Introduction: How to Turn a Christmas Ornament

About: Handcrafted wood creations made in Colorado

Turned Christmas ornaments can be great gifts for people for the holidays.

The ornament I will be teaching about here is the kind that has a finial, as you can see from the two pictures above.

Definitely not an item for beginning turners, but these are nice objects to turn. With the right wood and the right finish they can be stunningly beautiful.

Step 1: Materials

You'll need the following materials to complete this tutorial:

  • Lathe
  • Chisels (I prefer the Easy Wood Tools carbides)
  • Band saw (optional)
  • 4 jaw chuck
  • Calipers
  • Sandpaper (100, 220, 320, 420, 600)
  • Friction polish
  • 1/16th drill bit (depends on the size of your hook)
  • Epoxy or CA glue
  • Drill

Step 2: Prepare the Ball

  • 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.
  • 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. The more out of circle your cube is, the harder it is to turn.
  • 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.

Step 3: Rounding the Cube

  • Turn on the lathe. You may need to go very slow in the beginning until it's more truly round
  • Using your roughing gouge, take light passes as you start to get it into round.
  • You can start taking off more material as it gets closer to true round.
  • Take off as little material as possible to make it round. Your ultimate shape will be smaller than this, but you need to start with it round to continue on.

Step 4: Turning the Tenon

  • Get the large 4 jaw chuck and close it most of the way.
  • Leave it open enough that it can grip a tenon.
  • Use the calipers and measure the chuck opening. This will be the size of your tenon.
  • 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 so that it doesn't fly off.
  • Flip the wood over and put the chuck in the headstock. Place the tenon in the chuck and tighten
  • While you're turning you'll want to periodically check that the chuck is still tight..

Step 5: Drilling Out the Center

  • 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!)
  • Use a long ¾ bit (or a regular bit with an extender) 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!
  • I can't tell you how many times I've done this. If your wood is even slightly wet, make sure that you back it out frequently or it can get stuck.

Step 6: Carving the Final Shape

  • Place the live center in the tail stock and bring it to the wood. It's just a little extra insurance to keep the wood stable
  • Increase the lathe speed again
  • Mark the halfway point in the wood and using your spindle gouge, carve the right half of the wood into a rough ball-ish shape.
  • At this point you’ll need a rough jamb chuck. 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 above.
  • Put the live center in the tail and tighten
  • Carve the rest of the shape. Use the skew chisel or your detail 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. Or you can go crazy with it!

Step 7: Sand and Finish

  • Sand from 100 to 600 grits, making sure to get the ends.
  • Between each grit turn off the lathe and sand length-wise. This is a great way to remove any scratch marks.
  • Finish off the wood using Hutt or some other kind of friction polish
  • Remove from the lathe and place off to the side.

Step 8: Turn the Finial and Cap

Sorry, I forgot to take pictures of the rest of this!!

The Cap:

  • Cut 2 inches off the longer piece of wood. This will be your cap.
  • Find and mark the center of both ends. Place on the lathe using the spur center head stock and the live center tail stock.
  • Round off the wood using the same steps as before.
  • Measure the hole in your globe with the calipers very carefully. The tenon you are creating here needs to fit snugly into that hole
  • Create the tenon with the parting tool
  • Very carefully take off wood and check the diameter of the tenon to make sure it’s a snug fit to the top of the ornament
  • 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. Since the globe is round it'll need a soft arc on the bottom of the cap.
  • Carve the rest of the cap, shaping to your liking
  • Flip the cap over and place the tenon in the chuck, using the live center in your tailstock to shore it up.
  • Create another tiny ball as the top of your cap.
  • When you're happy with the look of your cap, use the parting tool and separate it from the rest of the wood in the tailstock
  • What you should have mounted now is the complete cap.
  • Sand and finish using the process outlined earlier - 100 to 600 grit papers, Hutt polish
  • Using a 1/16 drill bit in the tail stock, drill carefully thru the top of the cap. This will be where your hook goes for when you hang it.

The Finial:

  • Place the larger piece of wood in the lathe, using the spur center and live center
  • Round off the wood
  • 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 you can always take off more wood, but you can't wood back in.
  • This usually takes me a bit to get right.
  • Once the fit is attained, undercut as necessary to ensure a good fit.
  • Flip the wood over and place the tenon in the 4 jaw chuck.
  • Carve the finial (or “icicle”) to whatever shape you like, tapering the end. This is where you can get really fancy with your carving.
  • Sand and finish off the icicle, the same as before - 100 to 600 grit, Hutt polish

Final Assembly:

  • Remove and ensure good fit on the ornament with both the cap and the icicle.
  • Glue the pieces together with a 5 minute epoxy or a Medium CA glue
  • Gently place in the vise lengthwise until it dries
  • Place screw eye in the hole.

Step 9: Final Notes

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

As your skills get better you'll find yourself turning more and more intricate shapes.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions, or check out our web site for more information: