Monday, March 31, 2008

A new Blog

You might notice, but the blog has changed a little bit. With a bit of tedious work, I've got looking about how I want it, and have transferred that look over to blogger. And a little more blood, sweat, and tears have gotten my navigation table to reproduce itself at the top of the blog. Yeah!

The logo still needs work, so you can all look forward to that. As a side note, any suggestions from you graphically-minded individuals for a logo that screams Sidewinder and woodworking, let me know. I could use all the help I can get.

Work will continue on the website; pictures, descriptions, etc. But you can all now go and see the spoons Kelley and I are amassing, and a couple of the goblets I've turned.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Wait for it

For my next trick in this technologically advanced society, I will create a website, start a company, and take over the world with my whimsical creations.

I now have a domain and webhost. I have started my web design. The whimsical creation have been an ongoing project, but I'm now looking at getting my own lathe. The company will come, after I've had time to study up on the Articles of Incorporation (or break down and go have a chat with a lawyer). The hardest part, at this very moment, is designing the logo. Second on the list would be trying to come up with content for the website.

So, when I manage to get a logo I'm happy with, and spend enough time on the website for it to actually say something, I'll be "launching".

Consider this fair warning that things may get funky in the near future. Thankyou, that is all.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Table update

In an attempt to get away from the negative "I hate work" posts, I offer you this: Photo Update of the Stone Table Base

After assembly, and before the outside color and final clear coat added

Base all done, waiting for delivery (and mounting of the sub-top)

Wrong again!

If I build it the way I think it should be, it's wrong. When I build it they way I was told to build it and it breaks, it's wrong.

So what other way is there?

If you hadn't guessed, the sleigh bed strikes again.

Monday, March 24, 2008


What's my motivation here? It's the classic line from actors, but it works almost anywhere. My motivation?, I'll tell ya. At the moment, my biggest motivation is to get rid of the sleigh beds. At any given moment, its a project that piques my interest and stimulates my mind. And there is always 'personal projects'.

Personal projects are one of the biggest benefits from the company. We just have to pay for the materials used, which we get at a discount. The only other requirement is that you have to get management to sign off on you doing your project. One signature from your Team Leader (which in my case is me), one from 'Purchasing' (to make sure that there is enough materials for the shop as well as your project), one from 'Maintainence' (acknowledging your abilities to work on the machines safely), and one from the 'Shop Foreman' (acknowledging your ability to clean up after yourself).

Since Kelley and I are starting a garden over at my house, and we've talked about commercial rain barrels, I decided that the perfect project would be to make my own rain barrel.

But when I went to collect my signatures today, I ran into a bit of resistance. The 'Foreman' was giving my grief about leaving a mess from when I took apart the headboard Thursday. I milled down the useful wood on Friday, but left the broken framework on the ground. Behind my bench, and up against the lumber piles. Completely out of anybody's way. He told me that he would sign my form, if I promised to clean up. Since I had already made plans to clean up at the end of the day, it wasn't a problem to promise a clean area.

I then made some remark about messes happening (you know, like stuff happens), where he decided to erase his signature, and refused to sign it until I had cleaned.

Now, I understand that he is trying to motivate me to clean. And using the personal project as leverage is not a bad way to motivate, giving it to me and then taking it away only motivates me to not do what he wants.

Unfortunately, half of the owners of the company (there are 6 of them these days) don't know how to motivate people to do what they want them to do. And since they are all technically my bosses, I have deal with them all from time to time, especially when I don't want to.

So this all motivates me to take the day off work. I really wanted to leave today and take the rest of the afternoon off. Instead I decided to take all of tomorrow off. Much better. Which is a good thing, because at the end of the day, I found out that not only did the Foreman not want to OK my personal project, he doesn't want to pass any new work projects down to me before I clean up. Now, that really gets my goat.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Stone top table base

As a distraction from the evil sleigh beds, I've had a custom table base to work on. Which is good. Yesterday I was unable to work on the machines I needed to to complete the bed. Today I had a trying morning of troublesome plumbing at home, and more problems getting to machines for the bed. So that lead back to finishing up the table base.

