Birdhouse Ornament in the Round

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This article is from Issue 32 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Make something "tweet" for the holidays.

Desginer/Turner/Writer: Edward Thomson

Two simple turnings (the body or house and the top or roof) combine to form a delightful tree trimmer. Try a variety of contrasting woods for different looks, and use a simple brass screw eye to hang the ornament with a hook. This is an ideal assignment for a beginning turner wanting to make a memorable gift for friends and loved ones.

Note: See the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide for the items used in this story.

Begin with the body

1 Mount a four-jawed chuck with standard 2" dovetail jaws to your lathe and securely tighten the jaws on a 1¾ × 1¾ × 4" blank (we used maple). Set your lathe speed to 2,000 rpm and use a 1" roughing gouge to establish a 1¾"- diameter cylinder, as shown in Photo A. (Note: Use the same speed for all the turning stages unless specified.)

2 Next, true up the end grain with a 3/8" spindle gouge, keeping the tip just below centerline.

3 Decrease the speed to 1,000 rpm. Referring to the left-hand dimensions in Figure 1, use a rule and pencil to transfer the depth marks onto the cylinder as shown in Photo B, starting from the trued end.

4 Stop the lathe. Using a drill and 3/8" brad-point bit, bore a ¾"-deep entrance hole where shown in Figure 1 and as shown in Photo C. Switch to a 1/8" bit and drill the perch hole.

5 Restart the lathe and increase the speed to 2,000 rpm. Using a 1/8" parting tool, cut a groove at the neck line, leaving a 7/8" diameter as shown in Photo D. Periodically check the diameter with a caliper.

6 Switch to a 3/8" spindle gouge and shape the upper part of the body down to the neck line as shown in Photo D Inset.

7 Then, with the tool rest centered on the workpiece, taper the body end with a 1" skew as shown in Photo E. Keep the bevel against the body, pushing it toward the end while using the heel of the skew. Use the Body Template to check the shape.

8 Stop the lathe and angle the tool rest across the end grain. With a 1" skew flat on the tool rest, use the point of the skew to cut into the center of the body in small increments to a depth of ½". (You can see where the center is as the workpiece spins.) Switch to a ¼" scraper and hollow the inside of the body down past the entrance hole (but not the perch hole). Leave the rim wall thickness at 1/8" (Photo F).

9 Stop the lathe and reposition the tool rest parallel with the axis of the body. Now using a 3/8" spindle gouge, shape the stem down to 7/16" at the ball, as shown in Photo G. Shape the ball with a 1/8" parting tool as shown in the Photo G Inset.

10 Decrease the speed to 1,000 rpm and lightly sand the body with 180-, 220-, and 320-grit sandpaper (Photo H). Increase the speed to 2,000 rpm and part off the body with a 1/8" parting tool as shown in the Inset. Hand-sand the nub at the end of the ball.

Turn and add the top

1 Chuck-mount a 17/8 × 17/8 × 3"-long blank for the birdhouse top. (Use a contrasting wood.) Turn the block to a 17/8" cylinder with a 1" roughing gouge and true the end with a 3/8" spindle gouge.

2 Take the rule and measure the outside diameter of the body as shown in Photo I.

3 Transfer the body measurement onto the trued end of the cylinder as shown in Photo J. This establishes the recess diameter.

4 Using the point of a 1" skew, cut in 1/8" at the mark, and then hollow the recess with a ½" round-nose scraper to a depth of 1/8".

5 Turn off the lathe and test the fit of the body in the top as shown in Photo K. Enlarge the opening if needed.

6 Move the tool rest parallel to the axis and transfer the dimensions from the Top Template to the cylinder with a rule and pencil as before. Using a 3/8" spindle gouge, shape the top, leaving 5/16" at the chuck end. Check the shape against the template.

7 Sand the top using 180-, 220-, and 320-grit sandpaper and then part off the top at a slight upward angle with the 1/8" parting tool to create a point. Hand-sand the top smooth.

8 Cut a 1/8  × 1/8" strip of walnut 6" long, using a straightedge and utility knife. Hand-sand the piece to round over the corners. From it, crosscut a piece measuring 1¼" long for the perch.

9 Apply a small amount of glue around the recess in the top. Fit the body in the top and rotate slightly to spread the glue. Dab a spot of glue in the perch hole and insert the perch, allowing ½" to protrude.

10 Make a point in the center of the top with an awl and then screw in a ½" brass screw eye with 1/8" hole as shown in Photo L. Hang the ornament with a fine string and spray-finish it with two to three coats of satin lacquer. Once dry, dress up the birdhouse with a small bird glued to the perch. 

About Our Turner

“Woodturning is my way of relaxing from my everyday job as a cabinet and furniture maker,” says West Virginian Edward Thomson. Several years ago, Ed began turning by making small turned gifts for family and friends using leftover scraps of wood. He now sells his turned items at craft shows and galleries.


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