Archive for the ‘Woodcarving’ Category

A “Weekend” Project – Adirondack Chair

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

Anyone should be able to build an Adirondack chair in a weekend right? Go get some wood, whack out the parts, screw it together, and slap on some paint. Right? Dang! Why build one at all? Down at the nearby garden center, they have some for sale at $39. Of course, those look like they were made from pallet wood and are flat in every dimension. They might not “sit” so well.

Adirondack chair - front viewThis one started with some wood resawing back in April. I finally wrapped it up and moved it outside a couple of weeks ago.

Plans: I’m old enough to like things comfortable. Too many of these chairs have flat seats, flat backs, and look more like torture devices than chairs. I found one with curved seat and back. It’s a Fine Woodworking project. Oh look! It says “An Adirondack chair can be built in a day.” A companion article contains a video with a foolproof assembly sequence. Adirondack chair - side viewPlans are available for order, but by squinting (and imagining) a lot, I found enough detail in the low resolution online drawing. Who needs precise dimensions?

Lumber: 8/4 Mahogany (African) from Steve Wall. One 20 bd. ft. bundle will do if careful when resawing. :)

Process: No electrons (other than for lighting) were murdered in creating this chair. carvings on the chair legsNor were numerous photos taken along the way. It’s a simple one-day project, right? I resawed the 8/4 stuff into boards of two thicknesses, approximating 1″ and 3/4″. From those, I hand sawed all of the parts. I used the saw and chisel technique on all curves, and then faired them with a spokeshave. I drilled the bolt holes with a simple brace and Jennings bit, then the bazillion screw holes with my eggbeater and Fuller bits which drill a tapered hole and countersink all in one go.

Carvings: Carvings on the back of the chairEverything I make these days carries one or more carvings. Carving is what I enjoy most. The rest of woodworking is to make something that supports a carving. This chair has 4 Tudor Roses adapted from Mary May’s Tudor Rose lesson. It’s not that there’s any commonality between Tudor Roses and Adirondacks. It’s just that I like them. Add in a little bit of lettercarving with a year mark on one leg, and I’m delighted.

Finish: Three coats of Minwax Helmsman Semi-gloss spar varnish. I used to hate brushing on a finish … and I have no place where I can use any sort of spray. This was one of the first finishing projects I actually enjoyed. Two reasons: getting the work at a comfortable height (saw benches) and using a very good Purdy 1″ soft bristle angle brush.

Once done, it “sits” well, very comfortable indeed.

Woodcarving Templates – repeated small motifs

Monday, July 20th, 2015

There are lots of ways to make woodcarving templates, probably as many as there are carvers. Rarely does one need a reusable template for a one-off, but when the occasion calls for multiples of the same motif, a template really helps. Mary May often mentions templates and frequently suggest getting various materials (such as Mylar sheets) from craft stores. I have Scotch ancestry, and am, shall we say, thrifty about some things.

I find template materials in things that follow me home from the grocery store, such as the plastic lids on many products. Usually these are things in paper or cardboard tubes topped with plastic: oatmeal, dried fruits, etc. In this example, I slightly reduced the scale of Mary May’s Tudor Rose (computers are wonderful), printed out 3 copies and made 3 templates. Simple rubber cement attaches the paper to the plastic, and the templates are cut easily with scissors. Other glue sticks would probably work. Draw around them as many times as you want.  Even simpler still are pasteboard cartons from an even wider variety of foodstuffs; maybe not as durable, but easily at hand.

Simple, easy, and no extra stops at other stores for special materials…
BTW, most of these are of a plastic type that many recyclers won’t recycle.

photo of plastic lids  photo of plastic templates

Resawn lumber – Work in progress

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

Did you know that mahogany, like Cherry and I’m sure other wood types, darkens when exposed to light? That if you stack up a bunch of pieces and come back to them 2 months later, you’ll find lighter silhouettes of the smaller pieces that were placed atop others?

Yeah, that’s what I get for doing other things… More sunlight will fix them.

All the parts for the project were cut, shaped, and had their surfaces smoothed long ago. I deferred assembly of this “you can do it in a weekend” project until the carvings were done. Now, what’s my excuse?

photo of project parts - carved with tudor roses

The carvings are Tudor Roses. Mary May has a lesson that shows how to carve them.

“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.”

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

Carving Sampler – early work

Monday, March 9th, 2015

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.


Thursday, February 26th, 2015

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