Introduction: Sparkling Snowman
There are quite of few lighted projects around for woodworkers and turners. This year I thought I would have a go at my own, and decided to create an LED lit Snowman. This would also allow me to try out a decorative paint effect on the piece as well.
Once I had made the first and showed it off, it became very popular and a number of work friends now have their own which have become center pieces for the home decorations.
To start with the materials needed for the project came from a couple of places.
- The Body, head, hat and base where all made from a log picked up at a campsite a few years back, its slightly splatted and has a great pattern to it.
- For parts like the eyes, buttons, nose and berries I used scraps of pen blanks around the workshop.
The parts that I could not turn – the glass bauble came from ebay as a set of 6 and the lights I got from Ali express, which for a first time user where very cheap as the site gives you a voucher code when you sign up to it. The amount can vary depending on their current promotions, but every little helps.
To prepare the “log” I started by mounting it between centers and used a hand tool to remove the bark, (I used a skew chisel).
This bits important, I did not have the lathe turning while I removed the bark. The reason being that I spotted some black mould under a bit of bark and did not want it spraying into the atmosphere – I also wore a face mask while Working.
Step 1: Marking Up and Cutting the Blanks
With the bark gone I switched on the lathe and turned the wood into a cylinder ready for marking up into the sections of the snowman.
There are three parts that need to come from the wood, the hat, head and base the dimensions are a personal preference, but should be in proportion to the glass body. Once I had made the guestimates needed and marked up the wood, I added approximately half centimetre to form a spigot for each part to attach to the lathe latter on. Then using a pair of callipers set to the diameter of my chuck I removed the wood at the spigot points putting a slight taper on each spigot before using a parting tool to cut half way through the wood and then to the band saw to separate the blanks.
Step 2: Turn the Base
The first part to be turned and finished was the base of the snowman. Its basically a small bowl, working from the center I removed the material, occasionally stopping to test the bauble against the piece. Its important to not go to deep as the bauble needs to be glued to the wood latter on, also going deep runs the risk of putting a hole in the bottom. I carried on in this way until the bauble reached the edge of the wood and then turned a bead on the outer edge followed by another half bead for the foot.
I then sanded the part down to 400 grit using a paste of beeswax and oil to keep the dust down, this mix also fills any small gaps in the wood and gives a really smooth finish – Its also good for you skin. Once finished I parted the piece off and sanded the bottom of the base. To do this I used a sanding pad in a chuck attached to a 1 Morse taper mandrel in the headstock. I tend to use Abranet for sanding which attaches well to the Velcro hooks on the sanding pad.
Step 3: Shape the Head
Moving on to the head, which is basically a box with a hole in the bottom.
To start with the head blank was mounted on the lathe using the tennon formed earlier, it was then turned to the rough shape of the head (not quite round) I then made another tennon on the other end. This would make the inside edge of the box where the hat would attach I then bored a hole using a frostner bit approximately 1 ½ inches. The hole does not need to be too deep, it only has to take the battery pack for the lights and any excess wire not required inside the glass body. To get the depth I just put the battery pack inside every so often. Also the hat will have another hole put in it so there will be plenty of space. With the battery compartment made another hole was drilled for the wire to go through (approx. 4mm). Once the inside had been sanded and finished with a bit of sand and sealer I finished shaping the outside of the head before finishing this using a combination of Yorkshire grit and friction polish.
Step 4: Shaping the Hats
The hat use the same process, with the exception the I measured the diameter of the box lip on the head and transferred this to what would be the underside of the hat, then I used the same fostner bit to drill into the hat and went about two thirds of the depth of the blank and then carefully remove the material up to the diameter mark for the box lip using a Bedan. Checking repeatedly against the head to make sure that I had not removed too much wood, I wanted a firm fit (not too tight)
With a firm fit on the hat blank I used it as a friction chuck to hold the head so that the bottom of this part could be shaped. It needed to have the tennon removed. Then I used a small fostner bit to drill a hole to take the neck of the bauble. To get the correct size I just held the bits I have against the neck until I found one that would just make a slightly oversized hole as this side was going to attach to the bauble it also needed to be made concave this was achieved by using a spindle gouge to shape the wood stopping the lathe to hold the bauble against it and check that the neck of the glass did not stop the body of the bauble making contact with the wood. This was important as I wanted a good gluing surface. Its also important because you can see the surface through the glass so a good connection means no air pockets to spoil the look. I later repeated all the steps so far to make a second snowman with a a different hat.
For the hat I wanted two styles and then the wife and kids could pick the one the liked best. The two styles would be a top hat and a beanie type hat. The top hat was made first as this was my preferred design so I turned a brim removing the wood with the Bedan down to the width that I wanted the top of the hat to be and then put a slight curve from the top down to the brim using a spindle gouge. Once I was happy with the shape I sanded polished with Yorkshire grit as before and then attached the head to check the look .
Step 5: Beanie Hat
The beanie hat followed the same steps except that the brim was just a simple bead and the top was just rounded over. To add some detail to the beanie brim I used a file to make notches around the hat making it look more the part.
While still on the lathe I sprayed both hats with a black lacquer, blocking up the hole inside the hat with tissue. Once dry I turned the hats over the attached to the chuck in expansion and removed the tennons and finished and lacquered this part as well.
