Highland Woodworking
Turning the Corner: Seasonal Decorations
By Temple Blackwood

Click on any picture to see a larger version.

Turning the Corner focuses on using woodturning on the lathe as a way of enhancing cabinetry, furniture designs, and architectural installations. Each article also suggests an important woodworking book to read, reread or listen to, and a link to an appropriate article in The Highland Woodturner. Along the way, these articles seek to inspire woodworkers (cabinetmakers, carpenters, and housewrights) to extend their skills into basic, novice, and advanced woodturning while discovering for themselves this particularly sensual and spiritually rewarding dimension of working with wood.

With the approach of the holiday season, we have opportunities to develop decorative gifts that are both useful and pleasing. Borrowing the design concept from Rude Osolnik's well-known graduated candlesticks and applying it to the easily recognized seasonal snowman offers a similarly endless array of sizing (and thus positioning) opportunities for the creative decorator.

In the simplest form, designing from the middle form, an 8" tall by 2-3/4" diameter allows the turner to start by designing the proportions on paper to then create a story-stick from which to work at the lathe. Starting with the middle "man" will make it easier to scale up 1" and scale down 1" to create the typical trio – "dad," "mom," "child" – or even a larger family of snow people.

For many turners, finding a 3" X 3" blank is most easily done by visiting their own (or a neighbor's) firewood pile; cutting down a tree (with permission); visiting the sawmill; or stopping by the local municipal wood dump. The important thing is to find wood blanks that are highly figured in their grain. In this example I used some slightly spalted rock maple from a large branch of a tree in my own neck of the woods, wood that by its well-defined figure inspired the project and was consequently put in the "turning treasures" pile rather than the "firewood" pile.

After sawing the 3" X 3" blank and sizing it to the desired 7", 8", and 9" lengths; drill the holes in each end - a 3/4" or 7/8" hole in the top 1-1/4" deep for the butt of the tall candle.

Drill a 1-1/8" hole in the bottom about 1-1/4" deep for the melted lead load which will add stability.

Mount the blank on the lathe between centers.

With the top (the 7/8" hole end) toward the tailstock it reinforces the smart practice of working with the smaller, lighter part of the project away from the driving headstock.

With the driving spur center in the bottom hole, use the roughing gouge to round the block to the correct largest dimension of 2-3/4".

Apply the markings from the story-stick with a pencil.

Using several sets of adjustable calipers (always check because they frequently slip) and working from the right toward the left, dimension each of the details of the top-hat, hat-brim, and snowperson face in succession. The 3/8" beading and parting tool works well for this as well as beading into the face and marking the hatband Vee-grove.

The actual dimensions in both horizontal and diameter might vary as the turner becomes the designer making the shapes more individually pleasing. A well-sharpened skew chisel makes short work of smoothing and rolling the beads.

Finish turn each of the details as it is completed keeping a watchful eye on the overall design.

Stop the lathe to see how each detail interacts with the figured grain.

Once completed, check the work with the story stick, and make a plan to turn two or three more at this size to gain a sense of the process in preparation for re-scaling the figure to the taller and shorter sizes.

Sanding with 220 and then 320 paper and applying the finish is considerably easier while the work is still on the lathe.

The ready at-hand friction polish (1/3 shellac, 1/3 boiled linseed oil, 1/3 turpentine in a high-quality air-tight bottle) applied with the lathe running accentuates the rich figure in the grain that will make this snowperson uniquely attractive. Some turners might decide to later add more details with a wood-burner or simulated carrot-nose, but if the grain figure is pronounced, avoid over-decorating and thus distracting from the natural beauty.

Turning the second one of the same height should move along smoothly.

Part of the repetition is to practice making multiples of the same design.

Another part is to experiment with the order of cuts, tool choice, tool use, and design mastery.

The efficiencies develop with the skills.

Sometimes, since these are not necessarily intended to be exactly the same, the turner can discover ways to improve on the design, in this case a better profile for the middle (chest) bead.

In the end, the figures only need to be similar as they are viewed. The horizontal lines must be exactly lined up and the sphere diameters nearly but not as precisely the same. Once the bottom hole has been filled with melted lead, capped with a slice of dowel, and the sticky-back felt applied to the bottom, these candlesticks are ready to use. Adding 8 or 10" candles, white or other-colored, the figures offer themselves in an assortment of three-dimensional visual units.

The real fun of this exercise begins with developing the taller and shorter snowperson. Rescaling – "more by eye than by measure" – challenges that creative sense of an emerging turner, and like changing the quantities on a delicious recipe, this is less than a mere math application. For those who struggle with this, you are welcome to send an email requesting a scaled drawing of the figures shown here.

This set of snow people will become a gift, one to each of six individuals on a team who make our local Wilson Museum a fabulous place to visit, to regularly demonstrate, and to volunteer as a Trustee. As team members, they might each contribute their snow person to a special display at the Museum while later taking their individual gift (with candle) home to enjoy over the holiday. Their teamwork and their strong individual skills combine to create an energetic, creative workplace filled with successful programs and exhibits. Somehow this kind of gift seems just right to recognize those traits.

Article link: Show Us Your Woodturning by Chuck Lively.

Click here to browse through Highland Woodworking's Woodturning department

Located in Castine, Maine, Highlands Woodturning gallery and shop offers woodturning classes and shop time, a gallery of woodturned art, custom woodturning for repairs, renovations, and architectural installations. You can email Temple at temple@highlandswoodturning.com. Take a look at Temple's Website at http://www.highlandswoodturning.com/

Return to the Wood News Online front page

Click the images below to visit some of our most popular tool departments

Highland Woodworking Social Media Take a look at the Highland Woodworking Facebook Page Check out the Highland Woodworking Twitter Page View the Highland Woodworking YouTube Channel Pin from the Highland Woodworking Pinterest Page Connect with the Highland Woodworking Instagram Page Read the Highland Woodworking Blog

Highland Woodworking
1045 N. Highland Ave. NE
Atlanta, Georgia 30306
Tel. 800-241-6748

Email us at email@highlandwoodworking.com
Visit us on the web at www.highlandwoodworking.com

Copyright © 2019 Highland Hardware, Inc.

Errors regarding pricing and specifications are subject to correction.
SOME SALE QUANTITIES MAY SELL OUT and become unavailable at the advertised price.