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SECRET SANTA ORNAMENT
INTRODUCTION: At first glance this year’s ornament looks a lot like my earlier sphere ornaments. It’s a sphere, and I even did a couple with the Moon Santa design which you might have seen if you looked at the gallery on my web site. Ah, but this Santa ornament has a secret—it’s actually a box that you can use to hide a small present right on the tree.
I saw Sharon Doughtie demonstrate using pairs of magnets to close a box at an AAW Symposium. I thought it was a really cool idea and ordered some small magnets as soon as I got home. Didn’t get around to trying them though. Several years later Robert Rosand had an article on ornaments that were also boxes. Likewise a cool idea, but I think he used chased threads, and those and I and the need to use some really rare and expensive wood with hardness measured on the Mohs scale don’t get along. I sketched a snowman ornament/box with magnet closure, but never actually tried it. Then last year one of the variations of the sphere ornament I did had a moon Santa pattern. I think the pattern was originally from a carving book—I carved when the kids where small and taking naps—now I’m the one taking naps. There was no way I could pass up making an ornament with the cute title of Secret Santa Ornament, so here it is.
Briefly the ornament starts with a maple body and a walnut design background. Two thin pieces of maple and walnut set the body and design apart. After cutting the walnut background the design and body are joined together with a temporary joint. The elements of the Santa are cut out on a scroll saw and glued in place. Rather than trying to cut them so that the kerf is invisible the pattern makes a virtue out of a necessity by making the spaces deliberately wider and filling the spaces with black tinted Bondo, giving a stained glass effect. The blank is turned to a sphere and then magnets are inlaid in the body and a steel arbor shim in the cap. The body and cap are hollowed and a finial added.
BUILDING THE BLANK: Since the method of doing the Moon Santa design, and hollowing two thirds of a sphere as well as using a magnet closure may be new things for you, it would be prudent to try the techniques separately. You can do a regular sphere ornament with the Moon Santa and an all maple magnetic box ornament to practice the techniques. Or if you don’t mind possibly wasting some work then jump right in.
Start by collecting the materials you need for the blank. For the body you need a piece of maple (or any other wood you like) 3” wide, 2-3/8” thick and 4” long. To separate the design from the body, as well as to make the hollowing more manageable use two pieces of wood 1/16” thick, 3” wide and 4” long, one of maple and the other of walnut (an alternative would be a 1/8” piece that contrasts with both maple and walnut). The design background is 1/2” thick walnut that is 3” wide and 4” long. For the design you’ll 1/2” thick pieces of maple (for the face) padouk or other reddish wood (for the hat) and holly (for the hair and hat trim). The materials are shown in Fig. 1.
Figure #1: The materials.
Make 3 copies of Drawing A, or download a copy with multiple images from http://www.DavidReedSmith.com/articles/SecretSantaOrnament/MoonSantaPattern.pdf and print it. Use the whole pattern for the walnut and the holly. Cut around the hat of the third pattern for the padouk and the face for the maple. Apply 3M #77 spray adhesive to the backs of the pattern pieces as in the left image of Fig. 2. The bamboo skewer was used to keep the pieces from flying away when the spray was applied. Then, following the directions on the can to let the adhesive set up, apply the pattern pieces to the various woods as in the right image of Fig. 3. Pay attention to the grain direction so it all runs the same way.
Drawing A: The Moon Santa Pattern.
Figure #2: Applying the pattern.
Drill an access hole for the scroll saw blade somewhere in the middle of the Moon Santa of the Walnut piece. Thread the blade through the hole as in the left image of Fig. 3 and then cut out the middle as shown in the right image of Fig. 3. If you don’t have a scroll saw you could use a fret saw or a coping saw. You could also buy a scroll saw—one good enough for this kind of work would cost less than a good chuck or wood burning outfit. And you won’t necessarily be taken over by the urge to make painted geese silhouettes or baroque clocks. I own two of them (hate to change blades) and I’ve never done either.
