Christmas Ornament - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Christmas Ornament

 In Projects, Questions And Answers, Techniques

Christmas Ornament

By Steve Blenk

Capture the fleeting beauty
of melting icicles by turning a hollow
ball and two small spindles into a beautiful
Christmas tree ornament.

This project requires a fair amount of
turning experience. If you’re patient,
however, you’ll find that making this
ornament is a good way to learn new
techniques. Shaping a delicate spindles
takes practice, but you can make
up the shape of the icicle as you go. If
you’ve never hollowed a vessel before,
this ball is an easy first project—the
inside doesn’t have to be smooth and
polished. The ball is hollow to reduce
its weight.

Choose a light-colored wood with
interesting grain for the ball. It should
be one solid piece, 2 1⁄2- to 3-in. square.
I like to make more than one ornament
at a time, so I use a rough blank
about 8-in. long in order to make two
balls. Make the cap and icicle from a
contrasting dark wood that takes fine
details. I like to use rosewood or ebony.
You’ll need a piece that’s 1-in. square
and 8-in. long.

You’ll need a scroll chuck, a Jacobs
chuck and a live center as well as a small
hollowing tool and tools for turning a
small spindle (see Sources, below).

Begin by mounting the stock for the
ball between centers and turning it
into a cylinder.

1. Turn a tenon to fit your chuck.Then
mount the cylinder in the chuck with the
shoulders firmly resting on the chuck’s jaws.

Click any image to view a larger version.

2. Shape the ball into a compressed sphere.Turn
the neck to a 1-in. diameter. Stop the lathe and
pull back the tailstock in order to clean up the
end of the ball. A good chuck will securely hold
the work without the support of the tailstock,
but make light cuts.

3. Bore the end of the ball with a 1⁄2-in. bit
mounted in a Jacobs chuck. Set the lathe at its
lowest speed. Put a piece of tape on the bit if you
need a depth stop.The hole must go completely
through the ball. Steady the bit with your hand to
dampen any severe vibration.

4. Scrape the interior of the ball with a small
hollowing tool, using light cuts. Frequently clear
out the waste with a shop vacuum or a blast of
compressed air.The purpose of hollowing the
ball, which can be rough inside, is to reduce its

5. Apply a padding finish to the ball as it spins
on the lathe.Then reduce the diameter of the
neck between the ball and cylinder down to
about 3⁄4-in.

6. Part off the ball with a skew chisel’s shearing cut. Ride
the bevel of the chisel on the work.The ball will fall off
into your hand when you reach the 1⁄2-in. hole.You can
use a parting tool instead, but then you’ll have more
sanding to do.

7. Reverse the ball and mount it on a
stub tenon that you’ve turned on the
cylinder. Support the other end of the
ball with a live center inserted into the
hole. Now you can clean up any marks
left by the skew chisel. Sand and finish
the rest of the ball.

8. Size a tenon on the cap
piece to fit the ball’s hole.
Undercut its shoulders,
too.The cap piece, as
shown here, is glued into a
shallow hole turned into
the face of a waste block.
Shape the cap, then part it
off the waste block.To
clean up the tip, reverse
the cap and push the tenon
into a new hole in the
waste block. Finish the cap
on the lathe, then remove
it and drill a small, shallow
hole for the hanging wire.

9. Support the spindle with one hand as you cut
icicle shapes. First turn a tenon at the tailstock
end to fit the lower hole in the ball. Undercut
the tenon’s shoulders so the icicle fits tight on
the rounded bottom of the ball (Fig.A).Then
turn the larger diameter cove, beads and fillets.
Move downhill towards the headstock to cut
the smallest diameters last. Apply a finish.

10. Drip cyanoacrylate (CA) glue into the ball while holding the
cap in place.This will firmly anchor the ball to the cap.To attach
the hanging wire (see Sources, below), place a drop of glue on
top of the hole and push in the wire. Apply glue to the icicle’s
tenon and place it in the bottom hole. Slow setting CA glue works
best for oily exotic woods such as rosewood and ebony.


(Note: Product availability and costs are subject to change since original publication date.)

Packard Woodworks Inc.,, 800-683-8876. One-Way Stronghold Chuck, #112610; Jacobs Chuck #2
Morse Taper #11102; Delta Live Center #2 Morse Taper, #1146-490; 45-Degree Hollowing Tool, #103381.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker December 1999, issue #77.

Fig. A: Ornament Cross-Section

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