2010 Christmas Ornament!

Saturday, December 25, 2010 at 12:08 pm 1 comment

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everybody!

I hope everyone’s holiday season goes amazing, that you’re surrounded by your loved ones, and that you are blessed with much to look forward to!

This year’s Christmas ornament is a large step from last year’s acrylic sheet ornament (Link: https://dougtales.wordpress.com/2009/12/27/post-christmas-update/)! I really hope that everyone likes the progression that I’ve made with this tradition, and I urge you to comment or suggest for next year!

I’m going to go into a lot more detail about this one than I did about the last. There are many things that go along with this ornament that make it very special to me and hopefully you as well.

The selection/design process:

You have to start somewhere, right? Well, this year’s ornament started with the simple idea that I would stick with my new favorite aesthetic building material, acrylic plastic. I love wood, and I love metal, and heck, I love carbon fiber too. But, for my humble startings I like acrylic because it has a good return on the investment- it’s flat, small to transport on my bike, light, and cleans up exceptionally well.  It starts out like this:

Interestingly, I couldn't find a stock image of the exact stuff I use- it doesn't come with paper on it, but a really crappy plastic film that takes forever to remove.

So I had leftover acrylic from last year, a decent amount. Why not finish it all up, right? So I did, really. Okay, so now I had my basic idea for the material. What should I make?  The question really relies on thinking: What do I think I ought to remember about this Christmas season?    Truthfully, the only thing I could say that was really outrageously memorable was how my family is changing significantly.  So, I should mark the change, right?

Planes. I thought it’d be fun to make a plane because it is actually a structure that can be simplified a good bit while still being very easy to recognize. We all liked planes at some point. One person in my life who always had a love of planes was my Grandpop, my mom’s father. Some of the earliest memories I have of him were when he would show me the model planes he had built that filled his basement workshop. They all looked professionally-built, and it was always special to go down there. He built planes that he would fly with remote controls in large fields pretty close to their house.  For the past few years, his health had been declining, and I knew it would be time to remember some things about him. 2 weeks ago, my Grandpop died in the early morning at the nearby hospital, and the family is coping with this loss right now.

One other reason planes are perfect: My parents hopped a jet-plane out of the continental US recently as well. For the next year (and likely more), they will be living, working, and enjoying life on St. Croix, in the Virgin Islands.  Quite a life turned upside down, from having lived in the Northeast for their entire lives, right?  Peace and tranquility might not be words that even barely describe this new way of life. So yeah, planes represent change to a new location.

I decided to look up diagrams/schematics of planes so that I could make this ornament as realistic-looking as possible. I spent maybe a day trying to find a good image online and elsewhere. I even have a coloring book sitting around my apartment called ‘Things that go!’ and checked in it to see about a great outline of a plane that I could use. Nope, they all looked way too cartoony. So I looked up real fighter planes instead. Of course, right? I ended up finding a great-looking plane with an excellent image, the Macchi C.202 ‘Folgore’ plane, an italian plane that was used during WWII. Here’s a link to the wikipedia page about it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macchi_C.202 . Italians know how to make a hot-looking plane. They made a crapload of these for the war, a startling 1200 of them. Can you imagine if they flew all 1200 of them in a formation above Philadelphia? That would be scary. We wouldn’t need to worry though, apparently their machine guns (mounted on each side) had a problem with firing at the right times. Oops.

Okay, so there’s the plane. I found a great diagram of it, and started to make my layout for the acrylic pieces. I printed this, copied it, and kept scaling up/down until it was a size that I thought would be perfect. Finally got the size right after maybe 5 tries. Oh btw, I love my printer so much more after this project!  After the scaling, I still had more that I had to add to it- I needed to adorn the wings and fuselage with logos or emblems! Otherwise, it wouldn’t be my own, and more importantly, it wouldn’t be holiday-related. It’d just be Doug making fighter planes… (Not a bad idea though!) So I experimented with different fonts for the year that I’d put on the fuselage, and also with my signature snowflake image that I used last year. More scaling with the printer helped me fit these perfectly. So then when I had the right sizes, I printed the diagram of the plane out, used a marker to make the outline more pronounced, and used packing tape to place the emblems on the wings and the fuselage. [I ended up just writing the year onto a later version to fit the shape a little better. And then I didn’t have to play around with mirroring the image with my printer!]

