Saturday, February 28, 2009

Here be Dragons!

I have finally reached the crowning section of the Left Coast Eisteddfod lovespoon and will now enjoy some time bringing the guardian dragon to life. I have 'ummed and ahhed' about how I am going to tackle this little chap and have decided to carve him 'in the round' (fully 3 dimensional). The walnut I am using is of a sufficient thickness to handle it, so I think that it is the way to go.

I have been calling him "Dafydd the Dragon" as I've been working on the spoon, but I but have now decided that because Dafydd is my name, he should be called something else.
So I've decided to throw a little competition to name him and it's open to anyone who wishes to offer a good alternative. Sorry, that there are no grand prizes for this, only the glory of having the name you suggest become the dragon's name for the duration of the carving and hopefully beyond when the lucky winner takes him home! In two weeks I'll get Gaabi and Ceri to pick the winner and we'll have an official naming! That will also be my incentive to get him done! Now you may be wondering why I say it is a he when it could conceivably be a she...and there is no valid reason that I could defend in a court of law for that...I've just had the feeling he is, a he!! So there you go, if you can think of a good name for him and are inclined to send it to us; give it a shot!

I'm going to break up the carving into 3 sections for the blog. I'll round out his body and shape the back scales first, then I will move on to the head and finally, I'll shape out the wings. This week is the body.

I've decided that I want to really exaggerate the scales along his back when I carve him, so I've excavated fairly deeply in those sections. I'm hoping that will help cast a nice shadow when he hangs on the wall and will generate a feeling of movement.

Once the scales have taken shape, I will start rounding the body, legs and tail sections. My plan is to leave him 'from the knife' (that is with the cut marks clearly visible in the form of facetting) rather than to smooth him down too much. I think that leaving him facetted will make for a more vibrant and lively carving, especially when viewed from a few feet away. It will also echo the idea of a scaley skin rather than looking too smooth and featureless.

Here's how he looks so far. I have roughed out the flow of his tail and put a nice tip on it, shaped the scales and rounded the front half of the body, started shaping the leg and have ramped the chest down so that the knotwork which will become his tongue can pass over.

Next week I'll shape the neck and head and will clean up the tongue knot. I also have an idea for the eye which will either be a complete success or a total calamitous disaster...stay tuned!

In the meantime, the Left Coast Eisteddfod welcomes any and all donations! . Please consider gifting this exciting cultural event! Every dollar you donate entitles you to a ticket in the draw for this very lovespoon!

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Back to the Knives as Valentines Approaches!

I'll wager that I'm not the only one who has the knives out on Valentine's Day! Mind you, I'll be carving a beautiful love token for a loving couple and not planning to moyderize someone for forgetting the big day!

In fact, I've been so busy with the knives frantically trying to get Valentine's orders in time for delivery on the 14th, that I haven't had a minute to spare for the Left Coast Eisteddfod spoon.

While I apologize for that, I did have time to answer a couple of questions that have come to me via email. A number of people have written to me asking what tools I use when carving my lovespoons. In particular they are interested in the power tools I use to save time and turn out spoons in double-quick time.

I'm sorry to disappoint, but the only power tools I make use of are an electric band saw for roughing my timber to size, an electric scroll saw to rough out the actual spoon blank (especially if there is a lot of Celtic knotwork involved) and very occasionally I will utilize a 4.5-inch angle grinder (!!) to sand my way through difficult grain figures. Other than that, it is all hand tools. I've included a picture of my workbench to show the tools necessary for carving the Left Coast Eisteddfod lovespoon. The vast bulk of my work is done with one or two straight and bent bladed knives. I use some small chisels and gouges to get into tight spots, some needle files for cleaning rough spots and lots of stropping compound and stropping to keep things sharp as I go. Those with keen eyes will notice two other necessities on the bench; glues for those little disasters which occasionally befall even the noblest venture and my collection of Simpsons characters who are present to help me laugh my way through those same ignoble disasters!

