LJ, I've used all kinds of wood for these, this picture has cherry, canarywood, maple, bubinga, purple heart, and oak. After it's turned, I turn a coat of lacquer into it while it's still on the lathe, then after I've cut them, sanded the edges and maybe painted a face on, I use a can of Deft spray lacquer for a few coats. Oh, and, no, I haven't seen it, I knew it would suck!
John, that's a great idea! I'll give it a shot, but I have a lot of problems centering my blanks. :/ When I turn the snowman or tree, I leave a big square chunk of blank on both ends to keep the thing flat when I cut it in half. I clamp it to the miter saw bed using some oak sticks and clamps. I haven't had an incident with it yet, but I recognize the danger.