Sunday, March 13, 2011

Downhill Racer

They say that confession is good for the soul, so here's another true Confession from the Carvin' Tom workbench:  "While I can claim that I drew up the plan for this little guy, transferred it to a block of wood, cut it out on the band saw, carved and painted it, I can take absolutely no credit for the actual concept behind him."
Here's the story: 

A couple of days after Christmas, my wife and I were in the downtown Columbus, Ohio library enjoying their Christmas Train display with our daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren.  After examining the train from ground level, I took a stroll up the steps behind the display to get a bird’s eye view of the castles, buildings and trains.  At the top of the stairs (the second floor balcony) I discovered a display case that had been produced by a design class (or perhaps classes) from a local college (I don't think that it was Ohio State, but I'm not sure at this point) that was just overflowing with ideas for future carvings.

Inside the glass case was a whimsical underground community inhabited by literally dozens of energetic (albeit, carved wooden) mice doing all of the things that mice "might" do if they were only "slightly" more human-like. 

From the one side you could peer into a labyrinth of underground tunnels filled with:
     1) Brick-lined streets with little "hobbit" houses with all manner of
         interesting appointments: miniature tables, chairs, beds, cupboards and
         even Grandfather clocks,
     2) Little shops with front widows overflowing with treats to tantalize even the
         fussiest of mice,
     3) Hoards of "little-mouse-children" playing "little-mouse-children" games
In short, it was a complete world where the residents were actively living, shopping and playing.

From the other side you could see the snow-covered, outside world where there were even more mice of all sizes and ages riding their sleds, playing the snow, or doing what our little friend is doing here -- racing down the hill on a pair of skis.

I must have spent a half an hour walking around and around the case just trying to take it all in. The attention to detail and the numbers of imaginative characters was just amazing. Every place I looked there was another little detail that I missed on the pass before. 

This carving is just one of the many ideas that I took away from the display and, I dare say, that if in the future you find another carved mouse doing something distinctly "un-mouse-like" on this blog you can probably assume that I got the inspiration from the display at the downtown Columbus Library display.

The body of this little guy was carved from a chunk of basswood.  For strength, the tail was carved separately from some sort of hard, very pungent, cedar-like wood and glued on.  I had fun carving him all hunkered over like he is.  I think he thinks he's flying. 

His skis were my first attempt at bending wood. I cut them out of a piece of  cherry and sanded them smooth. I built a little jig out of a block of wood and a couple pieces of 1/4" dowel rod.  I stuck the skis in a pan of water, boiled them for about 10 minutes, pulled them out of the water and clamped them both in the jig, one above the other. 

The two skis ended up not being "quite" the same.  Prior to actually executing "the bend", I was afraid I might have trouble getting the dowel rods into place quickly enough, so when I drilled the holes in the jig I made them slightly oversized and probably didn't make them as deep as they should have been. As a result the ski on the bottom was held much more rigidly than the one on top and ended up being much closer to "spec" than the other.   But for a first effort, they are plenty close enough alike for me. Heck, he likes 'em!  As it turns out you don't have to work quite as quickly as I imagined.  My recommendation would be to use thicker dowel rods -- like maybe 1/2" -- and make sure that the holes they slip into are nice and snug so nothing can move.

Just a side note: If you live anywhere in the Columbus area and you haven't seen the train or the "mouse case", you must add it to your "to do" list for next year's Christmas season.  The train scenery is right out of "Harry Potter" and the mouse've got to see it to believe it.  You'll love them both and the price is free...I think there is even a break on the cost of parking on weekends.

One for the Bench:

Don't toss your dashed hopes into the trash bin.  Instead, place them carefully into a drawer where you are likely to re-discover them some bright, sunny morning. -
Slightly paraphrased from Robert Brault.

‘Til next time…Keep makin’ chips.