Mar162015

“Words… ” box

closeup of lid inscriptionWords are our most inexhaustible source of magic.

My wife, a linguist, lifelong student of many languages and an English pronunciation teacher was immediately enchanted when she first heard these words.

The box is for her, with two inscriptions making it a very special box. The second inscription is the pair of Chinese characters on the front of the box, her Chinese name. closeup of Chinese nameNo, she’s not Chinese. She’s as Western as I am Hoosier. Chinese people sometimes offer non-Chinese friends an honorary Chinese name. This name is a gift from one of her language partners who lives near Beijing. He bestowed this name because it is the pseudonym of a premier Chinese poet he admires, Yi’an Jushi. A reasonable translation is “Amiable Calm.”

The box is intended as a desk box, something of convenient size for everyday use on her desk. It measures 9 inches long by 5 and 5/8 inches wide by 2 inches high. The box is made of mostly cherry. All of the cherry parts are 5/16 inch thick. The floor is 1/8 inch thin walnut. The finish is wax over shellac, several coats of each, with a lot of rubbing and buffing.

box with thilt lid openThis box uses my current favorite box construction. I like dovetailed corners, but I don’t like butt joints showing at the edges. I also like the floors set in grooves, but I don’t want any through grooves showing. Plugging exposed grooves is ugly to my eye. So, I use joinery that features dovetails in the middles of the joins and miters at the tops and bottoms. The technique eliminates butt joins, leaving beautiful miters and by strategically placing the groove, hides the grooves. Miter tip later…

Lastly, the tilt lid, from Peter Lloyd’s “Making Heirloom Boxes,” makes for easy use. The lid opens to just a bit beyond 90° which let’s it stand open nicely. The hinge pins are walnut. The lift tab is shaped to echo the bottom loop of the “g” just above it. The notch is a simple scoop.

Lettering layout

Which brings me back to the lid inscription, the part that took the longest. The cherry parts were prepped almost a year ago, as was the walnut. It wasn’t until last fall that I got serious about the inscription.

I started with a lettering layout that used all Roman capitals, the norm for so many inscriptions. It was too “flat” for my tastes. I wanted something more flowing and more cursive. My lettering design work went through about a dozen iterations, all hand drawn.

Hand drawn lettering is making a come back on the web, as are hand painted signs in the brick and mortar world. After years of computer drawn fonts and plastic lettering, many designers are looking for something different and more human to polish their designs. So, there’s a lot of hand drawn lettering showing up. Some of it is really good. A lot is terrible! In an effort to draw attention to “hand drawn,” many of these designers go to extremes to make “hand drawn” obvious by making the work wildly imperfect. Too often, the result is hand drawn letters that look childish and amateurish.

photo of carving in progressMany decades ago, I watched my father do nearly perfect hand painted lettering. That’s the quality level I wanted, not childish dreck. A dozen or so iterations later, I landed on the design I like, … and she liked it too.

Now, to carve it.  This lettering differs from most of my previous experience in scale. The lower case cursive letters are only about 1/2 inch high. The Roman caps in “Inexhaustible” are about 3/4 inch high. All are very much smaller than I’ve carved before and I’ve learned that difficulty increases as the size shrinks. Those 41 characters were preceded by well over 200 practice characters. I carved some of them over and over and was repeatedly disappointed. It turns out that “the secret” to success is in how the pattern is transferred to the wood. Most of my practice cuts were done by using carbon paper to transfer the design to the wood and then cutting. It was too easy to be inaccurate. Being off by the width of a half-millimeter pencil line was enough to throw off the look of a letter. Over and over, the results were unsatisfactory.

The answer was to scan the design, make it a computer hosted image, print it out and glue it to the wood with rubber cement. Cutting through the paper eliminated the inaccuracy that was based in tracing and immediately led to good results.

Smaller gouges were in order for this smaller work. For the most part, I used full length gouges, but in narrower widths, #1 1/4 in fishtail, #1 3/8 in., #3 1/8 in., #3 3/16 in. fishtail,  #6 1/4 in. and a set of 6 #8 micro gouges that ranged in width from 1/16 ” to 1/4″.  The #3 fishtail did most of the work.

