Graduated Candle Holders | Canadian Woodworking

Graduated Candle Holders

by Brian McEvoy

Graduated Candle Holders

When I first started learning woodturning, the late Rude Osolnik was a huge inspiration and as time moved forward I finally understood what set him apart. To me it was the elegance of his forms and I believe his candle holders were quintessential of this fact  I prefer not to copy the work of others but whenever I see a piece that is as beautiful as his candle sticks I just can't help myself. I believe everyone should be able to share in the beauty of these works.  As Christmas approaches each year I like to turn a few sets so all can enjoy them as much as I do. Sets of three are ok but for the true Rude Osolnik feel I prefer five.

For the complete set of five that I make you'll need a 3 x 3 x 60 inch piece of timber.  Most of the sets I turn are with Yellow Cedar but I've used Cocobolo, Ziricote and Maple as well.  The yellow cedar can be rather featureless so I spice it up with stain as I'll demonstrate in this tutorial.


Measure lengths of 8-1/2", 10", 11½", 13",  & 14-1/2"  allowing for saw kerf. 


In this case I'm using a chop saw to ensure accuracy but a band saw works fine.
Mark the centers of both ends on all five pieces. 


Square and center the block in the drill press, I use a vise and engineers square for this process.


Drill a 7/8" hole 1 inch deep in each block.


Here is the drilled set.

Mount your first block between centers.  I personally use a 2" Elio Safe Drive but most any drive will suffice.  On the tailstock end you'll need a cone that will fit comfortably in the drilled out 7/8" hole.


Rough turn down very close to the finished size; I find a maximum diameter at the narrowest point should be no more than 1/2" , 3/8" is where I like to end up.  The tendency will be to leave it thicker but if you want to achieve the elegance of a Rude Osolnik style candle holder force yourself to turn it thinner.


The narrowest point should be about one-third of the length down from the top.  A nice taper from the top to the narrow point and then down to the bottom is in order.  Either concave or convex is good but try to avoid a straight line.


At this roughing stage I don't shape either the top or bottom, I'm just concerned with achieving a nice profile. Now we're down to a little less than ½ inch and I expect the sanding will reduce it to about 3/8 inch.


The set of five roughed down to size.


Turn down a waste block with a 7/8" tenon that will fit snuggly into the 7/8" hole you drilled into the top of the candle stick.  Note that I've turned the waste block extra length to allow me room to turn and sand the top.


Mount between centers and turn or sand down to the finished size.


True up the top with a nice gradual curve towards the center.  I normally slope it in about ¼" deep in the center.


Clean up the bottom with the tailstock in place.


Turn the lathe speed down to 200 RPM and while holding the candle stick in your left hand gently power sand the bottom nub off.
Sand the whole candle stick down to at least 500 grit.  I like to round off the edges a little because I find sharp edges tend to chip with use.

The completed set ready for finishing.


As I'd mentioned earlier, with rather plain timbers I like to spice it up a bit with stain.  In this case I'll use two colours to make them even more interesting.  I'm sure most any stain would work but I prefer Mohawk Ultra Penetrating Stain.


All you need is stain, rubber gloves, a brush and a kitchen towel. Brush on and rub down with the kitchen towel. 


Once you've stained them all set aside to dry for at least a couple of hours.


For an interesting twist, once the red stain is dry,  sand the center portion of the candle holder down to raw wood.  If you move back and forth along the center with your sand paper you'll naturally remove more in the center.  This will give you a nice faded effect towards the edges.  I usually start with 150 grit and work my way back up to 600.


With the five holders sanded down satisfactorily, repeat the staining process with the yellow colour.  I cover the whole piece with the yellow stain,  keeping in mind that these stains are transparent so a lighter colour does not cover the darker one.  In fact the yellow will brighten up the red to an orange shade.


I'll allow the finished five to cure overnight before applying 5 to 6 coats of lacquer.  Though I have never experimented with other finishing methods,  I'm sure there are many others that would be satisfactory.  You may very well have your favorite technique.

Lee Valley Tools  carries these nifty Brass Candle Cup Inserts (order # 41K19.01) that work well with most candles and will finish off your project nicely.  They fit snuggly into the 7/8 inch holes and shouldn't require any glue.  As a matter of fact occasionally I've had to enlarge the hole slightly to get them to fit.  I use a Dremel type tool but I'm sure a file or sandpaper would suffice. 

I hope many of you will enjoy this project and I think we should all be thankful for Rude Osolnik who created simple elegance for all of us to enjoy.  For more information on Rude visit his web-site. The woodturning community is surely grateful for all the selfless contributions this master has passed on.  I will always have fond memories of the time I spent with him in the very early days of the Utah Woodturning Symposium.  

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by Brian McEvoy