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This is a collection of all the different blogs I (try to) read. A whole bunch! If you have any comments or suggestions feel free to use the CONTACT page to get a hold of me. Thanks!
Carving and Sculpture
Listen to the gentle chisels gliding through wood, the swish of the hand-plane as curls of semi-transparent shavings flow off the workbench. The atmosphere is peaceful, there is talking and laughter among the woodworkers. The blood pressure lowers…
Come join in the fun next weekend (May 15 & 16) in Amana, IA for the Handworks Show. There is an incredible line-up of woodworkers, tool makers, and just amazing people. Even my mom is coming to help me “man” my booth.
The Idea is Born…
About 3-1/2 years ago an idea began to grow in the deep crevasses of my brain. I wanted to start an online video school where I would have a variety of different lessons on how to carve particular projects – ranging from very beginning to very advanced. Since the type of carving I specialize in is the classical or traditional styles found in furniture and architecture, this was going to be the main focus for the school. Thus the name “Mary May’s School of Traditional Woodcarving“.
I had already made several instructional DVDs, and discovered that people were eager to learn carving via video. It’s the next best thing to being there, and much less expensive than taking a one-on-one class. Well, as happens quite often, my DVDs were pirated and were being offered from various other online sources. Speaking with others who also produced and sold their own DVDs, this seems to happen within 1 to 2 years of selling them. I still sell the DVDs on my online store.
- So… the solution… and one of the reasons I started in the direction of the online school. Make all videos available for a low monthly fee in a “school” format online. With this, there is no real incentive for people to steal the videos because the price is so reasonable. The videos would also be less available for “resale”.
- Another reason for venturing down this online school road was because I wanted to provide an easy way to learn to carve. I wanted to make it so accessible to anyone who had internet connection to start from the very basics and progress to more and more advanced projects. Whether a brand new beginner, or someone who has been carving for years, my desire was to offer something for everyone.
- And one more reason for wanting to make these lessons available is because I know what it is like to be a “starving artist”. Taking an in-person class can get quite expensive – especially if you have to travel to that location. For example, a weekend class can often be $230 to $300, plus travel, plus hotel, plus cost of tools. So a 2-day class can cost up to $1000 or more. I often meet people who are restricted by their career, have a young family, or are limited in their income. I would have loved to have had videos like these available when I was learning carving. If I spent my “spare time” watching instructional videos as a young person, it would have kept me out of a lot of trouble!
How do you start an “Online School”?
I began to research on the internet the possibilities of how to set up this online school. How hard could it be? Just a web site, add videos and ta-da! Well, within a few weeks, I realized that this was way beyond my computer skills. So I blogged about my idea and asked if anyone had any suggestions as to how I would start this.
Bob Easton, a retired IBM programmer, contacted me and said he would be interested in helping me with this new venture. Bob is also an accomplished woodworker and carver and was signed up to take my carving class at Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking the following month. We planned on meeting and discussing his ideas more then.
When the carving class was over at Kelly Mehler’s, Bob and I met at a quaint little coffee shop in Berea, KY a few hours before we had to catch flights for home. We discussed many ideas of how this school could become a reality (my main thought was “Keep It Simple”). Sometimes these websites can get so complicated that it’s difficult to get anything done or find anything.
So Bob took out a yellow note pad, sketched out a flow chart with a variety of steps of ideas we discussed, estimated that it would take about 25 to 30 hours to get it started, and then we went our separate ways – with many ideas swimming in our heads. Well that was nearly 3 years ago to the day, and Bob has performed absolute miracles in getting the school up and running, maintaining it, updating it and successfully making it as user friendly as possible. He has very patiently walked me through parts of the technical side of the school (he knows where to stop before my brain freezes). Bob not only is the brains behind the working of the school, but he has also been a great help to bounce ideas off, to walk students through any technical difficulties, and just an all-around cheer leader during this whole process.
The Technology Evolution…
I started with a used Standard Definition video camera – a Canon XL1. It was HUGE! And very intimidating for someone who has never filmed anything before. It was so large, that it kept tipping over with my flimsy little tri-pod. But it was a great camera for what I needed.
Then I added to my collection a small handi-cam where I could add an occasional second view – still SD.
I did all my editing on a MacBook Pro laptop with Adobe Premiere 5.
Then about 1-1/2 years ago I stepped up a little further and purchased an HD camera (Sony HDV Minicam) and another smaller HD handi-cam for optional second view.
The past 6 months – there have been a lot of upgrades:
- Hired an employee (my step-son, Caleb) to edit videos
- Finally purchased an Imac because my poor little MacBookPro was struggling with all the HD video (and Caleb needed a computer to edit on while I took my MacBookPro on the road with me)
- Purchased three 4K Sony Cameras so they are all compatable, all Ultra HD, and 3 different views (one from the right, one from the left, and one distance).
