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:-)

1 comment:

diy said...

First give that walnut a try you might be surprised at how well it carves, by hand. Aye, the trouble with staining, I've had moments of madness and added the stain on the bare wood, hit and miss. More misses than hits with me. I've used a diluted Boiled linseed oil first and it worked on limewood. A bit harder than some basswoods. I say it worked but that was not on an end grain.

More important than my drivel; thats a spoon to be proud of. I carve the odd one and give them to friends. Wood carving is not a popular hobby here in Scotland so this makes the spoons an unusual gift. Mind you anything I carve is by its source " unusual".