For those interested in lettercarving, Mary May has several lettercarving lessons at her online school. Albeit, they’re larger, easier to manage letters.

For readers interested in learning really high quality hand learning, take a look at Sean McCabe’s online lettering course.

If your interest is hand painted signs, I’ve found these two links interesting.

Perfecting the mitered corners

Now for the mitered corners. I mark the miters with a standard layout square and cut them by hand with the same fine back-saw that I use for dovetails. I don’t use a miter box for these; just cut freehand, only to the depth needed. I cut just outside the line, leaving about half a kerf-width room to trim. As the dovetail joints come together these miters fail to join because they are “fat.”

Making them fit perfectly is simple. I learned this technique from Doug Stowe’s book, “Simply Beautiful Boxes.” It works like this: When the dovetails are about one saw kerf width from being completely joined, press the miters together (holding square) and then use a very fine Japenese pull saw to cut a simple kerf through the middle of the joint. That effectively trims both pieces. Repeat to narrow the gap. Voila, perfect joint!

Inscription source

Lastly, the quotation for the lid is from Prof. Albus Dumbledore in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows.”

references:
mitered dovetail joints: Fine Woodworking – Matt Kenney – “Two Ways to Build a Box
fitting the miters: from Doug Stowe’s Simply Beautiful Boxes
tilt lid design: from Peter Lloyd’s Making Heirloom Boxes


Mar92015

Carving Sampler – early work

The shop is still too cold for what I want to do next; finish the “words box.”

So, do something else!  There’s been a pile of little practice carvings stacked on a window sill for a few years. All were carved in February to April 2012. The stack made a nice home for spiders, but even they fled the cold. I could toss those carvings, but holding on to them has won out so far.

Let’s see…, if I rearrange them just right, maybe they can be put together as a “sampler,” a lot like cross-stitch samplers.

photo of wood carving sampler; a collage of 15 pieces

Getting them to similar sizes and nesting together was an exercise of time and precision, but work that could be done in a warmer part of the house. A piece of 1/4 inch plywood forms the backing. A rough dab of hide glue holds each. If there is any movement, they might be free to dance around a bit. And Ralph; no mitered corners.  :)  Overall size about 18″ square.

Design sources:

1 “Complete” is completely inaccurate in the title of Koch’s book. It is a collection of 7 carving exercises. Good, but not “complete” in any sense.
2 One of 3 similar books, Wilbur covers a much broader range of architectural carvings than Koch. Very highly recommended.


Mar52015

Affordable Hide Glue Pot

The stuff likes to be kept warm … about 140° warm.

One can get a really really nice glue pot at TFWW. Yet, for as often as I use hide glue, something more affordable suits my needs. (Sorry Joel.)

As I walked down the kitchen accessories aisle at Walmart a couple of days ago, this “Roll-Back Special” caught my eye. I don’t know how much Walmart stores across the country standardize their sale items, but in my neighborhood it was priced at $8.86. A slow-cooker glue pot for less than 10 bucks!

It does exactly what I want for the sorts of occasional glue ups I do. I mix glue from TFWW flakes in a small glass jar (pickle relish). That jar fits nicely inside the pot. Fill with enough water to surround, but not overwhelm the jar and set to HIGH for about 30 minutes. That gets the temperature up to near 140. It will go to 180 if you don’t watch it. Then, set to WARM which holds right at 140°. Perfect!

Oh… Keep the lid on the pot while not using the glue. Otherwise the temperature drops off fast.

Photo of pot and bag of glue flakes  thermometer shows 140°


Mar42015

Best Brooms Ever

The shop was almost warm enough to be bearable today, and it needed a good sweeping.

Decades ago, we lived in the middle of Indianapolis, Indiana. A blind man would show up at our house occasionally carrying a dozen or so brooms over his shoulder. He sold brooms made by “Industries for the Blind.” We enthusiastically bought from him because his were really well made brooms of sturdy, thickly padded, broomcorn. They lasted almost forever, more years than I remember. They were the best brooms ever. We left Indianapolis over 30 years ago and there are no blind men walking around selling good brooms where we live now. In that time, the last of the blind-made brooms have worn out.