- Purchased professional studio lighting
- Recently upgraded to using Adboe Premiere ProCC for video editing
- Continuing to add a new episode every week – usually 30 minute to 1 hour long episode
With the various improvements and technical upgrades made recently (requiring much more time in editing), I have made the difficult decision to increase the price of the school membership. It will still be very affordable at only $14.95/month.
If you are a current member, nothing will change. If you sign up before July 1, 2015, you can sign up for the current price ($9.99/month) as long as you remain a member. Sign up NOW! Click here for a more detailed explanation of this rate increase.
I look forward to seeing how the school will continue to evolve and improve over the years to come. As technology changes so quickly, my goal is to try to take advantage of this and continue to improve every aspect of the online school.
I wish to thank all of you who have walked with me through this journey (and also thank you to future members)! THANK YOU! It’s exciting to receive feedback from students about the school and please add photos of your projects to the student gallery. I love to see your progress!
Sign up here for my monthly school newsletter where I share about recent and upcoming videos, news or updates about the school, carving tips and tricks, and a free template.
About a month ago, Charles Neil (check out his online woodworking school), John Peckham and Jim Pell travelled down to Charleston with 4 beautifully turned bed posts in Santa Domingan Mahogany.
About 2 years ago these 3 fine oyster eating fellows (plus 4 more) spent a week learning the finer points of carving in my workshop. Fitting 7 people in my workshop was quite a challenge, but we all managed – with only a few small injuries. But nothing requiring stitches
On one of the days they were here several years ago, we took a little “field trip” to David Beckford’s workshop that is just a few miles down the road. David is a high-end furniture restorer who specializes in restoring period furniture. The day we stopped in, David happened to have an original Charleston Rice Bed in his shop that he was working on. Here are some of the photos of this amazingly beautiful carved bed:
John Peckham was so enamored with this bed, that he commissioned Charles Neil and I to build and carve a bed similar to this style. Charles turned the posts beautifully and I am now working on carving the details.
Last month I had the honor of being invited to demonstrate how to carve several different Charleston carvings for a MESDA (Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts) Furniture Seminar and one of the pieces of furniture I showed how to carve was this rice bed (along with an acanthus leaf on a pedestal table and ball and claw foot). Here is a video on this carving.
If you have never been to MESDA in the Old Salem village in Winston-Salem, NC, you are missing an amazing experience. The MESDA museum, library and bookstore are a wealth of information, and Old Salem itself is just a wonderful opportunity to experience a historic village very close to how it was when it was originally founded by the Moravians in 1772. You will probably need to spend several days (or more) to really enjoy everything both MESDA and Old Salem have to offer.
Now I just need to finish the rice bed carving, finish several other commissions that have come in, continue to publish a video every week for my online carving school, and write a book on acanthus leaves… in my spare time…
Last week I taught a 5 day Fundamentals of Woodcarving class at Marc Adams School of Woodworking in Indianapolis, Indiana. A great group of people. Here are some of the wonderful accomplishments of the students. Congratulations everyone! Great job!
Yet two more poor choices to learn from.
When starting this batch of resawing, I reasoned that using the plain ole rip saw would be OK because it was lighter and easier to handle than the 24″ frame saw. At one point I did show the frame saw to a cut in process but quit because the frame saw had decidedly stronger set and I didn’t want to resaw a resawing cut. Then, along came comments from others about frame saws. So, out it came for the second half of a board.
The plain saw is a Stanley rip saw of 1970’s vintage, 26″ long, filed at 5 ppi, sharpened just before starting this recent work. Plate thickness is 0.034 inch. Weight: 1 and 1/2 pounds.
The frame saw is one I built from a Disston 1897 saw cut down to 24″ It is filed 4 ppi and I’m not sure when last sharpened. It has an identical plate thickness of 0.034 inch, and something like 50% more set than the plain saw. (I remembered it as 5 ppi, but it really measures 4 ppi.) Weight: 5 pounds.
The lumber for this comparison is an 8/4 piece of mahogany, 7 and 1/4 inches wide and 32 inches long. The resawing line is right down the middle of its thickness.
I sawed the first half with the plain saw (marked with blue chalk in one of the pictures). I added something different to the routine … cutting in from the end at a shallow angle. It was not easy cutting from that direction and I broke the “manhandling” rule. Bad idea! I knew from the feel of the saw that the cut had gone a little wrong, but couldn’t see inside to know how it had gone wrong.
When it came time to cut from the other end, I switched to the frame saw. I kept to the routine prescribed in the previous post, without the shallow cut from the end: the saw didn’t fit well in that position.
The difference is remarkable! While heavier, the weight of the saw makes a bigger difference than I imagined it would. The combination of its weight and slightly stronger set made for both smoother sawing and faster sawing. It was almost twice as fast as the plain saw! Better yet, it has far less tendency to wander. The blade, being held taut from both ends has much less opportunity to go its own way.
