Christmas tree ornaments are favorites for lathe turning projects. Carl Jacobson and Alan Stratton are sponsoring their fourth annual Christmas ornament contest for wood turners. See their You Tube channels for details. Over the 15 years I have been turning wood projects, I have only turned Christmas ornaments once. That was after watching a video on how to turn a “fly house” from a branch out of the yard. This mini-birdhouse was a favorite with the grandchildren. Carl’s challenge reminds me that making Christmas ornaments for the grandchildren would be a good project this year. With 18 grandchildren, it may be a monumental project! To keep it simple and do-able in the time I have, I’ve decided to turn snowmen. This won’t win any competitions but hopefully it will be a winner with the grandchildren, especially if I put their names on the ornaments.
In preparation for this project, I referred to the “no-fooling-around” resource on the web, the Wikipedia site, to learn more about snowpeople.
“A snowman (or snowperson) is an anthropomorphic snow sculpture often built by children in regions with sufficient snowfall. In North America, typical snowmen consist of three large snowballs of different sizes with some additional accoutrements for facial and other features. Common accessories include branches for arms and a rudimentary smiley face, with a carrot standing in for a nose. Human clothing, such as a hat or scarf, may be included. Low-cost and availability are the common issues, since snowmen are usually abandoned to the elements once completed.”
One of the first photographic records of a snowman was taken in about 1853 and is shown below.
“The Snowman No. 2 (4095825226)” by Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales from Wales/Cymru – The Snowman No. 2. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Snowman_No._2_(4095825226).jpg#/media/File:The_Snowman_No._2_(4095825226).jpg
Evidently there is no clear record of when the first snowman was made. Maybe it happened when a Neanderthal decided to make one to attract and trap a wooly mammoth. Bob Eckstein, author of a book entitled The History of the Snowman, documented snowmen constructed during medieval times by studying artistic work found in European museums, art galleries and libraries. One of the earliest illustrations he found was dated 1380.
Snowmen have been thrust into the competitive genre of “who is the biggest?” A record was established in 2008 in Bethel, Maine with a 122 foot, 1 inch snow-woman. Prior to this in 1999, Bechtel, Maine produced a snowman named Angus, 113 feet, 7 inches tall weighing 9,000,000 tons!
Okay, way too much information on snowmen. Because making a snowman is a fun winter activity, and decorating for Christmas is also a fun winter activity, it seems logical that our next project will be a snowman ornament.
The Hallmark Information web site offered some historical insight into Christmas decorating. Christmas trees have evidently been a holiday practice as far back as the 15th century in Germany, appearing in the Americas in the 1700’s. Evergreen trees showed up in religious plays adorned with apples and were referred to as Paradise trees. Later they were used in homes, and ornaments of small pastries in the shapes of stars, angels, hearts and flowers were hung on the trees. The custom of having Christmas trees spread through Europe and eventually was brought to America by German mercenaries fighting in the Revolutionary War. By the 1800’s Christmas trees were very popular in the United States. Many of the commercially available ornaments came from Germany. F. W. Woolworth brought the ornaments from Germany into the Five and Dime Era, selling $25 million worth of Christmas ornaments by 1890. At this time the German-made ornaments were cast lead and hand-blown glass. Over time, ornaments became more elaborate and more expensive. By 1925 Japan had entered the market and was shipping large quantities of ornaments to the US. Czechoslovakia entered the market and by 1935 over 250 million ornaments were finding their way onto US Christmas trees. By the beginning of World War II, American companies entered the ornament market. In 1973 Hallmark introduced ornamental glass balls.
I couldn’t find many historical notes on when hand-made wooden ornaments originated but they must have been used on early Christmas trees. Christ-Kindl Markt mentions “shaved wood” ornaments created by farmers, in their essay on German Christmas ornaments history.
A wooden snowman seems to be an appropriate historical object to adorn a Christmas tree or a holiday table. But one last concern, since these are going to my grandchildren, who range in age from about one year to 17 years: safety. I don’t mean safety at the lathe, that’s a topic for another discussion, but safety associated with the ornament.
The ANSI/ASTM approved ornament would probably have to be made of surgical grade stainless steel, one foot in diameter and equipped with seat belts! It would have to comply with mechanical/physical testing (choking hazard), flammability testing (oops maybe I’ll need to soak the wooden snowmen in a flame retardant such as boric acid), chemical testing (oops again, the boric acid may be toxic and I guess lead based paint is out of question), electrical testing (check, we got this covered) and labeling (guess it will have to be 12 inches in diameter to accommodate all the labels or I could use the trick like they use on TV: ultra fine print to list all the side effects that can result from use of this ornament).
I think I’ll play it safe and make some wooden table snowmen ornaments and paint them with child-proof paint in case the grandchildren gnaw on them. I’ll provide a lengthy Christmas letter with the ornament gift, that enumerates in great detail everything our family has done over the past year and sum it up with a three page, ultra fine print disclaimer associated with the use of the ornament.