To carry the 500+ lb 72"x42" stone top, the base was specced out at 1 3/4" thick. Two slabs for each 'leg', center half-lapped stretchers, with top braces all lead to the support and stability needed.

A plywood sub-top lends even more stability. So here it is 'assembled'. But that was only to get everything lined up. This base is getting a 'shot' finish. Lacquer. First it will get colored. The uprights and the sub-top will be ebonized. The horizontals will get a medium brown 'cherry' color.

After the first color coat, I'll get them back to assemble them for real. They will need a little touch-up color before they get their final topcoat.

Look for more pictures, toward the end of next week, when I get the colored pieces together.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Classic Sleigh Bed

Classic? Well, classic in looks, I'm not sure about classically constructed. Panels, raised on both sides, set in a framework, beaded on both sides, with a teardrop shaped top piece in thick candycane legs. Sounds like just the sort of bed your looking for right?

I have made 5 of these beds now, and I stated that I hated them when I received my first one about a year ago. My opinion hasn't changed. They are difficult to make, heavier than heavy, and seemed to have not been thoroughly thought out.

The panelwork is all straight, so the tops of the legs are curved, and then we angle and teardrop the top piece so that it gives the illusion of curvature. The bottom rail and the top teardrop are mortised into the legs, but since the top is at an angle the only way to "mortise" is to use the pinrouter with a special jig (one for each side of the headboard, and each side of the footboard, and another for each side of the low footboard).

The stiles are butted against the legs, with the top and bottom tenons keeping everything in place. And someone decided that 5/8" tenons were the right size going into 1 3/4" legs, but to add longevity we drive screws through the leg into the tenons.

The knives for the beaded rails and the copes on the stile ends aren't matches, so you have to run everything twice to get it to line up right but loose, and the raised panels are interesting because after you've raised one side, you have to keep a block under the panel edge so the blade and powerfeed can't push it down (making things inconsistent).

The teardrop top was mostly a guess and check thing, until I actually wrote down the angles (which amazingly enough don't change from bed to bed).

All of this make this a not fun bed to make. I think they are ugly to boot. After the first one, I was told that we were discontinuing the bed, and we'd never make one again. Four months later, I received two. Since I had been told I never had to build them again, I didn't take any notes, or keep the two pages that had been copied for me. We of course couldn't find the original information, so I had to recreated everything from memory and talking with the guy who'd built this before. This lack of writing things down seems to be a trend with this company.

I've been told that getting the teardrop to line up perfectly with the tongue in the top rail, and sit tight, and correct in the mortise is the hardest part of the whole thing. That seems to be the easy part for me.

What got me this week, after I had these two "finished", was the king sized walnut bed needed better sanding....3 times. I did all the sanding, so I have only myself to blame, but the first time was the way the light didn't hit one part of the panel when it was lying on my bench being sanded initially. The second was from swirl marks left by our random orbitals because it had two coats of oil based finish on it before they handed it back to me the first time (and oil seeps deep into the grain, and is smoother than our fine grit sandpaper). The third time was actually an extension of the second, because I didn't see the remaining few swirl marks until I moved it back to the finishing bay. Luckily, I could get them really quick before any more oil went on the panel.

The other sticking point was on both beds, but only becomes an issue on my full sized cherry bed. Since the bead and cope framework is loose, I shoot pinnails into the joints to hold it together. This is my fifth bed, so this is the fifth time I've shoot pinnails into the framework. The walnut one got a dark enough stain to "hide" the filler over the pinnail holes, or at least not-be-as-obvious. The cherry filelr, along with a little filler up where the tongue meets the teardrop, was noticeable. And apparently unacceptable.

So, I got the news yesterday, that I needed to remake the cherry headboard. I aimed to save the legs, the teardrop, and the raised panels. With some patience (close to an hour and a half), a heatgun, and some vinegar to help dissolve the glue, I managed to crack both legs, and the teardrop. Oh, and before I finished it the first time, I had forgotten to drive the screws into the tenons, and just plugged the holes. Kind of a testament to not using the screws, and maybe increasing the tenon size.

