Wooden Christmas Ornaments (on the Lathe)




Introduction: Wooden Christmas Ornaments (on the Lathe)

About: I've built houses, decks, custom cabinets, furniture of all types. Ive done furniture repair and restoration, residential and commercial remodels, restaurant seating and tables and hotel furniture. Ive been a …

In this step by step, I will be showing how to make some quick and easy Christmas tree Ornaments on the Lathe. I used scraps for these, so you could easily use split wood from a fire-wood pile, store bought "pen blanks" or random scraps laying around the shop. I will show how to make a simple Ice-sickle ornament, a more complex ball and finial style ornament and show a couple different ways to use CA adhesive (Super-glue) as a good durable finish. I also used a wood dye to color a couple to give even more inspiration to these little very unique ornaments. You could just as easily use a stain and or acrylic paint for these as well...

Step 1: Tools and Material

********SAFETY FIRST********
Make sure you read your equipment manuals and use all safety gear recommended

Tools used
  • wood lathe
  • lathe chuck, spindle spur/center
  • angle square
  • center punch
  • scrap wood at least 7 inches long and 1"X1" (ice-sickle and finial style)
  • Larger scrap 4"X3"X3" (ornament ball)
  • CA adhesive and activator
  • stain/Dye/Paint
  • sandpaper 80-400 grit

Step 2: Ice-sickle or Finial Style Ornaments

These are very simple to make and you can get as creative as you want.
I start out with my blank of wood and mount it between centers and set up for spindle turning.
Once you have it rough rounded remove your drive center and attach your chuck to the Lathe, and mount the spindle to the chuck. Now clean up and flatten the tail-stock end of the spindle. Next using a 1/16" drill bit and a pair of pliers (poor mans Jacobs chuck) drill as deep as the drill bit will allow. This hole is for the wire hanger used to hand the ornament.
Now, remove the spindle and flip it end-over-end and re-mount it in the chuck. Bring the tail-stock up to the spindle and lock it in place.
begin roughing the shape you imagine.
Make sure your Lathe tools are freshly sharpened and make sure you keep them that way, the sharper the tool the nicer the cut...
Work from the tail-stock end to the head-stock end. When making finials, the stock gets very very thin and can easily split and come apart while turning. If you make the headstock end to thin and then try to take the needed heavy cut on the thinner end, it will most definitely break and ruin your project.

On the first couple Ice-sickle finials, I made straight and plain just to get the process down. After you are comfortable with the first couple finials, you can get more and more fancy. I broke about 3 blanks while doing this instructable.
After you have your rough shape and finish cuts made, begin parting the finial off of the chuck. Do not part it all the way off we still need to finish it!
Sand the finial all the way from 80 grit to 400 grit sandpaper.
After sanding, I remove the finial and set aside to make a few more. I finish them all at once in the final process and they need to be re-mounted to the chuck for this.
Make as many as you want. A set of these would make an excellent gift.
I will show you how to dye and CA finish these in the next steps.

Step 3: Ball and Finial Style Ornaments

These are a bit more complex but not really. lol basically this ornament consists of two finials and a ball.
We will start by making the finials that go in the top and bottom of the ornament (see step 2)

There isn't anything much different for the finials except that the finials need to be glued to the ball and one of them needs to be much shorter to make the top hanger of the ornament.
I grabbed a 1/2" drill bit and a 1/2" open end wrench. We will use the drill bit to go thru the ball and the open end wrench will gauge our size for the tenon on the finial. When you get to cutting the tenon end, hold the wrench lightly against the wood as you cut. When the wrench slips over the tenon, stop cutting.

Next, attach your larger scrap of wood (the ball) to your lathe between centers. Rough round it and make tenons on each end for your chuck to grip. Once you have the tenons right, and the ball rough rounded, mount your chuck and the ball blank to the lathe. Using your Jacobs Chuck in the tail-stock, drill a 1/4" pilot hole all the way through and finally use your 1/2" drill bit or forstner bit to drill all the way thru the ball blank flip the blank end-over-end and re-mount if your drill bits do not go through.

If you have small hollowing tools, you can hollow out the inside of the ball to decrease the weight a bit.
You could also make two tiny bowl shapes and glue them together to make a hollow ball. Lots of room for creative design here. And they do not have to be shaped like a ball, you could shape it any way you want.
Once you get your finished shape sand it all the way from 80-400 grit and ad a wipe on oil finish to it. careful not to get any finish in the holes for the finials. Now, mount both finials on your lathe and glue the finials to the ball in between them as shown.

The wood I used for my ball, was the last bit of wormy chestnut that my grandfather had kept. But to add sentiment to your project, you could start using bits of last years tree for an ornament every year.

Time capsule ornaments!
I am going to make 3 of the half bowl ornaments for my children, but I will have my children place an object or note inside the ball before gluing, then keep that ornament until they have kids. Then their children (my grandchildren) could then break the ornament open to see what their parents left inside when they were kids. I think it's a fantastic Idea and the kids will love it.

