Intro: Woodturned Christmas Light Ornament
I am an advanced woodworker and started making Christmas ornaments as gifts in the early 1990's and each year since I have created a new one. I started making about 30 ornaments a year, but that number has grown to anywhere between 100 and 150. Therefore these ornaments have to be fairly simple and quick to produce. Most of the ornaments I produce are gifts for family, friends and coworkers, however, several people have requested that I sell them some so that they can give them as gifts as well. Every year many of recipients of my previous years ornaments tell me things like , "I just put your ornaments on our tree", "I have an area of my tree that has your ornaments on it", "I love hand crafted ornaments" and "What is this year's ornament" (I never tell anyone until I have delivered them). It gives me a sense of pride to hear these comments, and I look forward to hearing them as well. I typically make the ornaments appear to be antiques by distressing them. The ornament that I'm going to provide instructions on is the one pictured above, a wooden C9 Christmas light.
As far as my woodturning experience, I've been turning since 1999, and have been teaching woodturning since 2007 at two different woodworking schools.
This ornament does require a lathe to make this project, but minimal and common turning tools. This is a beginner/entry level project. Don't let that stop you if you are a more advanced turner -- these are quick to make and it was my annual Christmas ornament a couple years ago. The cost to make more than 100 ornaments was less than $10, and each one took less than 10 min total!
Step 1: Getting Set Up
20 gauge wire
150 grit sandpaper
I ripped a 2x4 in half, the dimensions are not critical but the result should be about 1.5 inches square. I cut these into lengths of 18 inches (you can make them shorter). The longer this piece is, the more ornaments you can turn one after another. However the length can also be too long once you remove the tail stock (in a later step) because without the tailstock holding the wood in place there is a possibility that it will wobble. For beginners I would start with 12 inches or less.
Find the center -- there are a couple ways to do this:
1) Draw a line with a straight edge corner to corner on two sides, the intersection of the lines is the center
2) The quick method pictured above -- hold the pencil so that the finger next to your index finger rubs on the wood and the pencil point is "near the center". Mark a line. Dont adjust the grip on the pencil, rotate the wood 90 degrees and mark it again, repeat this two more times and you should have four lines on the end of the wood. Now it is very easy to estimate the center of the wood! It is in the center of that pencil line small square you just created.
Loosely mount the board into a 4 jaw chuck (pictured), don't tighten yet. Bring the tailstock forward and lock it down, advance the quill (turn the handle of the tailstock) so that the live center lines up with the center of the stock (see picture) and add some pressure (not much is required -- too much and you can split the wood). Once this is done tighten the four jaw chuck on the stock. Make sure that the tailstock is pressing against the stock.
Bring the tool rest up close to the spindle and set the height so that your tool will cut near the center of the wood when you are holding it in a cutting position. Now adjust the tool rest to be parallel to the wood blank and spin the wood to ensure that it wont hit the tool rest once the lathe is turned on.
Step 2: Ready to Turn
The first thing we need to do is to round the spindle. Here are three pictures of me doing this. I'm using a wide spindle gouge to cut the wood, but you could use a spindle roughing gouge or a skew (most difficult, but will produce the best finish). I prefer the wide spindle gouge because I can do 80% of the cuts with it to make this ornament.
Remember to use the ABCs for turning -- With the lathe on:
A - Anchor - put the tool against the tool rest so that the cutting edge is too high to cut the wood but the metal is resting firmly on the tool rest -- the wood should be rubbing on the tool
B - Bevel (area behind or lower that the cutting edge) - slowly raise the handle of the tool. This lowers the cutting edge on the wood, continue to raise the handle until the cutting edge of the tool starts contacts the wood. You should see a shaving or some dust at this point.
C - Cut - once the cutting edge makes contact shavings will start to appear, move the tool in the direction you need to cut keeping the bevel rubbing
If the bevel remains in contact it is nearly impossible to get a catch (when the tool digs into the wood unexpectedly)
To start the process I remove (cut) the corners of the wood wood at the tailstock end. This will start to round the blank into a cylinder. Once you have cut once towards the tail stock, move back an inch or so and remove some fresh uncut wood cutting towards the tailstock. Continue to do this blank is round. See pictures above
Step 3: Shaping the Ornament
Now that we have our blank turned into a cylinder we need to size and shape it to look like the ornament. I'm using a set of calipers to measure the max width of the bulb in the first picture. This will be my gauge. I then make several cuts with a parting tool to the depth of the calipers (which is the diameter of the light). See the second picture where I'm measuring the thickness of the remaining wood (after the parting cut). I typically hold the caliper and cut the wood at the same time...however, that did not leave me any hands to take the picture with lol. That said, the lathe is turning in this picture.
The process now continues by reducing the wooden cylinder until it is the same diameter as the widest part of the C9 bulb. I cut the spindle using a spindle gouge to the depths of the cut made with the parting tool (See the 3rd pic). Once the spindle is the same thickness as the C9 bulb I marked transition lines on it at the points where the bulb changes shape:
The two ends
The maximum diameter of the C9 bulb
The location where threaded part connects to the bulb
I use the same caliper and parting tool technique to turn the diameter of the threaded portion (no picture taken...oops) and turn that portion to the smaller diameter.