I'd love to be able to tell you that there are miracle tools out there which make things go super-quick and smooth, but really there are no finer tools than the ones you see in this picture.
Even though I have to work at a brisk pace if I want to survive, I firmly believe that a carving takes as long as it takes and trying to shortcut anywhere only leads to a half-hearted looking lovespoon.

The second most common question I am asked is: "How do you sit and carve for 8 hours straight every day?" The answer is proper nutrition! I've included this photo taken during my Christmas visit to Cardiff where I was able to stock up on the very type of nutrition which fortifies me so heartily for the upcoming season of lovespoon carving! The key, as with so many things, is moderation. As you can see from the picture, I am careful not to over-do things.

Any former or current citizen of Cardiff can tell you that with two simple foodstuffs, Clark's Pies and Brains Beer, the body can be sufficiently and efficiently fed to perform at peak performance! Add a half and half curry on the way home and you're set!!

So there you are, my Valentine's Day gift to any and all you carvers out there seeking the secret to woodcarving success.

Next week, we'll resume action on the Left Coast Eisteddfod lovespoon but in the meantime, why not consider a romantic donation to the Eisteddfod in your sweetie's name? It's a great gift which might net this one-of-a-kind, hand-carved lovespoon!

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Friday, February 6, 2009

Not for Naught, Knots!

Continuing where I left off with the Celtic knotwork, the first image (4845) shows clearly the little ramp that I am developing to form the over and under structure of the knotwork. As mentioned before, the key at this stage is not to go too deep. Until I am satisfied that all the cross-overs are in order and there are no doubles, I'm not going to commit to digging too much out.

Again, the paper pattern glued to the spoon blank comes in very handy as it lets me clearly see where the overs and unders are and lets me find out in a big hurry if I have messed the sequence up anywhere! This image shows how shallow the ramps currently are and that I have lots of depth to play with if there is a problem. To follow all these little ramps around and dig them out, I make use of a nice, little Japanese 1/4inch wide chisel. These chisels are only about a third the size of a regular carpenter's chisel and allow me to manoever in these very tight surroundings without struggling to control a big handle and long blade.

To really ramp the knotwork and set the overs and unders off, I start digging in a bit more substantially with the gouge. First I repeat the stabbing action whereby I cut straight down at the intersection of the knot, then I progressively increase the depth of the ramp, all the time working to meet the low point of the stab cut. If I meet up cleanly with the ramp, a nice chip pops out and the intersection area is nice and neat with no cut marks or bits of uncut wood messing things up. Ultimately, I want to work the ramps up so that they curve gently over the intersecting section and there are no flat spots through the curve. (Flat spots can be seen as the slightly duller coloured sections between each ramp) What I'm after is a nice domed effect where the ramp rises up from one side, crosses over and then dips back down on the other side.

With the knotwork ramping nearing finished depth, I make sure to get a nice fair curve along each section and then I put a light chamfer (the slight easing of the edges you can see in this photo) to make the knotwork look more finished. I'm careful not to overdo the chamfering as a too round knot starts to look a bit too 'soft' and more like a shoelace than a wooden knot. I find about a 1/16th of an inch worth of chamfer is about right to soften the knot without making it mushy.

Occasionally, if the wood is presenting a troublesome grain, I will run a file or even sandpaper over things to even everything out just before I apply the oil finish. However, I NEVER sand while I still have carving to do. The grit which breaks away from the paper and embeds itself in the wood while I'm sanding makes a great abrasive which then plays havoc with my nice sharp knife blades. I always leave sanding until I'm are positive that I won't need to carve any saves me a ton of time in wasted sharpening!

Next week I'll start shaping up our Draig Goch ( or in this case our Driag Gwinau). This will bring another series of challenges trying to get a nicely rounded body that retains lots of vitality and vigour! In the meantime, Valentine's Day is coming and if you neglected to get your sweetie a lovespoon I would suggest you hang your head in shame.. OR, consider donating a buck or two to help sponsor the Left Coast Eisteddfod in its first year! Your donation could win you this very lovespoon, show you for the romantic you are and get you out of the doghouse!

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