Archive for the ‘Lettercarving’ Category

“Words… ” box

Monday, March 16th, 2015

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

Words

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

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

 

Carving Pattern Tip

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

Some of the best things I’ve learned, whether in my computer geek career, building boats, or other activities, have been those lessons learned from making mistakes. In fact, I believe that becoming a “Master” in anything means accumulating more know-how about fixing mistakes than the basic know-how related to the skill, craft, trade, or profession. The master woodcarver isn’t the one who knows how to carve a beautiful Newport Shell, but the one who knows how to avoid the mistakes in carving that shell.

photo of carving with paper patternSimple carving patterns can be drawn directly onto the carving stock. For more complex patterns, or those requiring some degree of precision, I prefer attaching a paper pattern directly to the material. Transferring by carbon paper (they still make that stuff!?) or some similar method is tedious and error prone. Normally, rubber cement is my preferred bonding agent. Patterns are easy to reproduce on the computer, and to print when needed. I attach one to a block of wood and cut through it. When it is no longer needed, the remnants are easily peeled off and the cement residue rubbed away.

At the start of the recent carving projects, my can of rubber cement was empty. I tried a couple of substitutes. A pattern was attached to one block with liquid hide glue, and to another with yellow glue.

photo of pattern ink smeared on carvingsBIG MISTAKE! Both glues led to the same problem. Moisture dissolved ink from the patterns, letting it wick into the carving’s surface. OUCH! It was OK on the Markus carving because the top surface of all the fish was carved away anyway, and the tops of the letters could be sanded clean (hate sanding!). It was disastrous with the Hannah carving (yellow glue), leaving a dark smear across the finished surface, with leaching too deep to sand away. The problem was discovered after the last step of that carving, the lettering. So, it needed a complete “do over.” The Georg pattern has a lot of ink in it, and not too far into that carving, I removed the pattern by (erroneously) softening the hide glue with water. ARRGH!

Lesson: For patterns that are to be bonded to the carving material, test to see if the bonding agents (or removal agents) will leave undesirable stains. I have a new can of rubber cement. … and am now a slightly wiser carver.

Name Signs for Grandchildren

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

Our grandchildren now have name signs to mark their territory. Each is about 7 inches wide by 5 inches high. They are carved from basswood. Running in order of age, oldest first, we have… (click on images for larger views)

photo of Markus's name boardMarkus – Master of the aquarium. He keeps many colorful varieties well fed and healthy.

 

 

 

photo of Hannah's name boardHannah – Quiet, thinking, studious. The floral motif on her carving is taken from the philosopher’s carving on Giotto’s campanile in Florence.

 

 

 

photo of Ewan's name boardEwan – Transformers, Transformers, Transformers. He has a large collection and knows how to transform each of them.

 

 

 

photo of Georg's name boardGeorg – The builder. He’s always building interesting structures from Lego or from wood blocks. Often, he builds to great heights.

Name Boards for Canoes – conclusion

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

Not that I’m a slow worker or anything like that… The name boards, carved nearly a month ago are on the canoes. They are finished to match the canoes. Two coats of Cetol Marine went on first. That prevented paint, applied to the incisions, from running in end grain. A third coat of Cetol sealed them.

Placement varies from what the Brits use, smack in the middle of the sides, because those are spots where these boats ride against each other when being transported. Instead, I found relatively flat spots away from the middles. I also used some Dolfinite bedding compound on the green boat because those boards were being placed with attachment holes drilled into the flotation chamber.

The best thing about them is that they will usually be seen while the boat is bobbing around, and one can’t see both sides of a boat at the same time.

photo of bedding compound being applied photo of the green canoe with name board photo of the red canoe with name board

Name Boards for Canoes

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

Learning Lettercarving – parts 2 to 376 have been cancelled. It’s not that I’ve quit Chris Pye’s course. I’m just continuing over in a dark corner of the shop and won’t bore you with details.

Needing to break out of the Practice, Practice, Practice regimen, I decided to actually make something. Long ago, I gave up on making name plates for the two canoes, not wanting to resort to die-cut plastic letters or something else equally dull. Now, I have a better alternative, carved “Name Boards.” On larger craft they might also be called “Quarterboards.”

(As always, click on the pictures to see the full / larger views.)

photo collage - sawing, planing, etcI always resort to the scrap pile for first of a kind projects … erm, prototypes. That way, if they turn out poorly, they’re still scrap! The scrap pile is fresh out of old growth mahogany (the preferred material for name boards), or any growth mahogany for that matter. The pile did include off-cuts from the cedar planking used on Eva Won. Voila! Light weight material that might actually finish up nicely. These were pieces already dimensioned to about 5/16″ thick, and there were enough of them to easily make 4 boards, two for Eva Won and two for Eva Too.

Prep is easy. Rough cut the length. Rip to desired widths. Plane the long edges smooth. Cut the curvy parts with the curvy saw. Cleanup the broad curves with the dreaded sanding block.

photo collage - layed out boards and carving with mallet and chiselLayout took a lot more time than wood prep, not unusual I guess. A double course of borders, each about 1/4″ defined the space remaining for lettering. I drew up paper patterns for the lettering, primarily so I could fold them in half lengthwise to find the center of the text. Not being as clever as Kari about making a transfer tool, I just used dividers to pick measures off the paper and then drew the letters directly on the wood. A small shop made straightedge, shop made square and a bevel gauge made this work easy despite being tedious.

The lettercarving is done with chisels and mallet in the classic incised style. With cedar being very soft, there were many areas where the mallet wasn’t really needed. However, here’s where extremely sharp photo of completed name boardsedges really matter. The cedar’s texture runs from imminently carvable to imminently crushable. In places it is soft and stringy and only a slicing cut will work. So, cedar has become the new test bed for my chisels and gouges. After sharpening, I always test the sharpness with a couple of plunge cuts and a couple of cross grain slices. If those cuts can be made smoothly in this cedar, the tools are sharp enough for self-apendectomies.

Once the letters are carved, some pinwheel ornaments are placed around the future screw holes. Then, the borders are lowered in two steps.

photo of helicopter toysNext, finishing. Just checked; there’s no gold leaf in the paint locker.
Finishing and mounting on the boats in another entry.

P.S. Also made good use of the off-cuts from these pieces. We’ll be visiting a swarm of grandkids soon. Some low-tech “helicopters” might entertain them a few minutes.