banner

Home         Articles Page         David@DavidReedSmith.com

This article was published in the Winter 2011 (#28)  edition of  Woodturning Design.

If you would like to be notified when I post a new article, send me an email.  I'll only use the list for that purpose, and I'll mail blind cc so your address won't be any the worse for spam.

If you have comments, questions, or suggestions I'd enjoy hearing from you.  Just send me an email.  My address is David@DavidReedSmith.com.  If it's a suggestion I'd be happy to post it along with this article.  Let me know if you would like your email address posted as part of the attribution, or limited to only name, or only first name, etc.

Snowflake Ornament

9 page version in pdf format       Miter sled      Miter sled as pdf

Introduction

I have long thought that I preferred to turn utilitarian objects.  But I’ve also done a lot of Christmas Ornaments, whose sole and rather tenuous claim to utility is decoration.  I’m not really all that hung up on consistency but it does puzzle me now and again.  A month or so ago I was reading Shop Craft as Soulcraft where Matthew B Crawford explained the advantage of a job with physically measurable results, such as carpentry or motorcycle repair, is that one is freed from the necessity for “chattering interpretations”.  Likewise Christmas Ornaments are usually recognizable as such (except, as my wife unkindly said, when they look more like coasters).  They either look good on the tree or they don’t, and are light enough the tree can support them or not.  A neat explanation of my puzzle, and the rest of the book was interesting as well.  Although not a book to read if you don’t like to look up words.

 

Enough of this diversion (perhaps I think the picture alone will hook you into reading the article and I don’t need a good opening?) and on to the Snowflake Ornament.  I think it’s visually attractive, has a good “how’d he do that” component, and has a lot of negative space so it can be made of most any wood without being too heavy.  It’s sort of like an inside-out ornament that’s only opened up instead of turned completely inside out. 

 

Briefly, the ornament is started by ripping an equilaterally triangular stick on the table saw.  The stick is cut into 6 segments (one for each arm of a snowflake) and the segments are mitered on one end at 30 degrees.  The segments are then temporarily fastened together into a hexangonal cross-sectioned spindle with blue masking tape and wood glue.  A flat drive plate with a removable center pin is made, and the hexagonal spindle is fastened to it with blue masking tape and hot melt glue.  A pattern is turned into the spindle using tailstock support as long as possible.  The hexagonal spindle is split apart and glued into a snowflake.  The snowflake is remounted on the drive plate to turn the center of the back and any irregularities in the miter joint are covered with a small additional decoration to complete the ornament

Triangle Segments

Ripping

Because the snowflake design has a lot of negative space you can use any wood you like without worrying overly about having too heavy an ornament.  However because the ornament suggests a snowflake, light colored woods are appropriate.  Maple is a good choice.  Knot free (or cut around them) pine is also okay if you want something less expensive.  ¾” thickness yields a nice result.  I weighed a typical glass ornament—it had a Norman Rockwell illustration—it was 20 grams.  Pine snowflakes were in the range of 11 to 15 grams, and maple snowflakes were in the range of 20 to 25 grams.

 

 

The method of ripping I’ll describe is vulnerable to small differences in the width of strips, so begin by cross-cutting a board to a length long enough to yield six 2-1/2” long pieces out of the same strip, about 16-1/2” long.  Then set your table saw blade to 60 degrees as measured from the table (or 30 degrees as measured from perpendicular, the way most table saw scales read).  It will be most accurate if you use a known 60 degree angled triangle.  Raise your blade to maximum height and match the blade to the angle as in Fig01.  The method of gluing the segments into a hexagonal cross sectioned spindle with tape allows for some error, but set the blade as accurately as you can.  Then set the board you’ll use on the table and reduce the blade height so that it’s a tooth or so above the board as in Fig02.

 Fig01

Fig1                       Setting the table saw blade to 60 degrees.

Fig02

Fig2                       Setting blade height for ripping triangles.