Note to protect the lathe from the paint I cut a piece of card board to go over the headstock. This being said you can see that I still got some on the chuck. Not too much of an issue it comes of with a bit of wire wool.
The paint is applied with the lathe turning slowly, If your lathe does not go below 400 rpm the I would suggest removing the tennons and finish shaping the hats first then paint them off the lathe as this will avoid streaks in the paint.
Step 6: Adding a Paint Effect
To make the hats a bit more jazzy I used Jo Sonja metallic paints, the colours used is a personal choice I picked White, silver, yellow gold, and orange gold and a reddish one. I then used a short bristle brush to dab patches of paint all over the hats making the pattern as random as possible.
This looks a bit messy and some of the spots stand out more than others especially if you have put to much on. To make the paints blend in a bit more with each other I wrapped the hats with some cling film and then moved the paint around under the film with my fingers. I then removed the film slowly and carefully so as not to disturb any pattern that had formed in the paint. Before the paint dry’s I wiped off the excess from the areas I wanted to stay black – this time it was just the brims.
The hats where then just put to one side to dry and then three coats of clear spray lacquer where applied to protect the paint and give it a nice shine.
The finished hats loo great - very Christmasy and this effect will work well on other projects.
Step 7: Devils in the Detail
It’s the small details that take the time. The snowman needs a face, so I started by drawing on some eyes a nose and a mouth in pencil and used a Dremel to drill holes at the points where the eyes and nose would go. I also drilled a hole at one side of the mouth at a slight angle. This was for the pipe. Every snowman needs one.
The mouth was a bit tricky I started by having it open, intending to give him some black teeth, but felt this would not be a good look, so I went for a single line finishing with a curve across the end which made it look like he was actually holding the pipe when finished.
To finish the mouth I did a bit of pyrography and burnt the lines in for the mouth. A light sand and buff up on the lathe and the head was ready for the eyes and nose once made.
All of the small parts are really easy to lose, Found this out the hard way and had to make a couple of bits more than once as they pinged across the workshop never to be seen again. So I started storing them inside the bauble as each one was finished.
The eyes and buttons where all made from Buffalo horn, the is a really easy material to turn, but smells like burnt finger nails as you work it. Basically it was a pen blank held in the chuck turned down to approx. 5 mm diameter rounded over and then a tennon put onto the back side that was the same size as the holes drilled for the eyes. The buttons don’t need the tennon as they glue directly to the glass bauble. Once polished the horn really looks great. The backs of the buttons are cleaned up using the dremel allowing then to sit flat on the glass. This is where is lost a number of them as they just flew across the workshop due to then being quite hare to hold and sand at the same time, but I found that this way had the least ware and tear on my fingers.
Step 8: The Pipes Important
All Snowmen must have a pipe and this was another scrap pen blank turned in two parts, the pipe and the stem. The pipe was about 1 cm long (just over) turned to about 5 mm diameter and a hole drilled down the center (almost to the bottom. I then put another hole in the side and the mid point this was for the stem of the pipe. The stem was made in the same wood and turned to the same size as the hole in the center of the pipe. (about 2 mm) and the two parts where glues together once smoothed and polished.
Step 9: Berry Colorful
I made the berries and leaves from bits of are children’s cot, I’ve used this wood in a number of projects over the years – It goes a long way. I started by turning the piece in the lathe down to about 8 mm diameter and then divided this into sections using a parting tool – this marked out each of the barriers. I then turned a series of spheres and then finished each berry and removed it before moving on to the next.
The red color is added using a sharpie with the lathe on slow rotation. They will be lacquered for protection once put together.
Step 10: Leafy Green
The leaves start off as disks turned on the lathe and coloured using a green sharpie, they are then parted off ready for the final shaping. Which is done using a sanding bit in the Dremel and again this is another part that will fly if you cant keep hold of it. The edges are thinned with the Dremel, and then re-coloured with the green pen.
The bits are fiddley so to glue then up I positioned the leaves on a piece of blue tac and then used epoxy resin to secure the berries. This allowed me to play a bit until the berries where in the right positions.
Step 11: Put It All Together
Epoxy was used again to fix the eyes , nose and pipe onto the head.
With all the small parts attached its now time to put all the parts together.
Its important to test the lights – although you can pull them out of the finished snowman and change if you like, It’s a pain especially if they get knotted, so test them first. Start by pulling the lights out making sure there are no knots, then pass then through the hole in the head.
Now thread them into the bauble. Just push them in until the touch the bottom and keep going, they will start to change direction as they hit the glass and organize themselves into a fairly random pattern.
The glue used to attach the head and base is called "Evo Stick Serious glue" – it makes a nice, clear and flexible joint – you don’t want to use epoxy for this bit as it might damage the glass if the wood moves. I put some on the neck of the bauble then spread some around the underside of the head, put the head onto the bauble and gave it a twist while pushing it down. If you get this bit right there should be no air bubbles visible. Some excess comes out of the edges.
DON’T be tempted to wipe it way, this only makes a mess. Leave it to set and then remove it using a Stanley knife or other sharp blade. It just flicks off then you can clean up the glass with a baby wipe.
Step 12: The Finished Snowman
The finished products look great and a number of people wanted them for there table centers, So have now made quite a few and am running out of the splatted wood. They look great and I will now have to find some more wood for other people. Hope you enjoyed this and please have a go at your own versions.
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Thanks for reading
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Reply 2 years ago
Thank You glad you like it