Holiday Tabletop Sleigh

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This article is from Issue 44 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Capture the spirit with this festive decoration.

Overall dimensions: 14"w × 6"d × 8"h

Create a holiday centerpiece that can be enjoyed for years to come. Then, fill this gracefully curved sleigh with candy, pinecones, Christmas tree balls, or other yuletide items for a colorful display. With the following instructions and patterns, almost anyone can build the project in a weekend or two. Once you’ve invested the time to build the bandsawn form and runner bending jig, consider making a few more sleighs for family and friends.

Note: See the one-stop source for the bending plywood, solid stock, and brass on page 56. For the full-sized patterns, go to

Build the bending form

1 To make the form blank, cut seven 6 × 12" pieces and two 51⁄4 × 12" pieces of 3⁄4" plywood or MDF. Laminate the seven 6"-wide pieces in a stack, at the same time gluing the 51⁄4"-wide pieces to the sides. If needed, keep the ends flush by shooting nails through the pieces or by using screws. Let the glue dry.

2 Draw the centerlines, top and bottom radii, and the side cutlines on the blank, where shown on Figure 2. To align the side cuts, draw the 10° bevel lines on the ends of the blank.

3 Install a resawing blade in your bandsaw. (I used a 1⁄2" blade with 14 TPI [teeth per inch]). Referring to Figure 3, tilt the table 20° from vertical. Using the miter gauge to guide the form blank, bevel one end for the back end of the sleigh, cutting about 1⁄8" outside of the top radiused cutline of the blank (Step 1). Readjust the bandsaw table to a 10° tilt, and cut the sides, as shown in Figure 3 (Steps 2 and 3) and Photo A. Save the tapered side cutoffs. You’ll use them as cauls when clamping the bending plywood around the form.

4 Install a 60-grit belt in your belt/disc sander, and round the rear corners of the form blank, as shown in Figure 3 (Step 4) and Photo B. With this freehand sanding operation, round the back corners, blending the 10° side bevels into the 20° back bevel. Check your progress often to make sure you connect the edges of the top and bottom radii with a continuous straight bevel. When you get close to the radius lines, smooth the curve and sand away any facets and bumps.

With the table tilted at 10° and the the blade aligned with the penciled cutlines, cut the blank sides.
Belt-sand the form blank to round the corners. Blend the side and back bevels, guiding off the radii.

Screw the floor to the form, and belt-sand its edges flush with the form surface, matching the taper. 

Form the two-ply sleigh shell

1 From 1⁄2" solid stock, cut the floor (A) to the size in the Cut List. With the floor centered on the bottom of the bending form and flush at the front, drill countersunk pilot and shank holes through the floor and into the form. Secure the floor to the form with #8 × 11⁄4" screws. Then sand the floor to shape, as shown in Figure 3 (Step 5) and Photo C.

2 To make a pattern for the shell (B), tape together four sheets of 81⁄2 × 11" paper edge to edge. Wrap this sheet around the form and trace the form edges onto the sheet (Photo D). 

Remove the paper from the form, and then, to accommodate any irregularities due to the bandsawn form angles and hand-guided belt-sanding operations, increase the size of the pattern by 1⁄2" all around. Scissor the pattern to shape.

3 To align the shell on the form, fold the pattern in half to establish a vertical centerline on it. Next, locate and strike a centerline on the bottom face of the floor (A). Now draw a line down the back edges of the form blank and floor, connecting the top and bottom centerline marks. 

4 Cut two 12 × 32" pieces of 1⁄8" birch bending plywood for the sleigh shell (B), with the grain of the birch veneer running lengthwise for strength. Adhere the pieces with double-faced tape with both good veneer faces facing out. Trace the pattern outline onto the top blank, mark the centerline, and remove the pattern. Bandsaw the blanks to the outline.

Wrap the taped-together pattern paper around the form/floor assembly, and tape it in place. Trace the form’s outline on the paper.

Place the glued shell on the form assembly and the centering cleat on the blanks. Using the screws to align the holes, drive the screws into the form.

With the form and two-ply shell sandwiched between the tapered cauls, apply clamps, securing the assembly to your workbench.

5 From 1⁄2"-thick scrap stock, cut a 3⁄4 × 71⁄2" centering cleat. Drill centered 9⁄64" shank holes for #6 wood screws through the cleat 2" in from each end. Position the cleat on the shell with the ends flush with the top and bottom edges and the cleat holes aligned with the centerline on the blank. Using the cleat’s holes as guides, drill shank holes through both plywood pieces. Separate the plywood and cleat. Now place the cleat on the form, flushing the ends and centering the holes on the centerline. Using the holes as guides, drill 5⁄64" pilot holes into the form.

6 To make the bending plywood easier to bend around the form’s tight radius, wet both surfaces of each piece with veneer softener and let it dry. Finish-sand the outside surfaces of the plywood blanks. Then apply glue evenly to both mating surfaces, using a roller. Place the shell blanks one atop the other. With the shank holes in the cleat and shell blanks aligned, drive screws through the cleat and blanks and into the pilot holes in the form (Photo E).

7 Retrieve the tapered cauls in Figure 3 (Step 2). Place one caul on your workbench bevel side up, bend one side of the shell around the form, and place it on the caul, trapping it between the caul and the form. Then bend other side onto the form, and place the remaining tapered caul on it bevel side down. Now clamp the assembly to the workbench (Photo F) and let dry overnight.

8 Trace the bottom edge of the floor (A) onto the inside surface of the shell; then remove the shell and the floor from the form. To prevent parts from accidentally sticking together, apply plastic packing tape to the bottom and adjacent side edges of the form and the top edge of the floor. Apply tape to the inside of the shell 1⁄2" above the traced line.