Step 4: Oops Note! & Important Basic Safety
I realized this after I started turning this ornament! I should have turned the bulb around making the threaded portion locating it on the headstock side of the cylinder -- Why you ask? Because there is more wood that remains towards the headstock (the part that is forcing the wood to spin) reducing the likelihood that it will break off. If I were to get a catch while having a minimal amount of fibers attaching it to the headstock, it would have become a flying projectile! As an experienced turner I was not overly concerned about having it the wrong way, but if you are beginning (or if I was to make another) I would have it oriented the other way.
I'll make a couple other safety notes here:
1) Always wear safety glasses or a face shield
2) When sanding use a face mask or other breathing device that filters the air
3) Always use the tailstock to hold the wood whenever possible
4) No loose clothing or jewelry
5) Never operate a power tool when you are tired, or have been drinking
6) Follow the manufacture's instructions
Step 5: Finishing on the Lathe
Once the "threaded" portion of the ornament was turned to the correct dimension, I started to round the tip of the ornament. If the ornament was oriented the other way I would cut all the way thru the tip of the ornament and it would be held on by the threaded portion -- the tailstock is then moved away. I try to get the shape of the light to be close, but I dont sweat it if it is not exact -- no one will measure it, and most people dont put those big lights on the Christmas tree anyway (C7 is the smaller one that people typically will light a tree with)! At this point I sanded the ornament. Slow the lathe down some (I cut at 2000-3000 rpm but sand spindles at 400-1000 rpm). I used only one grit sand paper (clothe backed), 150 grit to get rid of any bumps (mine had very few). Rub the sandpaper back and forth (on the bottom side of the ornament, that way the wood is spinning away from you and you wont possibly jam your finger and the dust is "spraying" away from you) dont hold the sandpaper in one spot, this will help blend any high/low spots. Dont worry about using finer grit sand paper because you are going to paint it anyway!
Once you are happy with the surface from sanding use a parting tool - see second picture (note my parting tool is a very thin one..hand crafted from a thick steak knife).
The third picture shows the near finished ornament.
Step 6: Finishing the Ornament
So now you have the shaped ornament. Now it is time to paint them. I use red and green acrylic paints and apply it very thinly so you can see the grain patters in the wood. Also in this picture I have a purple one (not so much a Christmas color -- but rather because I'm a Raven's fan) I did break down and make one that was black and yellow for a close friend that was a Steeler's fan...of course I handed him one of the limited edition Raven's one first lol.
After the painted ornament is dry, I painted the "threaded portion" gold. When that was dry I drilled a small hole in the end of the ornament for a hanger.
To make the hanger I wrapped a short length (1.5 inches or so) of 20 gauge wire around a round screw driver and twisted the two ends together making an eyelet. I used CA glue and pushed that portion into the hole, The eyelet provides a place for the hook to be attached. In the picture above I have made a loop and attached three ornaments.
Personalize the ornament -- Use a fine tip marker to sign your name and date on the bottom of the gold section of the ornament!
Hand them out and watch the smiles on people's faces when you tell them you made it for them!
Step 7: Final Notes
This is a quick and very cheep ornament to make! I give them as gifts, and when I make a production run of these I look for time saving methods.
I showed how to use calipers to measure the diameter -- that is good if you are doing one...but if you are doing multiple it will slow you down as there are two measurements per ornament. When I made these as a production run, I created a "story stick". I cut a piece of 1/4 inch hardboard with two cutouts in it, one was the width of the widest portion of the ornament, the other was the width of the "threaded portion". This is used in place of the calipers.
I also cut the length of the 1.5 inch square stock to be about 18 inches...that way I could make one after another. I turned the entire length to the diameter of the widest portion of the C9 bulb, then marked multiple bulbs off and turned them. I then painted them all at once 50% red 50% green and the gold base. I also made all of the eyelets at once and glued them all together.
I can't stress the importance of learning from an instructor -- a quality teacher will teach you how to operate the tools safely and efficiently making you a better woodworker. I find no matter how long I've been in woodworking, I always learn something from others, both students and mentors! Look for a woodworking school in your area if you are interested.
Full Spectrum Laser Contest:
The two ornaments pictured above are ones that I have made these past two years. They are laser engraved onto a thin slice of a branch from an ornamental pear tree using a very large and old Chinese water cooled laser engraver. Also pictured is several plaques I have made.
The laser engraver is too big to be brought into my house, so it stays in my garage. Last year when the temperatures reached single digits outside I learned a costly and valuable lesson -- the water in the laser tube froze cracking the glass, and the pipes in the chiller unit split under the pressure of the expanding ice. I have replaced the laser tube, however it is not as powerful so I'm not able to cut thru 1/4 inch plywood in a single pass any longer. The associated software is not all that user friendly either and the instructions are in "Chinglish" and Chinese. In addition to these ornaments I've also made a number of plaques for family and coworkers that have retired as well. So I'm putting a plug in for the laser engraver give away so I can upgrade to a much better quality one! If I win I will use it!