MAKE AN INTRICATE CHRISTMAS ORNAMENT | Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement

This little gem will get people asking, “How did you do that?” As they hold it close, looking for the secret, they’ll also ask, “Is it one piece?” I like to tell them it’s magic before I reveal the truth.

INTRICATE CHRISTMAS ORNAMENT

MAKE AN INTRICATE CHRISTMAS ORNAMENT



Photos by Heather Craig (Lead Photo by Rob Brown)
 
INFO:DIFFICULTY – 2/5, LENGTH/TIME – 2/5, COST – 1/5



Start off with deciding on an ornament pattern. You’re more than wel­come to use one of mine, but if you’re interested, half the fun can be designing your own. Determine the size of your ornament. A width any smaller than 3/4" doesn’t leave much room for beads, and any larger than 1" and it is difficult to cut on the scroll saw. As for the length, I recommend 2" minimum or it becomes difficult to hold.
 
Start with a rectangle, then create your design within its boundary. Consider the size of beads or crystals you plan to use and make sure they will fit the open­ing. Ensure the length between the top of the ornament and the opening doesn’t exceed the length of your drill bit. The same goes for the bottom.
 
Happy with your plan? Then fold the paper along the length and trace the pattern. It helps to hold it up to a window during the day or use a light table if you have one. Unfold the paper and your design should be duplicated and side by side. 
 
If you prefer a high level of accuracy, instead of tracing the image, scan it and duplicate it using Photoshop or similar image editing software. You may want to make more than one ornament of the same design; if so, copy the pattern before you use it. If you scan the pattern, you can duplicate it with the click of a but­ton using image editing software; fill the page if you feel ambitious. Re-sizing the design is also much easier with this type of software.
 
You may have a particularly showy piece of wood that deserves more presence. It may be a nice piece of burl. Maybe a piece of walnut where the light sapwood meets the darker heartwood. In this situation, consider incorporating a solid section into your design.

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Adhere the Pattern – A pattern will go a long way to keeping the ornament symmetrical and even if that’s the look you’re going for. Use spray adhesive to affix the paper template to the blank. Repeat the same on one of the adjoining faces.
 
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Play it Safe – Craig prefers the safe approach of slightly starting the cuts in the ends of the ornament, then marking the center point of the end grain with an awl. This ensures minor differences in layout and cutting don’t translate into ruining the workpiece by drilling through the face of the finished ornament.

Preparing
The traditional ornament pattern I have selected is 7/8" wide by 3-1/2" long. Cut a blank to that dimension. I tend to have several cut-offs from other projects hiding in the corners of my shop. I start with a piece at least a foot long, rip it to within 1/16" of the width, then put it through my thickness planer, bringing it to the final width.
 
Fold the pattern along the length and position it on the blank. Verify the pattern doesn’t extend past the edge of the blank. If it is slightly within the edge, that’s okay, but if it extends past the wood, either cut a new blank or change the size of the pattern. Use spray adhesive to glue the pattern to the wood. If you’re making more than one ornament, glue several patterns to the piece. Leave at least 1/8" between them to allow for waste when cut to length on the mitre saw. 
 
Drill the cord holes
Once the glue has dried, cut the block to length. Make sure both ends are square, then mark the center of each end. Normally, I would do this by drawing lines corner to corner. The intersection of the lines would mark the center. But I have found that if anything is slightly off — and something often is — then when I cut out the pattern, there is a chance of cutting into the hole for the cord. So, to mark the center, begin all four cuts at each end. Using an awl, mark the center of the little square. 
 
Next, drill the holes for the cord using a 1/16" spiral bit. To drill the hole exactly vertical, so it ends up in the center of the opening, I use a drill press and a square. With the square tight against the wood and firmly on the drill press table, line up the drill bit with the awl mark at the center of the end grain. Slowly lower the bit into the wood part way, raise it out, lower again, and repeat until the hole is drilled. If these holes are bored too quickly, the bit is thin enough that it will drift and the hole won’t be centered in the orna­ment opening. Drill pilot holes in the center ovals to be cut out. 

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Drill Cord Holes – While ensuring the workpiece is square to the drill press table, bore a hole for the cord in both ends of the workpiece.
 
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Into the Corners – Craig makes a series of cuts to remove the waste from the inside corners of this design. Taking the time to complete this process carefully improves the overall look of the finished ornament.

Let the magic begin
It’s time to start cutting, but first you need to choose the right blade and make sure you have a good supply of 1/2" transparent tape.
 
Generally, thicker blades (#5 and up) are recommended for thicker (3/4" and up) and harder wood. They tend to cut faster and straighter (less drift), and they break less often. Thinner blades (#3 and under) are recommended for thinner, softer wood, providing better control and cutting more intricate contours.
 
For this pattern any of #5, #7 or #9 works well. Most of the time I prefer #5. It cuts a bit slower, but for me it’s a comfortable bal­ance between speed and accuracy.
 
Even though thinner blades are generally recommended for thin­ner wood, they can still be used in thick wood. I used a #3 to cut out the more intricate portion of this pattern. Don’t force the blade. It takes a bit longer, but it will get the job done. It won’t make the corner in one swoop, but there is a way around that. I cut into the corner along the line, then back out slightly. Cut into the corner again, but to the open side of my original cut, the width of the blade. Then back off again. Now there is enough room to turn the corner and continue along the line. 
 
