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North Coast Variations as 5 page pdf


North Coast Variations


I thought Robert Rosand’s article on North Coast Tree Christmas Ornaments was great.  This article is a short tutorial on how to do some of the variations I tried.  It describes how to turn an integral Star Finial and Angel Finial, as well as adding “Ornaments” to the tree by branding.


Fig01:  A selection of 7 North Coast Variations.  From left to right:  A bent wire finial, a stock NC ornament, a cut out star, a branded ornament, a cut out metal star, a turned wood star, and an angel finial.

Star Finial

The integral star finial is turned on the lathe.  It doesn’t look all that much when turned, but after the ornament is finished, half the finial is sanded away, revealing the star shape.


It’s hard to judge the proportions of the star while it’s still round, so I suggest you print out the template in Drawing1.  I’ve supplied templates for three sizes:  ¾”, ½”, and 3/8”.  If you want a different size, print out the template at a reduced size, or draw your own.  Glue the template with spray adhesive or a glue stick to a suitably thing substrate such as 1/16” plywood, matte board, aluminum flashing or cereal box cardboard.  Then cut out the template on the red lines.  The blue lines will be used to mark the locations of the points on a sphere—it’s helpful to nick the template with a file where the blue lines intersect the red arc.  I’ve include a couple of aids in the handle of the template as well.  The small leg on the right can be used to check the base diameter of the top point—while round I tend to leave it too thick.  The left side of the handle can be used to check the angle between points.


To add an intregral star finial, I suggest you turn the ornament mounted in some sort of chuck—I use a collet chuck.  Shape the outline of the tree, but don’t reduce the base or make the parting tool cuts.  Decide on what size star you want.  Mark the extents of the star on the ornament, and use a parting tool to cut on both sides of the star, leaving a cylinder as in Fig02.  Use calipers and a parting tool to reduce the cylinder to the sphere diameter.  Use a spindle gouge to turn the cylinder into a rough sphere.  You can use the template to check and see how close you are to a sphere.  Then use the template to mark the locations of the side and bottom points, and the intersection between them as in Fig03.


Fig02:  The extents of the sphere have been defined with parting tool cuts.

Fig03:  Marking the point locations with the Star Template.



Using a small skew (I use a round ¼” skew) make a V-cut with a vertical left edge at the line marking the side point as in Fig04.  Go deep—I seldom cut deep enough as first.  Then use the skew to cut from the V-cut to the top of the point.  Leave a nub for support.  You can check the diameter of the base of the point with the template to ensure it’s the right size and adjust if necessary.

Fig04:  After making a V-cut to define the top of the side point.


Fig05:  Checking the diameter of the base of the top point.  It’s still too fat.

Fig06:  The finished top point.



Make another V-cut with the skew that is centered on the line that indicates the intersection of the side and bottom points.  When finished the right side of the V should hit the top of the side point.  Then use the skew to cut from the bottom point line to the intersection.  Try to make this line visually a continuation of the top point.


Fig07:  After making a V-cut centered on the intersection of side and bottom points.


Fig08:  After shaping the top of the bottom point by cutting from the bottom point line to the bottom of the last V-Cut.


Undercut the bottom point.  This is probably safest to do with a small skew used as a scraper.  Blend the top of the tree into the undercut area.  You can neaten up the area where the top of the tree meets the bottom point with a micro-scraper (sharpened bent wire mounted in a pin chuck or the like).


Fig09:  After undercutting the bottom point.


At this point you can complete the ornament as usual.  Then, as a last step after sanding the ornament and most of the Star, cut off the nub and sand the top point.

Fig10:  The completed star.



After removing the ornament from the lathe, sand away half of the Star with a drum sander.

Fig11:  A complete North Coast Ornament with a Star Finial.


Angel Finial

The Angel Finial is turned on the lathe.  It is easier to visualize, so you don’t need to make a template.  Sanding away half of the Angel reveals the Angel shape as with the Star.