So, I have the two raised panels, and have to create the rest of the headboard new. By the end of Monday. And every machine that could help me accomplish this today was occupied, for hours at a time.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A lack of crafts

This week, I'm staying in Arlington, taking care of the dogs. Which means that I'm far away from most of my afternoon/evening crafts.

And while I could move the stump (they have a backyard that I can carve in, and its not that heavy) I really don't want to. Its heavy enough to pass on moving it, plus the tools, and sharpening gear...its just not worth it. So there'll be a hiatus on the stump.

Spoon carving is in the same boat, more trouble to move that it is worth. A bucket of spoons, and knives, and the sharpening gear, plus enough spoons blanks that I'll want to carve.

So that leaves my titanium. Which arrived last Friday. I got all my ti gear into my little timbuk2, and it is easy enough to do inside. Since the weather hasn't been all that great, that means my indoor project seems to be the way to go.

I've got all my colored ti coiled and split into rings, and just under half of my raw ti done as well. Now I'll start in on some projects. The top of the list is another double-twist bracelet for Kelley. And maybe a headpiece for her Faire wear.

Other than that, I'm going to try some experiments with heat coloring some finished pieces, and see what kind of results I'll get.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

These boots weren't made for woodworking

Ah, my boots. Sooner or later we'd have to get around to my boots. Hand tailored to my feet, and made out of buffalo leather, some call them my Barbarian Boots, I usually just call them my Boots, but they are moccasins. I purchased them, and stood for the fitting, a little over 5 years ago at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, and received them just coming up on 5 years ago. I got them mainly for Faire gear, but also for warm winter boots.
They are perfect in the Spring and Autumn, and with the right socks keep me warm all winter. Fashionable for the Faire, and work well as "dress" shoes when I need them (you can hardly tell with a pant leg covering most of the buttons).

Oh, and they are incredibly comfortable. They fit perfectly, and give the right support, while offering the most in flexibility. I can wiggle my toes, and feel the contours of what I'm walking on.

This last year, I started wearing them anytime I was carving spoons. Even though they were warm in August, the extra protection was nice against the mosquitos. They also lend a bit of authenticity to the whole handcarving wooden spoons idea. They fit in my mind as to what an olde timey woodworker should wear.

As an extension of that ideal, and my love of comfort, I wore them into work during the whole Bench experience. Prior to that I had kept them out of the shop, for fear of damaging them. They are softer leather than in commercial shoes, and as many things as I accidentally kick in the shop (wood, pipeclamps, carts, etc.) I didn't want anything to happen to the not-so-inexpensive boot. And if I treat them right, my boots will be around for 15+ years.

It was great, they were so comfortable in the shop. I had been having a bit of trouble with my sneakers around this time, with old ones dying on me, and the new ones were hurting my feet terribly. So I started wearing them full time at the shop.

But, I ran into problems there too. During my Bench week, I didn't do all that I normally do in a workday. I spent less time there total, and almost no time walking around on the concrete floors. Nor did I stand on the concrete for extended periods. I spent half days, standing on the carpet in front of my bench. Stopping frequently for sharpening, or even taking long breaks.

Once I was working, I realized that my boots didn't have the support I was looking for, and my heels were taking a beating from the concrete. Still better than the new sneakers, they weren't quite right. And if I had any strenuous work, I could feel my shins sweating.
So I started looking at getting another set of boots for the shop. My pair was made by a Catskill Mountain Moccasins, but when my rubber soles started wearing out in the heels about 3 years ago, I came across another mocc maker. Walking Liberty Moccasins. They had a DIY sole kit that the guy had been using for years. He called it Future Tread, and it was a combination of Barge shoe cement, and ground tire rubber. I tried the repair, and it worked so well, that I started poking around his website more.

During the poking, I found that I liked his philosophy of not needlessly killing of animals just for their leather. I also found a pair of his moccs that would be perfect for shop work. He calls them "shorties". I like the tall version which has 2 buttons and comes up over the ankle (but can be folded over for a low look). They would keep cool (cooler than commercial construction boots because they breathe) and he can cap the toe for a bit of extended life/harm prevention. He even has some nice and cushy sole options for me.

