Thursday, September 30, 2010

A New Look for the Blog

I got a little tried of the "old look" and decided to try a new template for the blog.  This one lets me spread out the text just a little so the verbiage is less like trying to read a newspaper column.

Personally, I think it is easier to read. Let me know what you think.

One for the bench:

Why is it that most people will believe you if you say that there are invisible subatomic particles but will always test the surface when you leave a note saying that the paint is wet? 

'Til next time...Keep makin' chips!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Scrooge and Marley

I’m still cranking out pieces for a show that is coming up the first week in November, so today I’m going to pull another photo out of the archives to post. I promise that as soon as I have something new to show for my recent efforts, I’ll post it here.

This is a pair of carvings that I did a couple of years ago and is the beginning of an entire set of A Christmas Carol caricatures.  Scrooge is about 10" tall and Marley about 8".

I guess the most notable feature is that each figure was carved from a single block of wood. Well, as I think about it I guess that is not completely correct, because Scrooge’s cane and the junk around Marley’s neck are separate pieces. But the basic figure and its base were carved from one piece.

Now-a-days, at the advice of many, I typically carve the head separately so that:

1) the head is out of the way simplifying the carving of the rest of the body,
2) a “mis-carved” head can be discarded if it doesn’t quite measure up to my standards and
3) you can add a lot more personality if you can rotate or cock the head slightly when you glue it on. Its pretty obvious that these guys are just a bit “stiff” and would have benefited from a separately carved head.

I was discussing with Sally, one of the members of my carving club, where I might find a good chain for Marley. She said she had just the thing. She went into her house and returned with a necklace that she didn’t want any more...just a spritz of black spray paint and viola an old, heavy metal chain. I carved a few small locks, ledger books and a cash box to complete the figure.

I hope to some day add at least Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim.

One from the Bench:

The mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work unless it’s open.

'Til next time...Keep makin' chips!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Dave and Kathy's Anniversary Spoon

This is the other carving that I have been holding back in posting because it was a gift and I didn't want to spoil the surprise. I really don't have much to say about the spoon itself, but I'd like to say a little about the parties who received it.

My wife and I threw a big party this past June for our 40th wedding anniversary and invited Dave and Kathy, the spoon recipients, and a bunch of other folks, too.

Dave and I had gone to the same university. We had studied, laughed and had run car rallies together. I remember vividly the night that he introduced me to the "Tummy-buster", the biggest and best hamburger in the state of Ohio!  Great eatin', but I'm not sure the place is still there now.

Dave was one of my groomsmen at our wedding, but after that we went our separate ways, Dave to the Army as an Officer and me to industry as an Electrical engineer and later (briefly) as an Air Force enlisted man. We lost track of one another, but about 4 or 5 years ago, on a whim, I decided to Google his name to see what I could find. Sure, enough, there he was! Google managed to kick up an obscure memo with his e-mail address.

So I sent the typical  profound sort of e-mail inquiry that this sort of situation requires.  You know the type.  They generally sound like: "Golly Gee Whiz, are you're the Dave "so-and-so" that graduated from the University of "so-and-so" back in 19XX and drove that rundown, white Corvair?"

In typical "Dave" fashion he quickly responded with, "Why yes, I're not going to try to sell me Amway products now, are you?"

Ah, it is so good to know that some things never change. :-)

Although we live many miles apart, we have had some really great times together. Kathy and my wife share quilting and Grandparent experiences while Dave and I have had a chance to share some of our military experiences. A couple of years ago, I was able to show him the site where I spent the majority of my Air Force time "way back when".  At the time it was a classified location, now it is just another, non-descript, semi-abandoned, government building enclosed by a chain link fence.

The same day he showed me where he had been in the Pentagon on 9/11. Had the plane been a little bigger or flying a little faster or the building a little less robust or his desk in a different part of the building, he wouldn't have been around to do that.

I created this spoon in their honor.

Happy 40th Wedding Anniversary,
Dave and Kathy!!!

'Til next time...keep makin' chips!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What would you like to hear?

I've been looking at the information that I get from my "hit counter" and have found that not only do I have readers from all over the world but that some people spend a great deal of time looking at my blog.  Someone from Australia spent almost 15 minutes here yesterday!  Wow!

Now, I'm not complaining.  Far from it.  I am genuinely flattered that people want to spend time looking at my carvings and reading what I have written.

I understand that probably woodcarvers and woodcarver "want-a-bees" make up most of the readership.  My question to you, the readers, is: "What are you interesting in hearing about or in seeing?"  I'd love to make this blog really interesting to everyone.  So let me know what you are interested in.

One for the Bench:

Some people hear voices. Some people see invisible people. Tragically, many others have no imagination whatsoever.  

'Til next time, keep makin' chips!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Why Carve a Spoon?

I was sorting through some stuff that I have collected over the past few years and stumbled over this little piece.  I don't think that I wrote it, it doesn't sound like me, but I think that whoever did write it has experienced many of the same things that I experience when I carve.