Figure #3: Sawing out the walnut background.
Now prepare the temporary joint. Since the joint is not in the middle of the sphere it is disgustingly obvious that something is missing when the pieces are put back together. Conveniently, the thickness of two layers of blue tape and one layer of copy paper are about the same as the two layers of construction paper that will be used to cover up the magnets and steel that make the box work. If you don’t mind letting the mechanics show, then you could probably use a single piece of kraft paper for the temporary joint. Put a layer of original blue masking tape on the top of the maple body and one side of the 1/16” walnut piece. Cut out a 3” x 4” piece of ordinary white paper. Using a cereal cardboard square as a spreader, put a thin coat of glue on one side of each mating pair and assemble the blank. From the bottom it will be maple body, blue tape, paper, blue tape, 1/16” walnut, 1/16” maple, 1/2” walnut. Fig. 4 shows the set-up for the temporary joint. Clamp the joint until the glue cures. You can work on the design pieces in the mean time.
Figure #4: The set-up for the temporary joint.
Drill a hole for the eye in the maple piece. Then cut out all the pieces. A zero clearance throat, or at least a throat narrower than the smallest piece will be helpful. Cutting out the maple and padouk pieces is straight forward. For the holly pieces, cut lines with a narrow margin first, as in the left image of Fig. 5. As the cap trim was already cut out, the top of his hair piece had a narrow margin and was cut first when there was still a substantial amount to hold on to. If you would rather not deal with this issue, print a few extra copies of the pattern and glue separate pieces on the holly. The right image of Fig. 5 shows all the cut out pieces. The pattern is left on to indicate which side goes up. I added an arrow on the hat trim as well.
Figure #5: Cutting out the design pieces.
Now glue in the design pieces. You can use tweezers or the point of a knife to hold and position the pieces. Place some blue tape on your work surface to protect it and put some glue on the tape. You can dab the piece in the glue, wipe off the excess on the tape, and put the piece in place as in left image of Fig. 6. Try for equal gaps between pieces. After all the pieces are in place, set the blank aside to let the glue cure as in the right image of Fig. 6. Clamping might yield a better bond, but is also likely to disturb the position of the pieces. The Bondo applied in the next step will also serve the glue the pieces in place.
Figure #6: Gluing the pieces in place.
The gaps will be filled with black tinted Bondo. To avoid a reddish tinge you can use a white cream hardener instead of the red hardener that usually comes with the regular Bondo. White hardener can be ordered separately or you could buy 3M All Purpose Filler which comes with the white hardener. Alas, the base of the All Purpose Filler has a white pigment mixed in, which may make your colors somewhat pastel. Or just use more black pigment. Although I had some success tinting Bondo with such things as acrylic paint, dry pigments work better. You can get dry pigments in most colors at an art supply store, but I found some cheaper on eBay. You could also use something else to fill the gaps. Plaster of Paris, after grinding with a mortar and pestle to avoid white lumps, can be colored with acrylic paint. Sawdust and glue is a possibility. I imagine epoxy would also work but I have no experience with it.
Put on disposable gloves. Set-up for mixing the Bondo as shown in Fig. 7. Put some of the base in an appropriate disposable mixing container (like the bottom of a yogurt container). Add black pigment and stir thoroughly. If you don’t use black and mix your own color, reserve some unhardened mix for filling defects after turning. Then add the amount of hardener recommended on the can as in the left image of Fig. 8 and mix thoroughly. Work the black Bondo into the gaps between pieces using the stirrer, your gloved finger, small pieces of cardboard, or a trimmed bamboo skewer. The result is shown in the right image of Fig. 8. Set the blank aside and let the Bondo set. You have a choice here. If you let the Bondo cure overnight the bonds will be stronger. But it will also dull your tools more quickly.
