Thursday, June 24, 2010

Carving the Dragon

Bookmark and Share

After the sawing last week its time to start shaping the handle a bit. I've got the bowls roughed out and am satisfied they will look good so I'm starting to shape the 'overs and unders' of the knotwork. With this type of knotwork it is remarkably easy to get discombobulated and screw up the sequence, so I always go over everything carefully and just cut shallow cuts. Once I am satisfied that things are going as they should, I deepen the cuts and bring things to life a bit more.

This shows where we are at once I've started digging in a bit deeper. This is a fun part of the process because although things are still pretty rough, you can start to see the spoon taking shape and you can get a good idea of what it is going to look like finished. I've also started to shape the dragons wings a bit and have taken a few exploratory cuts. I want the wings to have a bit of a curve in each segment rather than simply being flat plains.

To achieve this, I will use a bent knife (I could also use a gouge here) and I work my way across the wing one segment at a time. I'm careful here to work from the top segment to the bottom...that way I can always work my 'ramps' into thick stock on the next segment. If I work from the bottom segment up, I would be constantly in danger of chipping the finished segment in front of my knife. A simple trick but of course it had to be learned the hard way with a couple of chipped wings... the first time I didn't believe it, the second time I never thought I would make the same mistake again and then after the third time, the light went on. Apparantly I'm the dull knife in the drawer here!!

This little close-up shows the roughly shaped wings and the gentle curve I've worked into each segment. The birch we are using is carving really well... which is a huge relief since I promised Laura it would!

The last pic shows where we are currently at with the rough shaping of the bottom section. I'm happy with how it is all taking shape and will next finish sawing the top section of the spoon. Until then, I hope this little peek at the developing spoon will persuade you to drop a dollar or two into the Left Coast Eisteddfod's little tin cup. You could be the one making off with this spoon after the big draw in October!!

- Dave

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Into the wood...

Bookmark and Share

With the preliminaries all out of the way, it is time to glue the pattern to the domed blank and get hacking!
By gluing the pattern straight on to the workpiece, I can save myself many tedious hours of transferring lines or tracing onto carbon paper that never sits still. The pattern guides the saw guides with great accuracy and in some woods keeps the top of the cut from getting ragged. All in all, it is a great method for ensuring the design gets rendered onto the wood with the greatest accuracy.

I generally scroll away the outer waste first. This lightens up the piece substantially and lets me see more clearly how the spoon is going to look. Some like to cut the inside away first so that they can keep the greatest strength in the wood, but to be perfectly honest, I have never noticed that one method is any better than the other.

I find scrollsawing is a love/hate type of job. Some days I really enjoy the zen state you can get into as you simply follow lines for hours on end...other days I could go up the wall with the monotony and drudgery of it all. I'd love to be able to say that its all zen and focused energy as I saw, but usually I am cursing myself for putting so much bloody knotwork into the design and wishing I was just doing some chip carving instead! On this spoon, I am going to saw about half the design out and then take a nice break and do some carving. That way there will be something to write about and I won't be an ill-tempered little chappie! This picture shows how things are taking shape nicely and how the neat lines of the photocopy really help to guide the saw blade.

Before I get into the knot carving, I like to shape the spoon bowls. As this is often an area of 'energetic' carving, I rather get it done first in case there is a breakage. That way, I won't have invested too much time in the piece before I have to go back to square one. This piece is going to have nice, swooping bowls and a swan neck section joining the bowls to the handle. I use a bandsaw for this operation and make sure to keep my hands well out of the way!

Here's a close-up showing the detail I am after. Later, the back of the spoon will be thinned away to exaggerate this 'swan-neck' effect. But for now, it is a good guide to show me where the bowls are going and where the handle will swoop down to join them.

With all the roughing done, I like to shape out the spoon hollows and to this I use a custom made bent knife. Hand-made for me by Mike Komick at Preferred Edge Tools, this knife is a wonder tool!! I have replaced dozens of gouges with 3 or 4 bent knives and will use this knife to do any cutting where a convex or concave surface is required. Much faster, cleaner and quieter than all the power tool attachments I have ever seen, this is a remarkably swift and invigourating way to cut a spoon bowl!

I don't completely finish off the bowls as there is a long way to go with the carving and it is possible to ding or otherwise damage the bowl a bit. Having a bit of 'play room' should something unfortunate befall us makes life a lot more pleasant. Next week I will start to tidy up the knotwork and will go to work on the little dragon who is appearing just above the bowls.

In the meantime, I hope that you will consider donating to the Left Coast Eisteddfod and that your donation will win you this spoon when Laura and I have finished it! Remember every dollar gives you a shot at this lovely spoon, so the more you donate, the better your chances!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Rough cutting the blank

Bookmark and Share

Last night I blew up our final sketch to full size and discovered our little dragon was, indeed little. Somehow in the email back and forths he had lost a measure of his grandure; indeed the entire drawing had somehow lost some of its width. To be clever, I redrew it and then, in the one sensible move of my day, forwarded it to Laura for her approval. She found a good half dozen errors I had made and with the resigned tone a teacher gets when she wants to tell her student he is an idiot but is far too professional to actually say it, simply told me that she would redraw it for me. With the job properly done, I headed back to the photocopier, taking my little copy off to check against our selected wood. As you can see, this piece of birch shows some real prospects but I wanted to make sure that I located the spoon to maximize the grain and figure.
I next roughly bandsaw the piece, being careful to avoid the knot which would have fallen into Laura's area of the spoon and would likely have earned me a thrashing had I included it. I did make an effort to capture as much of the spalting and swirling grain as I could though.

