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Carving and Sculpture
A small box I’m making wants interior dividers. This is the first time I’ve tried making them, so it is a learning experience. The idea is 3 lengthwise dividers organized by two end pieces. The end pieces need dadoes. The scale of the project is such that the interior pieces are only 1/8 inch thick. I don’t have a 1/8 inch chisel and didn’t want to order one and wait. I do have an “Old Woman’s Tooth” router. So, off to the scrounge bin of Allen keys … some time with the hand cranked grinder … and some more time with the stones. The result is a 1/8″ router made in about a half hour.
The material shown here is a sub-optimal choice, but it will do. It is cedar which is quite soft and crumbles in fear when a chisel comes near. Slicing is the key to success, and that little knife is kept razor sharp for marking, and now for slicing cedar.
Haunched dividers and stopped dadoes: a success, and fun learning how to make snug. (Yes, each fits snugly enough to support the end piece.)
My first Bench On Bench was delightful. It brought carving and joinery tasks to a very comfortable height. Two and a half years later, I still appreciate it, but know of ways to improve it. The most wanted improvement is better work holding capability for carving work. Pinching stuff between dogs in the front vise and the “floating planing stops” just wasn’t working well enough. Shims of various sizes were almost always needed. The front vise itself grew to be a bit floppy, the result of installing the vise screw nuts loosely in softwood sockets. As they floated and wiggled around, they also wallowed the sockets. The best part about the bench was the vise screws, 1/2 inch veneer press screws that were available several years ago from Tools for Working Wood, but are not to be found anywhere today. The handles on those screws can be pulled out and rotated, very convenient for moving them when “tight” leaves them sticking up in the way. Those are keepers! Lastly, the excellent Gramercy holdfasts were rarely useful due to the smaller size of most of my work pieces.
Along comes Chris Schwarz with the “Milkman’s Workbench.” Intended as a portable bench, it has a few features I like and thought would be useful. In the end, I borrowed a few ideas from that bench. The first was lamination from maple instead of fir. This is the last workbench I’m going to build; I might as well use hardwood. The next feature was the wagon vise. However, I’ll use another veneer press screw instead of the wooden screws. I can’t justify the tooling cost for making just one of those wooden screws, and for what it costs to buy one ready made, I can buy a couple of top of the line carving gouges. The last feature was square dogs and their recessed self-storage. I’ll keep the full width front vise and the excellent screws with adjustable handles. I find that vise better suited for the way I work.
One of the nearby home centers actually carries maple. It’s “mystery maple” since the specific variety isn’t identified. There was some minor spalting in two of the three best boards. My right thumbnail Janka gauge determined the stuff was OK. That’s the discoloration seen in a few spots. Even though the specific type is unknown, it was straight, free of knots and a joy to work.
Yes, it is a lot harder than most stuff I work with, and yes the Record 044 didn’t want to plow a 1/2 inch groove without a bit of help, and yes, cranking a 1 inch auger through it with an 8 inch brace was a bit of work. Yet, it is remarkably predictable and finish planing leaves a glass like surface.
The new veneer press screw doesn’t deserve nearly as much praise. It is advertised at most all woodworking supply sources and out of stock in almost all. Once acquired, the threaded socket that is advertised as a “1 inch press fit” is found to be an elliptical shape with ribs on the side and must have been the seventieth son of the seventieth son to be so asymmetrical. There’s enough play in the threads to never have to worry about them seizing, but maybe that’s why they hold a setting so well. Fitting something like this is when one learns to really appreciate how well Michel Auriou’s rasps perform (the one on the right, not the rat tail).
About 3/4 of the way through gluing up the pairs of strips that accommodate dog holes, I remembered that some of my working methods really want clear space on the right end of the bench. Actually, I find myself doing several operations that overhang the right side. Oooops, that vise screw is going to be in the way. OK — Plan B! Just flip it over … and smooth finish the bottom side … and make some more dog recesses.
The rest is a matter of careful assembly, lots of gluing and clamping, lots of planing, a bit of drilling and fitting. By the way, the entire project was done with only hand tools. No electrons murdered. No sandpaper martyred. Very sharp plane blades, and well groomed card scrapers gave excellent results. There’s only one area not completely finished. I did not glue the end block for the vise. It is temporarily fixed with press fit Miller Dowels. It is the dry season now, about 25% humidity. In late summer humidity goes to 90%. I’ve left this area free of glue in case it needs to be disassembled and adjusted.
The work holding capability is better than I aimed for, and the fit and finish is a big step above the previous version. All of the methods I practice can now be done easier and more reliably with this bench. There’s a slideshow below this last group of photos. It has a few more photos with explanations. As always, click on any photo to see a larger version.
The first Bench On Bench worked well and taught me what improvements it needed.
