Make a classic Christmas tree ornament

Make a classic Christmas tree ornament

Christmas tree toppers are a hot topic of discussion—everyone has a preference. Some people have a tradition of using the same year after year. And while Angels are a perennial favorite, I think the classic star tops the list.

About 25 years ago I made a gold star at the top of my Christmas tree. I liked the way it came out, despite its flaws that bug me to this day. I’ve been wanting to revisit this project for years, to correct the issues I had, using what I learned to make a better project. This year I finally got the chance and I’m very happy with how it turned out.

You won’t need a bunch of special tools to make this star. If you have a drill, some chisels, a saw, a workbench and a vice – you will be able to make an awesome star. This may not be how a traditional carver would make it, but it is a relatively quick and efficient way to make a tree topper with no carving experience.

What you will need:

Make a template

A selection of stars

Stars with wider points, like the one shown in green, will be easier to carve.

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The first order of business is to determine the shape of the star you will be making. A traditional 5-point star will work, because the wider points are easier to carve. You can make a star with more than 5 points, but the points get narrower and can explode when grains cross the point.

Tree topper template

This is the stellar design I settled on. Note that the dotted line indicates where to drill the 1/2-inch hole needed to place it on top of the tree.

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Draw your star about 6 inches long on a piece of paper, or print out the image above and measure it to fit the piece of wood you’ll be using.

Mark and cut out the star shape

Tree topper starter template

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Cut the star

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Cut out your template, trace it onto the wood, and draw lines from the tip of each point to the valley between the points on the other side. Then carefully cut it out, flip it over and draw lines as you did in the front, from the tip of each point to the valley between the points on the other side.

Mark a center line around the outer edge of the star

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Drill a hole in the bottom of the star

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Draw a line around the outer edge of the star in the middle of its thickness. Each side of the star will taper off at this line. Next, drill a 1/2 inch hole in the valley between the bottom of the two points. Start with a 1/4″ bit to start the hole and re-drill with a 3/8″ bit, then finally, use a 1/2″ bit. This will help keep the hole centered and the edges clean.

First side carving

Cut a slot for each valley of stars

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Valleys cut into the star

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Now, using your fine-toothed saw, make reference cuts from the center of the star into each valley between the points, on both sides. Stop just shy of the midpoint (the line you drew around the edge). These cuts will help you maintain a straight line in each valley.

Repeated cutting through the wood to be removed

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Waste removal

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Use the same fine-toothed saw to make a series of cuts across one side of one of the points. You’ll need to keep the same angle that the reference cut into the valley between the two points, and only stop on the line in the middle of the edge. It helps if you can pin the star to the workbench. After the cut is complete, use a very sharp, wide chisel to shave off the fingers caused by the saw cut.

Shave down to the midline

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Star point reference line

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Then use the same chisel to slowly shave the point up to the line on the edge, being careful to keep the carved face flat. Then draw a line across the flat, from the center of the star to the tip of the point. You will use this as a reference when carving the other side of the point.

Keep in mind that you want to make the carved surfaces flat, and keep the edges straight, but you don’t have to worry about it being perfectly smooth – some tool marks will add a handcrafted feel to the finished piece.

Cut through the waste to be removed

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Shave the toes of wood

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Repeat the process on the other side of the point: make a series of cuts, with the fine-toothed saw, through the material to be removed from the second side of the point. Just stop shy of the center reference line at the top, and the edge. Chisel away the wood sticks, as you did on the other side of the point.

Two sides of point chiseled down

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The first side of the star is carved

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Shave the side of the point until it is flat for both the top and side reference lines. Then repeat the process with the other star points on that side of the star. When you get to the last point you will no longer be able to secure it, so insert a half inch dowel into the hole in your star to give you a way to secure it. Note that I left a block of wood around where the dowel was inserted to help stiffen the area and prevent it from bending as I worked on it. Once I’ve carved the other side, I’ll remove this material.

The second aspect gets tricky

Starting from the second side

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Carve out the second side of the star

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Since one side of the star is no longer flat, it is not easy to hold it in place. Clamp the dowel in a vice, as close as possible to the star, in order to make the saw cuts needed to remove material from each point face. Then use the dowel as a handle to support the star as you chisel away the material. While carving the second side, I used an envelope padded on my workbench to protect the first side. Other than that, the process is the same – work your way around the star.

The wooden star carving is complete

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Hand sand and install the star

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You will need to pull the dowel out to finish carving the last two surfaces on the bottom point. If you have left a bulge around the dowel hole, you can remove it from both sides to make it flat now.

Lightly sand the entire star with 220-grit sandpaper, making sure to clean the outer edges as well as the hole in the bottom. Paint with a light coat of primer to seal the wood. When dry, sand lightly again.

Termination application

Apply gold leaf adhesive

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Lay out the gold leaf sheets

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In this step, only work on two or three spots at a time. Brush on the gold leaf adhesive, keeping it as smooth as possible, then let it dry for 10-15 minutes until it becomes a little sticky. Sheets of gold leaf come separated by thin sheets of paper – lift the leaf with the gold leaf on top. He slid the sheet of gold leaf off the paper and onto the star. Try to let it fall on one flat side of a point at a time. Use paper to press the gold leaf flat.

The paper may break while working in the valleys between the two points – don’t worry if this happens. There will be lots of little scraps that you can drop on any areas that are left exposed. Don’t worry about accuracy either, as the pieces used for patching can overlap in areas – and will only stick where the adhesive is exposed. The set comes with a soft brush to clean the edges of the paper and remove any loose pieces.

Gold plated paper

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Polished gold leaf

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When you’re done with one side, do the other. When you’re done, brush off all the loose flakes and then you can polish the gold leaf smooth. There are different ways that people recommend doing this. I like to lay a sheet of gold leaf over the surface and rub it smoothly with my flat fingernail, being careful not to scrape it off with the edge. After everything is done, you can seal it with the varnish that comes in the kit – this will make the finish more durable. If the finish is too bright and shiny for your taste, before applying the varnish, polish the gold leaf with some brown shoe polish. This will dull the gloss a bit to make it look old – but be sure to wipe it off well before sealing the star with varnish.

Gilded tree top finish

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That’s it, you’re all done. If you are not a fan of gold leaf, you can also try Silver, copper and bronze leaves for a different look.

#classic #Christmas #tree #ornament

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