With the rough blank formed, I want to slightly dome the surface of the piece to add more visual 'zip' to the finished spoon. To do this I rough off some stock with the bandsaw...a dodgy move which should not be undertaken by least not until they've had a few drinks......kidding! This is an extremely efficient and rapid way of removing stock, but it is a dicey move as things can go wrong in a hurry.

No disasters befell me in the bandsawing so I'm able to clean up the jaggy saw marks with a block plane and further refine the domed shape, aiming for a fair and consistant curve, equal on both sides of centre.

With the doming completed, I like to give the piece a good sanding with an orbital sander to make sure the piece is as smooth and tidy as possible. I then give it a light scraping with a cabinet scraper to clean away any embedded abrasive which may have come off the sander disc.

With all that completed, I have a really good idea of how our piece is going to look and am very confident that the spoon is going to be a dandy. Didn't I make exactly the same comment about last year's spoon too? Well, say what you like about my writing skills or my carving abilities...I DO have a good eye for a nice bit of wood!!

Before I sign off, I thought I would include this little close up shot showing the gentle dome have placed across the top (and which also tilts down a bit toward the crown of the spoon). This also gives a good look at the lovely figure present in this piece. Wooohoooo!!
- Dave

Wooohoooo indeed! Well, I feel compelled to add a couple cents here... Dave has done all the hard work, and he does have an eye for a very pretty board, too! Regarding the drawing, though, he is being too hard on himself. Tsk tsk tsk, Dave! I agreed with Dave's assessment that the dragon could use a little more beef, and that the overall design could use some more width/taper. For those of you who haven't tried to make part of a drawing wider before, I am here to tell you, it's no easy task. Moving everything around, ever so slightly, while keeping the integrity and flow of the previous drawing becomes very complicated. Dave did a fantastic job of that, and left only a few lines needing adjustment. I only re-drew it so Dave wouldn't have to. I assure you - I never had any critical thoughts towards Dave. :) Normally, I don't think either of us would have so many versions of a design, but that's the result of designing with two people, 3000 miles apart. At any rate, after Dave's last adjustments to the dragon, our design is REALLY final! Woo-hoo! Oh, and Dave, thank you for avoiding that knot! I'd been afraid of that, but I knew you'd spare me if you could! I can't wait to see more as the cutting and carving proceed!!!
- Laura

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Got Wood?

Bookmark and Share

After much debate, I think Laura and I have settled on a really lovely piece of birch for the Left Coast Eisteddfod spoon. It was almost going to be maple, but when I stumbled across this dramatic piece, I did a quick change of tack, sent Laura the seductive description "buttery to carve", and 'hey, presto', we're in business!
Without doubt, cutting into a piece of wood for the first time and seeing what beauties it reveals is one of my favourite aspects of lovespoon carving. In fact, I would have to say it is second only to hearing my customers say, "Wow, it's beautiful, we love it, here's your cheque!"

Non-wood types think that woodworkers are a crazy breed when they see us swooning over some lump of wood or other, but those in the know realize what a truly magical and magnificent substance wood is. With its infinite colours, figures and textures, nothing offers the visual and tactile variety of wood; and no single material has come close to aiding mankind in his journey from cave dweller to 'civilized' in the way wood has. It has been the thing which has sheltered us, provided heat, clothed us, fed us and enabled us to travel. That we should feel some measure of reverence for it shouldn't be a surprise. That most could give a fiddler's fart about it is, to me, absolutely astonishing.
Take a good look at this piece now it has emerged from the planer. A light touch of spalting (the dark lines caused by fungi) combine with delicate figuring and a soft, feathered grain to create a stunning image which could easily rival an Impressionist masterpiece. Think I'm completely off my trolley and talking a load of crap? Have a good look and maybe you'll see Monet's foggy evening settling over the Thames or any one of dozens of Turner's sunsets. But even if you aren't inclined to be as arty-farty or wax as poetic about it as have to admit, it's a damn-fine looking piece of wood and the spoon Laura and I will make from it will be a stunner!!
Wood is a capricious mistress though and there is never any way to tell if it will bring joy or endless agonies. THAT is the great thing about working with it. Every project you embark on involving wood is an adventure with an unguessable ending. But the one sure thing through it all, is that there is no material more beautiful and wonderful!
- Dave

Since we're musing about our attraction to wood, I thought I would join in! I find wood is one of those things where people are either indifferent to it, or it makes them swoon and drool. I am unquestionably one of the latter. I feel happier in a room trimmed with natural wood, or at least with hardwood floors. I remember having this feeling ever since I was a small child, especially while watching my father or grandfather working with wood.
The way carving reveals unique and unpredictable features of any piece of wood is certainly part of the appeal. But, there's something even more innate than that. Wood has an inviting quality to it that makes you want to touch it, stare at it, study the colors and shapes within it... color, texture, grain - it can be mesmerizing. It also has both a softness and a hardness to it - it can be cut into very intricate shapes - sometimes even bent - yet it still retains a strength and functional quality.
When I carve wood, I love the feel of the blade cutting through it, watching how the wood fibers reshape themselves to make a new surface, and I suppose I feel grateful to have been the one to discover what's beneath the surface with each cut. I like how some woods are flat and opaque, while others have a translucent quality, or sometimes they are a little of both. Regardless of any translucent qualities, many times it is just the colors within each piece of wood that make it look warm or glowing.
Looking at this lovely piece of birch, I look forward to learning its close-up properties, but can already see lots of those lovely, warm colors. It seems to have lots of interesting grain features, including a little bit of spalting. It will be an adventure to learn how it carves, and once we finish the carving and any sanding, it will be yet another adventure to see how the grain and colors come out even more when the oil finish is applied. That is always one of my favorite parts of the process. Dave will have the first bit of the adventure with this piece, but I look forward to my turn in this process! Meanwhile, I will drool along with the rest of you as we see the first steps unfold through Dave's camera!
- Laura