Sunday, August 28, 2011

The "N J H" Lovespoon

A number of months ago, I donated three custom, “to-be-carved-to-customer’s-specification” lovespoons to a church charity auction.  One couple, “N” and “J”, -- Huh, look at that, yet another “Mr. J” -- purchased two of the three.  With one thing or another we hadn’t gotten together to decide what they should look like until a couple of weeks ago.  There was a lot of discussion but they made their decision.

One spoon is to be a gift, so I’ll be talking about that one some other time. But they wanted the other spoon, their own personal Lovespoon, to be something completely different from anything that I had done before.  They wanted a spoon with “simple elegance” (their words).  They also wanted it to be a lettered spoon but they wanted an element of “Where’s Waldo” in it.  They didn’t want the letters to be obvious.  They wanted them hidden in plain sigh.  Things that make you say "Hmmmmm…"

They liked a “vine-like” spoon that my wife has hanging over the stove.  They could imagine some parts of the vine making an “N” and other parts of the vine making a “J” and suggested that I use that spoon as a starting place.  I don’t know if they will like how I hid the letters…the “J” really does take a bit of imagination to see.

When it was done and before they had a chance to see it, I showed the spoon to a mutual friend and asked if he could find their initials.  He said, “Well, I see the ‘N’ and I see the ‘J’ and I also see the ‘H’ that you included for their last name“.   I was a bit stupefied by this comment because I had designed in the ‘N’ and the ‘J’ but not an ‘H’.  But he was right.  Once he pointed it out, it was obvious.  There it was as clear as day. Man, am I good or what??? :-)  

Here is the proof:  
All in all, I really like this design.  It is much more delicate than most my previous spoons, particularly the lettered spoons.  I don’t know if it has the “simple elegance” they were looking for and I don’t know if the letters are subtle enough, but I do think this is probably my favorite spoon to date.

One for the Bench:

See everything.  Overlook a great deal.  Correct a little. - Pope John XXIII

‘Til next time…Keep makin’ chips!

Yet Another “LJ” Spoon

 Maybe it is just because they are very common first initials, or maybe there are just a lot of “Miss L’s” who manage to find the right “Mr. J”, but I find it interesting that this is the 3 or 4th “LJ” spoon that I have carved to date.  No other letter combination comes close.

I always attempt to do something unique with each of my Lovespoons and having yet another spoon with the same initials meant that I had to scratch around a bit to come up with a design that was both new and one that I liked. 

Aside from specifying the initials (“L” and “J”, the initials of “his” parents), that there should be a heart at the top and a heart shaped bowl, the couple that requested the spoon gave me a free hand on the design.

I decided that I wanted to do something that had a lot of negative space in it – perhaps years from now historians all over the world will refer to this as my “Negative Space Period”.  However, add too much “negative space” and there isn’t much to hold the whole thing together.  This is particularly important to me because it is considered bad form to have one’s handcarved spoon fall apart soon after delivery:--) 

The “L” and the “J” demand some sort of outside” structure.  I finally settled on the two twisted side supports.  As I understand it, this “rope” motif was used a lot in lovespoons carved by sailors in days gone by.  I guess this was because rope was a big part of their lives aboard ship and because its interlocked fibers symbolize “togetherness” and that “two together are stronger than one alone”.

To Smooth or Not to Smooth, that is the Question.

Here’s a topic that I am constantly arguing with myself: “On a lovespoon, should the carving marks show or should they be removed?”  I usually end up sanding them all out.  But I often wonder if that detracts from the “correct” look.  After all, shouldn’t a carved spoon look like it was…well…”carved”? 

So, I’m looking for opinions: 

(a) Should the sanding be limited to just smoothing so that the “facets” still remain?


(b) Should the spoon be sanded until it is completely free of carving marks? 

The winning opinion will be chosen at random from all of the opinions received and will win my undying appreciation:--)

One for the Bench:

Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant. - Robert Louis Stevenson.

‘Til next time…Keep makin’ chips!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Flowered Spoon

I recently gave this spoon to very nice young lady that I just met (I’ll call her “G”)...Yes, my wife knows all about her, so you needn't worry.  I have her permission to meet with “G” :-)

When I gave “G” the spoon, I explained that whenever I give someone a spoon, or any other carving, the recipient owes me a photo of the item on display. 

So, today she sent me the picture and asked that I post it.  So here is it.

Outstanding Bill:


I am very pleased that you like the spoon, "G".

'Til next time...Keep Makin' Chips!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ollie Bord – Railroad Conductor

FINALLY, I can post the pictures of this piece!  (See here for more shots).

This is the last of the 3 carvings that I have sitting on just waiting for the day when I could post them.  I was about ready to burst.  I understand that it was just presented, so now I am free to talk about it.

Late last year the wife (I’ll call her, “M”) of one of my co-workers (I’ll call him, “R”) requested that I create a “railroad related” birthday present for him.  She had seen some of my pieces and suggested that “maybe it should be a railroad conductor” similar to a caricature I had done about 5 years ago.  The carving was, as is often the case, to be a surprise. 

I was pretty booked up at the time and kept putting it off.  Then in way back in April I suddenly got a bit panicky.  I realized that if she had told me when she needed/wanted it – and she probably had -- I couldn’t remember what she had said. 

Note to Self:  Start writing stuff like that down!

