Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Staying Inside the Vines

This week I'll climb down off the soapbox for a while and will get some carving done on the vine section of the Eisteddfod spoon.

I'm going to carve the back of this spoon quite extensively so that it is pretty much the equal of the front. I think that especially with vine and Celtic knot patterns, the look of the spoon is vastly improved when both sides are done. Now because there is an over and under pattern to the vine, I am going over it carefully with a pencil to mark out the pattern before I commit to the knife. It's REALLY easy to get things out of order on the back, especially since you have to think about what is happening on the front and then do the exact opposite. It's always a lot easier to erase a pencil line than to have to repair a errant cut, so the couple of minutes I spend with the graffite is time well spent!

With the lines marked and double-checked, I go at it with the straight knife and with the small chisel. My cuts are shallow at first but get progressively deeper once I know the pattern is all cut correctly.

With the over under pattern cut away and the sharp edges of the vines eased with some chamfer cuts, it is time to round the edges more vigourously. I use cloth backed abrasive paper for this job, BUT I never touch sandpaper to the project until I am fully confident that I won't need to do any more knife carving. All abrasive papers leave behind microscopic bits of abrasive grit which gets lodged in the wood being sanded. When the knife blade passes through this buried grit, its razor sharp edge is quickly dulled and ruined.

With the rounding completed, I use progressively finer grades of abrasive paper to take out any scratches and leave the surface almost finished. Because the cloth backed abrasive has been largely used across the wood's grain, often times lots of scratches will remain which have to be taken out for the piece to look attractive. Never use a coarser grade than 150 cloth backed abrasive on your project or you will be left with deep scratches that are murder to remove. With paper abrasives, follow the direction of the grain and work up to 220 grade for a nice silky, smooth finish.

The vines and back of the bowls are now nearly completed. I will do a final shaping and sanding immediately prior to finishing, but for now this will be good.
Speaking of being good...please be good by donating a couple of dollars to the Left Coast Eisteddfod and helping the idea of a fabulous Welsh cultural event become a reality. All donations, big or small are gratefully received and all enter you in the running to win this lovespoon when it is finished and presented on August 22 in Portland Oregon

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Win a Copy of David's Book!

Fine Woodworking is running a contest to win a copy of David's Book, Fine Art of Carving Lovespoons here:


All you have to do to be in the running is leave a comment!

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This week you'd have to be living under a rock not to have heard about the sensation caused by Scottish spinster and remarkable songstress Susan Boyle. Her magical turn in front of noted misery-guts and all-round sourpuss Simon Cowell has been the hit of the internet and the subject of world-wide water cooler chit chat.

As terrific as that was though, it's worth considering that at this very moment, the greatest tenor of all time could be tending a flock in the Bolivian highlands while the sweetest soprano to have ever sung a note could be spreading asphalt in Tibet. The next Picasso could be plowing a field in the Ukraine while a novelist of rare insight is building I.E.D's for the Taliban. How many millions of glorious musicians, artists and visionary thinkers has mankind lost over the centuries to anonymity, lack of opportunity or disinterest? That Susan Boyle existed out there with her beautiful voice going unnoticed is not in the least unusual...that millions of us were able to share in and enjoy her moment in the sun was.

So where in the hell am I going with this? As a carver and artist, I know that many times success is not so much a matter of talent and ingenuity as it is a matter of good fortune. In the case of Susan Boyle, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to appear on television in front of millions of strangers has been the difference between fame and obscurity. For the Bolivian shepherd and his ilk, there will likely be no such chance. Without the chance to perform for an audience, talent is never noticed, which finally brings me to the point of this rather long-winded preamble.

In August, the Left Coast Eisteddfod will make its inaugural appearance as a cultural event. Without support, events of this kind do not succeed and the opportunity to present a platform for talent both known and undiscovered is lost. Somewhere out there could be the next great author, poet, photographer, swashbuckling pirate, or leather-lunged Tom Jones...this is your opportunity to help find them!

I have donated the Left Coast Eisteddfod lovespoon as a way to help make donating to this worthy event a bit more enjoyable. For every dollar you donate, you get a chance to win the spoon when it is completed and presented at the Eisteddfod. As a Welshman working a traditional (and somewhat obscure) craft thousands of miles from 'home', I have enjoyed wonderful good fortune bringing my work to a larger audience. I hope that the small part I play in helping to raise funds for the Left Coast Eisteddfod will make it possible for others to display their talents too.

Finally, even if you can't donate financially at this time, consider supporting the Eisteddfod by mentioning it to people you know, by trying your hand at some of the online competitions and by attending the event on August 21 and 22 in Portland, Oregon.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Forward to the Back!

With the front of the Eisteddfod Spoon largely completed, it's time to focus some energy on the back. I'm a firm believer in making the back of the spoon as beautiful as the front...even if it is going to hang on a wall and only be viewed from one angle. It takes more time and effort and increases the chances of a break or accident, BUT the result is always a much more beautiful and tactile piece. Sometimes, as a professional carver, my client's budgets don't stretch to doing both sides and they wish me to concentrate my efforts on the front only. Even in those cases, I like to try to do some shaping of the back to lend the spoon a bit more elegance.

As you can see from this close-up, the back is currently pretty flat and monotonous, even though the majority of the design outline is clearly visible and the spoon is 'coming to life'. By shaping up the back, I'll not only get a more beautiful product when the spoon is handled and turned over, but the shadows cast by the undulations and curves I plan to create will give the spoon more 'life' and appeal when it hangs on the wall. Lovespoons are an artwork which begs to be handled. Unlike some arts which can be discoloured and marred by the oils of the hand, the lovespoon inevitably profits from regular handling. Over the course of many years, a rich patina builds up and the spoon takes on a lovely vibrant glow which is impossible to replicate solely with the finishes. In this modern age of half-assed manufacturing, where virtually everything we get has had corners cut somewhere or other, it is always a lovely surprise to find the back of the spoon as nicely finished as the front.

But before you go thinking I'm getting all arty-farty and precious about this, I can assure you that doing the back of the spoon also often gives me the opportunity to break out the beloved angle grinder! I LOVE to make all kinds of noise and dust every once in a while and the angle grinder is great for both! Although I spend most of my carving time serenaded by the eloquent strains of Mozart from the cd player and alone in contemplative thought...the high pitched scream of a wound-up grinder hogging its way along can be music to my headphone covered ears!! But a warning: Kids, do NOT try this at home or anywhere else until you have lots of experience! The grinder is a great tool for removing awkward wood in a great hurry, but it is equally good at destroying your project and quite possibly removing your fingers or whole hand. This is NOT a tool to handle lightly. For me, it is a highly efficient time saving wonder, but sometimes it is an extremely fickle mistress. On this spoon it will help me put some arc and curve into the wood and it will deal with some tangled grain sections; hopefully it will do this without blowing the whole project to smithereens!

As the wood is shaped, the spoon will become both physically and visually lighter and the final look will start to emerge. Here's a little close-up of what the angle grinder can quickly achieve. More next week as we start shaping the vines and finishing off the already shaped bowl backs.

If you haven't yet contributed to the Eisteddfod, please consider doing so today! You can win this spoon!!

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