- Given the choice, use the frame saw. Even though heavier, the weight of the frame saw is an advantage and the blade under tension adds to accuracy.
- Avoid that shallow cut that has too little guidance and too easily goes astray. Oh yeah, don’t manhandle it.
Learning to resaw well has been a long journey. With all the resawing I’ve done, I’ve found it’s very easy to end up with something like this: a dished out area in one board and an matching hump on the other board. That kind of result is rather minor on small boards, or with stock where there’s ample room for error. But as board sizes increase, so do the probabilities and the scale of the mishaps. How do these things happen and how can they be avoided? I picked up some useful suggestions at the School of Hard Knocks.
Long ago, I built a couple of wonderful small boats. For one of those boats, I made a frame saw and resawed a LOT of cedar into very long planks. (4/4 live edge white cedar, up to 10.5 inches wide and 16 feet long). Minor mishaps there were no problem because the raw boards had more than enough material to produce two 5/16 inch thick boards. More recently, I’ve resawn cherry and walnut, but on a much smaller scale for desk boxes. Smaller pieces mean less opportunity to go astray.
Now, I’m working on something larger than desk boxes and smaller than boats. My lumber for this project is 8/4 African mahogany that varies from 6 inches wide to 10 inches wide. I bought this lumber from Steve Wall Lumber in Mayodan, NC. They have 20 board foot bundles that are packaged for delivery by FedEx. I bought two bundles and am delighted with what Wall Lumber delivers. Both bundles contained clear lumber, S2S, in generous widths, and easily 20 bd. ft. No end checks, splits, knots or other defects. None! The only one complaining is the FedEx delivery guy who carries the 62 pound packages up our steep driveway. (Takes too much time to get out the hand cart.)
The project calls for boards 1 inch thick and 3/4 inch thick. With careful resawing, I can get one of each out of an 8/4 board. OK, scant 1 inch and scant 3/4 inch That’s plenty sturdy enough for a project that is not super critical about board thickness. Scant thicknesses will work. But, there’s not much margin for error. Which also means, no room for going astray. However, the boards are long, up to 4 feet, giving yet more opportunity to go astray.
OK. What goes wrong? What causes the problems? In a single word: inaccuracy. BTW, I used my kerfing plane to establish a 1/2 inch deep kerf around all edges of these boards. That kerf is a lot better at guiding the saw than is a pencil line.
Inaccuracy in resawing can come from a lot of things:
- Sawing too long from one position.
- Guiding the saw instead of letting the kerf guide the saw.
- Being too aggressive with the saw — “manhandling.”
No matter what the cause, here’s what happens. Resawing is always done a little from one side, then a little from the other. Switching back and forth frequently eliminates irregularities before they become bothersome. Imagine the cut becoming off by a mere fraction in one direction or the other. Sawing too long from one side lets the problem grow. Then, when you move to the other side, the saw will take the path of least resistance, through that inaccurate kerf. This results in the saw bowing within the cut, creating a dish on one side of the cut. The longer the sawing goes with a bowed path, the deeper the dish gets. Since you can’t see inside the board, the only external awareness you have about this happening is increased friction. It sneaks up slowly, and if you’re manhandling the saw, or holding it with a death grip, you won’t notice the increased friction until it’s too late.
Once a bowed path gets established inside the board it is almost impossible to correct. So, don’t let it get started.
Frequent direction changes are the most important factor for success. Aligning yourself to the work is equally important. As an aside, unlike the boat lumber that I did with a frame saw, I’m cutting this lumber with a common rip saw. Nicely sharpened, but nothing special. It is lighter than the frame saw and has a broader blade that (one hopes) helps keep it moving straight. No matter which saw, the body and saw both have to line up precisely with the cut line.
Stance: I face the work with my shoulders square to the work piece, so that both arms can move as one. I spread my feet about a shoulder’s width distance apart, but position them in a line with the cut. I’m right handed, and place the left foot forward, with the toe exactly in line with the cut. The right foot is back. Why? So I can use the bigger leg muscles to power the work. Using the legs to rock back and forth is far less tiring than just the arms alone, and leads to better accuracy. In fact, when properly lined up, one could pin their elbows to their side and let the legs do all the work.
