Making Wooden Space Capsule Ornaments

I was making some Christmas Ornaments on the lathe today when I got side tracked.  I ended up making some 1960s NASA space capsule ornaments.  I know.  It happens to everyone I’m sure.  As they’re axisymmetric, they’re well suited for making on the lathe.

To make them, I found a picture online that had the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsules all to scale.  I printed the picture so that the body of the Apollo service module would be 1-3/8″ diameter.  This matches the diameter of a Poplar dowel I picked up from Lowes.  After the dowel was cut down to a reasonable size I chucked it up in the lathe.  You’ll want to orient the item in the wood to have the thickest end near the chuck.  This puts the stronger end, which will get cut last, near the chuck.  Before cutting I marked out all of the important locations where the shape of the Apollo CSM changed.



To properly size the CSM, I set my callipers to the correct diameter for the section.  The calipers sit on the wood with light pressure while the tool is cutting.  Once the calipers slip over the wood the correct diameter has been reached.  This was done at each spot.  You need to pay attention to which side of the line you want to cut on though.



Here’s the part after sizing.  The nozzle to body spot should have been smaller.



Now you just play a game of connect the dots.  Using a combination of scrapers and skew chisels I worked the wood into the correct shape.




Once the desired shape is reached some light sanding is done before cutting off the ends.



Take an increasingly light cut to remove the waste from the nose side.  Then come back and cut the Apollo CSM free from the nozzle end.



Trim the little nubs off using whatever way you find appropriate.  I used a block plane.



Next up comes the Gemini capsule.  This one has a max diameter of an inch.  So, I used a smaller dowel.  I used the same technique as before. C9


Here’s what comes out of it.



Finally, I started work on the Mercury capsule.  It’s much smaller than the others and was much tougher.  I eventually got it turned to the correct shape though.



Here are all the capsules together with a dime to show the size.  All of them are in scale of course.

C12 C13


After the turning is done, drill a hole to hang your ornament, paint, and detail it.



Of course, if you don’t want rockets and capsules handing on your tree, for some reason, you can turn more traditional looking ornaments.  You can make them in any design you choose.  Since there is no right design there is no wrong design.  So, have fun and make whatever comes to mind.  If you use an attractive wood like Cherry or Oak, a simple oiling will provide a nice finish.  Here’s the one on our tree.


Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

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