Susan Rosand

Revisit the

Icicle Ornament


For more than 15 years, turned Christmas ornaments have been a mainstay of my turning. When the sales of other work are slow, I always manage to sell an ornament or two. I have also had the opportunity to demonstrate my ornaments for numerous AAW chapters and at various regional and national events.

It always surprises me a bit that people want to see my ornaments turned time after time. Although I still use the basic procedure I described in the fall 1991 American Woodturner, I now have some variations I would like to share with members.

For those who are not familiar with the icicle ornaments, read on to learn how I make them, as well as discover some variations that my wife, Susan, and I have come up with over the years.

Materials and tools

To make this ornament, I suggest a 2 1/2" x 1 3/4" piece of figured burl that will become the globe. To turn the icicle and the finial, you will need a piece of straight grained wood about 1 1/4" square by 7 1/2" long. I prefer to turn the globe from a light colored wood like oak, ash, or cherry because the lighter woods don't get "lost" when the ornament hangs on a tree bough.

You also will need a good chuck with #2 jaws for turning the globe. The Talon chuck by OneWay is ideal for this because of its small size, but other chucks will do just fine. A set of spigot jaws is almost indispensable for turning the icicle, but you can manage without them the process is just a bit slower.

The icicle requires a small roughing out gouge. A 3/4" roughing out gouge works fine, but if you turn a lot of these ornaments, a 1/2" roughing out gouge is a big help. (Packard Woodworks is one catalog source for this tool.) You also will need some good bent angle tools for hollowing the globe and a small skew. Other than that, standard turning tools should suffice: 3/8" spindle gouge, l/2" spindle gouge (optional), mini square nosed scraper, small (1/4") round nosed scraper, small skew, parting tool.

Turn the globe

Turning the Globe

Glue the burl to a waste block, which is held in the #2 jaws of your chuck. Next, turn the globe to a finished diameter of about 2-1/4" . Shape the globe with a 3/8" spindle gouge as shown in Photo A. I prefer a "flat" globe on the top and bottom rather than a round globe. This allows for an easier fit of the icicle and finial, since both have to be undercut to fit on the globe.

Be sure to make the glue block from a hard wood like oak or maple not plywood or pine. The reason for this is important: The plys in the plywood may separate. Additionally, pine is too soft and may pull out of the jaws, especially if you have a catch.

As you shape the globe to the final dimensions, make sure that you leave enough material at the top of the globe to allow for hollowing, but remove enough material so that you can see what the final shape will be.

Drill a 3/8 inch hole in the globe

Once you have the globe turned, drill a 3/8" hole through the entire ornament into the waste block as shown in Photo B. Then use a small square nosed scraper to open the hole in the bottom of the ornament to about 3/4" wide; this allows room to hollow. Now use the bent angle tools to hollow the interior of the ornament. I prefer a combination of the bent angle tools and a small roundnosed scraper to hollow the interior as shown in Photo C. Hollow the wall thickness to about 1/8" . You don't have to worry about extreme thinness here the idea is to remove some of the interior mass so that the finished ornament does not weigh down the pine bough. As you become more proficient, you can turn thinner walls.

Bent Angle Tool to Hollow out the Globe

As you turn, clean out the shavings; if they build up too much, they can grab the tool and destroy the globe. (The shavings build up more with green wood than dry wood.) Compressed air is one solution, but if you don't have a compressor, a small piece of plastic hose or straw will suffice to blow out the shavings.

Parting the Globe Off

After turning the interior, use the spindle gouge to continue refining the shape of the globe. Don't forget that you have a 3/8" hole drilled through the entire globe. When you are satisfied with the shape of your ornament, sand the globe, apply sanding sealer, and part it from the lathe as shown in Photo D.

Turn the icicle

Turning the Icicle

Place the icicle stock in the spigot jaws of your chuck. The length of the spigot jaws are about 11/2" , so they hold the icicle well as shown in Photo E.