Figure #7: Mix the Bondo
Figure #8: Insert the Bondo
TURNING THE SPHERE: Find the center of the blank at both ends using your favorite method and mount the blank between centers on the lathe. Turn the blank to a cylinder as in the top image of Fig. 9. If you’re going to use the shadow sphere jig to turn the sphere (see references) set it up at this time. You can use an excess pen tube (or any similar object) to line the light up directly over the center of the blank as in the bottom image of Fig. 9. For the pattern to match the shadow to make a circular pattern that has radial lines perpendicular and parallel to the lathe axis. Center the pattern lengthwise to the blank. The pattern should also be centered lengthwise to the blank. Santa’s nose is about on center. Use any pointy object held on the nose adjust the pattern so that the shadow of the point falls on the radial line as in Fig. 10. It’s difficult to center the pattern EXACTLY which is why I didn’t try hollowing the body and creating a tenon on the lid before turning the sphere. But this method will get you within the wiggle room left in the design.
Figure #9: Turn the blank to a cylinder and line up the light.
Figure #10: Center the pattern to the blank.
Turn the blank to a sphere using a spindle detail gouge. The Bondo does tend to dull the tool so you may wish to sharpen it after turning the Bondo area before doing finishing cuts on the end grain. A pyramid point tool used as a shear scraper is also helpful in improving the finish off the tool. Turn the sphere down to supported by nubs. It would be prudent to leave the nubs somewhat thicker than in Fig. 11.
Figure #11: Turn the blank to a sphere.
Take a good look at the fill lines on the design. If there are no filling defects please write and tell me how you did it, perhaps also including a lottery ticket. If instead you’re mortal, remove the blank from the lathe, mix up a little tinted Bondo and fill the defects as in Fig. 12. As the rest of the Bondo is cured, you only have to wait the time suggested on the can before continuing. Remount the blank on the lathe. You can use a foam padded sanding strip to sand off most of the excess Bondo as in Fig. 13. As who knows what’s in Bondo it would be prudent to use a mask as well as dust collection when sanding it.
Figure #12: Filling defects in the Bondo.
Figure #13: Hand sand off excess Bondo.
Now sand the sphere using progressively finer abrasives as in Fig. 14. If you have a vacuum set-up you could consider doing the primary sanding after removing the nubs. If you are using just tape to hold the sphere in the chuck flipping it around for each grit would likely drive you crazy.
Figure #14: Sand the sphere.
Thin the nubs to where you can cut them off with a utility knife as in Fig. 15. A shear spear is a nice tool for this (see references). Remove the sphere from the lathe and cut off the nibs.
Figure #15: Thin the nubs.
Mount a sphere chuck on the lathe (see references). Mount the sphere in the chuck and sand the nub area of each end in turn as in Fig. 16. The sphere chuck makes an excellent holding device to start splitting the temporary joint. Carefully align a putty knife with the temporary joint and tap it with a mallet to start the split as in Fig. 17. Then remove the sphere from the chuck and finish splitting the temporary joint. Remove the tape and paper from both body and cap.
Figure #16: Sand the nub areas.
Figure #17: Starting to split the temporary joint while held in the sphere chuck.
MAGNETIC CLOSURE SYSTEM: Before you start preparing to mount the magnets, prepare some construction paper to cover up the metal parts and replace the missing thickness of the temporary joint. Red or green is traditional. You’ll have less trouble with the paper fraying if you “harden” it with lacquer sanding sealer first. Cut out a piece big enough to cover the body and cap, roughly 3” x 6”. Lay down some waxed paper to protect your work surface and paint both sides of the paper with a generous coat of lacquer sanding sealer as in Fig. 18. Then hang it up to dry via a wire poked through one corner.
Figure #18: Stiffening construction paper.
