Tea Light Candle Holder on a Wood Lathe




First and foremost - this Instructable is more or less an adaptation of a turning project posted by Carl Jacobson on his YouTube channel. If you're interested in wood turning, I highly recommend checking out his work. I spend a pretty embarrassing amount of my time watching wood turning videos online, and his are some of the best I've seen.

Here's the video from Carl's channel that I worked off of to plan and turn my own tea light candle holder. If you want to make one of your own, you can probably stop reading now and just watch the video.

Still reading? Ok. My main objective for this project was to learn to use a chuck on the lathe and to try some inside chisel work (on the spice jars I made, I mounted using a waste block and used forstner bits to do the hollowing). Success on both counts.

Total time planning, scratching my head, and drinking coffee = approximately six hours
Total time on the lathe = probably an hour

This relatively quick and easy turning project yields a candle holder that I think is pretty and professional looking enough to make people think your way more of an expert wood turner than you really are, which is cool.

I made it at TechShop

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Step 1: Materials and Equipment

The materials I used...

- a 5X5X3 block of osage orange I payed something like $14 for at Rockwell (looking to find a better source for stock material on future turning projects)
- large size tea light candles from IKEA. (diameter = 2 1/4'', 9 hour burn time)
- pharmaceutical mineral oil (from Walgreens)
- clear paste wax (Treewax brand)
- sandpaper up to 600 grit
- paper towels

The equipment I used...

- Bandsaw (Tech Shop's)
- Powermatic 4224B Wood Lathe (TS's)
- Barracuda 2 Key Chuck System (TS's)
- Harbor Freight Chisel Set (TS's)
- Robert Sorby 3/8'' Bowl Gouge (my very own)

Step 2: Preparing the Stock

Before I started turning, I marked the center of my stock and used the band saw too cut it down to an octagon. Osage orange is pretty dense and tough, so cutting through 3 inches of it was pretty gnarly. No problems, just had to take it slow.

Step 3: Roughing Out the Workpiece, Mid-project Design Evaluation

I mounted my now octagon shaped hunk of wood between centers and went to town with a large roughing gouge. Again, osage orange = dense wood, so I took it slow. Once I had a nice even cylindrical shape, I took it off the lathe to see how much material I had to work with. The proportions of my stock seemed a bit different from what Carl Jacobson works with in the video I was using as my guide, so to figure out the necessary adjustments and finalize my design I laid the candle on my roughed out cylinder and stared at it for a while.

Step 4: Admire the Beauty of Osage Orange Wood Chips

I couldn't get over the color of these wood chips. I was disappointed to discover they do not smell citrusy. A little wikipedia research, and I now know that osage oranges are not closely related to oranges at all.

Step 5: Forming a Foot and Mounting on the Chuck

I wanted to use a chuck to hold my workpiece from one end, allowing me to hollow out a spot for the candle, so I needed to cut a foot on what would become the bottom of the candle holder. I don't have any notes for this step, but I'm pretty sure the chuck called for something like a 2'' diameter foot. I formed the foot so that it was slightly more narrow where the foot meets the cylinder because I read or saw somewhere that doing so gives the chuck a better grip.

The chuck was pretty intuitive to use. I placed the foot into the jaws, then tightened them by using the tightening levers to rotate the two collars (not sure that's the technical term) in opposing directions.

Step 6: Shaping the Top and Sides, Making a Hollow for the Candle

(maybe just look at the pictures, but i'll do my best to explain below)

I used a roughing gouge and scraper to round off the corners on the top of the candle holder. I made the hollow for the candle by starting with the bowl gouge, then flatting the sides and bottom of the hole with a scraper.

At some point I had a catch, putting a large gash in my nascent candle holder and sending it flying out of the chuck. After wiping my brow, I got back to work and smoothed out the spot where my chisel caught. I think doing so actually improved the shape of candle holder. I rounded out the shape all the way down to around the bottom of the candle holder.