If you don't have a set of spigot jaws, consider drilling a 1" hole in a waste block, then turn a 1" tenon on the icicle stock and glue the two pieces. Although this takes longer to prepare, it's cheaper than buying spigot jaws.

Reduce the diameter with the roughing out gouge, and then refine the shape with a small skew and small spindle gouge

Next, use the roughing out gouge to start turning the icicle. You won't have the support of the tailstock to rely on, so take light cuts. I turn the smallest segment first (the tip of the icicle). I reduce the diameter with the roughing out gouge, and then refine the shape with a small skew and small spindle gouge as shown in Photo F.

This first segment defines the rest of the icicle segments. Each successive one must be a bit larger and longer than the previous one. As you finish a segment, sand, apply sanding sealer and then turn the next one. I usually turn four segments followed by a cove and some other decorative cuts at the top of the icicle.

Parting off the Icicle

When you are satisfied with the icicle, turn a tenon with your parting tool that will fit into the large hole in the bottom of the globe as shown in Photo G.

Once I have the tenon sized to fit the hole in the bottom of the globe (about 3/4" ),1 use a small parting tool ground at an angle or a skew to undercut the icicle so that its shoulder fits nicely into the globe and there are no gaps.

Finally, glue the icicle into the body of the ornament.

The finial

This allows me to make any final changes on the finial and also drill a 1/8" diameter hole.

Turn the finial from the remainder of the icicle stock. I first turn a 3/8" tenon on that stock and then undercut it with the skew or small parting tool. Be sure to check the fit. I then refine the shape, part it from the lathe, reverse the finial and hold it in the spigot jaws. This allows me to make any final changes on the finial and also drill a 1/8" diameter hole as shown in Photo H to accept a small ebony knob (a nice decorative touch).

I then drill another small hole with a pin vise in the ebony knob to accept a screw eye for hanging the ornament as shown in Photo I. Screw eyes (#18A is an ideal size) run about 10 cents apiece. If you want to save some money, consider using cut off fishing hooks or glue in nylon filament.

I then drill another small hole with a pin vise in the ebony knob to accept a screw eye for hanging the ornament.

For final steps, glue the finial in place, and spray the ornament with satin lacquer. If you are just starting out with Christmas tree ornaments, you might consider experimenting with icicles that are somewhat shorter than the length suggested in this article. As you gain confidence and skill, you will be able to lengthen the icicles.

Variations on a theme

Now that you have the basic ornament down pat, you may be looking for ways to vary the design. Over the years, I have found this to be a necessity, particularly selling ornaments at craft shows. I have lost more than one sale by not having this years "new and improved" model. For me, the basic globe and icicle stay the same, but here are some variations that you may consider.

  1. Paint the globe. Susan grabs a handful of the globes that I turn and paints winter country scenes on some of them and holly leaves on others. Recently, she has been experimenting with painting fall leaves on some globes.
  2. Marbleize the globe. We experimented with marbleizing a few years ago, which sold well. Since paint covers the globe, marbleizing allows you to use less expensive wood.
  3. Turn the globe from Banksia seedpods. I'm not particularly fond of turning Banksia, since it is so dirty, but the ornaments turned from it sell well. I usually turn the walls of the globes a bit thicker, since the Banksia "eyes" tend to pop out if you turn it too thin.
  4. Bleach the globe. I prefer two part wood bleach not household bleach. At first I was not impressed with the idea of bleaching the globes I thought that character would be lost. Bleached ornaments are now one of my favorite variations.
  5. Dye the globes. Some of my ornament globes are dyed with red aniline dye and the icicle and finials are turned of red and white striped color wood.
  6. Woodburn the globe. I have recently added pyrography skills. I now burn stars on the globes, which produces a totally different effect. This technique sells well.
  7. Laminate the globe. Consider gluing up some of those precious scraps that you just can't bear to throw away and turning them into ornament globes.

Bob Rosand is a frequent American Woodturner contributor. He lives in Bloomsburg, PA.

This article originally appeared in The Journal of The American Association of Woodturners
Volume 19 Number 3, Fall 2004.