Cosmic Candle Holders

Monday 9 July 2018

I don't particularly enjoy doing craft production work. However, the bills have to be paid. Work like this also enables me to use up all those smaller off-cuts which sit under the shelf that I've been storing for a rainy day. The timber does not need to be too fancy either just as as long as it's free of defects; bland timbers can be used as well. Native timbers sell better than exotics; what tourist wants to return home with a species of timber that they can get locally?

Most of the timber I use, I have sourced myself so although the wood is 'free,' a cost still has to be applied. If you sit down and consider the time and cost, you may be surprised how much it is. Items like petrol to drive to the source, chainsaw gas, bar oil and gear maintenance, even a new chain if you stuff one up and then sealer to seal the end grain while it dries – you need to consider all these costs plus the time which you could otherwise have used turning.

Many turners forget these costs and so under-price their work terribly. In addition to the cost of the blank, I try to price at $50 an hour when turning even though I turn as a hobby; this accommodates a little for your labour and some fixed – e.g. workshop, lathe – and variable costs – e.g. tools, maintenance and utilities. Unfortunately this often comes back to $50 per hour including other costs such as the candles, sand paper, paints, and finishes. I use this formula to price items like these candle holders. I can pump out craft turnings but I always come away wondering how production turners make a reasonable living. The only thing to do is race the clock so staging a number of the items being made helps speed up this process considerably. Racing the clock also sharpens your tool skills as the better the cut you get the less sanding, and remember less sanding means less time to finish it.

The inspiration for this project came from one of the first demonstrations I attended 14 years ago, by Woody McMartin. To me, this highlights the importance of going to demonstrations. We can all learn something, and even after 14 years, that knowledge may one day be put to good use.

Tools used: 10mm (3/8in) bowl gouge with fingernail grind and 10mm (3/8in) spindle gouge

Step 1

Prepare a number of round blanks to 130mm (5 1/6in) diameter by 50mm (2in) deep; drill an 8.5mm hole for a screw chuck – 9mm (11/32in) on harder woods. Set up the drill press so the hole is drilled no deeper than the height of the tealight being used. If your screw is too long, place a ply packer between the work and faceplate/jaws of the chuck to make up the difference

Step 2

With the lathe running at 1200rpm, shape the back leaving a 48mm spigot with the 10mm (3/8in) bowl gouge – as you normally would for a bowl. You can be quite quick in shaping but remember to make finer finishing cuts to refine the shape and ensure there is minimal grain tear out, or you will have a harder job sanding later on. All blemishes must be removed or they will show up badly later

Step 3

Use the same chisel to form the foot and the finish cut. Once you have achieved the best finish you can off the tool, sand the project. I power sand where I can and find the heel of the mandrel works best

Step 4

Normally, I would get to the stage shown here with all the blanks. These had been sanded to 400 grit. After sanding, apply a coat of sanding sealer wiped on and wiped off so the paint, when applied to the top, does not bleed into the underside’s surface

Step 5

Next, you need to change the screw chuck to a 50mm (2in) jaw chuck and mount the blank continuing at 1200rpm, and true up the top of the blank. Use the same 10mm (3/8in) bowl gouge but draw the cut from the centre outwards

Step 6

Using a 42mm Forstner bit and Jacobs chuck, drill to the appropriate depth of the candle a couple of millimetres shy of its height. The size of the bit will vary depending on the candle diamete

Step 7

You now need to tidy up the inside of the recess where the point of the Forstner bit ends, as well as any torn grain that the Forstner bit has made. I find a spindle gouge works best for this step. You can now sand the top surface to 400 grit because any tool marks will be magnified by the paint finish. Once again, finish all blanks to this stage before you go to the next step. Now it's time to let the fun begin! Start by using a plastic plate as a palate board. Next, choose three or four colours of acrylic paint, one of which will be used as a base coat for the candle holder. Having a colour wheel to refer to is a good idea if you do not know which colours will work together; this ensures that your finished candle holders look the best they possibly can

Step 8

With the lathe stopped, apply the base coat with a paint brush to the entire rim. To get the cosmic effect a metallic colour in gold, bronze, copper or silver works best. You can dilute the paint with a squirt of water to help get a smooth finish. As any brush marks will show through the finial finish, use a heat gun on low for two minutes and the paint will be dry

Step 9

Turn the lathe speed up to as fast as it will go; the more centrifugal force you can have when applying the next colour, the better the effect. With a watered down solution of your next colour, touch the brush around the rim of the candle hole (yes, while it is running)…

Step 10

..and like magic you have created the 'cosmic effect.' The kids love doing this, as it's quick and fun to do. Use the heat gun and allow to dry for two minutes, and then repeat this step for the next colour until you have applied all the colours selected

Step 11

Remount on a pin jaw chuck and tidy up the bottom – in this case I had a few cracks so I textured this area after gluing with CA adhesive to conceal them. If I am not happy with the repair I would try and take some more wood off the bottom. However, in most cases the item is put on the firewood pile. The candle holders are now complete