It’s worth investing in precision-ground, reverse-tooth blades. The cutting is more aggressive, allowing you to use a thinner blade than generally recommended. The finished cut is cleaner because it cuts both on the way down and the way up.
 
I also recommend investing in a desktop tape dispenser. It can be tricky holding the ornament pieces together while trying to pull a length of tape from a handheld dispenser. You could tear off a number of pieces ahead of time and have them hanging from your work station, but they lose some of the adhesive and get tangled.
 
Now that you have the right blade and transparent tape at the ready, cut out the center of the ornament and discard the pieces. Using the cuts you made earlier, at the top end of the pattern, cut along one side. Put the piece you just cut off back and tape it into place. Cut off the piece on the opposite side and tape it back together. Rotate the block, cut the next piece and tape it back into place. Continue cutting each section and taping them back into place. Once you’ve cut the last section, no need to tape it into place. Reveal the magic and peel off all outer pieces. 

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Cut, Tape, Rotate, Cut – Craig made some cuts in one face, taped the waste back onto the workpiece, then rotated the ornament 90° to cut in the other direction. It’s a process that’s similar to making a cabriole leg.
 
Sand and finish
Smooth the contours with 80 grit sandpaper. Then finish the sur­face to 180 grit paper. Apply a finish of your choice. What finish you use isn’t overly important, as these ornaments won’t see a lot of abuse and won’t have to stand up to water or chemicals. The decision comes down to ease of application and the look of the fin­ish on the wood you’ve selected. I chose polyurethane, and applied four coats, sanding with Crocous cloth between coats. 
 
If you’ve selected an intricate shape to cut you might have to take extra care to apply finish to the entire surface of the ornament. Small brushes can be used to get finish into corners and tight areas. Often a can of spray finish makes applying a finish to uneven or curved surfaces like these a bit easier. Getting at least one coat on the entire ornament is critical, as one coat will at least provide an even colour to the project, and viewers will be less likely to notice any spots that didn’t get extra coats.
 
Some of the finish will likely have plugged the cord holes, so re-drill to clean them out. No need to use the square, as you can just let the drill bit follow the existing hole.
 
String the beads
Begin by laying out the arrangement of beads next to the orna­ment. I like to start with a large, eye-catching one for the middle, followed by progressively smaller beads in a symmetrical pattern on each side. 
 
There’s an overwhelming selection of jewelry beads both in-store and online. Every shape, size, color and material you can imagine, but they’re often sold in large quantities. If you’re making just a few ornaments, you may want to look for local bead shops. Although more expensive, they sell individual beads and small strings of beads. If you enjoy hunting for a bargain and repurposing mate­rials, then check out local thrift stores. Old jewelry is a good, inexpensive source of beads and looking for them is a fun outing.

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Bead Time – With the wooden ornament sanded and finished, it’s time to choose the right amount and type of beads that will fit nicely into the available space, and look good with the wood ornament.
 
Next, cut a piece of cord 10" long. String or fishing line can be used, but it’s sometimes difficult to obtain sufficient tension so the beads don’t sag. To avoid unnecessary frustration, I use a clear, 0.6mm elastic beading cord. 
 
A knot can be used to hold the cord at the bottom of the orna­ment, but it looks clumsy. I use a colour-coordinated crimp bead at the bottom end of the cord. Crimp the bead to one end of the cord with a pair of pliers. Trim excess cord below the bead.
 
Feed the long end of the cord through the bottom of the orna­ment. String the beads and fish the end of the cord through the top of the ornament. Hold up the ornament and check that the beads fill the space. If there is a gap at the top or the beads don’t fit, remove and substitute other beads accordingly. If you select the beads before designing the ornament, you can make the opening fit the beads. 
 
Tie a loop
Now that the beads are selected and strung, and the second end of the cord has been thread through the upper hole in the orna­ment, tie a loop in the cord at the top of the ornament. The final loop size should be about 2" high so it will fit over a tree branch. If you’re going to hang it somewhere else, adjust the size of your loop. The trick is to tie the loop so the knot holds the cord in place, and the cord remains tight so the beads don’t sag. That’s where the elasticity of the cord is handy. 

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Cord and Beads – Though there are a number of options when it comes to what cord to use to string the beads and how to secure it, Craig prefers elastic beading cord and crimp beads.
 
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Overhand Loop Knot – An overhand loop knot is easy to do if you know how. An Internet search will assist you if this knot isn’t already in your arsenal.
 
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A Nice Loop – Tie a loop at the top of the ornament that will allow you to easily affix the ornament to a tree or other hook.

Stretch the cord upwards and hold, maintaining tension at the top of the ornament. Tie an overhand loop knot. To do this, dou­ble the cord to create the loop. Fold the loop over to form another loop. Pass the first loop through the second loop. Pull it tight so the knot is firmly against the ornament. An Internet search will clearly explain how to tie an overhand loop. 
 
If you lose some of the tension, then slide the knot down. Pinch each side of the loop between your thumb and finger and gently pull them away from each other until the knot is snug to the orna­ment and the beads don’t sag. There should be extra cord at the base of the knot. Trim it to about 1/2" long and tuck it into the hole in the top of the ornament. 
 
Hold it up to the light and marvel at its magic. If you want to enjoy it throughout the year, hang it in a window.


 
Heather Craig
 
 

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