Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Turning a Pet Urn-discussion and plans

Hi Everyone,

Well, to begin again, I have a friend who lost a dear pet yesterday and I've offered to make her an urn for her cat's ashes. Yesterday's posting was directed primarily at her so she could see the wood I have available in the workshop. Today, let's talk about this in more detail.


Constructing a  wooden urn on a lathe is a common request directed at wood turners because the results are so lovely. Just Google "small turned wooden urns" and you'll see a lot of lovely work.

There are some technical considerations for constructing an urn and this discussion will be directed towards making a small sized urn for a pet. For larger urns, take a look at YouTube. There are a number of videos which can guide you in this activity.


Even though the design is important since that's the part that is visible, I think the primary consideration is volume. You need to produce a vessel that is capable of holding all of the ashes and so it's important to know the weight of the animal before it died. If this isn't possible then you and the animal's owner will have to make an educated guess. There is a handy calculator for this on the Mainlyurns website. Click here to see this. I'm going to estimate that the cat was 15 pounds so this gives me an estimated volume of 1 cup (US) so this will be a small vessel.

Were will the Urn will be located?

If this is destined for a mausoleum it's important to know what their requirements are, especially size requirements, for the urn. And remember, not all cemeteries will take a wooden urn so remind the person you're working with about this.

Closure of the Urn

Urns commonly either close at the top or bottom of the vessel and how you're going to achieve this is important. The urn needs to close securely so the contents can't come out if it's ever dropped. Wood turner  Brad Adams on the Wood Turning Online website developed an ingenious method for doing this using plastic ABS plumbing components for this. You can see his method for this here. You can either use plastic inserts as I am going to use or if you have the tools and the ability to cut threads in wood, use that method instead. Either way, I think it's ideal to be able to screw on the lid. It's secure and it can enables the urn to be re-opened should the owner ever want to access the ashes again.

Exterior Design

You will need a design that takes all of the above constraints and produce a lovely memorable piece. There are a lot of beautiful examples on line to consider. If you are an inexperienced turner, then by all means choose a simple design. The lines and details should be clean and crisp and it goes without saying that the finish should be perfect. I'm planning on using a wipe on polyurethane for this. Also the wood should be dried so the urn won't distort or crack. You can use a solid block of wood or laminated block. If you elect to turn a finial on the top, be sure that it's securely attached. I'm not a fan of long, elaborate finials as these can break if the urn is dropped so use your judgement. Remember, the urn has to last for  forever and a day.


Since this is going to be a small, complex vessel, I've downloaded Sketchup and I'm going to sit down and learn how to use it to draw up some simple plans with measurements for this. Beyond that I'm waiting to hear back from my friend as to what wood she would like it made out of so stay tuned. I'll return with that information as soon as I hear back.


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