Finials in Georgia

I had a chance to do a demonstration for the Golden Isles Woodworkers and Woodturners today. It was my first trip to this club. I had been invited by club President, Roy Yarger, who asked me to do a demonstration on making finials. It’s a small club, but I was really looking forward to fleshing out a meeting demo I had done a few years ago for the Jacksonville club.

I spent much of this week turning finials, refining some of my designs and chucking techniques. Fellow Turning Arts Group member, Tom Grzybala came up with me and was able to take photos during the demo. I was glad to have him along to bounce off ideas on the drive to Brunswick.


Many of the members of Golden Isles club are fairly new to turning, so I decided to spend a good bit of the time talking about design, before jumping into the turning of a finial. I like doing finials and do quite few of them for my Christmas ornaments and have found over the years that design of the final is really critical for creating the best ornaments.

© Tom Grzybala 2012 - Golden Isles Woodworking and Woodturning Club

I started off with a Powerpoint presentation on design, showing examples of exemplary finials by turners like Cindy Drozda, Dick Sing and Ashley Harwood.

© Tom Grzybala 2012 - Finial Design presentation

  Of course, I also had some examples of awful finials, so I presented my basic rules of good design, which include:

  • Largest diameter part should be the transition from the tenon
  • The “weight” of the finial should be in the first third
  • The last third should taper to zero – unless ball end
  • Make one element flow to another – fillets are OK
  • Proportion the finial to the piece

However, I feel the most important rule is that:

  • A finial always looks thinner and more elegant when on the lathe.

For some reason a finial can look great, but once you part it off and add it to your ornament, you find that it is not nearly as beautiful as you hoped.

We ended the presentation with a series of almost good finial pictures. Not surprisingly, all the club members were fairly easily able to tell why the designs didn’t work. I wanted to let them know that good design is fairly easy to recognize if you pay attention.

The second part of the demo used a technique I had used before during Basic Spindle Turning demo – we played with blocks. Actually, I had turned a box full of spindle and finial components and I was able to stack all different combinations for the club members to determine which combinations worked the best together.

© Tom Grzybala 2012 - Playing with blocks

This 3D visualization made it easier for to see how the shapes worked together. Again, it just reinforced the innate understanding of good design.

Now it was on to the actual turning. Although I have accumulated special chuck jaws and tools to help me turn my finials, I showed them how to mount a finial blank with no chuck at all. I turned a No. 2 Morse taper on one end of the rounded blank and then just inserted it in the lathe spindle.

© Tom Grzybala 2012 - Starting to turn - no chuck

Once the blank was roughed out I started at the tailstock end turning the thin , flowing element into the terminal. I needed one more piece of equipment though – magnification. I can rough out all right with my regular glasses, but for the details on the finial I need my magnifying visor.

© Tom Grzybala 2012 - Getting seriously thin

I also showed them my technique for holding the tool, while being able to support the thin and fragile finial. This is a key to minimize vibration and allowing to make very delicate cuts.

It didn’t take to long to finish the rest and sand it all to 4000 grit. I was happy with the result, but was most happy that I didn’t break the finial during turning and that the piece stayed in Morse taper.

© Tom Grzybala 2012 - Completed finial

It was fun and I hope the club members learned a few things today.

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