So, I've made another mold of my foot (with Kelley's help), and am ready to ship it off to Oregon tomorrow, so that he can start work on my shop friendly moccs, and hopefully I'll have them before too long.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The color of Oak

My stump is oak. There is no question about that. Mark told me it was. And I have been able to see the distinctive grain and rays of oak as I cut through it.Up until now, I've been carving the root system away. Which has been moist (to say the least). As the chips fly, and I cut down into the moisture, I was unable to tell if it was the red oak, or the chestnut oak(the poor man's white oak). I saved a few of the larger chips, and as they dried, it looked like this would be a white oak. That kind of tan/white/cream color was very apparent.

Today, however, I started hollowing out the trunk side of things. Since the trunk was exposed to air for a much longer time than the roots, the trunk is relatively dry. And very red.

So, now I must suspect that it is red oak. The question of why springs to mind though. And, is this a normal thing? I have no answers, seeing as how all I ever see is the kiln dried wood that comes through the shop. If anyone has any insights, please share.

Now on to today's work.

When I was a Boy Scout, at summer camp Whitsett, I took metalworking one year. Metalworking in this sense meant taking a #10 tin can lid, and your ball-peen hammer, and whacking at it in a dished out tree stump until it was a smooth "bowl". Well, if you can imagine that, that is close to what I accomplished today. The dished out tree stump, not the bowl.

For those of you who can't imagine that, I have pictures so that you can see

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Pictures, as promised

The foot is pretty much ready. I might take off some more material from the belly of this beast, but only to cut down on weight. The first photo is the broader/flatter side, which is the side towards which it wants to tilt. I'll have to offset the top away from that side in order to help with its balance.

The trunk side is fairly level (surprisingly) but that may just be where its sitting on the patio.

The next step, to reduce weight and speed drying time, is to hollow out the trunk. As well as contemplate how I'm going to attach the top. My best guess at the moment will be a plywood subtop attached down to the stump, but overhanging enough to leave attachment points up into the actual top.

And in the coming months, I'll have to decide on a basic shape for the top. I'm definitely thinking not traditional (round or rectangular). Fan-shaped perhaps. Maybe teardrop or crescent.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


It's hard for me to come up with my own designs. My furniture ideas are elements stolen from things I like, cobbled together, with as much cohesiveness that I can manage. Unless the designs are just copied outright, with no attempt at disguising them as my own.

My bench came together all in my mind though. And it matches very well the sketch I made when I came up with the idea. There are a few details that got left out of the final bench, or that got altered by "a bad cut" that had to be fixed.

My spoons follow the same kind of design. All rough sketch, rough bandsaw, and what whim takes me as I'm carving it. And usually, the ones I am most pleased with, are the ones that just take shape as I go. The current favorite is a little birch number, that has some weird crook in the handle because I took too deep of a cut right there, and had to try and fix it.

That's why I have an apple as a paperweight. I was trying to turn a round ornament (which I was going to hollow out later), and the gouge I was using pulled deeper than I wanted. And after I was done cursing myself for letting the tool get away from me, I thought it looked vaguely apple shaped, so an apple it became.

So I've been following the same sort of trend with my stump. Waiting for that crucial cut of the gouge (intended or not) to let me know what I'm doing. I think I found it this afternoon while carving. I tipped it over on it's side trying to knock off some protruding edge, and realized that I'd been cutting across endgrain so far. With the stump on its side, I was now cutting with the grain, and found it quite a bit easier.

That makes it easier to define as well. So, its going to be a coffee table base, with three 'root feet' and kind of carved arches between feet. Then I'll level off the trunk side, slap a slab of a panel on top, and shape the top edges with the drawknife and gouges. I should powerwash the base, to knock off the bark and debris, and hopefully give it that smooth weathered look.

Pictures tomorrow, its dark and late.