Set your rip fence so that the blade removes the minimum to get a full 60 degree angle side.  Mark the location of your rip fence with a strip of masking tape on the outboard side of the rail.  Then rip the edge of the board as in Fig03.  Flip the board lengthwise and reset the rip fence as in Fig04 so that you’ll get the largest triangle possible. Then rip the board as in Fig05.  Use a pencil to make a line down the original surface of the board (the unripped surface) so all the segments can be oriented the same in case your angle is off slightly.  Before moving the fence, use a piece of cardboard or stiff paper to measure the distance between the fence now and the tape that indicated where it was for the first rip as in Fig06.    Now move the tape against the edge of the fence mount, and use the cardboard to move the fence the same amount.  You can use the cardboard gauge after the first rip for any board of the same thickness.  Continue flipping the board and moving the fence and ripping until you feel the board is too narrow to rip safely using a push stick.  To salvage additional use out of valuable narrow board you can glue a waste board onto one edge as in Fig07 (to make it easier to reuse the waste board I put blue masking tape on the edge of both boards, sanded the tape lightly, and glued the boards together with wood glue (not hot-melt this time, as that would yield a glue line of uneven thickness))

Fig03

Fig3                       Making the first rip to put a 60 degree edge on the board.

Fig04

Fig4                       Setting the rip fence for the second rip.

Fig05

Fig5                       After the second rip.

Fig06

Fig6                       Recording the rip fence interval for subsequent rips.

Fig07

Fig7                       Using a scrap board as a width extension to safely rip narrow stock.

Crosscut & Miter

If you’re only planning to make a few ornaments, or to try the technique out, you can use a sled and miter gauge to cross-cut and miter the segments.  Set the stop on your sled fence to 2-1/2” and cross cut a triangular strip into six 2-1/2” segments as in Fig08.  Keep the segments for any given strip together as there may be slight differences in size—rubber bands work well for this.  Cut as many sets as you want to work on at this point.

 Fig08

Fig8                       Cross-cutting segments with a table saw sled.  Note the rubber bands keeping the segments from a previous triangular stick separate.

To cut the miters at 30 degrees you’ll need to put an extension on your miter gauge.  A plain pine board will do.  Make it long enough to extend past the blade.  Set the miter gauge to 30 degrees and pass the temporary fence through the blade.  This will create a kerf that will help you set a stop block for the segments.  Bring the miter gauge back so that the kerf is over the table and mark with a pencil on your table.  Mark the middle of an end of a segment and place it on the temporary miter gauge fence.  Slide the segment until the marked middle matches up with the kerf line.  Fasten a stop block to set the segments repeatedly at this point.  I used a screw.  A clamp would be okay.  Then cut all of the segments in this batch at this setting.  For consistency keep the marked (non-ripped original surface) down.  Again, keep segments from different strips segregated.  Fig09 shows cutting the first miter.  My fingers felt uncomfortably close to the blade, and I had to press hard on the top edge of the segment to avoid creep.  In hindsight I should have tilted the miter the other way.

 Fig09

Fig9                       Cutting the first miter with miter gauge and extension.

Now set the miter gauge for the opposite miter using the same procedure.  Fig10 shows cutting the second miter.  I switched to the other miter gauge slot.  Again it would have been more comfortable had I tilted the miter gauge the other way.

 Fig10

Fig10                   Cutting the second miter with miter gauge and extension.

Crosscut & Miter with Jig

More detailed plans for a second generation jig.

A more comfortable way to cut the miters is to make a jig—in this case a dedicated sled as in Fig11 if you want to do this option.   Cut two rectangles of ½” plywood 7” by x12”, or about 2 inches wider than the miter gauge slot separation.  Also cut two UHMW 3/8” x ¾” strips 7” long.  Set one of the plywood rectangles on the table saw straddling the miter gauge slots with an edge aligned with the front edge of the table.  Mark where the miter gauge slots go under the plywood.  Remove the plywood from the table saw and drill and countersink for two screws for each slot.

 Fig11

Fig11                   Miter jig to make miters more comfortable.

