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This article was published in the Winter 2008 edition of American Woodturner.

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Variations of Eccentric Trees  Mounting Tactics

Eccentric Trees can also be made using plywood collets and a soft tailstock center


Eccentric Trees


Usually I remember where I got the idea for a project—but this one I don’t.  I started the Eccentric Trees right after turning a batch of North Coast Trees after reading Robert Rosand’s article but other than size and being trees, there’s not a whole lot of similarity.  Regardless of where the idea came from, I’m glad it showed up because I think the Eccentric Trees make a nice Christmas project.  They’re quick to make and quite inexpensive as you can use construction lumber unless you’re trying to take the ornament upscale.  They’re easy to turn if you’re comfortable with a skew and off-center mounting, and are good practice if you’re not—and if you’re truly terrified of the skew you can use something else although it will be slower.  The ornament can be stripped down to a simple basic model or used as a start for many variations.  They can be made in any scale you have wood for and used as either tree of desk-top ornaments.


The ornament is first mounted between centers and turned to a tree shape.  Then the ornament is mounted with the base slightly offset at three equally spaced intervals and “branches” turned.  The branches can be accentuated with paint.  The ornament is then chuck mounted on the original centers for clean up and turning of an angel finial and base.  Last come finish and a halo for the angel.

First Turning

Mounting Variations

You could turn the Eccentric Tree ornament entirely between centers.  I find it easier to do the last turning with the ornament mounted in a chuck, however.  This lets me finish, drill and sand the top of the angels head on the lathe.  For this to be worthwhile (unless you’re making a big batch of ornaments) you have to be able to easily switch back and forth without removing the chuck.  I use a home-made drive center that mounts in my Bealle collet chuck.  For the tailstock it’s nice to have a center that will limited penetration to avoid splitting.  I just used a washer, but there are other ways.  For a discussion of methods see for chucking and tailstocks see Mounting Eccentric Trees.

Prepare Stock

For this project cheap wood actually has more advantages than being cheap.  Pine is light, which is great for a tree ornament, and it’s easier to make clean V-cuts in soft wood.  Spalted soft maple would also be a nice choice.  Begin by cutting a turning square.  Since construction lumber is cheap, when cutting to length, allow a generous extra amount for mounting a tenon in the chuck and a nub at the tailstock end that won’t tend to split.  A length of 6” is a good place to start.


Take the time to make a clean cross-cut on at least one end of the turning square as it’s a lot easier to mount to a center you can actually see.  Mark the center of the square at both ends.  Dimpling the mark with a center punch will help you find the mark on the lathe.  On the headstock end draw three more or less equally spaced lines radiating from the center mark.  Then make a mark on each line equally spaced from the center.  You can experiment with different distances to find what looks best to you.  3/16” is a good distance to start with.  Center punch each mark to make it easier to find them on the lathe.

[Fig01:  Two turning squares marked for the offset centers.  As you can see, it’s a lot easier to see the marks on the clean cut end.  The spring loaded center punch balanced precariously on the ends is a handy way to mark the locations.]



Mount the turning square between centers and use a spindle roughing gouge to reduce the square to a cylinder.  Use a full size parting tool and calipers to size a tenon at the headstock end that will fit your chuck.  Make another parting tool cut to mark the base of the tree, but don’t go to full trunk depth yet.  Use a spindle roughing gouge or skew to reduce the full tenon to the marked diameter.



[Fig02:  The turning square mounted between centers.]



[Fig03:  After roughing to round with a spindle roughing gouge.]



[Fig04:  After turning a tenon to allow chuck mounting in the last step and making a parting tool cut to define the bottom of the tree branches.]



Use your spindle roughing gouge to quickly reduce the diameter at the tailstock end to a little more than the diameter of the finished finial, about ½”.  Define the bottom of the finial with a parting tool or skew cut—allow a generous extra amount for a nub that won’t split.  Remember, pine is cheap (actually the pine I’m using was free—some guy who was moving had set out some 2x6’s by the curb).


[Fig05:  After rough turning a generous inch for the finial area.]




Now use your spindle roughing gouge or any tool you’re comfortable with to shape the tree.  Pick any simple shape that you like—I think the trees look equally attractive with a straight, convex, or concave profile.  You could leave the surface from the roughing gouge at this point but it would be good practice to skim the surface with a skew anyway.  Now use a pencil to mark off intervals for the “branches”.  You can use regular or graduated intervals, just don’t make them random or much less than ¼” apart or so.  When I first tried these trees I didn’t mark the branches—they look a lot better when I do.


[Fig06:  The tree profile has been turned.]





