Golden-Glow Oil Lamps

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This article is from Issue 33 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Turn this trio and then ebonize the rim for a distinctive look.

Designers/Turners/Writers: Kip Christensen & Rex Burningham

Overall dimensions: 3½"dia. × 2½"h (small lamp)
4¼"dia. × 2½"h (medium lamp) 5"dia. × 2½"h (large lamp)

These complementary lamps make an attractive home accent, adding warmth to a romantic dinner or other occasion. We chose a 2 × 5 × 5" blank of dry cherry to prevent cracking and/or warping. You can change the wood species and sizes if desired. The good news: you can turn the entire trio in an afternoon.

Note: Have the oil bottle in hand before turning the lamp. Bottles with wicks (for a confetti-style lamp) and lamp oil are available at craft stores. You can also size the recess to fit common tea light candles, but include a glass cup to protect the wood from the flame. See the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide for the complete list of items needed to turn the lamps, as well as a DVD on the subject.

Turn the lamp blank

1 To mount the turning blank to minimize waste, drill a hole in a 2 × 3"-diameter bandsawn waste block and thread the block onto a screw center faceplate. Set your lathe speed at 1,000 rpm and turn the outside end of the waste block to 2" diameter using a ½" bowl gouge. Finally, turn the face so it’s flat and smooth. Now, attach double-faced tape to the face of the waste block and press the turning blank in position. Use the tailstock to center the blank and act as a clamp to help press the blank firmly against the block (Photo A). The tailstock should remain in place whenever possible throughout the process. If it’s necessary to turn without tailstock support, be sure to cut with only light pressure.

2 With the lathe set to 1,000 rpm, use a 1/2" bowl gouge to true up the edge of the lamp blank. For a clean, controlled cut, ride the bevel on the wood behind the cutting edge as shown in Photo B. Taking a light cut, push the gouge across the work.

3 With the flute facing the wood, take a light scraping cut to true up the face of the blank, pulling the gouge from the center of the blank to the outside edge (Photo C).

4 To drill the hole for the oil bottle, secure a 11/2" Forstner bit in a Jacob’s chuck and mount it in the tailstock. Using the oil bottle as a guide, mark the depth to be drilled on the bit using a felt-tip pen (Photo D Inset). Now slide the tailstock forward until the drill bit is near the wood and lock it into position. Reduce the lathe speed to 300 rpm and turn the tailstock handwheel to advance the drill bit into the rotating wood (Photo D). Stop when the bit has reached the depth marked on the drill bit.

5 Turn off the lathe and insert the oil bottle in the hole to check the hole depth. The hole should be about 1/8" less than the height of the bottle below the neck. You can drill the hole deeper or turn a small amount of wood off the face of the blank to adjust the hole depth.

6 Reset the lathe back to 1,000 rpm. With a 1/2" bowl gouge, turn the rough shape of the oil lamp to within 1/8" of final dimension, using the profile in Figure 1

as a guide. Photo E shows the top section of the lamp being turned, using a fairly aggressive pull cut with a scraping action and with the flute turned toward the wood.

7 Make final cleaning cuts to both halves with a 3/8" spindle gouge using a light shearing cut. The smaller gouge makes it easier to turn the small cove near the top (Photo F). Hold the tool handle low to create the shearing angle.

Add an ebonized band

1 Reduce the lathe speed to 800 rpm and sand the turning inside and out (Photo G). Begin with 120-grit sandpaper and progress to 180, 240, 320, and 400. (It is not necessary to sand the inside perfectly clean because it will be covered by the oil bottle.) Next, seal the wood inside the hole using two coats of sanding sealer. This reduces the possibility of dye bleeding through the pores from the inside of the hole to the outside surface of the lamp.

2 With the lathe set at 1,000 rpm and the skew lying flat on the tool rest in a scraping position, use the toe to create a small V-groove about 1/4" down from the rim (Photo H).

3 Next, turn the lathe speed up to 2,000 rpm and use a wire burner to create a friction burn in the V-groove (Photo I). The burn line provides a well-defined black groove that establishes a clean line when adding the dye.

4 To ebonize the rim, reduce the rpm to a slow speed (around 50 rpm) and use a black permanent marker or a cotton swab to apply black dye. A marker is easier to control on the outside (Photo J). Use a cotton swab to apply dye inside the hole.

5 Spray a light coat of lacquer on the lamp, as shown in Photo K. (A spray lacquer is recommended because wipe-ons can dissolve the dye and cause it to bleed across the burn line.) Use the slowest lathe speed (30-50 rpm) to reduce the possibility of the lacquer running. Let the lacquer dry, sand lightly with 600-grit abrasive or buff with 0000 steel wool, and then spray on a second coat. Repeat this process at least three times.

6 After the finish dries, remove the oil lamp from the waste block by applying firm constant pressure until the bond with the tape is released.

Turn the lamp bottom

1 To turn the bottom of the oil lamp you will need to mount the lamp on the headstock with the bottom face exposed. To do this, make a simple jam chuck by turning a ½" long by 1½"-diameter tenon on the face of a waste block (Figure 2) using a 3/8" spindle gouge and 1,000 rpm lathe speed. The tenon should fit tightly inside the drilled hole.

2 Fit the lamp over the tenon, bring the tail center with a cone point into position for support, and, using a 3/8" spindle gouge, turn the bottom face to within ½" of the tail center point. This surface should be slightly concave and produced with a shearing cut while rubbing the bevel on the wood (Photo L). Next, remove the tailstock and, using a light touch, turn off the remaining wood at the center. Finally, sand the bottom to match the top.

3 Using the same procedure followed earlier, apply lacquer to the bottom half of the lamp.

4 The oil lamp can now be removed from the tenon chuck and the oil bottle set in place. 

About Our Turners

Rex Burningham and Kip Christensen have produced several instructional DVDs including Woodturning Projects with Rex and Kip, Volumes 1-4, and Turning Pens with Kip and Rex, Volumes 1-2. The DVDs are available at Woodcraft Supply.


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