Next step: making it so that I’d know where and how to cut on the bandsaw. So yeah, I just had to tape the diagram to one side of the acrylic sheet (after I removed all of that darn film they had on them).

The building stage:

So now I had it all laid out. Well, for the most part. The next challenge: cutting the dang stuff! It was difficult for many reasons. Firstly, the stuff really loves to melt right after the blade cuts it. So for the first like 4 ornaments that I cut out, I was quickly cutting, and as soon as the blade was through it, using a pair of pliers to shatter the acrylic along the lines that the blade had cut at and the plastic had begun to solidify again. This left me cursing on occasions when it shattered wrong. Solution: SLOW the blade down. How much? All the way. Like geez, I’d have never guessed this.  So to conclude, the stuff shatters and melts. Joy!  Oh and the other main challenge: I broke blades like you wouldn’t believe. For a few of the ornaments, I used up 2 or 3 blades. I started my project with maybe 15 blades and ended up having to purchase 12 more after I broke em all.  I’ve only got one left, and that’s on the machine right now.  Oops.

I cut on the lines, and each part takes between 5 and 15 minutes to cut out. This may or may not include re-taping parts of the layout that had begun to fall off because I cut it, too. Anyways, the next step I took was to etch the year and snowflakes. So I used my trusty Dremel tool with the smallest round-tip etching bit I had, and once again, just etched on the lines. Kinda like just rewriting or tracing over what was already there. Piece of cake.  [I eventually changed the order of operations to do the etching first, so that I didn’t have to put special effort into making sure the material didn’t move while I etched. ]


Cutting and breaking a blade: 


After the parts were all cut, I had to do my finishing of the parts. So, I spent time with my dremel tool with a sanding bit, shaping the edges until they were ‘just right’. Final touch: beveling the edges of each part at a 45-degree angle with my tool. That part was so relaxing. I don’t have a photo of it though.

The next part was fun and simple: coloring in the etching. This was something I added because I felt like a clear piece of plastic is just that. Boring and plain. It might be shaped cool, but it doesn’t look ideal. So my students I teach actually helped me with the idea for this one: they enjoy using pens and marker to color up the letters of my [custom] bathroom pass! So, I did the same here. I used just some markers to draw in the etched plastic. The ink stayed in, not on. Color! Green, red, and blue!

Last steps of this process: gluing the parts into the final form, and bending/making the hanger hook. Fitting the parts into the slots often meant making tiny cuts here and there.


No photos of the hanger making, that was just me wrapping wire with pliers.

Alot of thanks goes out to my brother, Zach, for working until 4am the other night, cranking out ornaments with me. I never thought I’d have an ornament ‘team’, but we might!  I’ll work on turning as many people as possible over to the ‘crafty’ side. 🙂

Cool photos of the process that need no explanation:

Last thing: I mailed ornaments in bubble mailer envelopes. I have no idea what condition they arrive in. If your ornament arrived in bad condition, LET ME KNOW and we’ll work something out.

Alright, that’s it!  I hope you enjoy your ornament and you enjoyed this documentation of the process and explanation!  If you would like to request one for purchase, repair, or anything you wanna say, send me a message (above) or a comment (below). : )

Merry Christmas!



Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Kathy Kirlin  |  Tuesday, July 19, 2011 at 1:24 am

    I’m blown away by this! A fellow crafter – and of something as awesome of Christmas ornaments, no less. Wow, hope I’m on the Christmas list for the 2011 ornament!


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