[Fig07:  After marking the “branch” locations at roughly equal intervals.  You don’t need the precision of dividers, but don’t be random.]



Eccentric Turnings

Remount the blank at one of the offset locations at the headstock end.  Leave the tailstock at the same center, which will make the branches taper near the top—and make it less likely you’ll accidentally part off the top of the tree.  Nominally a two prong center is best for offset turning, but since the shift is small and pine is soft, even my home-made cup drive works fine.  Rotate the lathe by hand to make sure the tree clears the tool rest.



[Fig08:  After remounting the tree at an offset center and making sure it doesn’t hit the tool rest.]


Use your skew to make a V-cut at the branch location marked closest to the bottom.  Keep the side of the cut at the tailstock side more or less vertical.  Cut until it looks like you’re cutting as deep as the ghost image.  You won’t actually be cutting all the way around at that point, but about two thirds, which is about right.  I you do end up cutting deeper than you like you can adjust it during the last turning.


If you’re a little paranoid about doing V-Cuts with a skew, have a try anyway, perhaps after reading Alan Lacer or Mike Darlow.  If you are truly, completely, irrevocably paranoid about the skew you can do the V-cuts with a spindle gouge.  Roll the gouge so that the flute faces straight to your right.  Hold the gouge so that the axis of the shaft is pointed straight to the axis of the ornament, point the bevel of the gouge where you want to go and push in—a little bit.  Roll the gouge over so it points straight to your left and aim the bevel to about where the last cut ended up and repeat until the V-Cut is as deep as you like.  Yes, it would be a good thing to practice this first on non-offset work.


Now skip two lines and cut a V-cut at the fourth line.  Skip two more lines and make a V-Cut at the seventh line, and continue in the fashion until you reach the top of the tree.  Stop the lathe and have a look at the V’s to make sure they’re cut cleanly.


[Fig09:  Making a V-cut.  I’m using an underhand grip with my index finger hooked under the tool rest to anchor my hand]




[Fig10:  After making a set of V-cuts at the first eccentric axis.]



I’ve pretty much been leaving the V-cuts unsanded, perhaps for expediency as it’s difficult to sand well with a constant air/wood transition.  If you would rather sand them you can make a sanding aid.  Cut a length of wood to a triangular cross section that will fit down into your V-cuts and stick abrasive to the wood with spray adhesive.  For a deluxe version you can carve or turn a handle.  With a “filing” motion sand one side of the V, then flip the tool over and sand the other side.


[Fig11:  Sanding the sides of a V-cut with an abrasive “file”.]



Next remount the ornament at another offset axis.  Check again to make sure the ornament doesn’t hit the tool rest, and while you’re at it make sure you really did pick an unused axis, not the one you just did.  Make a series of V-cuts at the second, fifth, eighth etc lines until you again reach the top of the tree.  Then remount the ornament on the last axis, and cut on the lines that are left.


[Fig12:  After making the second set of V-cuts.]



Fig14:  After making the third set of V-cuts.]



Remove the ornament from the lathe and set up a painting station.  You’ll need some kind of sealer to keep the paint from wicking into unwanted areas.  You could use clear spray paint, spray lacquer, shellac or sanding sealer.  I used lacquer based sanding sealer because I had it, it dries fast, and cleaning a brush seems less wasteful than clearing a spray can.  However you do it, coat the inside walls of the V’s.  Neatness doesn’t count.  Let the sealer dry.  If you’re in a hurry you could use a domestic heat gun—but don’t let her catch you.



[Fig15:  A painting station set-up with lacquer sanding sealer, acrylic paint, and a couple of brushes as well as something to do while the paint dries.]




[Fig16:  Slopping on lacquer sanding sealer.]


After the sealer dries, paint the inside of the V’s with green acrylic paint.  Again, neatness doesn’t count as you’ll be turning away any stray paint.  A heavy coat will be more consistently green and will cover up the fact that you didn’t sand.  Again, let the paint dry.  If you try to hurry the drying process make sure that the paint is actually dry, not just skinned over or you could decorate yourself in Christmas colors during the next step.



[Fig17:  After painting the V’s green.]

Final Turning

After the paint dries thoroughly mount the ornament in your chuck.  Bring up the tailstock for additional support.  Use your skew or some other tool that will leave a nice surface to skim the tree to remove paint and pencil lines.  Stop the lathe at this point and make sure you’ve removed them all.



[Fig18:  The ornament has been mounted in a chuck on the lathe.]



[Fig19:  After skimming the surface of the tree to remove excess paint and pencil lines.]


Reduce the finial area to the maximum diameter and height of the Angel, leaving a nub for continued tailstock support.  Use a small spindle gouge to turn her head and shoulders/wing tops.  Try to undercut the wing/shoulder area a little.



