Christmas Ornaments

Blog, Home, Woodworking / Wednesday, January 31st, 2018

One of the appealing features of a ShopSmith is that it can be used as a lathe. For the longest time, I had been wanting to try my hand at turning things on a lathe but didn't know anyone who had one to use. All of a sudden, I had one of my own and the itch was even greater. 

I watch a lot of YouTube. Like, an unhealthy amount of YouTube. Much of what I watch is woodworking related or home improvement video how-tos. Both of these dabble in woodturning from time time time. You'd be surprised how many things around the house can be fixed with a lathe. Okay, maybe not, just broken legs on furniture. But I really got into it when I watched Frank Howarth's wood-turned Death Star. Even if woodworking and lathes aren't your things, it is a fascinating video to watch and learn how he went about turning such an awesome piece. It's hard for me to watch that and not even try to do something simple on a lathe. 

When I first got my ShopSmith last year, I thought I was going to slap some wood onto it, grab my chisels, and start making beautiful cylindrical art. I was wrong. I didn't have a teacher. All I had were YouTube videos. Hours and hours of videos didn't teach me what I needed to know the first time I put wood on the lathe. I nearly killed myself. Really, it's true. What I did that first time was put a big, unbalanced piece of wood on the faceplate. I set up the tool rest and then turned the thing on. In two seconds, the piece of wood and broken free of the faceplate and flown across my shop, fortunately not directly at me. While the hunk of wood was hurtling through the air, it hit the tool rest and bounced off into a pile of junk I had on a work table. The tool rest, a ShopSmith specific size, snapped in half and put my dreams of fine art making on hold.

After searching online and receiving much-needed support from the ShopSmith forums, I found a set of replacement tool rests that would fit the ShopSmith. I ordered them. For a set of three, it was much cheaper than ordering the only replacement ShopSmith tool rest on eBay by about $15. When they came, I reapproached woodturning with the caution that should have been there since the beginning.

My second time turning wood, I took my time to set things up correctly. I cut segments of wood and glued them together. Edges were cleaned up and the woodturning blank was attached to a wooden faceplate which was then screwed to the metal faceplate. This time, instead of a random hunk of wood, I had a neat cube of white oak to turn. I regretted it later.

Turning oak is not easy. It's a hard, hardwood and you need ever sharp tools to keep a nice smooth finish on it. At least once I chipped my chisel while turning the oak. Many more times than once, I chipped out the wood because the tools would get caught on the grain. But that turning experience isn't what I want to talk about. What I want to talk about are Christmas ornaments.

For a house project, I had bought a few lengths of elm and I knew I had a good chunk of it that wouldn't be used. I had also looked up the hardness of Elm compared to White Oak and found it was a good amount softer. So I milled it into segments and glued them together to get on the lathe. I dug my chisel in and my-oh-my it was like cutting through butter compared to the white oak. In no time I had a cylinder to work with and shape further.

For the longest time, I've wanted to make Christmas ornaments on the lathe. I think they're both a simple and wonderful gift to give people. They're a display of time and effort that goes into creating them. They're also something that will last for years and they won't break the bank to make; they're mostly just time and effort.

So this year, with the elm, I turned three ornaments. I wanted to make one for my parents as a gift for Christmas. I wanted them to have the first one I made. The one that I was most excited for. I also wanted to make one for Ellie and me. The third one was me just playing around on the lathe. The results are something I can be proud of. This first one is the one I gave to my parents. I wasn't going for any particular shape, more just getting a feel for the wood.

This second one was me playing around with some wood I had on the lathe. I was trying to carve out a bowl in the tiny ornament, maybe an umbrella shape. For some reason, while I was making it I wasn't really feeling the wood or what I was doing. In the end, I wasn't happy with what came off the lathe but Ellie painted it to look like a peppermint candy and it made it better. I forgot to take a picture of it before it was given away as a gift.

This third one I went in with a rough idea of what I wanted to make and it evolved slightly from there. What I ended up with was a Christmas tree-shaped ornament. I painted it green to add to the effect. This one Ellie and I are keeping to hang on our tree next year.

Before it was painted green

Now that Christmas is passed and I still have a lathe, I need to get another project on it. I have a blank ready to turn, I just haven't gotten around to turning it. I know what I want to make and it is something Ellie and I do not have, but we could also buy one at the store for $6 or $7. I'll post updates once I get it done.

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