 

Place the UHMW strips in the miter gauge slots with one end of each strip even with the front of the table saw table.  Place the plywood straddling the miter gauge slots with an edge even with the front edge of the table.  Use a couple of clamps to hold it that way and then attach the plywood to the strips with wood screws.  Be sure to select screws that won’t go all the way through the strips and scrape on the table saw slots.

 

Drill and countersink four holes, one near each corner (except about 2” down on the top left corner) in the other plywood rectangle.  Line up the rectangles and fasten them together with wood screws.  Turn on the saw and cut about half way through the jig.  Measure ¾” down from the top of the jig and mark across the kerf.  Draw a 30 degree line from where the mark intersects the kerf on each side.  Draw another pair of lines parallel to these lines 1” higher.  Select a segment and mark the middle of one end.  Place it on the lower 30 degree line so that the middle mark is on the kerf, then trace the opposite end.  Repeat on the other side.  Measure and mark 2-1/2” from the right side of the kerf to the right at the top of the plywood.  Draw a ¾” line perpendicular to the top edge at the mark.  Draw a line parallel to the top edge ¾” below the edge from the left side to the perpendicular line. 

 

Remove the top plywood rectangle.  Cut on the lines and then replace the top.  Do a test run with a segment to check your work, and if all is well refasten the top piece with glue and screws.

 

To use the miter jig first cut a piece to 2-1/2” length using the rebate on the top as in Fig12.  Then cut the miters as in Fig13 and Fig14, keeping the marked side of the segments facing down.  My fingers felt quite a bit safer doing it this way.

Fig12

Fig12                   Cross-cutting segments with miter jig.

Fig13

Fig13                   Cutting the first miter with miter jig.

Fig14

Fig14                   Cutting the second miter with miter jig.

Turning Hexagonal Spindle

Assemble Hexagonal Spindle

The first step in assembling the six mitered segments is to apply blue (or other extended release) masking tape to the mating surfaces.  The tape will allow you to split apart the hexagonal spindle after sanding and clean up with only a little mineral spirits.  The tape should be applied to the ripped surfaces, not the marked surface.  The miters do not have to be taped.  The tape holds better if the coating on the top is sanded.  You may find it faster to transfer the tape to a clean flat surface and sand lightly first.  Once the tape is applied and sanded gather some wood glue (regular Titebond allegedly grabs quicker than the later versions) and a couple of strong rubber bands to use as clamps as in Fig15.

  Fig15

Fig15                   The set-up for assembling the hexagonal spindle.

Start assembling the hexagonal spindle by applying some glue to a segment and rubbing it against another to spread the glue as in Fig16.  Continue until all six segments have been added and then wind the rubber bands around the hexagonal spindle.  Set the spindle on a flat surface with the mitered ends pointing down and push on each segment so that the points are all aligned.  Have a look at each end of the spindle and try to align the segments so all of the inner angles meet at one point.  Then set the hexagonal spindle aside until the glue cures as in Fig17.  After the glue cures remove the rubber bands.  Trim both ends using the table saw sled as in Fig18. Remove only a little bit from the end with miters resulting in a flat about 1/16” wide as in Fig19.  The flat on the miter end allows us to mount the spindle for turning, as well keeping the points from interfering with the fit in the final assembly.  Trimming the other ends keeps the tailstock from pushing the spindle out of alignment when mounting.

Fig16

Fig16                   After applying glue to one taped segment face.

Fig17

Fig17                   The hexagonal spindle clamped together with rubber bands while the glue cures.

Fig18

Fig18                   Trimming the ends of the hexagonal spindle.

Fig19

Fig19                   The miter end of the hexagonal spindle after trimming.  The flats make it easier to mount the spindle for turning.

Removable Center Pin Drive Plate

The spindle and the back of the assembled Snowflake will be turned using a Drive Plate.  It is much easier to mount the spindle or Snowflake on center if the Drive Plate has a center pin.  It is easier to remove the final assembled Snowflake if there is no center pin to interfere with a putty knife.  So make a Drive Plate with a removable center pin.

