Inside-out Ornament

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This article is from Issue 55 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Turn a profile into a picture.

Overall dimensions: 3" dia. × 73⁄4" high

The world of woodturning can produce some pretty tricky looking projects. Among them are “inside-out” turnings. These spindle-turned pieces feature a hollowed-out interior that’s visible through shapely window silhouettes that are created by the edges of the interior profile.

As mystifying as an inside-out turning might appear, it’s not all that difficult to make one. Basically, you bundle together four identically sized, squared lengths of stock, and mount them on the lathe between shop-made chucks that hold the unglued pieces tightly together. You then turn the bundle to a specific profile. Afterward, you remove the pieces, orient the turned surfaces inward, and glue the pieces together. This creates the windows that expose the shapely hollowed interior. If you like, you can then remount the assembly on the lathe, and turn the outside of the block to a complementary shape.

Here, I’ll show you how to make a simple tree ornament with a turned exterior. Although it’s too heavy to hang on a Christmas tree, you can suspend it from a ceiling hook or curtain rod. It also makes a very nice standing table ornament. Just be prepared for someone to ask you, “Say, how did you do that?”

Make the tailstock jam chuck

1 Turn a 1"-thick piece of MDF to about 5" in diameter. Press this jam chuck blank between a 4-jaw chuck and a live tail center, and turn a 1⁄4"-deep groove that’s wide enough to accept the jaws of your 4-jaw chuck (Photo A). Afterward, reinforce the tenon fibers by dripping thin CA glue onto the shoulders of the tenon.

2 Invert the jam chuck, inserting the tenon you just turned into your 4-jaw chuck. Touch a pencil to the spinning disc to determine its center point, and then use a compass on the stopped disc to lay out a precise 3"-diameter circle (Photo B).

3 Turn a 1⁄4"-deep recess within the circle (Photo C). Then invert the blank again, mounting it by expanding the chuck jaws outward into the recess you just cut.

4 Drill a recess that will fit snugly onto the rotating section of your live tail center (Photo D). This will allow the jam chuck to remain securely in place on the tailstock when replacing and removing turning blanks.

5 Hold a drafting triangle precisely tangent to the circle’s perimeter and lay out the corners for the square recess (Photo E). Remount the jam chuck, and enlarge the diameter of the existing recess to 31⁄2". (This minimizes the amount of chiseling necessary to square the recess.)

Turn the inner profile

1 Dress four pieces of hardwood to 11⁄2" × 11⁄2" × 8". Mount these as an unglued bundle between your 4-jaw chuck and the jam chuck you just made, shimming the walls of the jam chuck recess if necessary to ensure a snug fit.

2 Referring to Figure 1, lay out the 4"-long center section to be turned, extending the lines across two faces so they’ll be visible when spinning (Photo F). Also, number the quadrants of your chucks and turning blanks for precisely balanced remounting if necessary.

3 Using a small bowl gouge, round the section between the layout lines almost to a cylinder, leaving slight flats at the seams for now. Taper inward from about 1" outside of the layout lines to allow better gouge access for subsequent cuts (Photo G).

4 Referring to Figure 1, lay out the lower extent of the top bough by marking 5⁄8" down from the layout line at the tailstock end (Photo H).

5 Make a parting cut to the left of your layout line to turn a 23⁄4"-diameter groove. To the right of the groove, part as deeply as you think you can without cutting into what will be the adjacent swooped section (see Figure 1, detail). Follow up by shaping the swooped section of the bough using a 3⁄8" spindle gouge with a fingernail grind.

6 Lay out the lower extent of the middle bough, measuring down 11⁄2" from the top of the tree profile, where shown in Figure 1.

7 Make the parting cut to the left of the middle bough layout line. The easiest way to determine its 21⁄2"-diameter is to check for a 1⁄4"-deep groove, as measured from the seam at the flat unturned section (Photo I).

8 Now make the parting cut to the right of the groove (Photo J).

As before, cut as deeply as possible without endangering what will be the surface of the swooped section to be cut next.

9 Use a 3⁄8" spindle gouge with a fingernail grind to shape the swooped section of the bough (Photo K).

10 Turn the remaining (bottom) bough and the trunk section in the same manner. Then sand the turned surfaces to 220 grit.

Glue up the blank

1 Dismount the bundle, and glue and clamp the pieces together in pairs to create two halves (Photo L). Apply clamp pressure at the seams to perfectly align them. Also, make sure the pieces are flush at the ends.

2 After the glue dries, sand the two inner faces on a disc sander or on a piece of sandpaper fixed to a dead-flat surface. Then, glue the two halves together in the same fashion as before, with the turned profiles oriented toward the inside.

Turn the outer profile

1 Mount the blank on the lathe between a cup center on the headstock and a live cup center on the tailstock. Referring to Figure 2, mark out the extents of the 13⁄4"-long squared area at the center (which retains the corners of the block). Carry your lines across two sides so that they will be evident when spinning.

2 Using a 1⁄2" spindle gouge, rough out the upper section of the ornament, making sure to leave a flat area surrounding the entire tree cutout.

3 Mark out the extents of the crown, head, and collar details, where shown in Figure 1, and use a parting tool to cut just shy of their final diameters.

4 Use a 3⁄8" spindle gouge with a fingernail grind to detail the crown and head (Photo M). Then, shape the collar (Photo N), and finally, the shoulder (Photo O).

5 Moving to the lower section, begin by roughing out the ogee using a 1⁄2" spindle gouge with a fingernail grind.

6 Turn the pedestal section to a 21⁄2"-diameter cylinder.

7 Still using the 1⁄2" spindle gouge, go back and finesse the ogee curve, cutting inward from each end downhill to the grain (Photo P).

8 On the pedestal section, mark off the individual elements, and then use a parting tool to size them just slightly larger than their final diameters. At the same time, turn away as much as possible of the bottommost 1⁄8" waste section to remove the marks left by the live center.

9 Round over the foot with a 3⁄8" spindle gouge.

10 Round over the bead (Photo Q), and turn the small cove between the bead and the foot, leaving the lower transitional shoulder.

11 Turn the large cove with its small adjacent shoulders (Photo R).

12 Use a 3⁄8" spindle gouge to turn a shallow recess of about 1⁄16" into the underside of the foot for stability.

13 Finally, use a spindle gouge or skew chisel to reduce the waste at the ends to about 3⁄8" in diameter to minimize cleanup afterward.

Finishing Up

1 Hand-sand through 220 grit, stopping the lathe to smooth the flat sections.

2 Dismount the piece, and cut and sand away the nubs.

3 Apply a finish. I usually brush on oil or spray on an aerosol lacquer or acrylic finish.

About Our Author

Michael Kehs has been carving and turning wood for 30 years. In addition to creating award-winning designs for commission and exhibition, he teaches woodcarving and turning at his studio in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and at the local Woodcraft store in Allentown, Pennsylvania.


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