Candlesticks: Variation on a Theme page header

This article originally appeared in the Fall '98  edition of American Woodturner vol. 13, issue 3.   The following text may vary slightly, as I'm using my original version, not the edited version found in the magazine (although they are very close) because I don't have an electronic version of it.   I've also used some different and additional photos.

I hope you enjoy it - I (Kevin Miller) retain all copyrights to it however it may be reproduced for non-commercial purposes as long as full credit is given both to myself as author (and copyright holder) and to its original publication.   As a curtosy, I'd appreciate knowing when and where it is used.  Just drop an email to atftb at alaska dot net.

A Turn For The Better logo

In the December 1997 issue of American Woodturner, Christian Burchard presents a very nice multi-piece candlestick project noting that he "...had great difficulty coming up with a good design.  I kept seeing Rude Osolnik's candlesticks; to my mind, they are the just the simplest and most elegant candlesticks turned from a single piece of wood."

Well, that was all the motivation I needed to start playing with candlestick design.  I'm not claiming that my design is going to put Rude out of business, but I did come up with a candlestick that I'm pleased with.  It may be turned from a single piece of wood, or built up from smaller pieces and is an excellent project for beginners to hone their skew skills on.

My Great Uncle Reuben Bowman taught woodshop in the highschool in Stafford Kansas until retiring in the '60s, and made candlesticks similar to Osolnik's many years ago for all the significant ladies in his life, my mother being one of them.  I used his design as a starting point rather than Osolnik's although the similarity is obvious, as is the distinction (see photo at left).  Personally, I prefer Reuben's design, but I'm admittedly biased.

I didn't want to reinvent the wheel, but rather take an existing design and add my own element to it which is one of the reasons that I chose my uncle's design over Osolnik's; I came by it honestly.  Reuben's candlesticks have a long straight taper and a narrow waist.  Similar to Osolnik's, they are weighted in the base.  I decided that I didn't really want to weight the base and hide it with felt or a wood plug, so I settled on a somewhat shorter piece with a wider waist.  I also thought that a slight convex curve to the taper would enhance the piece.  Finally, I cut a small chamfer at the point the base meets the top, accenting the waist.

It was one thing to make a candlestick that I liked.  The next step was to make matching candlesticks.  For this I use a small gauge that I cut out on the band saw (see figure 1).  I begin by mounting a billet between centers and rounding it to my working diameter using the gauge to size the billet.  Because I'm right handed, I orient the blank so that the top of the candlestick is at the headstock end.  This permits me to cut the long taper of the bottom from right to left.
Plywood gauge image
Figure 1
The first inch or so of the blank will be wasted, so any small checks in it may be ignored.  Brass candlestick inserts require a 7/8" hole, but my drive center is 1".  Since its important to cut cleanly all the way to the edge of the (future) candle hole, I turn the first inch or so of wood down to a bit proud of a 1" diameter tenon.  Later, I'll taper it to less than 7/8" and clean up the top.

Next I establish the length of the candlestick, and take the bottom down in a similar fashion.
I don't take the diameter down too small at this stage; its important to maintain some bulk until I've completed the body of the candlestick.  I usually leave the bottom tenon about an inch thick at this stage.

I use a peeling cut to take the wood on the ends down quickly, however I generally cut each end about 1/16" longer than the finish length of the candlestick because the peeling cut causes significant tear-out of the end-grain fibers.  I clean up the ends (the top and bottom of the candlestick) with a shearing cut with the skew, but more on that later.

Next, I use my gauge to mark the length of the head by holding the notch against the top, and scoring the billet with my skew.  Using a parting tool, I cut the billet on the left side of the line down to the diameter of the waist.  The right hand corner of this cut defines the top of the chamfer which we'll cut in a moment.

Now, its a simple matter to pare down the wood until a nice taper is established.  I do the same on the left side of the cut, tapering the head until it touches the left hand corner of the groove, ending the tapers about a quarter inch apart with a small "flat" between them.

Beginning at what was the right hand corner of the cut, I turn a small chamfer towards the top.  Returning to the head of the candlestick, I taper it until it almost meets the bottom of the chamfer.   By not quite cutting to the bottom a slight shadow line highlights the waist.

At this point I sand the piece, then turn away the excess at the top and the bottom with a shearing cut using the skew.
It is important to make sure that your skew is very sharp for this cut, especially on soft or spalted wood where it is hard to get a clean surface.
Blueprint of candle It is important to make sure that your skew is very sharp for this cut, especially on soft or spalted wood where it is hard to get a clean surface.

I prefer to undercut the bottom slightly, insuring the candlestick will sit flat.

Returning to the top tenon, I pare down the right side of the tenon until it is less than 7/8" thick).  Taking a sheering cut, I true up the top, cutting past the edge of the future hole.  When I'm satisfied with the top, I do the same on the bottom, however I turn the tenon down to about 1/8", then remove the candlestick from the lathe and cut the remainder of the bottom off with a bench chisel.

A candlestick about to be drilled on the drill press. Now all that's left to do is to drill out the top.  Recall that we still have a tenon on the top that is over an inch wide, tapering down to less than 7/8" where it meets the candlestick.  The easiest way to rid of that is by positioning the piece in my drill press and just drilling it out, since I have to drill it anyway for the candle holes and brass inserts.  I use a 7/8" Forstner bit, using the mark left by the drive center as my guide.

Left: drilling out the candlestick tenon.  Note that the width of the Forstner bit exceeds the taper of the tenon.

A trio of candlesticks
A trio of yellow cedar candlesticks ready to be drilled.
At some point, I will pass the 7/8" diameter of the tenon, which will then spin freely on the drill bit.  I stop the drill and remove it.  Because Forstner bits have a small point in the center it is easy to reposition the drill in the exact center of the candlestick to complete the hole, boring until just passed the depth of the brass insert (1/2").

Finally, I apply a finish such as a wiping varnish, or oil.  It usually takes a couple of coats, and after the final coat is dry, I'll rub it out with 0000 steel wool and paste wax for a satin finish that feels as nice as it looks.

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Last updated: January 21, 2000