The Blanks of Spoons

I spent the evening drawing out spoon shapes on scraps of wood. The set of spoon blanks I had cut out last summer (when I started this "project") have seemed too big lately. A few of the smaller spoons have made nice short afternoon projects, and I was longing for more.

Besides having less wood to cut and shape, they also fit better in my hand, and feel as though they will be more useful than their giant cousins.

So, I started in on one of my boxes of scraps that I take home from work. Freehanding how I think a spoon should look and feel, which I will just use as a guideline. If I change my mind in the middle of bandsawing them out tomorrow, so be it. And when I actually put knife to wood, anything can happen.

I still have so many scraps that I'll turn into spoons (I can't quite bear to throw out such pretty pieces of wood), but tonight was a start. Pretty soon I'll have boxes of rough spoons ready to be carved, and inevitably other boxes filled with spoons waiting to be drawn. But such is my relationship with the wood.

A Table in Copper

Back in January, when I was feeling a bit rundown by work, I was handed a strange little coffee table. Some lady wanted a round coffee table, in our bungalow style, but wanted to set a copper "disc" in a frame for the top.

Now, custom stuff peaks my interest a little more than the standard stuff. Take our Bungalow Rocker, for example. When I first built that, close to two years ago, I had almost no information to go by. It was like our Parlour Chair, which had a nice write-up, and was not terribly difficult. But unlike the Parlour Chair, there was only 4 diagrams with some labels. I had to figure it out, and talk with the one other person who had recently built them. That was really interesting to me, but now that I've figured them out, and written a step by step procedure, they are somewhat boring.

So, when I get something that I have very little to go off of, I get excited. I had: a total height, an AutoCAD drawing of the top frame, and the copper disc upstairs in the office.

From that info, I had to double check the outer dimension of the disc (which I found wasn't really round), compare it to the AutoCAD drawing of the 4" frame (which didn't account for the largest diameter of the out of round disc), work out my support structure (lap jointed crossbraces under the top, and under the round lower shelf), leg placement (which would determine the length of the crossbraces as well as the size of the round shelf).

I think I spent the better part of a day working out all of that, before I was able to start picking the wood. But when I took the drawing of the frame to our CNC guy, so that he could program it to cut our 8 board mitered frame round as well as the round shelf, I realized that there was no way for a shelf that size to be able to fit between the legs once we put it together. The only way to make it work, was to assemble the base around the shelf. Which led to our next problem, the stain. It was an Americana stain. A dark brown, very aged cherry, stain. The problem with the stain, was that in order to get a good finish on the shelf, it needed to be finished before it was assemble and mounted. But, if we scratched the finish, it would be almost impossible to fix without it standing out.

So, we had to have the shelf finished, with the lower crossbraces, as well as the insides of the legs (so that the colors on the "inside" of the piece all matched). This enabled us to have raw wood on the outside of the piece, that could be fixed if it got scratched, dented, or dinged during the assembly process.

I think the mitered frame was the most rewarding of the whole thing. Even though I had all the dimensions, including the angle, from the AutoCAD drawing, and had someone else program the CNC to cut it out, there was still the feeling of it being new and uncharted. I had to trim the miters two extra times to make sure it came together just right, as well as spend an hour on the CNC one night to get the frame lined up just right so it would cut where I wanted it to. And it was an immensely satisfying feeling when the copper almost dropped right into the frame fresh off the CNC. I did have to spend a couple of hours sanding the interior of the frame because even my updated measurements of the copper weren't exactly right.

Once I had all the parts, I handed everything off to the finishing guys, and took my vacation. I left the partial assembly to one of my very capable guys. I had to get the top mounted, and make sure the copper still fit with the finish on it (and it did), and then I thought I was done.

It just so happened that I was at work the Saturday that the lady was coming down to pick up her coffee table. I was there to put the last coat on the simple bookcases I was making, and waiting for the van to become available so I could deliver them. So, I got to meet her. She was very happy with the how the table came out. However, she wanted the tag moved (we put a tag on everything we make, saying made for...., by Hardwood Artisans, and the season Spring 2008). We place it usually on the bottom shelf of a coffee table, but she wanted it moved up under the top frame, so that it could be seen without having to flip over the table, and that it should have the craftsman's name on it. Since I was right there, I was introduced, and was happy to have my name on a piece I was proud of.