With the sleigh body (floor and shell) supported by a tapered caul, align the blade with the top corner of the shell, and cut the front bevel.

9 Screw the floor (A) to the form, making sure the edges align. Apply glue to the edge of the floor and position the shell on the form, aligning the traced line with the floor’s bottom edge. Pin the shell to the back of the form with the centering cleat and screws. Sandwich the shell and form between the tapered cauls, and clamp the entire assembly to your workbench. To ensure adequate clamping pressure on the floor/shell joint, position the clamps closer to the bottom of the sleigh. Let the assembly dry for at least an hour.

Shape the body and add struts

1 Reposition the cauls and clamps in order to trim the edges of the shell (B) close to the form and floor (A) with a fine handsaw, and then sand the shell flush. Remove the sleigh body (A, B) from the form. To cut the front bevel where the dashboard (C) attaches to the body, tilt the bandsaw table 20°. Adhere one tapered clamping caul to the miter gauge with double-faced tape. Clamp the body to the caul and make the cut (Photo G). Sand the cut edges smooth.

Cut the side profiles, staying just outside the pattern lines, using a coping saw and a 15 TPI blade.

2 Make a copy of the Side Profile Pattern (below). Make a mirror-image copy by placing the initial copy pattern-side-out on a sunlit window, positioning a blank sheet of paper on it and tracing the pattern. Adhere the patterns to the shell with spray adhesive, aligning the front and rear registration marks with the shell front corner and the rear top edge. Cut the profile (Photo H).

3 To sand the side profiles to the pattern lines, chuck a sanding drum into your drill press. Position the sleigh floor parallel to the drum by adhering one side of the sleigh body to a tapered caul. With the caul on the drill-press table, drum-sand the first side; then flip the body and repeat on the second side. Now, hand-sand the rear edge of the shell, blending the side profiles with a continuous smooth curve.

Bend the runner piece around the dowel until the bar contacts the end secured with the screw.

4 From 1⁄4"-thick stock, cut the dashboard blank (C) to size. Hold the blank against the front of the sleigh body, aligned with the bottom and centered side to side. Trace the outside edges of the shell (B) onto the blank. Remove the blank and draw lines 1⁄8" outside and parallel to the traced lines. Cut the blank to the outside lines. Draw the 1⁄2" radii at the top corners, and sand them to shape. Finish-sand the dashboard, and glue and clamp it to the sleigh body. With the glue dry, sand the bottom edge of the dashboard flush with the bottom of the floor (A).

5 Retrieve the miter gauge with the attached tapered caul from the bandsaw, and put it on the tablesaw. Guiding the sleigh body with the miter gauge, cut 1⁄4" dadoes 1⁄8" deep in the bottom of the sleigh body where dimensioned on Figure 1.

6 From 1⁄4" stock, cut two strut blanks (D) to the Cut List size, and adhere them face to face with double-faced tape. Make a copy of the Strut Pattern (below). 

Measure the end-to-end dimension of the dadoes in the bottom of the sleigh body, and compare it to the strut pattern top dimension. If the dimensions are equal, adhere the pattern to the top strut blank with spray adhesive. If adjustment to the pattern is necessary, cut the pattern in half and separate or overlap the pattern halves as required when adhering them to the strut blank. Cut and sand the struts to shape. Remove the pattern, separate the struts, and finish-sand them. Glue the struts into the dadoes, holding them in place with tape and making sure they are square to the floor (A).

With the small bend hooked around the small disc, bend the bar around the large disc until the straight portion springs back to match the pattern.

Bend the runners

1 Enlarge the Runner and Bending Jig Pattern on page 58. To make a jig for the large runner bend, spray-adhere the pattern to a 3⁄4 × 7 × 24" plywood base. Using an adjustable circle cutter, cut 1"- and 23⁄4"-diameter plywood discs and screw them to the base, where shown on the pattern.

2 For the runners (E), cut two pieces of 1⁄8 × 3⁄8" brass bar stock to 24" long. Drill a hole in each piece at one end. Drill a pilot hole near one end of a 1" dowel 8" long, screw one brass piece to the dowel, and clamp the dowel into a vise. Make the small runner bend (Photo I). Remove the brass piece from the dowel, and bend the other one.

3 Clamp the bending jig for the runner to your workbench and make the large bend on each brass piece (Photo J). (Note: It is not necessary that the runner exactly matches the pattern, just that the two runners match each other.) With the large bend complete and the runner still on the jig, transfer the end locations from the pattern to the piece. Trim the ends with a hacksaw, and file them smooth for a completed runner (E). Repeat for the second runner.

4 Place the sleigh on the runners with the backs of the small bends against the dashboard. Mark the centerlines of the struts onto the runners. Drill centered countersunk 3⁄32" shank holes for #2 flathead wood screws through the runners. Flip the sleigh upside down, position the runners on the struts, and using the runner shank holes as guides, mark pilot-hole centers on the struts with an awl. Remove the runners, and drill pilot holes into the struts.

Finishing and assembly

1 Finish-sand the sleigh where needed. Mix dye according to the manufacturer’s instructions, apply it, and let dry. (I used TransTint red mahogany dye, applying three coats of satin aerosol lacquer, and then sanded lightly with 320-grit sandpaper to remove any roughness.) Take care not to sand through the finish to the dyed wood.

2 Use a soft artist’s brush to paint the top edge of the shell with brass paint. (I used Plaid brand Liquid Leaf paint, #6150 Brass, found at  craft stores.)

3 Polish the runners to a satin sheen with a fine nonwoven abrasive pad. Spray on several light coats of satin lacquer. Then, screw them to the struts.  


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