 

 Begin by rough cutting a 3-1/2” disc out of some kind of sheet goods—I used melamine, which has a surface that releases tape well.  Mark the center of the disc.  Pin the disc to your four jaw chuck with the tailstock.  Use a bowl gouge to turn the rim of the disc true and turn a tenon that will fit well in your four jaw chuck as in Fig20.  Remount the disc directly in your four jaw chuck with the tenon out by the now trued rim and use a skew as a scraper to make a conical dimple in the center of the disc as in Fig21.  The dimple should be around a half inch in diameter.  It will guide the removable pin into the center of the disc when in use.  Reverse the disc in the four jaw chuck so that it is mounted by the tenon.  Drill a hole one wire size drill larger than the wire you will use for the center pin as in Fig22.

 Fig20

Fig20                   After turning the rim and tenon on the drive plate.

Fig21

Fig21                   After countersinking the middle of the drive plate to guide the insertion of the removable center pin.

Fig22

Fig22                   Drilling a hole for the removable center pin.  Use a drill just slightly bigger than the pin.

Select a 3/8” dowel rod and insert it into the shaft of your lathe so that it goes through the headstock and rests against the back of the drive plate.  Mark the dowel about 4” beyond the end of the shaft.  Then remove the dowel and cut it to length on the mark.  Select a piece of wire to serve as the center pin.  I used 0.055” stainless steel wire, but anything in that general range will do, such as a dull or broken drill bit,  straightened music wire, or small nail.  Drill a pilot hole in the center of the end of the dowel and glue in the wire with CA glue.  The result is seen in Fig23.  To use the removable center pin insert it into the headstock of your lathe pin first.  The dimple should guide it into the drilled hole in the disc.  You can watch between the jaws of the chuck as in Fig24.

Fig23

Fig23                   The completed removable center pin.

Fig24

Fig24                   The removable center pin in place.

Turning

Apply blue masking tape to the front of the Drive Plate.  Turn the lathe on and lightly sand the surface of the tape, then turn the lathe off and insert the center pin as in Fig25.  Put small pieces of pre-sanded blue tape over the flats on the mitered ends of the hexagonal spindle.  Pin the hexagonal spindle to the Drive Plate with the tailstock.  Use the center pin as a guide for mounting at the headstock end and the center of your conical tailstock center as a guide for mounting at the tailstock end.  The mitered ends face the Drive Plate as in Fig26.  Use your hot-melt glue gun and put small globs (I’d say dots, but who can do dots with a glue gun?) where the miters meet the drive plate as in Fig27.  The result is shown in Fig28.  If you’re only doing one at this time and don’t want to wait for the glue gun to heat up, I’ve successfully use CA glue and hardener.

 Fig25

Fig25                   The drive plate with sanded extended release masking tape and removable center pin.

Fig26

Fig26                   The hexagonal spindle pinned to the drive plate with tailstock center.

Fig27

Fig27                   Fastening the hexagonal spindle to the drive plate with a hot melt glue gun.

Fig28

Fig28                   A close up of the hot melt glue globs.

Draw some pencil lines on a couple of segments just past the mitered portion to tell you what part to leave unturned as in Fig29.  Check to make sure nothing hits your tool rest and turn the lathe on—you should be able to work at normal spindle turning speeds.  Use the point of your skew (or detail gouge if you don’t do skews) to turn a V-groove at the mark just past where the miters end.  Now use your spindle roughing gouge or other tool to turn the rest of the hexagonal spindle round and then taper it towards the tailstock as in Fig30.

 Fig29

Fig29                   After marking the limits of the miters on the hexagonal spindle.  It may look as if the tailstock cup is not in contact with the spindle.  Actually I’m using a mini-cup center instead of the removable point.

Fig30

Fig30                   After making a V-groove and turning the hexagonal spindle to a cone.