Step 4: Dye or Color the Ornaments

If you want to add some color to your ornaments, now is the time.

There are many ways to accomplish this and many different products.
I used an "aniline" dye, and the standard "rit" dye.
The aniline dye I used is mixed with Denatured alcohol to proper ratio for your preferred shade.
The rit dye is mixed with almost boiling water 1 pack per quart of water. (I wonder if I can mix the rit dye with Denatured alcohol as well? Rit is much cheaper. The water in the rit mixture raises the grain on the wood and takes a long time to dry properly. The Denatured alcohol in the aniline dye evaporates within minutes and raises no grain. So if you are using the water based dye, dip it in clear water and let dry, then give it a final sanding with 400 grit before you dip it in the dye. The grain will only raise once.

The process is the same for the rit dye or the aniline. Brush it on or dip it. The aniline dye takes one dip. The water based rit dye requires a bit more depending on the shade you are going for.
Let the finials dry thoroughly.

Step 5: CA Finish

First, a little information.

CA adhesive
Cyanoacrylate (from Wikipedia)
"Cyanoacrylate is the generic name for a family of strong fast-acting adhesives with industrial, medical and household uses. Cyanoacrylate adhesives have a short shelf life if not used, about one year from manufacture if unopened, one month once opened. They have some minor toxicity.
Cyanoacrylates include methyl 2-cyanoacrylate, ethyl-2-cyanoacrylate (commonly sold under trade names such as "Super Glue" and "Krazy Glue"), n-butyl cyanoacrylate and 2-octyl cyanoacrylate (used in medical, veterinary and first aid applications). Octyl cyanoacrylate was developed to address toxicity concerns and to reduce skin irritation and allergic response. Cyanoacrylate adhesives are sometimes known generically as instant glues or superglues (although "Super Glue" is a trade name).[1] The abbreviation "CA" is commonly used for industrial grades."

There are quite a few instructables on applying a CA finish to small turnings, the benefits of CA finish are; quick drying time, very nice sheen to the object and is very very durable and even water resistant.
The down side is, ventilation needed when applying, can be quite messy if your not careful, it only works on small turnings which isn't really that bad as CA is quite expensive for use as a finish.

Step 6: Applying CA Finish

Get a roll of decent paper towels, tear a couple full sheets into quarters and fold those quarters into tight small rectangles about 1/2" wide and 1" long. Some people will use an oil finish first, right before applying the CA. The oil will make the grain look warmer and give it a glow as well as hi-light any figure in the grain much better than just CA. I am currently out of oil finish so I skipped the oils...
Using your tightly folded towel, place a large pea sized drop of "Medium" CA on your folded towel and with the lathe running, apply the CA to the finial. Try to do this as fast as possible as they do dry quickly in most cases. Do not stop your lathe, but give a couple sprays of the activator and it should harden instantly wait until it's fully dry before putting on the next coat. Do not try to put too thick of a coat of CA on here. The lighter the coats and more coats you have the better the results. If you put to much on you will find yourself sanding hard crusty bumps of dried CA off of the finial. Just take your time and use light coats and spray the activator in-between.
After about 3 or 4 coats, you should be ready for polishing. On these pieces, I go straight to plastic polish. They still look good, but if you wet sand after the CA and before the plastic polish, you will get "glass-like" finish on it and it looks amazing but feels like plastic. I wet sanded the blood-wood ornament to show the difference.

The last step in finishing these is to use a plastic polish to make them gleam. the results are immediate and very impressive!
Once the finial is dry and finished, you can now part it off the lathe.

You can be quite creative with CA finish.
  • Lightly sprinkle glitter on each coat of CA to give your ornaments a metallic sparkle.
  • Paint a name or date on before you apply the CA.
  • Airbrush, stencil or simply paint a design on your ornament.
  • You could even embed flower petals, feathers or a tiny note on paper within the CA.
  • Whatever else you think might add to your project.

Step 7: Attach a Hanger

I used light duty machine wire, wire snips and needle nose pliers to make the hangers for these. You could spend the money and buy tiny eyelets for jewelery or fishing jigs alternatively.

Cut about 1" of wire and grip one end of the wire with the very tip of the needlenose pliers and wrap the wire around half way to form a tiny eyelet. straighten the rest of the wire and put a slight bend in the long straight part (the part that slides into the hole we drilled in the very begining. That slight bend will hold the inside of the hole a bit tighter. Place a tiny drop of superglue in the hole and push the wire eyelet in as far as you can. You may wish to test fit the eyelet before you glue.

After a couple minutes to let the glue dry, find some pretty, colorful string and tie them in the eyelet.
Now you are ready to hang your ornament on the tree.

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Fikjast Scott

Great instructable, I like using that same type stainless steel wire. How did you avoid hole tear out on the wormy chestnut. It looks great.