Begin by roughing out the overall shape of the ornament, but don’t cut the base or make the parting tool cuts.  Mark the area for the angel with pencil and then make parting tool cuts to set off the top and bottom.  Turn the resulting cylinder to the largest diameter of the Angel.  Use a pencil to mark locations for the bottom of the head and the bottom of the wings.

Fig12:  After using a parting too define the size of the Angel.



Fig13:  After marking the bottom of the head and bottom of the wings.


Use the smallest spindle gouge you have to cut the head as in Fig14.  Leave a nub for tailstock support.  Then cut the wings.  You can shape the cove on that defines the side of the wings with a spindle gouge.  Try to undercut the area from the top of the wing to the bottom of the head.  Then use a small skew to undercut the base of the wings.

Fig14:  After turning the head with a small spindle gouge.


Fig15:  After turning the wings with a small spindle gouge and small skew.



Use the small gouge to reduce the diameter of the gown and blend it into the bottom of the wings.  Finish the rest of the ornament now.   After sanding the ornament and most of the angel, cut off the nub at the head and sand the top of the head.  Remove the ornament from the lathe and sand away half of the Angel with a drum sander.


Fig16:  After turning the skirt.

Fig17:  A completed North Coast Ornament with Angel Finial.


Branding “Ornaments”

I thought it would be interesting to add “ornaments” to the tree.  This is best done before making the parting tool cuts.  At first I tried cutting in by mounting a pen tube in a One-Way Drill-Master but sections close to a parting tool cut tended to break away.  Branding turned out to be a better solution.

Pen Tube

Turn the basic shape of the ornament, without making the parting tool cuts.  Turn a finial if you wish.  Then remove the ornament from the lathe.  Set up a branding station.  You’ll need a propane torch, a pen tube (or other metal tubing) and a pair of vise-grips.  Secure the torch somehow (unless you’ve got three hands) so that you won’t knock it over and set your shop on fire.  I used my workbench vise—but clamp gently.  Use vise-grips rather than regular pliers so you don’t drop a hot tube in your lap.  Hold the pen tube with the vise-grips until it’s good and hot.  Then brand the ornament.  Roll the tube from side to side to get a full circle.  Then reheat the tube and repeat at random locations until the tree has enough “ornaments”.  Return the ornament to the lathe for parting tool cuts and sanding.


Fig18:  A branding station with torch, vise-grips, and pen tube.

Leather Punches

Leather punches can be used for non-circular shapes.  You can find any number of shapes.  You can use the handle of the stamp to hold for heating.  As the stamp is solid metal it will take longer to heat.  This process will likely ruin the tool for leatherwork.

Fig19:  A couple of leather stamps and the brands they make.


Milled Brass

Shaping the end of a brass rod lets you brand a more three dimensional “ornament” rather than just a circle.  I mounted a brass rod in my collet chuck and shaped the end with a ball-end mill held in the tailstock drill chuck.  You could also use a spindle gouge or small rounded scraper as long as you didn’t mind sharpening it when you were done.  Again, because the additional mass of the rod, it will take longer to heat.  This larger reserve heat also means it will burn you lap more thoroughly if dropped, so use vise-grips.  When hot, plunge in a bit more than with the tube and roll a bit from side to side.

Fig20:  Cutting the end of a brass rod with a ball-end mill.



Fig21:  The resulting brand is shaded and shaped more than the brands with a tube.


Using the drill press avoids the longer heating times.  Clamp an angled V-block to your drill press table to support the ornament.  Mount the brass rod in the drill press, turn the drill press on, and press into the work.  It will shape and burn the “ornament” into the Ornament.

Fig22:  Branding with the drill press.



Fig23:  A completed North Coast Ornament with branded “ornaments”.


David Reed Smith is a basement woodworker who lives in Hampstead , Maryland .  As his daughter graduated this May, he thought he would be done with tuition and greased for retirement until his wife decided she wanted to go back to school.  More turning time recedes back from the horizon.