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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
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
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
email@example.com. Take a look at Temple's Website at http://www.highlandswoodturning.com/
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