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This article is from Issue 62 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Add a warm glow to the season with this intriguing heat-actuated decoration.

Designed and built by Tom Whalley

Overall Dimensions: 81⁄2"w × 81⁄2"l × 111⁄4"h 

The Christmas pyramid (or holiday carousel), a decoration that originated in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) of Germany, has now taken root in this country, serving as an eye-catching centerpiece. It typically depicts either a Christian or secular motif such as a Nativity or charming winter scene (like the one shown here). While many buy such a table whirligig online, we developed a totally unique design for you to build, and we include patterns and processes to help shape the parts safely and accurately. Once assembled and pressed into service, you’ll find onlookers enjoying how the heat from the candles propels the fan, which, in turn, rotates the evergreen tree and snowmen.

Start with the base

1 Lay out and cut the octagonal walnut base (A) to shape on the bandsaw, referring to Figures 1 and 2. On the top center of the base, use a Forstner bit to drill a 5⁄8" hole, 5⁄16" deep for the pyramid disk glass bearing. Then, drill a 1⁄16" guide hole through the center of that. On the bottom, drill the 11⁄8" hole 7⁄16" deep.

2 Rout a 1⁄4" round-over along all top edges of the base. Sand smooth. Glue the pyramid disk glass bearing into the hole in the bottom of the base.

Adhere the full-sized pattern to the maple lamination, and bandsaw the two curved supports from it.
Locate a combination square on the piece of 2×4 where shown, and mark the top cutline on a clamped curved support.

Using a curved block at the tablesaw, cut the centered 1⁄4"-wide notch in the top end of each support in two passes.

Add the curved support pieces

1 Laminate two pieces of 3⁄4"-thick maple together face-to-face to create a blank 21⁄4" wide by 81⁄2" long for the curved supports (B). (See Figure 2.) adhere the full-sized pattern to the blank. Now, bandsaw outside the cutline (Photo A), and then drum- and disc-sand to the line.

2 Clamp a curved support (B) to a piece of 2×4. Mark a line 23⁄8" from the end of the 2×4. Place a square on the 2×4, where shown (Photo B), and mark the cutline at the support’s top end. Repeat for the other support. Bandsaw the top ends where marked.

3 To make the notching guide, cut a piece of 2×4 to 23⁄8" wide by 10" long. Trace the inside edge of a curved support (B) on the guide’s face, starting at one end. Now, bandsaw the 2×4’s curve to shape. Add a pair of cleats to the guide to hold the curved support in place when notching. Next, position a curved support on the guide, adjust the fence as needed, and cut a centered 1⁄4" notch, 1⁄8" deep, in the top end. Repeat for the second curved support, as shown in Photo C.

4 Referring to the dimensions in Figure 2, lay out the tapers on both curved supports (B), using the edge of one support as a straightedge for the other. Then scrollsaw and sand the supports to shape. 

5 Center, glue, and clamp the curved supports (B) to the long-grain edges of the base. Dry-fit the two curved supports together, and align them at the top. Dab glue onto the notched ends, and secure them together with painter’s tape.

Using a simple bull-nose guide, resaw thin walnut plies at the bandsaw to make the tree blanks.

Laminate three plies of 1⁄16" resawn walnut for each tree blank, alternating the grain.

Create the platform and tree

1 Lay out the round platform (C). Drill a centered 3⁄64" hole in the part. Bandsaw, and sand the platform to shape. 

2 Resaw enough walnut (Photo D) to create three pieces of 1⁄16"-thick stock to form two three-ply laminations that measure 41⁄8" by 57⁄8" for each tree half (D). (We worked from a longer board and then cut the two sets of plies to size. We also resawed the plies a little thicker and sanded them down to the needed thickness. You can also use layers of store-bought veneer for this.)

3 Sand the ply surfaces smooth. For each tree lamination blank, glue up three plies face-to-face for a finished thickness of 3⁄16", alternating the grain of the center ply at 90° to the outside plies (Photo E). For perfectly flat panels, we clamped the blanks between two pieces of 3⁄4" MDF and waxed paper. (This shop-made plywood offers added strength and resistance to breakage when scrollsawing the branches.)

4 Adhere a full-sized pattern to each tree lamination. Using a #7 skip-reverse-tooth blade, scrollsaw the two tree profiles to shape (Photo F), cutting a notch in the top of one and a mating notch in the bottom of the other (see Figure 1). Fit the two pieces together so the top and bottom edges are flush. Now, glue them together, wiping off any excess. Sand the top and bottom edges flush.

5 Carefully indent a center point, and drill a 5⁄64" hole, 1⁄4" deep, in the center in the bottom of the tree, and a 3⁄32" hole, 1⁄4" deep, in the tree top (Figure 1). Apply a clear finish to all but the bottom of the assembled tree.

Scrollsaw the two tree halves to shape, cutting on the pattern’s cutlines.
Clamp a belt sander to the workbench, and facet the blanks all around to create a rustic chip-carved look.

Use this simple jig setup at your drill press to clamp the hub firmly in place. Then drill consistent centered holes on each edge.

