the weakness across the grain. However since superglue became popular, bentwood rings have become a possibility and they are many many times stronger than turned wood rings. In fact, a bentwood ring can last decades, if not longer.
A turned wooden ring (above left) is weaker where the grain crosses the ring whereas a bentwood ring (above right) is equally strong all the way round.
The technique is simply to take a shaving from a strip of wood with a plane and glue it into a ring shape. Then a bit of sanding and polishing is all you need to finish things off.
Shaving Pallet Wood
Starting with the wood, an old pallet is an excellent shape. You just need to shave a strip from the long narrow edge and you will have a long curl of thin wood to work with. As a plane I use a Rali hand planer which is small, cheap and really perfect for this task. It comes with spare blades so pop in a fresh one and run it along the wood. A length of about 50 cm is more than enough for one ring. You want a nice thin shaving. If your shavings are too thick you will have problems later on.
If you want to use a specific wood, then get a sheet of wood veneer and cut it into strips about twice the width of a standard finger ring. After a few tries with shaving strips off a pallet you may well drop this and only bother with bought veneers as it allows you to work with beautiful wood textures.
Make your veneer strip pliable
Put the strip in very hot water for 5 minutes to make it flexible. If you find the wood splits when you bend it, simply steep it for longer. I often leave mine overnight for a soaking if I have a particularly brittle wood.
Get a bit of sandpaper (around 200 grit is fine) and thin down one end to paper thin. This is the end you are going to start wrapping and will become the inside of the ring. It is important to ensure this end is well sanded as otherwise there will be a lump in the inside which will annoy you as you will have to spend way too much time getting rid of it later.
Wrap your strip
Now you need to wrap it round something of the correct diameter. I have big fingers so a wine cork is the perfect size for me to make a ring for myself. Smaller diameter dowel is easy to find and you can easily adjust the size down with sandpaper or up with a few turns of masking tape. Many people find that an old socket set has plenty of good site sockets to wrap around.
To finish preparation I wrap my dowel, cork or socket with a bit of cling film or wax paper to stop the ring getting glued to it.
I tape the end with masking tape and let it dry overnight. As it does so the wood takes on the curled shape and this will make the next part much easier to do.
Gluing up your ring
So, to make the ring you just need to slap some glue along the planed strip and tightly wind it around your dowel again. Make sure to keep it even and tight as you go and when you get to the end, secure tightly with a bit of masking tape. The whole process only takes a couple of minutes so you can do lots very quickly.
There are a number of websites where they recommend using superglue. It is very effective but it is expensive and fiddly and there is always the risk of gluing your fingers together. You may wish save yourself the effort and stick with easier cheaper and slower drying glues for your first attempts. If you do use superglue, then go for the medium consistency. There is a thick superglue that pours like honey. I tried it and didn’t like using it at all for wooden rings.
Leave the rings to dry for at least 24 hours before removing the masking tape and taking the rings off the dowel.
Cut down to the width you require with a penknife or hacksaw. If you do put the ring in a vice, make sure to pad it well to avoid harming the ring.
Shaping and finishing a bentwood ring
Now you can begin shaping your rings with ever finer grades of sandpaper until you have the finish you desire. I work through 80 grit, 120, 200 and 400 grit papers. One important piece of advice is that you really should check that the ring is of an even width all the way round. The thickness is not too much of a problem, but an uneven width stands out.
Different pallets are made from a wide variety of woods so try a few pieces and if you find a wood that gives particularly beautiful results, mark up the pallet so you don’t forget.
You can leave the outer surface flat or apply a curve. A combination of penknife and sandpaper is all I use to shape my rings, but you could work on a mini lathe or against a sanding disk.
A couple of coats of varnish (re-sanding with a very fine grit wet and dry paper between coats) will seal the ring. If you were using superglue then you could skip the varnish and just wipe on a few coats of more superglue which also gives a decent shiny surface.
Alternatively a wax polish is good if you want to retain the look of fresh wood.