Start with 3 boards 1x6 by 8 feet. Rip each into thirds. Then, crosscut into thirds. The color streaks are from spalting.
Plowing 1/2 inch grooves used more than one tool, and a good bit of patience. The 044 plow plane was good at removing waste, but only after the groove sides were cut ahead. Maple is hard.
Checking the layout. Yep, that'll work.
Turning a 1 inch auger, in maple, with an 8 inch brace is near insanity. My 10, 12, and 14 inch braces are still on the 'buy someday' list.
All parts catalogs say this is a 1 inch force fit. Yeah right! Asymmetrical, winged, and tapered. Lots of fussing... The Auriou rasp is superb!
Vise dry fit #1
Ahhhh. Vise dry fit #2. Now, it looks like a vice. Those walnut pins are the garter, temporary for now.
All the parts ready for assembly ... in 'Plan A' configuration.
Do this 6 times over the next few days, or go buy 50 more clamps. :)
Nuts for the front vise screws are mortised in very snugly, and then epoxied to prevent any wiggle.
Plan A - Traditional, with wagon vise on the right.
Plan B - Flip it over. Wagon vise on the left and better use of the right end of the bench.
Scrub baby, scrub! I have an alternate curved iron for the #5. Maple is hard, but predictable, and finishes very nicely.
Miller dowels through the bridle joints make the vise strong enough. Nothing here was glued for now. It's the dry season and may need disassembly when the humid season arrives.
Work holding - a typical relief carving
Work holding - a larger and scarier relief carving - space for much larger...
Work holding - This one is hard to hold well, but this works, a good test for moderate sized 'in the round' carvings.
Work holding - typical joinery cutting - 22 inches between vise screws gives lots of capability.
Work holding - on the bench surface - plenty of capability for my scale of box making
Work holding - Needed a slight overhang. Easy. Drop the left end of the front chop and use the wagon vise. Easiest grooving ever.
Glue is something that I try to avoid as much as possible. Carving rarely needs glue, but box making does and so does the most recent project (more on that in another post). For most work, I use Titebond glues. The glues work well, but I really dislike the bottles. How does this work for you? Pick up the bottle, turn over and shake 1, 2, 3 times to get some glue near the tip. Then, pull open the tip … or most likely wrestle with opening the tip. After two good yanks, the tip is still stuck. So go find pliers. Then, find the slot in the nozzle blocked. Scrape it out; danged stuff really sticks on the cap almost as well as the wood. Phew, finally open. Squeeze and use. Clean the tip off this time before closing. One big PITA, and that’s NOT pita bread.
Being the cook, and grocery shopper, I’m seeing more and more products being sold in bottles meant to be stored inverted. SOME of those bottles actually have valves built into the lids. Two notable examples are Wallmart’s Great Value brand honey, and Heinz’s tomato ketchup. Wondering how well that valve handles glue, I cleaned out the last empty honey bottle and refilled it with Titebond glue.
Wonderful!!! Pick up the bottle, flip the lid, squeeze and spread. Set the bottle back down closing the lid all in one motion. No, it doesn’t have a long pointy nozzle, but how often do you really need that type of nozzle? Tilt this bottle a bit and there’s plenty of control. It works a bazillion times better than Titebond’s bottle. What’s more, the lid’s plastic surface is super slick and doesn’t hold on to spillover glue the way Titebond’s nozzles do. What little glue gets left on the lid slides right off.
Goodbye Titebond bottles; I’m sticking with the sweet ones now.
Over the past few months, I have taught several classes and have been very tardy in getting photos up. So sorry!
Also, there are several classes this year that still have spaces available:
The next one coming up is a class at Roy Underhill’s “The Woodwright’s School” in Pittsboro, NC, March 1 & 2. This will be a 2 day beginning/intermediate class on carving a Celtic Cross in basswood. You can take this class even if you have never picked up a chisel before. You can go to Roy’s school’s website and you will need to go way down to the bottom of the page to register. The class is not actually listed on the “Two Day Workshops” section on the main page, but you should be able to sign up after registering. See photo below of the Celtic Cross design we will be carving.
The next class is in beautiful Tryon, SC at the Tryon Arts and Crafts School on March 15 & 16. It will be a beginning class on the “fundamentals of woodcarving”.
Then there is the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine. This will be a full week long beginning carving class July 7 – 11. After 5 days of intense carving, you’ll have no choice but to become addicted!
And finally, I will be teaching a 5-day Intro to Relief Carving at Marc Adams School of Woodworking August 4 – 8. Another thorough carving introduction class.
There are other classes – some may be full and some may still have spaces available – check them out on my class schedule. It’s going to be a busy year!