Now for the snowmen

1 Cut the snowmen blank bottoms (E) and tops (F) to size; cut an extra 3⁄4" square blank for the hub top (N) to use later. For the hats (G) cut two pieces of 3⁄4" walnut to 6" long. At a belt sander or belt strip sander, sand a hat to shape, rotating the dowel’s end on the edge of the belt. Similarly, sand the dowel’s other end. Sand a facet or two for a crumpled look. Repeat on a second dowel. Crosscut the four hats to length from the dowel stock, sawing 1⁄8" beyond the sanded cylinders to create the brim.

2 Drill a 1⁄4" hole through the center of each snowman blank (E, F). Drill a 3⁄8"-deep hole in one end of the hub top blank for part (N).

3 Dry-fit a blank on the end of a 1⁄4" dowel, 8" long. (Use the dowel as a handle for safe sanding.) Now, sand facets on the edges of the blank (Photo G). Repeat for all of the snowmen top and bottom blanks (E, F), as well as the hub top (N).

4 Mark the hole locations for the eyes, nose, and smile. At the drill press, drill 5⁄64" holes, 1⁄8" deep, in the snowman head pieces (F) while holding the parts on the dowel. Color the ends of two round toothpicks orange, and cut them to 1⁄4" long for the nose. Color the eyes and nose black (Figure 1). Glue in the toothpick eyes and smile pieces, allowing the toothpicks to be exposed about 1⁄16". Cut them off. Insert the carrot nose.

5 Cut four snowman center pins (H) to size. Glue and dowel the bottom and top (E, F) snowman pieces together. Add the hats (G). Apply a clear finish to each of the snowmen.

6 Insert a 3⁄4" brad through the hole in the platform (C) so the end extends about 1⁄4" below the platform (Figure 3). Glue the tree onto the head of the protruding brad so the tree is centered on the platform. Uniformly position and glue the four snowmen onto the platform.

Add the arch top and hub

1 Cut the arch top (I) to size to fit between the notches in the curved supports (B). Drill a 1⁄8" hole centered through the length of the piece.

2 Position the platform assembly onto the base assembly. Position the arch top (I) between the supports (B) and glue it in place (Figure 1). 

There should be a 1⁄8" gap between the bottom of the arch top (I) and the top of the tree.

3 Cut a piece of 1⁄2" stock to 11⁄4" square, and adhere the full-sized hub (J) pattern in Figure 2 to one face. Bandsaw and sand the hub to shape, holding the part with a small handscrew for safety.

Then, as shown in Photo H, drill eight 1⁄4" holes, 1⁄4" deep, centered on each edge. These will house the fin pins (L). Now, drill a centered 1⁄4" hole through its face. Sand and finish the hub.

4 Cut eight pieces of 1⁄16" plywood to 11⁄2 × 33⁄4" and stack them together using double-faced tape. Apply the full-sized pattern in Figure 2 for the fan fins (K) to the top piece and then stack-cut the pieces at the scrollsaw. Sand the edges smooth, and separate the fins.

Use a block to press the dowel firmly against the spacer when advancing its end into the blade to create a centered kerf.
Employ this simple setup that includes a 30° angle guide to keep the fin angles consistent during the glue-up.

5 To create the eight dowel fin pins (L), start with a few lengths of 1⁄4" dowel stock. Test-fit the dowel stock in a hole in the hub and sand to fit. Bandsaw a 5⁄8"-deep kerf in the ends of the dowel to match the thickness of the fan fins (Photo I). Sand a slight round-over on the kerfed dowel ends, and crosscut the fin pins to 1" long.

6 Center and glue the fan fins (K) to the pins. Then, using a toothpick to work the glue in the holes, glue the fan/fin assemblies (K/L) to the hub (J), angling them at 30° from horizontal (Photo J). 

7 Crosscut the hub pivot stem (M) from 1⁄4" dowel stock. Drill a centered 3⁄32" hole, 1⁄2" deep, into the stem’s bottom end (Figure 1). (We marked a centered hole with a nail to prevent the bit from skittering off course and used a hand screw clamp to hold the workpiece perfectly vertical when drilling.) Using CA, glue the pivot stem into the hub (J) so the top end of the dowel extends 1⁄4" above the top surface of the hub.

8 Retrieve the faceted hub top (N) made earlier, and glue it on to the top end of the hub pivot stem (M). As a fire safety precaution, do not apply finish to the fan assembly.

9 Sand the head of a 6d (2") finish nail to the same diameter as the shaft without shortening the nail. Glue the nail into the hole in the hub pivot stem (M) using CA.

Make the feet and complete the assembly

1 Cut a piece of 3⁄4" walnut to 11⁄2" wide by 51⁄4" long for the feet blank (Figure 2). Mark the centerpoints, and drill a pair of 1⁄2" holes through the blank. Mark the centerpoints, and drill four 5⁄8" holes, 5⁄16" deep, for housing the candle cups later. Bandsaw four feet from the blank. (They’ll end up just under 3⁄4" wide.) Sand them smooth.

2 Glue and clamp each foot (O) to the base assembly. Apply finish to the assembly, masking off the top surface of the glass bearing. Slide a candle cup through a dish, and epoxy it to a foot. Repeat for each foot.

3 Position the platform assembly on the base. Slide the 6d nail of the fan assembly through the hole in the arch top (I) and into the hole in the tree top. Maintain the 1⁄32" gap noted in Figure 3. Adjust the nail slightly in the pivot stem (M) if needed. Insert the candles.  


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