BIG problem source: Maintaining this stance from both sides of the cut is essential. Not keeping this stance on both sides of the cut was the biggest cause of my problems for a long time. There’s plenty of room to take this stance from the end of the bench. But walk around to the other side of the board and the bench is in the way. Modifying the stance to accommodate simply didn’t work. So, that meant turning the work piece so I could always work from the end of the bench. Open the vise, turn, close the vise, saw, open the vise, turn, close the vise, saw. Yeah, it was too much trouble to turn the board as often as I should have. Instead of turning, I was spending too much time sawing from one side. Often, way too much from one side. Very slight wanderings were not being quickly corrected from the other side. They added up… until…
Fix: I solved that problem by adding blocks to offset the work piece from the bench. I started with one 2-by and added a second one later. (They have pegs fitted into holes in the face of the bench so they can easily be added to the vise space.) Bingo!!! That provided enough space to maintain the correct stance from either side of the board. No more need for turning the work piece. It stays in the vise and gets approached equally well from both sides. Now, it’s much easier to change directions frequently, as frequently as 25-30 saw strokes at a time. The only need to open the vise now is to raise the work piece as the cut progresses.
Holding the saw: How to hold the saw is almost as important as stance. The operative word is “loose!” I hold the saw loosely enough that only the webs of my thumbs push forward and the inner parts of my fingers pull back. The saw handle is free to move within my grip. Why? That method provides the least “guidance” to the saw. It let’s those kerfs do their work. Holding the saw too tightly leads one to “manhandling” the saw and diverting it’s path. Holding the saw loosely also makes it easier to feel friction increasing, to know about an oncoming bowed path before it’s too late. Over time, I’ve found a comfortable grip with only 2 fingers of each hand in the handle’s hole. Index fingers and pinkie fingers point toward the blade: same on each side. It is a grip that is very balanced, one that prevents favoring one side over the other and keeps the blade nicely centered in the kerf.
Changing directions: Cutting in “sets” of about 30 strokes from one side and then a set of about 30 from the other side has given me the most accuracy.
Cutting angles: I’ve tried many different approaches. The “cut toward the center from all corners” approach works well for pieces that are almost square. For long pieces, I cut with the saw’s tooth line running at 90° across the board … mostly. The majority of the strokes are straight across the board. But for 10 strokes of each “set,” I drop the handle stroke by stroke until the tooth line is at 45°, then another 10 to 12 at 30°. This deepens the kerf line gradually and accurately.
Keep the cut line high: By keeping the cut line about chest high, the arms are less inclined to do the hard work, and thereby less likely to push the cut astray. Keeping the cut high almost forces using the legs, and when done this way the arms can be kept even and the saw centered on the kerf more easily.
Oil the saw: That’s a small tomato sauce can with a cloth rolled up inside it. It’s soaked with light synthetic oil (3-in-one). A couple of quick swipes on each side of the saw after every few direction changes keeps the saw smoothly gliding along.
Take a break: Sawing too long makes one tired. Tiredness leads to impatience. Impatience leads to manhandling. … and so on. Sawing for the length of an Oscar Peterson album, a Travis Tritt album, or a Beethoven piano concerto is about right. Then, take a break and come back refreshed.
…and what to do when it goes wrong? The easiest answer is to stop as soon as you detect the bowing and go saw from the other end of the board. ~carefully~ You’ll have to saw from the other end at some point anyway. Make it good.
- Make sure your heart is healthy enough for resawing.
- Work all the way around the board with a kerfing saw.
- Mount the board in a vise in the manner that enables the same stance from both sides of the cut.
- Develop and maintain the same stance from both sides of the cut.
- Hold the saw loosely enough to allow the kerf to guide the saw, not your arms guiding the saw.
- Switch directions frequently. Work in small “sets:” 10 straight across strokes. followed by 10 strokes of increasing angle (about 45°), then 10 strokes at a more acute angle (about 30°).
- Let the kerfs guide the saw, not your arms.
- Switch directions frequently. (90°, 45°, 30°)
- Let the kerfs guide the saw, not your arms.
- Switch directions frequently.
- Raise the work piece in the vise often enough to keep the cut line about chest high.
- Oil the saw every few changes of direction.
- Take a break BEFORE you get tired, grumpy, or impatient.
- For resawing that lasts longer than 4 hours, seek immediate medical advice.
Have you ever had trouble seeing the lines of your design on the wood? Often with lighter colored wood such as basswood, pencil lines show up clearly. If you have transferred a template to your wood with carbon paper, this also shows up well on lighter colored wood. The carbon paper can be purchased at office supply stores.
However, when using darker woods, such as mahogany or walnut, I often use what is called “transfer paper” instead of carbon paper to transfer on designs. This paper comes in a variety of colors – white, red, yellow in addition to darker colors. It can usually be found in craft supply stores such as Michaels or Hobby Lobby. The lines also erase easily with a standard pencil eraser.
I just place the transfer paper between my template and wood and trace over the design from the template. I have accidentally had the transfer paper laying the wrong side up several times, so a warning… make sure the right side is down! It makes a really nice pattern on the back of your template if not
Another good trick for darker wood is to use white gel pens or colored pencils when you trace around a cut-out template or pattern.
I have a video on youtube that goes into more techniques of transferring designs to wood. Enjoy!