I have placed my own signature tag on pieces I've made for myself, or people I know, but this was the first thing with my name on it for work. And because Mrs. Clark was so adamant about having the craftsmen sign their pieces, it started a new "policy" at work. A bunch of us 'senior craftsmen' have been issued tags to sign and date and place on pieces. Right now, it is solely up to us which pieces we decide to put the tags on. The guidelines being "put them on the pieces you feel deserve to have them on". Since that policy is so vague it's almost worthless, I guess I'll have to come up with my own criteria.

Be certain that my name will be out there on pieces of furniture. Under Hardwood Artisans for now, but one day I'll get top billing.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Titanium from Saskatoon

With the typical pre-spring/spring weather, I needed a good indoor activity. While the shop is enclosed, heated, and dust/chip friendly (unlike my living room) it is after all work. And after being at work all day, staying after to play doesn't have much draw.

Coming home and sitting for even a half an hour revitalizes me, and I'm ready for more. So, while I wait for the weather to stabilize, and the daylight to lengthen, I decided to revert back to my chain maille jewelry days.

A little background, for those of you who don't have every facet of my life memorized yet. I started my chain maille back in California with two friends for elaborate Halloween costumes one year. We made one shirt for me, one for Joe, and fashioned some plate/chain combo for Shawn. I think we borrowed a coif from another friend.

They were spectacular costumes, but that was pretty much it. By the time I had moved to Virginia, it was just piece of me that once was. I think I renewed my maille when trying to make a coif to add to my shirt for renn faire wear.

I never finished, but I did start to use finer wire and smaller rings, making some bracelets, and a hand flower. I used galvanized steel, which was cheap and easy to get. While figuring out how to loop around one finger for the hand flower, I started using 20ga wire.

At some point, I decided that steel wasn't very elegant for jewelry, and instead of going with the more mainstream aluminum, I found a titanium wire dealer who also dealt in niobium. Niobium anodizes well, like aluminum, but I wanted to be different. And titanium was different enough to be precious.

So, I made a few bracelets and necklaces, and pretty much left it alone after I ran out of material. I've always meant to get some more, and have discovered a new supplier that's 1/3 the price of my first supplier.

Since titanium anodizes fairly well, the colors won't be as bright as aluminum or niobium, so I ordered an assortment of anodized wire, as well as raw wire. Titanium will also heat oxidize and bring forth more muted colors, but you can get a more random rainbow effect, kind of like the sheen from an oil slick.

The only problem with the new supplier is that they are in Saskatoon. Does anyone want to guess how long it takes to get titanium shipped from Saskatoon? Or maybe how much 380 feet of 20ga titanium wire weighs?

Back to the Stump

The weather almost stopped me today. It started raining at lunch. And the bleakness made me want to leave work early and just cozy up at home. But the draw of the stump was too much.

It wasn't too bad when I got home; drizzily and in the mid 40's. But I've got my Boots to keep my feet warm and dry, my Hat to keep my head and glasses dry, a rain jacket, and the knowledge that I can go change into warm dry clothes anytime I wish. Besides, hitting things with a mallet keeps you fairly warm.

I started back in on the "hump" between my root feet because it was still a little wobbly. I spent about a half an hour before I decided to quit for 2 reasons. The first, not surprisingly, was that you can only spend so much time squatting in the rain. The second, tragically, was that I must have hit some dirt or really hard section of root, and I badly chipped my #10 gouge.

Fortunately, gouges and chisels were meant to be used, and re-ground all the way until you hit the handle. We've got a nice Tormek grinding stone at work, so I'll just have to give it a new edge tomorrow, and watch out for any more of those trouble-spots.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


After I had finished my bench, I decided that I needed a little practice with my gouge work. Testing differing cuts, and woods, and grain. During one of these practice sessions a few weeks ago, Mark approached me. We talked a little about the bench, and gouges, and hand tools. He was telling me about his recent trip to Thailand, and how since it is illegal to harvest teak, the locals are starting to uproot the teak stumps, and carve beautiful things out of them. Single piece dining chairs, and sculpture and such. And then he stated that I needed a stump, and that he'd bring me one.