You can now turn whatever pattern you like into the cone.  I favor a combination of V-grooves, coves, and parting tool cuts.  I do suggest you round over the V-groove marking where the miters end, as that will make any gluing errors less obvious.  The result is shown in Fig31.  It is difficult to visualize how the pattern will look when unfolded.  Thankfully, it doesn’t seem to matter a lot, so play with different ideas.  Snowflakes aren’t supposed to look alike.

 Fig31

Fig31                   After turning details on the hexagonal spindle.

Remove the tailstock support now and gently turn the point of the hexagonal spindle as in Fig32.  Don’t try for too acute an angle—when unfolded it will look considerably more pointed.  Sand the hexagonal spindle with progressively finer grits.  The result is shown in Fig33.  You should be able to remove the hexagonal spindle by hand.  Use a putty knife if this is difficult.

Fig32

Fig32                   After turning the tip of the hexagonal spindle.  Don’t try for an acute point.

Fig33

Fig33                   After sanding the turned hexagonal spindle.

Assembly

Place the hexagonal spindle on a flat surface and use a putty knife to split apart the segments as in Fig34.  Pick a tape line that appears to be straight across.  Push the knife slowly through the tape joint as in Fig34.  Then use the putty knife to split all the segments apart as in Fig35.  Remove all of the tape.  Sand the ripped surfaces on all of the segments with a sanding drum or by hand (unless you pre-sanded them in which case you should remove any tape residue with mineral spirits).

 Fig34

Fig34                   Splitting the turned hexagonal spindle.  Pick a tape/glue line that looks continuous and slowly push the putty knife through the joint.  Don’t bang on the putty knife or you’ll likely break some of the turning details off.

Fig35

Fig35                   Continuing to separate the segments on the tape/glue lines.

Find a flat surface to work on that wood glue won’t stick to.  Start with a pair of segments.  Put a thin amount of wood glue on a mitered surface of one segment.  Bring the mating miter surfaces of the two segments together and rub them back and forth a bit to distribute the glue evenly.  Resist the temptation to use your fingers on errant glue as you may then transfer some glue to the sanded surfaces.  Then align the two pieces.  Concentrate on keeping the line where the mitered surfaces meet even, and the flats (unturned area) of the bottom of the segments flat on the work surface as in Fig36.  Hold them in place for a minute or so until the glue grabs.  Repeat these steps for one more pair.  Leave the remaining pair untouched.

 Fig36

Fig36                   Gluing a pair of segments.  Hold the unturned flats down on the flat surface.  Concentrate on aligning the visible lines where the miters intersect the sloped edges of the segment.

After the glue has set enough to sustain handling, add a third segment to each pair in the same manner—apply a little glue, rub to distribute, align the miters, and hold for a minute or so as in Fig37.  Set the glued segments aside until the glue has cured well enough to sustain more vigorous handling.

 Fig37

Fig37                   Gluing a third segment to the pairs created in the last step.  Again, concentrate on aligning the intersection of miter and sloped edge.

If you’re a veteran segmented wood turner your assembled miters may fit together perfectly at this point.  The rest of us can sand the halves flat at this point.  A disk sander is best for this.  Sand each triplet of segments until they’re flat across as in Fig38.  Test the fit of the segments as in Fig39—you may be able to make the miters align better by sanding one segment a bit more.  Glue the halves together as in Fig 40 in the same manner by applying some glue, rubbing to distribute, and hold together with the miters aligned as well as possible with the flats on the flat work surface.  Set the snowflake aside until the glue has completely cured.

Fig38

Fig38                   Sanding a half snowflake flat across.  I’m using a lathe mounted sanding disc and a table mounted in the tool post.  I never thought much of this as a concept until I tried it—I really like being able to dial down the speed.

fig39

Fig39                   Test fitting the two snowflake halves.

Fig40

Fig40                   Gluing the two snowflake halves together.

Turning the Back

Once the glue has cured you can turn the center of the back of the ornament (where the miters meet).  Although the ornament looks a little confusing from the back as the curved surfaces distract the eye from the snowflake silhouette, it will look better if this surface is cleaned up.  Attach a strip of blue masking tape to a clean surface and pre-sand it.  Tear segments of tape to wrap over each arm of the snowflake as in Fig41.

