Canadian Woodworking

Christmas tree ornament

Author: J. P. Rapattoni
Published: December January 2005

These turned decorative balls are a big hit at Christmas time and make wonderful gifts.

It’s a great project for both the beginner as well as the advanced turner because they can be made as simple or as complicated as you like. A simple diamond pattern is a good place for the beginner to start. The star pattern shown here is a bit more complex but the steps are the same. You can use any symmetrical pattern, so come up with some of your own.

Apply paint

Glue the parts

Turn the form

Finish and sand

Prepare your stock

Choose straight grained lumber with no voids or knots. Prepare a blank 3″ x 3″ x 9″ (see Note 1). Mark and punch the center on each end and mark the corners as indicated in Drawing 1. Mount the blank between centers and prepare one end to mount in your chuck. Turn just enough to fit the chuck without removing the corners from any other part of the blank. Draw a circle in the center of the blank 1/2″ smaller than the finished diameter of 2 1/2″ and extend lines around the blank at each end. Your pattern should fit within this circle (see Note 2 and Drawing 2).

Remove the waste

With the blank mounted in the chuck and the tail center in place, remove the corners within the lines. First score the corners with a skew to prevent breakage. Then, using a parting tool, part down just inside the lines until you almost meet at the centre of each flat. Remove the waste, forming a cylinder between the lines, and clean the cut up to the lines with your parting tool. Cut just until you meet the flat in the center of the blank.

Cut the profile

The rest of the work is done with a skew. Form a ‘V’ in the centre, and work it down until it’s 3/4″ deep and 5/8″ wide. Then cut a 1/4″ chamfer on each of the corners you just formed. Form two ‘V’ cuts on the chamfers you just made at approximately 45º to the face of the blank. Make these 1/2″ deep and 1/4″ wide. Finally, taper the remaining flat portions towards the centre. Taper from the existing outside diameter down to the diameter of the points in the centre.

At this point you should apply the finish to the profile. If you wish you can colour it. I chose to paint mine yellow.

Remove the blank

Remove the blank and rip it with a bandsaw into four equal pieces. Now orient the four pieces (as shown in Drawing 3) and glue them together (see Note 3). You can now see the complete profile of the void. Once the glue has cured, you’re ready for the second turning.

Second timing

Mount the glued- up blank between centres and turn a cylinder. Square up one end and turn it to fit your chuck. With the blank mounted in a chuck and the tail centre in place, begin roughing the outside shape. Refine the ball with a skew, working from the centre out (see Note 4). Form the icicle on the tailstock end tapering down to 1/4″ and complete that side of the ball before moving on. Work from the ball towards the tailstock. If any sanding is needed, do it now. Begin forming the icicle on the headstock end.

Start at the ball and work towards the headstock. Complete the headstock end of the ball before tapering the icicle too much. This is to ensure the icicle doesn’t break before it’s complete. Then carefully taper the icicle towards the headstock until it comes free. Finish as desired (see Note 5). I chose to use a red dye and finished with water based varathane. Finally, remove the waste, drill a pilot hole in the top and install a 1/4″ brass screw eye.


1. The faces must be exactly square and the ends must also be square to the face, so take care when preparing the blank.

2. The smaller circle allows for a 1/4″ wall thickness. Going slightly beyond this is alright, but not advised. At no point should the depth of cut exceed 1/4 of the outside diameter; in this case 3/4″. Going beyond that will result in a weak point that may cause the ball to split in half when doing the second turning.

3. Make sure the 4 corners meet exactly in the centre.

4. Reduce the size of the ends but leave extra material on the headstock end for strength.

5. If you’re using a friction polish, finish each part as you complete it.

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