Three 3/16” x 3/16” rod magnets will suffice to hold the cap on. There isn’t enough thickness at the rim of the cap for magnets. It’s also very difficult to center the body and cap exactly enough to place the magnets exactly, and magnets tend to self-center on each other. A thin flat piece metal is a better solution. After browsing an Industrial Supplier I found Arbor Shims. They’re thin and narrow and come in a variety of diameters. I used ones that are 2-1/8” OD, 1-1/2” ID and .010” thick.
Mount the body in the sphere chuck using the flat front of the tailstock ram as in Fig. 19 to push it into the chuck. This will ensure the flat face of the body is perpendicular to the lathe access. If you have a drill guide set it up on the lathe with a 3/16” drill bit mounted. Use the lathe indexing system to equally space the holes for the magnets. If you choose not to cover the metal parts with construction paper orient the holes so that they will look symmetrical when the ornament is done, say with one hole top dead center. Drill the holes 3/16” deep as in Fig. 20. If you don’t have a drill guide, then drill the holes with a hand held drill to marks laid out with the indexing system and cover up any errors with the construction paper later. Remove the body from the chuck and insert the magnets as in Fig. 21. Put some blue tape on your work surface to protect it and put a drop or two of CA glue on the tape. Using some sort of flat metal rod as a handle (chuck screw T-handle hex wrench works nicely) dip the magnet in the glue and then place it in the drilled hole. Measure how far the rim it will be safe to hollow the body later and pencil it on the outside of the body somewhere.
Figure #19: Use the tailstock ram to align the body in the sphere chuck.
Figure #20: Drill mounting holes for the magnets.
Figure #21: Insert magnets.
You’ll need a smaller sphere chuck for the cap. If I was planning to do a lot of these ornaments I would make a dedicated chuck with a recess the size of the cap to aid in alignment. You may need to use an extra 2mm foam gasket to get a seal between the cap and the chuck as shown in the inset of Fig. 25. Again using the tail stock ram for alignment, mount the cap in the chuck. Double check by rotating the spindle to make sure the alignment is correct. You can bring up a corner of your tool rest very close to the cap and watch the gap between the tool rest and the cap as you rotate the lathe. Layout the recess for the Arbor shim with pencil, and then check the layout by holding the arbor shim on the cap by hand as in Fig. 22. Then use a standard parting tool as a scraper to cut a recess for the Arbor Shim as in the right image of Fig. 22. Rough up the surface of the Arbor Shim with some fine sandpaper. Place a few dots of CA glue in the recess on the cap and put the shim in place. Fig. 23 shows the set-up for gluing in the Arbor Shim and it glued in place in the inset. It’s not a great fit—I think the cap shifted in the chuck—but the paper will cover up this sin.
Figure #22: Create a recess for the Arbor Shim.
Figure #23: Glue the shim in place.
Now glue the hardened construction paper to the body and cap. The first time I tried this I used my usual 3M #77 spray but found when I trimmed it with sandpaper after hollowing that it tended to roll over and stick onto the body and become hard to remove. So use some kind of regular glue that will stick to metal such as Locktite Go2. Using the cap as a template, cut out slightly larger circles with scissors. Spread a thin coat of glue on the paper and place them on the cap and body. You can clamp them together with a piece of waxed paper in between. Fig. 24 shows the set-up for gluing on the paper.
Figure #24: Glue construction paper over the magnets and shim.
HOLLOWING: Using the smaller chuck, mount the cap for hollowing again using the tailstock ram and tool rest to assist with alignment. You may need to use a 2mm craft foam gasket as seen in the inset to get a good vacuum seal as in the inset of Fig. 25. Since you know the ID of the shim you can pencil in a line just inside of where it’s safe to hollow. I don’t recommend hollowing into the design area—it doesn’t look attractive and you may pull chunks of Bondo out. Make a shallow depression as in Fig. 25. If you want to use a friction polish you can polish the bottom of the cap at this time.
Figure #25: Hollow the cap.