 Fig41

Fig41                   After attaching pre-sanded extended release tape to the arms of the snowflake to mount to turn the back.

Apply fresh tape to the drive plate and sand the tape lightly.  Insert the removable center pin into the drive plate and use it to aid centering the front of the snowflake on the drive plate.  Bring up your cone tailstock center to pin the snowflake in place.  Remove the center pin.  Use hot-melt glue to glue the snowflake to the drive plate as in Fig43—a blob of glue where the peak of each arm meets the drive plate will suffice.  Remove the tailstock.  Turn the center of the ornament back with a small bowl gouge—don’t turn a deep bowl or you’ll overly weaken the miters.  Sand with progressively finer grits.  The result is shown if Fig44.  Remove the snowflake from the drive plate by sliding a putty knife between it and the drive plate.  Try to avoid prying the snowflake off, particularly if you weren’t patient enough about waiting for the glue to set.  Then clean up any tape residue on the snowflake with mineral spirits.

Fig42

Fig42                   After applying fresh sanded tape and inserting the removable center pin, the snowflake is pinned to the drive plate with the tailstock.

Fig43

Fig43                   Using the hot-melt glue gun to attach the snowflake to the drive plate.

Fig44

Fig44                   After turning the center of the back of the snowflake.

Finish & Options

Install the hanger of your choice on one of the snowflake arms.  You can finish the ornament with spray lacquer.  An alternative to this would be to sand and finish the ripped surfaces of the triangles before cutting the segments (I tried applying tape before cutting the segments, but then the saw tended to throw the miter off-cuts at me) and apply a rubbing finish on the lathe after both turning steps.

 

As the miters may not meet perfectly at the center of the snowflake, turn a vice into a virtue by attaching a small decorative element.  You could glue a rhinestone on with CA glue as in Fig45 (the ones in the picture are flat backed acrylic). 

 Fig45

Fig45                   The set-up to glue on a rhinestone to the center of the snowflake

If you used a hardwood instead of pine, you might with to use a better rhinestone and frame it with a darker wood as in Fig46.  Mount a dowel of contrasting wood in a chuck (collet chuck preferred).  Turn the dowel true.  Measure the diameter of your rhinestone and drill a shallow hole that diameter in the center of the dowel.  Trim the diameter of the dowel to get a pleasing rim.  Then turn a 1/8” tenon behind the rim and cut off the insert.  It’s much easier to drill a 1/8” hole without chipping out the snowflake arms.  Then glue the rhinestone into the insert, and glue the insert into the snowflake.

 Fig46

Fig46                   An alternative using a framed better quality rhinestone.

Fig47 shows a snowflake with a slightly different insert.  Again mount a contrasting wood in a chuck and turn to 3/8” diameter or so.  Round over the end somewhat.  Then use the indexing feature on your lathe and a triangular file to shape 6 tapered V-grooves on the end of the dowel.  As before turn a 1/8” tenon, cut-off, and glue into a hole drilled in the snowflake.

Fig47

Fig47                   A snowflake with a notched center piece.

Tools & Materials

Table saw

Table saw sled or miter jig

Lathe

Spindle Roughing Gouge

Skew Spindle Detail Gouge

Parting Tool(s)

Putty knife

Disc Sander or attachment

 

Wood for miter gauge extension or miter jig.

Light colored wood for ornament 16.5” long ¾” thick

3-1/2” disc sheet goods for drive plate

3/8” dowel for removable center pin

Wire or small nail for removable center pin

Extended release masking tape

Hot-melt glue gun and glue

Wood glue

Rubber bands

Rhinestones

CA glue

Author

David Reed Smith is a basement woodturner living in Hampstead, Maryland.  He welcomes comments, questions, and complaints via email at David@DavidReedSmith.com.  This article, along with around 50 others will be available on his website:  www.DavidReedSmith.com