Captured ring rattle

Update: - Have updated where I talk about regulation, unfortunately the choice of wood here is unsuitable for children Ever since I made a captured ring bottle stopper last year. I have been thinking about making another project with captured rings.

At the time I made the bottle stopper I made the captured ring using just a basic skew chisel and spindle gouge. And then I made a tool of my own to try to make it easier in the future. I took a long masonry nail and used the bench grinder to shape the head into a hook type shape.

hook ground into a masonary nail
hook ground into a masonary nail

I knocked up a basic handle on the lath and presto, I had a captured ring tool.

ring tool
ring tool

And I set to work having a go with it. Where I totally failed to make a captured ring. I made two attempts, and both times I had a catch which completely snapped the ring shape. So I gave up in disgust.

Until a couple of weeks ago.

The desire to try again with captured rings came when I saw my niece, who is fast approaching one year old. It occurred to me that I could attempt to make a baby's rattle on the lathe as a present. This would give me a reasonable challenge, but also a real use for the finished item, beyond just making something else for my increasingly crowded mantle piece.

I had recently purchased an interesting piece of wood with beautiful contrasting heart and sap wood, in a stick that would be about the right size for the rattle project.

Whilst on the subject of size. I shall point out now that this project turned out pretty big. Considering it's intended recipient is a tiny baby, the rattle is more like 'adult' size. There are a couple of reasons for this.

Firstly I'm not sure I'd be able to make captured rings much smaller than this without them being too fragile. Secondly when I was doing some research online I found an article about making a rattle which pointed to some regulations on making children's toys. Aside from the obvious use of a toy safe finish, it mentioned that if any part of the toy can be inserted into a 42mm diameter hole to a depth of 30mm then it is considered a choking hazard. So I made the ends of this big enough that I couldn't get it in my mouth, let a lone a babies mouth.

UPDATE: Unfortunately when I took this to my wood turning group, the experienced turners said their best guess is that the wood is laburnum. I had thought it couldn't be because it was a different colour to what I know of laburnum. However, apparently it darkens with age. Of course this means the wood is poisonous! I was also told that regardless there are European regulations that say children's toys must only be made from fruit woods. Apparently fruit woods don't splinter, so if bitten by an enthusiastic child there is no harm done. Despite all this it was an interesting exercise to make, and I will probably make another out of a fruit wood sometime soon.

Once I'd roughed my piece down to a cylinder I started out by marking out the basic sections of the rattle, base, handle, mid section, stem with 3 rings, and top. I spaced out the 3 rings to make sure I had as much room as possible on each side of each ring to cut under.

Having shaped the basic outside profile of the rings I began to cut away material to start cutting the underside of the centre ring. At this point, a lack of concentration led to a catch which snapped off a section of what would be the outside of the ring.

Oh bother!. I exclaimed.

Quickly the realisation was that I'd done just enough cutting that this effectively ruined the piece. These are not good moments in wood turning. It's somewhat frustrating to find that I still lack the ability to avoid nasty catches. And as it turns out this would not be the last on this project.

After some contemplation I found the section that had snapped off, and was pleased to note it was in a single piece. This good fortune meant that I decide to have a go at gluing it back on. Using a small clamp to hold it under pressure whilst the glue dried.

I then left it for about a week. Partly because I was busy, partly because I was a little apprehensive to continue working and risk another catch, that would be un-recoverable.

Eventually I returned to the garage and began work releasing the first ring. I was pleased to note that it was very hard to see where the glue line was even after a small amount of reshaping.


Having released the first ring ok I was feeling better about the process. I used my home made ring tool, and was very careful to go slow, and keep it under control. Light cuts to avoid a nasty catch. And it worked pretty well. In the end I made short work of releasing all three rings, and found the under side of each ring was pretty good. Not perfect, there was a small ridge on one where I didn't quite meet up cutting in from both sides. But over all I was happy with how they looked.

At that point I quit whilst I was ahead and went to think about exactly how I wanted to shape the main handle etc. I drew about 6 designs in my makers book, all had things I liked, but ultimately I picked a shape tapering from wide to narrow, rather than a centred curve, or straight profile.

Pretty much after the rings where released, the rest was easy. Shaping and then sanding and finishing. Except for that last little mistake... Literally making the last cut, too free the base of the handle, I managed to have a catch which sent my spindle gouge in a spiraling cut back up the previously finished curve of the handle-base. Leaving a deep gouged spiral. I really hate what I do this. I understand why it happens, but seem incapable of stopping my self make this basic mistake, and exactly the worst moment. :-(

However as experience has shown, it's normally possible to simply re-cut a profile, and refinish. And no one need ever know...

In fact it seems you can have fairly bad catches, stupid mistakes etc. And still recover the piece fairly well. that's not to say I don't still curse somewhat when I mess up, but having faith that it can be repaired can help.

The finished piece:


I really like how the colours of this wood work, particularly on the rings

Something I discovered was that due to the different density between the light wood and the dark wood. The rings naturally want to fall into grain alignment. No matter how you spin them, if you just gently rock them they will always spin back to being in line. Which is pretty neat.


I also quite like the little 'gashes' on the end, I believe where bark has effectively grown inside a fold of wood. These look like holes, but they are smooth to the surface.

Now unfortunately I can't give it to my niece, I shall have to make another from something like apple wood. This one will be relegated to being something to fiddle with on my desk at work.