Unfortunately, I couldn’t call “M” at home during the evening to check the date because “R” would most likely be there.  And I had to be careful calling “M” from work because “R’s” cubical is within easy earshot of mine.  So instead of attempting to confirm the required completion date and risk blowing the secret, I just got started and resolved to finish it as soon as possible.  As I thought about doing a caricature of a railroad conductor the name “Ollie Bord” just came to me. 

When I was almost done, I looked at “Ollie” (just the figure itself) and thought to myself, “You know, Tom, this guy is really pretty boring!”  My wife must of have gotten similar vibes because she said almost the same thing just a day or two later.

So, I first decided to put him on a platform, but then that didn’t seem to be much of an improvement so I decided to add the facade of an old wooden station.  (This was an easy decision to make because I had wanted to do this for some time since I have an idea for another piece that has an old-fashioned train station in it.) 

One thing led to anther and suddenly one day I realized that Ollie was standing in front of a full size station with a bay window and blinds.  I added signs and other items that would be meaningful (and hopefully humorous) to “R”.  I’d love to let everyone in on all of the inside humor but this being the Internet and all and privacy being what it is and all, I really can’t/shouldn’t.  Suffice it say, the significance of the “Pittsburgh, Homestead and Wilmerding Railroad” and the “Snacks-R-Us” and East Pittsburgh signs will not be lost on his friends or anyone from work who would happen to see Ollie.

Well, according to his watch and the chalkboard behind him, it is about time to make that first boarding call, so “Ollie Booooooooooord!!!”

One for the Bench:

Some people are like Slinkies.  They’re not much good for anything, and you can't help smiling when you imagine one of them tumbling down the stairs:--)….Am I perhaps getting a little too cranky?

‘Til next time…Keep makin’ chips!

Monday, August 15, 2011

August 19th is National Brown Cow Day

I don't normally post things like this but when I found out that Friday August 19th is National Brown Cow/Root Beer Float Day, I felt compelled to announce it publicly, because with all of the uncertainty in the world it would seem a shame not to celebrate such a noteworthy day with gusto! 
There are still 4 shopping days until the big day so you can get out there and make your holiday preparations.

My recommended recipe is:
1) Add copious quantities of Vanilla Bean Ice Cream (that plain vanilla stuff just doesn't cut it) into a tall glass.
2) Pour CHILLED (very important, you don't want the ice cream to melt too quickly) Hires Root Beer (It's still the best one, but ANY Root Beer is better than NO Root Beer at all) over the ice cream until the glass is full.
3) Remove excess foam by whatever means is deemed suitable.  The foam may actually be the best part so don't waste it.
4) Add additional root beer to bring the level back up to the top
5) Repeat steps 3 and 4 until the glass is as full as you can possible make it.
6) Sit back and enjoy.   
Properly prepared the treat won't pass through a straw very easily.  So, personally, I prefer to eat the concoction with a long iced tea spoon. 
While this treat is widely known and appreciated by the younger crowd, kids as old as I am have been know to enjoy it as well!
One from the Bench:
             One does not live by carving alone -- Carvin' Tom

'Til next time...keep makin' chips and sucking down those Brown Cows!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Spoon Drilling Jig

I don’t have a good camera or camera crew for filming “How-To” videos and besides this idea hardly requires that level of sophistication.  So, I’m just going to show you a couple of photos and explain why you might want to make one of these Spoon Drilling Jigs.

I threw this one together some time ago in just a few minutes to help get some consistency in the mounting holes that I drill in Lovespoons.  I was using it last night and thought that others might find it useful. So I thought I would post it. 

Here goes…

Drilling a mounting hole in the back of a wooden spoon is hardly rocket science, but you do want to get it right.  If the hole is drilled at too “flat” an angle, the spoon will hang but can be easily brushed off.  Generally, it is considered bad form to have a nicely carved spoon slide off the wall and hit the floor so you want the hole to be angled upward slightly to ensure that gravity keeps the spoon seated on the nail. 

Prior to building this jig, I would just pull a wood scrap from the bin and prop up the bowl end of the spoon a bit and drill the hole.  But, if you are like me, you probably have already carved, sanded and finished your spoon before you even think about drilling the mounting hole.  Under these circumstances, holding the scrap block, adjusting the position and balancing the spoon and pulling the handle of the drill press and watching to make sure that you don’t “punch thru” can be just a bit nerve-rattling.

The jig is just a couple of pieces of scrap lumber about the typical length of the spoons you like to carve.  Cut a small spacer so that you establish a slope of about 10 degrees.  The “true craftsman” can take the time to miter and slope the spacer, I didn’t bother.

I recommend installing some sort of stop block at the bottom to keep the spoon from shifting while you are drilling.  You could make it straight across but I made my stop “V” shaped to help center the spoon as well. 

To use the jig, just place it on the drill press table and adjust the table so that when the drill is all the way down it stops about an 1/8” or so short of the jig.  This way you can go all the way to the stop and not punch through the front of the handle. Slap the spoon is place and you’ve got a nicely angled hole.

That’s it.  I keep it right next to the drill press.  I’ve used to a couple of dozen times so far and I’m glad I took the few minutes to built it.

By the way, I have been trying to remember to tell my customers that since Lovespoons are so light that a good healthy straight pin in the wall is plenty to hold them up.  You can easily push the pin into drywall and hang the spoon.  If you move or just decide to move the spoon, the tiny hole left behind seldom requires any patching.

One from the Bench:

God gave men two ends - one to sit on and one to think with.  Ever since then a man's success or failure has been dependent on the one he used most. - George R. Kirkpatrick
‘Til next time…Keep makin’ chips!