With calipers, measure the distance from the flat face of the body to the opposite side of the sphere. Set a depth drill to a safe amount less than this distance. Mount the body in the larger sphere chuck, again using the tailstock ram to help align it. Measure in from the rim the safe hollowing distance and mark just inside that with pencil as in Fig. 20. Turn a starting dimple in the middle of the face and then use the depth drill, as in Fig. 21, to indicate the hollowing depth.
Figure #26: Mark the width of the rim.
Figure #27: Use a depth drill to mark hollowing depth.
One way to start hollowing the body is to start with a small bowl gouge as in Fig. 28. You should be able to hollow to the width of the rim down to the bottom of the depth drill. Trying to undercut the rim with a gouge in such close quarters is a good way to have a catch and destroy all your previous work, so switch to some kind of scraper like the Stewart System handle show in Fig. 29 to undercut the rim and finish hollowing. A shear scraper (1/2” drill blank sharpened to a45° bevel), as in Fig. 30 should both smooth out the surface and lessen sanding time.
Figure #28: Start hollowing with a bowl gouge.
Figure #29: Complete hollowing with a scraping hollowing tool.
Figure #30: Refine the surface with a shear scraper.
FINISHING: A small foam cone sander (see references), as in Fig. 31 will make the initial sanding of the inside of the body go more quickly. If you don’t want to fuss with sanding the interior an alternative would be to use Suede-Tex.
Figure #31: Sand the interior.
Trim the construction paper to the contours of the sphere by carefully centering the cap on the body and holding it in place with a blunt tailstock center cushioned with 2mm craft foam as in the left image of Fig. 32. You can trim most of the excess paper away with scissors and then sand away the rest starting with 150 grit or so. The result is shown in the right image of Fig. 32.
Figure #32: Trim the paper to the sphere contour.
If you want to use a friction polish then polish the inside of the body at this time as in Fig. 33. You can friction polish the outside of the ornament in stages. Polish the front half of the body in the same mounting as for the polishing inside as in the left image of Fig. 34. Reverse the body and polish the back of the body as in the center image of Fig. 34. Then mount the smaller chuck and polish the cap as in the right image of Fig. 34.
Figure #33: Polish the inside.
Figure #34: Polish the outside.
Turn a finial of your choice. If you want to use the style finial in the pictures see references. Measure the wall thickness of the ornament where you want the finial with a pair of calipers. If it’s thick enough (if not, use some kind of backup to drill through cleanly and adjust the tenon to the same length as the thickness), mark a drill matching the diameter of your finial tenon for less than that depth. Make a starting dimple for the drill with an awl and then drill a mortise for the finial. Finally add a hanger. The completed ornament is shown in Fig. 35.
Figure #35: The completed ornament.
VARIATIONS: There are many changes you could make to the basic idea. I’ve written an addendum (see references) showing how to make the make the Moon Santa using Intarsia and veneering techniques. You could use maple for the entire ornament and paint, ink or wood burn the Santa. You could use two temporary joints so that you could hollow the ornament as hemispheres. Have fun and send pictures.
TOOLS AND MATERIALS:
Lathe and normal tools, Scroll or Fret Saw, shadow sphere jig, sphere chucks, putty knife, drill bits, vise grips as depth drill holder.
Spray Adhesive, 3” x 2-3/8” x 4” maple, 1/16” x 3” x 4” maple and walnut, 1/2” x 3” x 4” walnut, small pieces 1/2” thick maple, holly, & padouk, Bondo & white cream hardener, black pigment, construction paper, lacquer sanding sealer, 3 each 3/16”x 3/16” rare earth magnets, arbor shim, Locktite Go2, 2mm craft foam.
Shadow Sphere Jig: http://davidreedsmith.com/Articles/ShadowSphereJig/ShadowSphereJig.htm
Foam Cone Sander: http://davidreedsmith.com/Articles/FoamConeSander/FoamConeSander.htm
Intarsia & Veneer versions: http://davidreedsmith.com/Articles/SecretSantaOrnament/Addendum.htm