Turning a finial is easy. Turning a good finial, one that complements rather than overwhelms the main piece is a different story. People often ask what the purpose of a finial is. The simple answer, for me, is that it is analogous to a hand carved gilded frame on an oil painting - it finishes the work. And while I certainly want a finial to be noticed, it is only of tertiary importance to the form of the vessel and the natural beauty of the burl it is meant to showcase. So if the finial is the focus of the viewer, I generally consider my effort to have been a failure. But analyzing and learning why a particular piece failed, rather than being afraid to fail, is the greatest way to learn. As Albert Einstein said "failure is success in progress" and "your never fail until you stop trying." So even though I have a fair amount of experience turning finials from Black Palm to burl to mammoth ivory to African Blackwood and other hardwoods, I am frequently not satisfied with my initial effort (for a variety of possible reasons), and will turn a second or third finial until I accomplish my objective.
All finials I turn start out the same. I begin with a blank that I cut roughly to size or to achieve a certain effect in the finished product, allowing for a tenon at the bottom and sufficient room for parting. After turning the blank round, I then taper it roughly like an ice cream cone and roughly define the sections of the finial into 3 parts, always keeping in mind the Golden Ratio. I then proceed turn turn, sand and sometimes seal as I proceed with each section, paying particular attention to achieving smooth, flowing curves without any flat spots. As shown in the slideshow above, I will support the thin portions on one side, while sanding the other.
Having taken David Ellsworth's class early on and seen what one can accomplish with an Allen wrench, I never have been much of tool person, to the chagrin of those trying to sell me the latest new tool. I am likewise grateful to Myron Curtis for inspiring me (by example) to be tool agnostic and simply use the best tool for the job at hand. As many know, I make my own miniature-small hollowing tools and used to use a razor bade on the thin disk portion of my finials that separate the top from the middle section. As my finial turning evolved, I consistently used two or three tools, a drop-nosed scraper, one or two small spindle gouges (1/8", 3/16" or 1/4") with a long grind sanded smooth on the back with 400 grit sandpaper on a Delta 1" belt sander, and a 1/4" spindle gouge with more traditional fingernail grind. Of course, none of the tools were delivered to me this way - I modified them to suit my needs (something I find many woodturners are unfortunately hesitant to do).