The last of the real broomcorn brooms I bought at a big-box store was so flimsy, it wouldn’t support its own weight. I’ve witnessed a steady decline in the quality of store bought brooms, seeing broomcorn get thinner and thinner and finally being replaced by plastic bristles, set in plastic heads, attached to plastic handles. They don’t behave like brooms and break too often. Pure junk!

photo of 2 brooms

So, I went on a hunt. The answer to my search was not “handmade,” “blind-made,” “sturdy” or any of the other “durable” words, but “broomcorn!” Two new brooms from Broomcorn Johnny’s now hold my praise for the best brooms ever. Brian Newton is the artisan who operates the broom shop named Broomcorn Johnny’s in Brown County, Indiana. We’ve had two of his brooms long enough to know they’re the new “best.” The flat one is what he calls a “cabin broom.” The round one has about the same amount of broomcorn but is tighter wound and great for heavier work. The flat one stays in the house / cabin. The round one just cleaned up the shop better than any broom I’ve had in the past 15 years and hangs there now. (Cabin brooms are available in plain or in a range of color schemes.)

These brooms seem expensive at $60 – $70 each. Yet, I know they’ll easily outlast the $12 box-store brooms by a factor of 8 -10. That makes them a real bargain, and very attractive too.  Highly recommended, and I have no financial gain from this recommendation.


Feb262015

Words

Work In Progress – (still) in progress. Yes, since October…

 


Oct272014

Kerfing Plane – Done

photo of completed planeThere are a lot more pictures this time because I read that a lot of people avoid saw making, rehabilitation and sharpening. I want to show that it’s within easy reach of anyone who wants to try and doesn’t care to wait while saws take long trips to the sharpener and back. We can find many sharpening guides and tutorials online. Nearly all are very useful. For this particular saw plate, I followed Paul Seller’s recent tutorial about cutting saw teeth. The method worked wonderfully!

The plate itself is roughly 10″ by 1.5″, recycled from an old Disston that I cut down to make my frame saw a few years ago. Cutting to this shape was simple hack sawing. The tooth edge was smoothed “flat and straight” with a simple single-cut mill file. I decided to cut it to the same pattern I use for other resawing work, 5 TPI, zero rake, no fleam … just a dead simple aggressive rip pattern.

My ever handy Stanley No. 36 1/2 R rule has multiple scales in  8, 10, 12, 16 parts to the inch. The 10 scale made easy work of laying out a guide. The slideshow walks through a number of steps, with notes about each.

The 10 to the inch scale of a Stanley rule is used for marking out 5 TPI.
The little no-name saw was OK for cutting the guide but gave up when it came to the plate.
After making the tooth spacing cuts
Which to use, the one with 6 moving parts and adjustments that can sometimes loosen, or... ?
Saw filing setup. The adjustable lamp is the most important part.
When looking from the edge doesn't show what you expect, look from the side and seek those glints of light from unsharp teeth.
Coarse tool, set for a gentle #8.
Finished plane - toe end
Finished plane - business side - What big teeth you have.
Finished plane - fence side
First cut. The angle is off a bit.
Kerfed all around. The slight angle is noticeable at the corners.
First resawn board. Close enough for government work, but not for me.

 

photo of first test resultEnd result? A small piece of pine became the test victim. I set the fence to produce a kerf 3/32″ from the edge and went at it with only casual concern. What will this thing do without a lot of fussy attention? Cutting was easy once the initial grabbing was overcome. Hint: start from the far end as one does when planing a molding. You can see in one of the pictures that the kerf is not absolutely square. It’s tilted slightly. Despite that, I ended up with two boards that have less than 1/32″ of roughness left from the cut.

It will be perfect after I make an adjustment to either the face of the fence or to my right elbow.

UPDATE: It was my right elbow that needed adjustment. The plane is perfect when the monkey pushing it holds it correctly.