Lathe builders in 1805 didn’t know Roger Davis. They’d just have a blacksmith make them a simple crank and be done with it. I didn’t know Roger either when I built my lathe. He saw the blog entry showing the (pathetic) wooden crank I made, in the absence of a blacksmith, and suggested it wouldn’t last long. It didn’t. He then made me one that will never fail. It is solid!
Roger Davis is a fellow Hoosier with the good sense not to move to New York, a frequent visitor to Sawmill Creek (http://www.sawmillcreek.org/forum.php), owner of “a very complete machine shop” and self-proclaimed “lack of good sense,” an aerospace engineer by education (Yay Purdue!), former high school teacher (physics, cemistry, algebra), a builder of scientific instrumentation (start to finish) as his paying job, a builder and user of muzzleloaders as one of his hobbies, and variously proficient in gunsmithing, blacksmithing, woodworking hand tools, A&C furniture, cooperage and who knows what else. Bottom line: a generously good guy.
Photos and a drawing tell most of what you need to know to make one. If you have the metal working equipment to cut a block of steel, cut a slot in it, drill accurately, and tap some screw holes, you can make one similar. For what it’s worth, the distance between pivots was simply an estimate (a little more than a tenth the diameter of the flywheel) and has worked very well. Roger didn’t specify the size of the cap screws, but they look to be 1/4 by 20 by 1 inch long. The only other thing not shown on the drawing, that’s very visible in the photos, is a dowel pin that retains the crank pin. The retaining pin is probably not needed on this particular crank since Roger built it to such close tolerances that the crank pin probably took several tons of pressure to seat as a “press fit.”
When installing on the flywheel axle, be sure to go back and forth between the two screws, as they each affect the other’s tightness until they are really tight.
This crank has been very solid. I’ve got hours and hours of use on the lathe and ZERO, Nada, NO slippage from the crank. It simply works! Thanks again, Roger.
One of this blog’s followers, Josh Delmonico, compiled a Word document that includes many of the posts for the Treadle Lathe category. The result is a single document that describes building this lathe.
I browsed through it quickly, and found that it covers all of the construction related posts. There are a few posts not included, such as ones published after construction that are related to some of the things made on the lathe. Omitting those is logical for someone wanting to build a lathe. The focus is on the build.
The included web links work too! Josh captured the photos at sizes that fit comfortably. You can see larger versions of most of the photos by clicking through to the actual blog pages and then clicking on the images.
For someone wanting to build a similar lathe, this is a GREAT compilation that gets all the construction related material in one place. Highly recommended.
Download >>>—> Treadle Lathe DOCX (about 8MB)
PS: For those (like me) who don’t have Word or abstain from the MS suite, you can find a variety of DOCX readers with your friend, Google.
I don’t get an opportunity to carve “in-the-round” very often. And when I do, it’s always an interesting challenge. The thought process and the technique of discovering the shape is a completely different world than relief carving.
In relief carving, your main focus will be on overlapping elements, tricking the eye by creating an illusion of depth in a shallow amount of wood, and making shadow lines and exaggerated curves to create an appearance of more shape.
In 3-dimensional carving, the first focus is to get the general over-all shape carved, and then move into more of the detail of the carving. There is usually no need to create an illusion of depth – simply because the depth is already there.
If relief carving is your “normal” style of carving and you want to get into sculptural carving, the tendency can be to carve relief carvings on all sides and hope they somehow magically come together into a sculpture. The trick becomes joining it all together into a cohesive shape. It requires working on the entire sculpture and resisting focusing on one area, and then the next, and then the next… It is necessary to rotate the carving quite often to make sure the entire sculpture is developing into its final shape.
Resist working on the details until you are completely satisfied with the overall shape. This applies to both relief carving and sculptural carving. I learned the hard way by spending a lot of time on details, only to discover that I have to carve that area down another 1/8″ or so. All that time and effort was wasted because I just removed all my hard work.
This carved cardinal is going to eventually be a finial for one of the posts of a 4-post bed. The other 3 posts have machine carved pineapples (yech).
I started by getting a rough profile of the side and top views and transferred this to a 2-3/4″ x 2-3/4″ piece of basswood. Then I cut these profiles out with a band saw. I left a block of wood at it’s belly so I could have something to clamp to. This way I could still use my long handled carving gouges and didn’t need to hold onto the wood while I carve. Those whittling knives scare me!
This was a fun project and definitely different than what I normally get to carve. I’m not sure if I will venture into “wildlife” carving, but it is a fun challenge to do every once in a while. There are some amazing woodcarvers out there who make these carvings with simple whittling knives. I am often completely humbled by what incredible carvings they create – without clamping the wood to a bench!
What I love about my job is the variety of work that comes through the door. I think that’s why after nearly 22 years, I still find all aspects of woodcarving fascinating.
Happy (bird) carving!