I chose Southern Magnolia, AKA poplar, to make these snowmen, primarily because I had tons of it and secondly, I was going to paint them. Maple would have probably been a better choice but all of my maple is 4/4. I cut 2 1/2 inch square blanks 6 inches long and mounted them on a midi Jet lathe between centers. I mounted a Stebcenter drive in my scroll chuck and used this to turn the blank into a cylinder with a tenon. The blank was then mounted in the scroll chuck with the tenon and I let the chips fly. I used a combination of carbide tipped tools, a bedan and thin parting tool.
I did do some planning before I started turning. I tried to adhere to the 1/3 – 2/3 proportions. I do have plans to make a Fibonacci gauge but in this case I relied on the good ol’ 1/3 – 2/3 rule.
Once the snowman was parted off the lathe, my wife took over and turned this lifeless chunk of wood into a lively snowman.
I also wanted to provide my grandchildren with another memorable gift for the Christmas holidays, so in spite of my wife’s advice, I decided to add my Annual Christmas Satire to this blog. I must add a disclaimer that all figures in this essay are fictitious and any resemblance to anyone alive or dead is coincidental. It does answer the question….
Does Snowman 2 have a sibling and if so, what does he or she do?
By Solaroller (my pen name to protect me from the CIA, NSA, IRS, SPCA etc.)
Yes, Snowman 2 has a brother by the name of Shaved Ice, who is a gangsta’ rapper. They are actually step brothers, having been adopted by the same parents, Elmer and Madge Goldberg, both activists in the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The boys’ parents owned a large produce distribution company which gave them access to several large walk-in freezers, necessary to provide a comfortable environment for Snowman 2 during the spring and summer seasons. Their produce business also gave them a constant supply of carrots necessary to maintain Snowman 2’s proboscis (not to be confused with a worm’s proboscis, a long tubular sucking organ.)
Snowman 2’s birth parents had long disappeared sometime during the 1950’s while extensive above ground testing of the hydrogen bomb was taking place in New Mexico, Snowman 2’s birthplace. All that remains of Snowman 2’s parents is the Hot Mud Spa at the New Mexico Talladega Spa and Resort.
Snowman 2’s brother Shaved Ice was adopted by Elmer and Madge while they were on a trip to Havana, Cuba for their annual attempt to smuggle Cuban cigars into Miami, Florida. The cigars were painted yellow and shipped out of Cuba in crates of bananas in keeping with their produce business. Shaved Ice was found living in a dumpster behind a Cuban tattoo parlor, where, as a 10 year-old child, he would perform customized raps for tattoo parlor patrons. When they heard him sing “Elmer and Madge done outfoxed the Badge” to the tune of the Tiny Tim favorite “Tiptoe through the Tulips”, they knew that they had to have this little boy as part of their family.
Shaved Ice grew up to become a famous rapper at night while running the cigar smuggling business for Elmer and Madge during the day. All this went on year after year without Snowman 2’s knowledge. Snowman 2 did follow Shaved Ice’s climb to success as a rapper but was not aware of his nefarious cigar smuggling activities. It was only many years later that a series of events drove a wedge between these two loving brothers.
While on a gig at a Walmart parking lot in Carson City, Nevada, Snowman 2 encountered a young undisciplined boy by the name of Sheldon Wanarski, who grabbed three of Snowman 2’s buttons, typically made of lumps of coal, and ran off to a waiting car. Later it was learned that this little fellow was actually from a very disadvantaged home where the family barely had enough money to eat, much less pay to heat their home in the bitter Nevada winters. The little boy had taken the buttons to burn in their stove for space heating and to warm their porridge for dinner. Regardless, Snowman 2 was left buttonless, standing in the Walmart parking lot surrounded by hundreds of laughing, unsympathetic children.
Elmer and Madge were infuriated and spirited Snowman 2 off to their walk-in freezer while they figured out what to do. They contacted Santa to see if he could supply new buttons of coal, but were disappointed to hear that Santa had moved over to penguin poo as a substitute for coal. Elmer and Madge could not bring themselves to a decision to make this substitution for Snowman 2’s buttons. Upon hearing of this tragedy, Shaved Ice had a suggestion. He knew that Cuba still had connections with Russia. After the Cuban Missile Crisis of the 60’s Russia had begun to smuggle pin ball machines into Cuba. The Castros did not support any activity that brought joy to the Cuban people, so pin ball machines were outlawed. Over time, the unlawful entertainment machines advanced from pinball machines to Play Stations. As energy supplies in Cuba were strictly controlled by the government, the Cuban people had to pay exorbitant prices for energy. A black market developed, with the Russians smuggling lumps of coal into the country disguised as power supplies for Play Station games. Shaved Ice contacted his Russian customers for Cuban cigars and struck a deal. Russia would skim off some of the coal disguised as power supplies and divert these to Shaved Ice where he would paint them yellow and ship them into the US as bananas. All of this worked very efficiently until Snowman 2 happened to look more closely at one of his buttons and saw it was marked “made in Russia at forced labor camps”. He immediately went to Elmer and Madge and demanded to know what this meant. Elmer was never one to keep a secret and spilled the beans, telling Snowman 2 the whole history of his step brother and their smuggling business. Snowman 2 and Shaved Ice have since made peace with one another and now Snowman 2 uses penguin poo for buttons.