Turning Christmas Ornaments

Below are the instructions I came up with for turning Christmas ornaments. These are the type with the globe and finial.

Definitely not an item for beginners, but these are nice objects to turn and when you get it right they can be quite beautiful.

You’ll need the following items:

  • Lathe
  • Chisels
  • Band saw (optional)
  • 4 jaw chuck
  • Calipers
  • Sand paper (1oo, 220, 320, 420, 600)
  • Friction polish
  • 1/16th drill bit (depends on the size of your hook)
  • Epoxy or CA glue

1. Start with picking out 2 pieces of wood. A 3x3x3 for the ball and a 2x2x6 for the cap and finial. You can use a 2x2x8, as well, if you want it larger.
2. On the cube, find the center on both ends, then use the band saw to cut the corners off – this will save your chisels, believe me.
3. Use the spur center head stock with a live center on your lathe. Place with the grain of the wood. Tighten up the tail stock.
4. Round off the cube. Take off as little as possible to make it round. I use my roughing gouge for this.
5. Get the large 4 jaw chuck and close it most of the way. Leave it open enough that it can grip a tenon.
6. Use the calipers and measure the chuck opening. This will be the size of your tenon.
7. Use the parting tool and do 2 tool widths to get down to the caliper measurement so it will fit in the chuck. You are building the tenon. 2 tool widths is a good measurement to go by. You can make it larger if you’d like, but not much more. You want to give the chuck enough wood to grip.
8. Flip the wood over and put the chuck in the headstock. Place the tenon in the chuck and tighten.
9. Next you’ll be drilling out the center of the wood. Drop the RPM speed of the lathe considerably, or you can burn the wood (or your drill bit!)
10. Use a long ¾ bit and place it in the tailstock. Slowly drill all the way thru the wood, ensuring you back it out every few turns to get the shavings out. (Side note, I’ve seen people get their bit so stuck in the wood that it took 3 people to get it out. Constantly back the shavings out, I’m serious!)
11. Increase the lathe speed again.
12. Place the live center in the tail stock and tighten
13. Mark the halfway point in the wood and using the 3/8 spindle gouge and carve the right half of the wood into a rough ball-ish shape.
14. At this point you’ll need a rough jig. You’ll use this because you need to get close on both ends of your ball, but your chuck gets in the way. You can easily make one with a spare piece of wood. Turn it round, turn a tenon onto one end and place it in the chuck. On the other end, create a tenon that is 1/4 inch round and an inch or so long. This you can mount into the hole in your ball. This will make sense with the picture below.
15. Put the live center in the tail and tighten.
16. Carve the rest of the shape. Use the skew chisel to try to work out any tool marks. Mine here is only ball-like. The rounder you get it, the better it will look for your decoration. It’s all in whatever look you are going for.
17. Sand from 100 to 600 grits, making sure to get the ends. If you need to, turn off the lathe and sand lengthwise. I sometimes do this anyway, especially at the lower grits, as it helps remove any scratch marks.
18. Finish off the wood using Hutt or some other kind of friction polish
19. Remove and place off to the side.
20. Sorry, I forgot to take pictures of much of the rest of this.
21. Cut 2 inches off the longer piece of wood. This will be your cap.
22. Find and mark the center of both ends. Place on the lathe using the spur center head stock and the live center tail stock
22. Round off the wood.
23. Create the tenon with the parting tool (as above). Mesure the hole in  your globe with the calipers very carefully. The tenon you are creating here will fit snugly into that hole. Very carefully take off wood and check the diameter to make sure it’s a snug fit to the top of the ornament.
24. Once you have the fit, undercut the bottom to make it a snug fit with no gaps to the top. You’ll want to stop and check this continuously. What you’re looking for is that this will be the bottom of the cap and must fit perfectly with no seams into the top of your globe.
25. Carve the bottom of the piece, shaping to your liking.
26. Flip over and place the tenon in the chuck, using the live center in your tailstock.
27. Create another tiny ball as your cap piece and part the top from the tailstock.
28. How you carve this is really up to you. Artist’s choice. Here’s a couple examples of what it could look like
29. Sand and finish. (100 to 600 grit, Hutt polish)
30. Using a 1/16 drill bit in the tail stock, drill thru the top of the cap. This will be where your hook goes.
31. For the finial, place the larger piece of wood in the lathe, using the spur center and live center.
32. Round off the wood.
33. Measure carefully, create a 1-2 width tenon with the parting tool to get a snug fit with the bottom of the ornament. Similar for what we did with the cap. You’ll want to cut very carefully as there’s no backsies with these. This usually takes me a bit to get right.
34. Once the fit is attained, undercut as necessary to ensure a good fit.
35. Flip the wood over and place the tenon in the 4 jaw chuck.
36. Carve the finial (or “icicle”) to whatever shape you like, tapering the end.
37. Sand and finish off the icicle. (100 to 600 grit, Hutt polish)
38. Remove and ensure good fit on the ornament with both the cap and the icicle.
39. Glue the pieces together with a 5 minute epoxy or a Medium CA glue.
40. Gently place in the vice lengthwise until it dries.
41. Place screw eye in the hole.

This is a project where you can really get your artist on. No 2 that I’ve made look remotely the same!


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