Mark is the qualifications director at work. He's the one who is writing the blog for work. At times he can be an odd duck (such as informing someone that they'll receive a stump), but since he lives out in the country on such-and-such acres of land, he has various oak stumps lying around his property.

I naturally accepted, because: why not? I'd be more than happy to beat on a stump, and today he brought one in. It is either, red oak or chestnut oak. Mark was uncertain, but those are the two most prevalent trees on his land.

I just spent the last hour or so (I guess I was wrong about it being 'not quite outdoor weather' yet) washing off a bit of the dirt, and hacking away that protruding root.

I also used the gouge to cut away the center mound, in order to turn it into a stable base. However, this lead to the problem of liking both the root as the base, as well as the trunk for the base.

So, next step is to figure out which way I want it to sit. After that will come the problem of figuring out what it will be.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Warm weather and spoons

With the abnormal weather of the past couple of days, I decided to do a little spoon carving on the back porch.

Toward the end of last summer, Kelley and I started in on some hand carved spoons. We frequent craft fairs throughout the year (mostly Sugarloaf Craft Festival), as well as the Maryland Renaissance Festival, and when it comes to wooden objects, we are most likely to try and do it ourselves. It started with me learning to turn, so I could make a couple of wooden goblets to take to the renn faire with us.
..... ....................
Wooden bowls were used during the lathe learning process, and from there we wandered into the handcarved bowls and spoons arena.

Kelley got a set of palm gouges, which I don't like because I've slipped with those before and punctured my palm. So initially I started with whittling the handles and the outside of the bowls (which is the activity that doesn't go over very well for Kelley), while she would gouge out the insides of the bowls. We made a team effort out of the project.

Then, while poking about the internet, I kept finding references to "hook" or "crook" knives. A knife with a bent or curved blade used to hollow out vessels in the same whittling method that I'm most comfortable with. So I ordered one.

During this time we also learned more about the appropriate sized scraps to use for spoons. We started with the notion that you needed a thick piece of wood in order to create any spoon of substance. This isn't necessarily the case. You can make a nice serving sized spoon with 5/4 material, and everyday stirring or eating spoons you'd want something closer to 3/4" or even 1/2". And you only really need 8/4 lumber if you were going to carve a ladle, where you need the extra thickness to place the handle at an angle to the bowl.

(A note for you non-woodworkers out there. Raw woods come in thicknesses referenced in quarters. 4/4, 5/4, and 8/4 are those we use most prevalently. That number is what the lumberyard rips the tree down to, and comes to us just slightly smaller than that due to the drying process)

There's a shot of me shaping the backside of a spoon bowl (mahogany) and next to that a sycamore spoon fresh out of the water, ready to have the bowl dished out.

We keep them in water, to re-green the wood and make it easier to carve. It also helps in the finishing stages, where we can repeatedly raise the grain (make it fuzzy) and sand it down in order to minimize the amount of fuzziness you get after you use and wash it.

Too bad the weather isn't ready to cooperate, and give me sunny and warm afternoons to carve outside, but that's ok. I just ordered up a few hundred feet of titanium wire, and that should get my creative side through the next month of not quite outdoor weather.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Bench, part 2

It was really a matter of sculpting, rather than all the woodworking that I've done so far. After the first side, I got the hang of how the walnut was cutting, and I realized that cutting in the herringbone pattern was the easiest for reduced chipout, as well as being aesthetically pleasing.

After I got the sides shaped how I wanted, I started in on the seat. I wanted a scooped seat, dished out on each side, with a "hump" left in the center.

This left me with a couple of hard choices to make. I liked the rough handsculpted look of the sides, but I wanted to grind down and smooth out the seat for comfort. So, while I had the grinding wheel out, I decided that the sides were too rough. Too many chipouts, and rough cuts, and I started in on grinding it smooth.