[Fig20:  The Finial area turned to maximum height and diameter.  Obviously I should have left a longer nub.]


[Fig21:  After turning the Angel’s head and shoulders.]


Use your skew (or spindle gouge if you must) to make an undercutting V-cut to define the bottom of the wing.  Then turn the bottom of the angels gown,blending it into the V-cut at the bottom of the wing.  Turn a shallow cove with a spindle gouge to give some grace to the wing.


[Fig22:  After uncutting the Angel's wing and shaping her gown.]




[Fig23:  The side of the wing has been shaped by cutting a shallow cove.]



Use a parting tool to reduce the trunk to final diameter. You can take a finishing cut on the trunk by using the parting tool like a skew, or use a small skew or spindle gouge.  The use a skew to clean up the bottom of the tree and  the top of the base.



[Fig24:  After reducing the trunk diameter with a parting tool.]



[Fig25:  Finishing cuts have been made to clean up the surface of the trunk and base.]


Sand the Ornament with progressively finer abrasives, starting with a grit appropriate for the surface your tooling left.  After major sanding is completed remove the nub at the head and sand the top of the head.  You can use the tailstock to dimple the head to drill for hanger/halo mounting. Then use a drill to drill the hanger mounting hole (jump ahead to making the halo and make a sample so you can measure what drill size to use).  If you're doing a bunch of ornaments, you can save some time by mounting the drill in a pin chuck.  Then instead of swapping out the tailstock for a drill chuck, just back off the tailstock, put the tail of the pin chuck on the tailstock and line up the drill point, then advance the tailstock while holding the pin chuck in place by hand.


[Fig26:  After sanding the ornament.]




[Fig27:  The nub at the tailstock end has been removed and the top of the Angel's head sanded.]



[Fig28:  Drilling a mounting hole for the halo.  I should have included my hand holding the pin chuck in place.]


Part the now turned ornament off at the base, as the rest of the work will be done off the lathe.

Finishing Details

Use a drum or disk sander to sand the bottom of the base flat.  Pick whatever part of the ornament looks best to you as the front and use a drum sander to sand the front of the Angel almost flat.  Don't sand into the tree, and stop short of the halo mounting hole in her head.  She should look much more angelic now.


[Fig29:  Sanding the front of the Angel flat on a drum sander.]


You can apply whatever finish you like.  I think a spray finish such as spray lacquer or clear gloss paint is easy to apply and appropriate for this ornament.  To make it easier to hold the ornament during spraying on drying I suggest you pick up a package of bamboo skewers and break one into convenient lengths.  Measure the diameter of the skewer and use a drill of that diameter to drill a hole in the center of the base of the ornament.  You can prepare a drying stand by drilling slightly larger holes in a scrap piece of wood—size the wood piece to take car of how many ornaments you'll be doing at once. 

Hold on to the skewer with one hand and the spray can of finish with the other.  You can turn and angle the ornament with the skewer until the finish has been applied to the whole surface, even the bottom.  Then set the skewer  into the holder until the finish dries.  Apply another coat if needed.


[Fig30:  Using a bamboo skewer to hold the ornament while spray finish is applied.]




[Fig31:  Several ornaments drying held by a holder and skewers.]

Make a Halo/Hanger out of wire.  Select something smooth and round that is the diameter that you want the halo to be—I used the shank of a 1/4” drill.  Cut a short length (~2”) of 22 gauge brass wire and clamp both ends in a vise.  Insert the rod into the loop and turn the rod until the wire is twisted into a tight spiral.  Unclamp the vise to remove the wire and slide the loop off of the rod.  Bend the spiraled wire so that it angles down below the center of the loop. At the point of the wire directly below the center of the loop bend the spiral wire so that it points straight down.   Trim the wire to length with wire cutters.  Apply some CA glue to the tip of the spiral wire (if you're doing several at once you can put a drop of CA glue on something disposable, like masking tape, and dip the wire in the drop) and insert the wire into the hole drilled in the Angel's head. If you want to hang the now finished ornament you can loop a hanger wire around the base of the halo.


[Fig32:  Making a Halo/Hanger by twisting wire around a drill shank.]



[Fig33:  A completed Halo/Hanger.]


[Fig34:  The completed ornament.]


Starting with the basic ornament you can make many changes, such as leaving off the base, changing or omitting paint or changing the finial.   Some of these are discussed in Variations.



[Fig35:  A group of Eccentric Ornaments.]


David Reed Smith is a basement woodturner living in Hampstead , Maryland .   He is treasurer of the Baltimore Area Turners.