Renewal - I can create something useful and beautiful from nature. It is a dance we do together. Making a spoon harms nothing and may actually add to the beauty in the world.

Joy - Carving is a joyful pleasure. It allows me to focus, frees my mind from abstraction, and strengthens my hands. The only person I can save is myself, and carving this spoon saves me.

Equality - Anyone can carve spoons.

Symbolism - This small wooden spoon and how it came from my hands is gentle encouragement to me of larger things I might be able to do.

Completeness - In carving a spoon I cut the block from the raw wood and watch the spoon emerge.

Friendship - I honor my friend each time I make a spoon. I only need a few spoons, so I can also honor other people by giving them away.

Democracy - There's orneriness in carving a spoon. It's my way of quietly but emphatically expressing my beliefs. A wooden spoon and plastic spoon say very different things.

Human expression - Each spoon I carve ends up unique. I hope the same for my life and yours.

Usefulness - Carving a spoon makes me be fully present. I listen better. I find that I need to say fewer things because my hands and mind are fruitfully at work. I can wait until my heart is pounding before I need to utter a word.

Humility - Yes, it does all these things for me but, in the end, it's just a wooden spoon.

One for the Bench: When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department uses water. 

'Til next time, keep makin' chips

Thursday, September 2, 2010

My First "Dark" Spoon

Finally, here is one of the pieces that I have been holding off posting. The recipient has not yet received the spoon but she (to protect her anonymity, I'll call her "L") doesn't know (as yet) that this blog even exists so unless she is clairvoyant, I can talk about it here without worry. When her father (I'll call him, "K") gives her the spoon, he can tell her (or not) about the fact that her spoon has been immortalized among these hollowed pages.

This is one of those pieces that almost "wasn't". If you have been following my blatherings you know that up to now virtually all of my Lovespoons have been carved from Basswood. This one is an exception in that was carved from a piece of cherry.

Originally, K" was hoping that I could carve it from Walnut because "L" and her husband (I think it is "C") really like dark wood. Well, I have turned walnut but as yet I have never attempted to carve it. Walnut seems pretty hard and I wasn't sure that I could pull it off. So, instead I suggested that I could power carve the spoon from cherry and just stain it walnut. That was a simple enough plan, or so it seemed. It is a shame that it was fraught with so many pitfalls.

Pitfall number 1 - Although I have done *some* power carving, I really don't consider myself to be skilled in the art and, in retrospect, barely up to the level that this pattern required. The intricate looping of the Celtic Knot exceeded my skill level. I *did* manage to pull it off, but I had to resort to a considerable amount of hand carving and sanding *cleanup*. Oh, and please don't spend a lot of time looking at the back, OK? Thanks! :-)

Pitfall number 2 - Even though I had previously ventured into the folly of applying stain to Basswood and had experienced the unevenness of color that technique produced, I had somehow convinced myself that the same was *not* true of cherry. After all, I thought, cherry is much harder and besides when was the last time you saw a piece of cherry furniture with uneven stain?

What I failed to understand was that the real problem with staining Basswood is not the porosity itself but the difference in porosity between end grain and side grain...and, as I was to discover, cherry is absolutely no different in this respect.

You don't see dramatic color variations in furniture because you see mostly side grain. The amount of end grain is minimal and often hidden from view. But carving, on the other hand, introduces all manners of grain patterns including an inordinate amount of end grain. When you apply stain, the end grain just sucks up the stain like a bunch of microscopic soda straws and that area turns dark.

I can hear you saying, "But, Tom, don't you know about the pre-stain conditioners made to solve that problem?" Yes, I do. In fact I have a can of the stuff in my shop. But I have not been overly impressed with its efficacy on Basswood and besides, as I just mentioned, I had already convinced myself that this wouldn't be a problem because I was using cherry.

The first coat went on dark...I mean really DARK! Particularly, in the knot and the bowl where, not co-incidently, there is a great quantity of end grain. After it dried, I re-sanded and managed to get a lot of the color out. Realizing that there was no turning back I applied a second heavier coat of the stain hoping that it would level out. Well, it did...a little... so here we are.

I sent some pictures to "K" via my sister, who is sort of coordinating this whole project. Since you're reading this, apparently he was pleased enough that the spoon will be given after all. I do hope that "L" and "C" enjoy their Lovespoon.

Don't expect to be reading anything more about using stain on carvings on this blog. I have sworn off stain, thank you very much. From now on, if I take on a carving project that requires a non-Basswood color that can't be obtained using simple, everyday opaque paint, then it will be carved out of wood that already is that color.


Chris Pye, a woodcarver from the UK with whom I can never hope to compare, always ends his newsletter with a section called, "One for the Bench" where he bestows a random piece of wisdom to consider while one's hands are otherwise engaged in carving.

That seems like such a good idea that I'm going o try to do the same thing here. My thoughts may not be as pithy as Chris's but I'll try to be insightful or at least humorous. So here goes...

One for the Bench (The first one):

KNOWLEDGE is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; but WISDOM is not including a tomato in a fruit salad.

"Til next time, keep makin' chip and leave the staining to furniture makers:-)