But that left just the armcaps rough, which looked wrong. So I had to put the herringbone pattern back.

And that left all the square edges, which I started to attack with a drawknife, with some difficulty. The problem with the drawknife was two-fold; the first was the blade thickness (or thinness rather) and second the changing direction of the grain in the middle of the curve. You can cut a nice slice from the high point to the low, but you can't cut from the low to the high without digging in and tearing out. At first I blamed my drawknife problems on the cheap and thin knife I got at first, so I sent off for one of the beefy knives I've seen.

Unfortunately, the thicker blade only solved some of my problems. The grain still didn't want to stop splitting if I cut it the wrong way, but I could get a nice smooth cut now if I paid attention to the grain. And so I shaped the armrests, and the leading edge of the seat, with a little help from my block plane in some of the trickier areas.

After I got the shape right, that left me with smoothing and sanding before putting the finish on. One of the nice things with the rustic look I was going for (and the sharpness of the tools used to get there) was that sanding was only going to be minimal. The drawknife cuts were as smooth as if they were sanded, and the low points from the gouges were just as smooth. That left the seat, which needed a lot of sanding after the abrasive wheel to smooth it out, and all of the remaining flat sides.

The finish is a danish oil, liberally applied. I couldn't polish the "rough" areas very well, so I just had to wipe it on and off as best I could and let it dry. The seat and the armcaps were polished after each coat, about 4 coats worth, until it was smooth and glossy.

The final touch, is the plaque on the bottom with my signature, name, and date laser engraved on it.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

A Trip to the Showroom

I had been to all of our showrooms before. Bradlee was where my career at Hardwood Artisans began. Woodbridge is attached to the workshop, and we use it as a visual resource. Chantilly and Rockville had gone through remodels last year, and I assisted is moving furniture around for them. But I never spent time in one with customers.

So I decided, with a bit of subtle persuasion , to spend the day up at Rockville amongst the people we build this stuff for. Rockville is the most trafficked of our showrooms, as well as benefiting from being staffed by three of the better sales staff, so it was a good place to get to know the sales side of the business.

It wasn't quite what I expected. It was easy to talk with customers. Probably because there were others around, so I didn't have to worry about making a mistake. And mostly I hovered, watching, and getting pointed out as the guy who builds this stuff. I did get to entertain some of the kids who came in, showing them the beds hidden behind the bookcases, or the tv that hides inside the cabinet.

I did get a few assignments, trying to design a waterfall coffee table to have a flip top, drawing up a mod file drawer in autocad, and looking through the files for a previous customer. And I talked intelligently about our furniture with a few customers.

It was a good experience. I'll be back in the showroom...when my schedule permits.

Simple Bookcases

I recently had the opportunity to build a pair of simple bookcases for a friend. Nothing extraordinary in the way of design, just simple, well constructed, solid bookcases.

A white oak, with English oak stain, lock-mitered top, dove-tailed bottom shelf, and the pair bolted together, with a common top.

It is actually a standard style that we make at the shop, except for the common top (ours are usually tall enough that a top doesn't work well).

The exciting part about these bookcases, besides knowing exactly who I was making them for, was that I took the whole thing through myself.

Normally I will pick the wood out, shape it, and contsruct the piece, but then hand it off to one of our dedicated sanders, and from there off to our finishing team. This time, I did everything, even learning that our English oak stain, isn't just one stain, it's three. Two coats of medium walnut brings out the browns (it almost looks orange at that stage), followed by a coat of black walnut to darken things out, with a final coat of danish oil to bring back the luster and shine up the piece.

It was interesting to be doing the whole process, and to note that the construction time is about equal to the sanding time, which is a little less than the finishing time.

The thing with finishing is, it's hard. It takes a while to wipe on and off the finish on just two 36x36 bookcases. After even just a short while my hands would cramp up, my elbow was a bit sore, and the fumes were getting to me.

I guess when I'm able to start my own place I will have to figure out how to make the finishing part less of a chore.