Turned Christmas Crackers

Monday 9 July 2018

Some years ago I had the idea of making a Christmas cracker for a club competition but I never got round it. I was then trying to think of something different for an article and it occurred to me that now was my opportunity to make one.

I sat down to consider size, proportions, colour, timber choice etc. As you can see, I have made two types – one has been decorated (the prototype) and the other one has been left with its natural colour and a patterned section.

The coloured cracker is made from ash (Fraxinus excelsior) and has been coloured with spirit dye and a gilt cream has been rubbed in to fill the grain. Once dry, the finished piece was given several coats of finishing oil. This removed the excess gilt cream and gives a lovely shine to the piece. The plain version has a criss-cross pattern, created with a spiralling tool, and has been finished with melamine and buffed to a shine with carnauba wax to produce a high gloss finish.

I have two young granddaughters so they will be able to use them this Christmas. I have written their names on a tag and the gifts inside have been chosen especially for them, so this year we will have a more personalised Christmas.

Tools used: 19mm (3/4in) spindle roughing gouge, 3mm (1/8in) parting tool, 1.5mm (1/16in) parting tool, RS200KT with rounded end cutter attached, 13mm (1/2in) skew chisel, 10mm (3/8in) spindle gouge, spiralling tool and a selection of Forstner bits – 28mm (1 1/8in), 32mm (1 1/4in) and 38mm (1 1/2in) plus a 12mm (1/2in) drill bit

Step 1

Mount a piece of wood 228mm (9in) x 58mm (2 1/4in) x 58mm (2 1/4in) on the lathe between centres and turn to round. Cut chucking spigots at both ends. Then mount in the chuck and part off around 95mm (3 3/4in) and put to one side

Step 2

Reduce the first 20mm (3/4n) of the remaining timber in diameter to approximately 46mm (1 3/4in). This is for the centre of the cracker and will hold the pieces together

Step 3

Drill a hole 38mm (1 1/2in) diameter to a depth of 70mm (2 3/4in). I used three different Forstner bits or saw tooth cutters – the first is 28mm (1 1/8in), the second 32mm (1¼in) and the third 38mm (1 1/2in). Use a 12mm (1/2in) drill bit to approximately 25mm (1in) short of the full depth. Shape the bottom of the hole by cutting from the centre hole and tapering back towards the inside wall. I used an RS200 with a rounded end cutter

Step 4

Use a skew chisel to make a reference cut approximately 90mm (3 1/2in) from the end. Draw pencil lines 10mm (3/8in) either side of this. From the pencil lines, shape the timber towards the centre reference cut to form the gathered area where you will hold the cracker to pull it. Sand the inside using a piece of sandpaper wrapped round a length of dowel. At no time should you put your fingers inside the revolving piece of work

Step 5

Mount the second piece of the main body and drill a 38mm (1 1/2in) hole to a depth of approximately 50mm (2in) using the same procedure as for piece one. Using a skew chisel, cut a rebate 20mm (3/4in) deep to fit the spigot on piece one. Cut the cove shape as shown in steps 6 and 7. Make the skew chisel reference cut around 70mm (2 3/4in) along its length. When the two pieces are fitted together, both ends should match

Step 6

Fit the two pieces together and bring the tailstock up for support. Skim over with a roughing gouge to ensure a parallel cylinder. Starting at 180 grit, sand the piece working through 240, 320 and finishing with 400 grit. Starting around 10mm (3/8in) away from one coved area and finishing 10mm (3/8in) from the other, cut a pattern using the spiral texturing tool with a spiralling cog fitted. For this cracker, I made two passes – one with the tool set at number two to the left and another with the tool set at number two to the right. The lathe speed is set at around 500rpm

Step 7

Using V-cuts, define the patterned area and make reference cuts for parting off. Then apply a coat of melamine and buff to a shine with carnauba wax

Step 8

Fasten masking tape round the middle joint for extra support while the chucking point is removed and shaped. Cut a spigot 45mm (1 3/4in) diameter to receive the end piece of the cracker. Repeat this process for the second section but this time, use a jam chuck to mount

Step 9

For the two end sections, turn a piece of timber approx 125mm (5in) x 58mm (2 1/4in) x 58mm (2 1/4in) into the round and cut a chucking spigot at one end. Mount in the chuck and make several sizing cuts using callipers set to the diameter of the main body of the cracker

Step 10

Using a roughing gouge, reduce the cylinder to these reference cuts. Sand the section and cut a spiral pattern to match the main body along the whole length. Finish with melamine and buff to a shine with carnauba wax if you wish. Drill the centre to a depth of 115mm (4 1/2in) using the same drilling method as before. Cut a rebate to fit the spigot on the end of the centre section and part off a 50mm (2in) section. Cut another rebate to fit the second end of the main body and part off a further 50mm (2in)

Step 11

Reverse mount the pieces in the chuck using the rebate. Take care not to over tighten. Taper the cut edges to give a thinner appearance. I used a spindle gouge with a fingernail profile for this. Sand the pieces carefully before being removed from the lathe

Step 12

Now glue the two end sections onto the main body