Step 7: Sand and Finish the Top

I finished the top before shaping the bottom. I sanded from 220 up to 600 with a mix of clear paste wax and mineral oil in equal part. Between grits, I used paper towels while the lathe was running to wipe away the gunky mixture of wood dust, wax, and oil. The paper towels also are good for buffing up the finish once you're done sanding.

Step 8: Flip It Over, Shape and Finish the Bottom

To work on the bottom, I mounted the candle holder on the chuck by placing the jaws inside the hollow for the candle and expanding them. This didn't mar the hollow for the candle, and if it had it would be hidden anyway.

I shaped the bottom so that is slightly concave and sits on it's outside edge. This shape makes the candle holder nice and stable, and I think it gives it a nice feel in your hands. Sanding and finishing procedure was the same as for the top.

Step 9: Optional: Consider Laser Engraving Your Finished Project, Then Decide Against It

I have a tendency to want to laser cut/engrave everything (this seems to be a common affliction at Tech Shop). So, done turning for the day, I applied finish to one of my offcuts and experimented a little with laser engraving the material. For some reason I didn't take a picture of the results, but it worked pretty well. Even so, I didn't have any particularly inspiring design ideas, and I decided to leave the candle holder with a natural look... at least for now.

Step 10: Light a Candle and Admire Your Work

Burning candles in your house will make you a classy person. It's true! My tea light candle holder now sits in a prominent position on my living room coffee table and has gotten lots of love from visitors in my home.

I made it at TechShop

And again, props to Carl Jacobson for this design!



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    17 Discussions

    Carl Jacobson

    2 years ago

    Great job Adam, and thank you so much for the kind words.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Lovely glad you didn't laser engrave it. Now I want a lathe. :-) I already make my own candles. That's the easy bit though. :-)

    2 replies

    idk about that - wood turning isn't all that difficult! maybe the toughest step is getting access to the tools. in the meantime, you should write up an instructable about candle making :)


    4 years ago

    Beautiful simplistically


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Very nice work. Simple, elegant, nice design I do like it.

    Just a heads up. I had two 10 hr tea lights sitting on a block of wood, first burn went fine, second burn not so good. The first burn dried out the block and the second burn the block court fire. I think some of the sap in the wood vaporized and court fire. I was very lucky I did not burn my house down. So please do not leave unattended. JIM

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks Jim, and thanks for your concern. I will make sure to only burn candles in this holder while I'm around to put out potential fires.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    nice result for this candle holder.

    roughing gouge for rough turning at start is correct, bowl gouge or spindle gouge can be used on the out side and forstner bit OK to do hole for candle. I wouldn't be using skew on this at all.

    I make plenty of tea light candle holders and cut branchs to length, drill the hole in top with forstner bit to the right size on bench drill before going to lathe, that way I can do many at same time. fit on lathe between face plate and center to shape.

    dont bother putting finish on till after sanding dry to 320, seal wood then 400 and oil.

    to stop 'dig ins' always rub the bevel.

    1 reply
    harold Paine

    5 years ago on Introduction

    Sorry to be negative but, wood plus a naked candle flame is NOT to be recommended! Somewhat of a fire hazard!


    5 years ago on Step 3

    Nice Instructable but I'd advise you to never use a spindle roughing gouge for bowl turning. It has a very wide open flute that can catch spectacularly (and dangerously) on a bowl. Better to use a bowl gouge for the roughing.

    3 replies

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the heads up, fasaxc. I was under the impression that using a bowl gouge was only important for hollowing, but further internet research confirms that I should be using a bowl gouge for the outside of projects like this too.

    Skew chisels work for the outside. Scrapers work for the inside. the preferred tool for insides is a fingernail profile gouge, but I like EZ wood tools too. Just nothing that can catch, which is the point of the fingernail profile. Corners are bad on the insides.
    Look into Oland tools. You can make them yourself, certainly with a techshop to play with.