Turned Christmas Tree | Popular Woodworking Magazine
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These trees come from the Erzgebirge (‘erts-gə-bir-gə). Actually, I made them in Wisconsin, but the unique warp technique I used evolved in that mountainous region of Germany, which borders the Czech Republic *. With an understanding of this technique and a little practice, you can really enjoy creating trees in a variety of shapes and sizes as standalone decorations, parts of a scene, or hanging ornaments. You can also make flowers (see sidebar).
What may seem simple, however, is actually a little complicated. Expertise with an oblique and modified chisel, the right amount of pressure and depth of cut, the right feed rate and the right wood are all factors in this style of turning. The key to success – being able to consistently transform attractive, lifelike trees – is practice.
Use wet linden
Linden is one of the most desirable woods for this method due to its “fibrous” quality. The best stock has straight grain (as a general rule riveted broth is preferable), and on the wet side – from 15% to 18% moisture. Green lime is an excellent choice. Pine, spruce, and fir tend to give a rougher look than linden, but it’s definitely worth experimenting with.
If only air or kiln-dried wood is available, try soaking the blanks in a bucket of water for a day or two, using stones or metal to keep them submerged. I use 5 “long blanks that are 1-3 / 4” square or 1 “square.
As you may have guessed, completed trees do not require finishing, but they could be colored with spray paints or by spraying or dipping them in water-based dyes. Their exposed trunks and bases could also be hand painted, for a more realistic look.
Modify an old slope
You will need to grind a hook on a 3/4 “to 1” inclined chisel to facilitate the process (Photo 1). While a “normal” skew will work to some degree, this modification definitely helps roll the curls into place with more control and less fiber breakage. Also, with a normal slope, even when driving with the short point in the wood, it’s all too easy to accidentally cut the curl, as would be the intention when making a planing cut with the skew.
Of course, this modification permanently dedicates the tool to rolling curls. There’s no going back (other than grinding a lot of metal), so plan on modifying an inexpensive or (even a woodturning scraper) tilt rather than your pride and joy.
Starting at the bottom of the slope, grind the area behind and below the short stitch into a slightly concave shape (the “hook”). Then soften all the sharp edges of the hook. In German this type of turn is referred to as a “sharp and soft turn”, because the sharp tip of the hook and the softened edges are both used to form and control the curl. Next, make sure the hook region is beveled on all sides and that the shape is as smooth and smooth as you can. After grinding with the round stone, work the hook with a smooth stone or an abrasive round rod.
Sharpen the edge of the slope in the normal way, at an angle of about 70 ° from the long point to the short point and with the length of the bevel about 1-1 / 2 times the thickness of the steel. And be absolutely certain that the short spot is razor sharp.
Equip your lathe with a slide chuck with standard jaws for 1-3 / 4 “blanks or jaws for 1” spigots. You will also need some normal spindle turning tools: a rough gouge, a 1/4 “or 3/8” detail / mandrel gouge, a “normal” pitch of 1/2 “or larger, and a tool parting.
Practice, practice, practice
Begin by practicing a 1 ″ diameter round butt held in the spiral mandrel with small jaws (Photo 2). Understanding how to handle a miter chisel, and especially how to perform the planing cut, will be essential in learning this process.
Hook the short point into the wood at a low entry level, by slightly lifting or fluffing the wood into a curl (Photo 3). Experiment with the entry angle, depth of cut, feed rate, and lathe speed. (For this style of turning I run the lathe between 1500 and 2000 rpm.) See how far you can roll the curl without breaking or cutting it (Photo 4). Roll some curls tight against the previous ones, while others should be left with a space of about 1/8 ″ or so between the curls (Photo 5).
Turn off the curls. Then use a rough gouge or regular miter chisel to taper the blank to a point at the end of the tailstock.
Starting about 3 “from the end, roll a curl to about 1” (Photo 6). During this exercise you will do the opposite of normal practice, which is to “follow the grain” by turning downhill, from a larger diameter to a smaller one. In this case, you cut uphill, from a smaller diameter to a larger one. Roll up a second curl, stopping about 1/8 inch from the previous one. Then roll up other progressively shorter curls until you have nothing but a small dot.
Start by creating a small tree. Plan the overall height and base section in advance: either the curls go all the way down, so the trunk isn’t visible, or a turned section under the bottom curl forms a trunk and base. Much of this will be a repeat of the practice sections, with tight curls touching each other or looser curls that stay slightly apart. A subtle move is to vary the amount of rolling on the shape of a single curl: more for the lower branches and steadily decreasing when reaching the top (Photo 7). As you approach the top of the tree you may have to rotate the cone again to maintain the desired shape (Photo 8).
If you’ve chosen an exposed log and base, rotate them now, using a 1/4 “or 3/8” chuck / detail gouge (Photo 9). Then use a normal or thin parting tool to cut the finished shaft from the stock.
Dry wood curl
Using a dry broth creates an equally attractive but significantly different look because the curls don’t have the flared, open shape you can get with wet broth (Photo 10). In general, dry broth produces tighter curls, so they need to be shorter and closer together.
Sidebar: transform a flower
Think of a flower as a short, wide tree. Fit a 1-3 / 4 “stock into the mandrel and turn it into a cylinder. You don’t want the flower to be too long, so only work the end of the blank (see Photo, above). Start at the outer edge and pull the first curl on the left about 3/4 “to 1”. Then, lift up a second curl that barely touches the first. Next, use a peeling approach with the long slope point to cut shallow steps that gradually reduce the diameter of the material to the right of the curls. Then roll four or five short curls on each step. Finish off the flower by shaping its rounded center like a half-length shape, using a normal downward motion with the detail / spindle gouge.
For variations, try pulling the curls to a slight taper or slightly rounded surface. As with trees, pulling the curls on these shapes requires you to work from smaller diameters to larger diameters, the opposite of normal turning practice. I have also been lucky enough to curl a series of small stepped diameters and leave a lot of material towards the tailstock to complete the center section of the flower.
Another interesting variation is to insert a contrasting colored wood for the center of the flower. Pierce the center with a Jacobs-style mandrel in the tailstock, then insert a short round section of contrasting wood. Then finish the center in the same way as described above.
It is easy to turn a flower into a brooch. Just glue a pin or paper clip to the back. Attach metal wires as stems to create a bouquet or place a single flower in a pot of grass as a decorative item.
* Historically, the Erzgebirge (also known as the Ore Mountains) was relatively isolated, so its artisans, mainly those concentrated around the town of Seiffen, developed a number of unique techniques and products, including curl, ring or circle turning (where multiple pieces – usually small toy animals – are sliced from a single turned ring), smoking men (incense burners) and their interpretation of the nutcracker.
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