Friday, December 28, 2012

Two Men in the Moon

Over the past few years, I have produced two other carvings using the pattern that I call “The Man in the Moon”.  This pattern was adapted from an image that I found on the Internet probably 8 or 10 years ago.  I think that it has appeared in my blog at some point in the past.

Both of these carvings were gifts to commemorate the birth of newborns -- one of which was our first grandchild -- and to decorate their rooms with something a bit whimsical and to perhaps help induce a little extra sleepiness to the room for the benefit of the weary new parents.
We have some friends in Virginia who were recently blessed with a brand new grandson and we also have a member of our (now) extended family in Germany who is expecting in February, so I dusted off this old pattern to carve a couple more. 

I decided that this might a good opportunity to play around a bit with the design.   I’ll let you decide which one you like best.

The first of these two is somewhat more “dramatic” with his very pronounced eyebrow on the left. :-) 
This is the one that my wife prefers.   

While I like that piece, personally, I like the other carving more.  I was experimenting here with shaping facial features such as dimples, wrinkles, smile-lines and making them more pronounced.  I even added a "philtrum" . case you don't know what a philtrum is, it is the funny little vertical groove located under your nose, right in the middle area of your upper lip -- you can just make it out in the photo to the right).  

I think these added details makes the piece a little more “realistic”, if a cartoon-ish carving of a Man in the Moon could actually be considered realistic.

Not much else to say about these two guys.  Except to say that they are about 9" tall and that I hope you like them!

‘Til next time…keep makin’ chips!

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Christmas Angel

The Christmas Angel
I don’t normally do carvings from “store-bought” patterns.  I may “borrow” ideas from other carvers and articles I see in magazines now and again, but I usually change them enough that I can at least call them my own. 

I think that the most amazing fact about this piece is that I was actually able to find all of the design credits to go with it.  The original carving was done by Maureen Hockley, published in the Holiday 2011 issue of Woodcarving Illustrated. 

This is the second angel that I have cranked out for this Christmas from this pattern.  The first was done as a present and so I cannot discuss it at this time.  

I feel that I do a “pretty good job” on carvings that are “things”, but I always seem to have problems with faces.  Ms. Hockley’s version of the carving was 15” tall but my first carving was only about 9 ½” tall -- I was trying to conserve material.  Unfortunately, my stinginess made the face so small that is was nearly impossible (for me, at least) to carve.  I went through about 4 attempts (and layers of wood) trying to get the face right. 

Each time I started over I had slightly less real estate to work with because I kept carving it away.  Face #3 was starting to pretty good but instead of being satisfied with what I had, I kept at it and turned what was starting to look “sort of reasonable” into something that looked absolutely ghastly.  I ended up making the face, a stylized “non-face”.  It wasn’t as nice as I had hoped but it was OK.

I bumped the size of this carving up by about 20%.  This gave me slightly more face area to work with.   I jumped in and did the entire Angel, leaving the face for last.  The face started pretty well but when it started to turn demonic, I regrouped and started over.  That is when I came up with the idea to give her some bangs.  This made her face a little softer, rounder and a bit more cherub-like.  She still is no heavenly beauty but at least she looks happy and more angelic.

We have her hanging next to the front door.  Longtime readers will probably remember the postings related to "the Snow Demon" that hung on the same nail a couple of years ago.  We believe that he "might" have been responsible for most of the heavy snows we had those years.
I have high hopes for this angel. But, if the weather suddenly goes "north" on us she may find herself resigned to the decorations box with the Snow Demon plate:-)

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

7000 hits!


I am proud to announce that as of today (officially) this blog has exceeded the 7000 hit mark.  Yeah, I know, the number at the bottom of the page shows about 90 more than that, but the OFFICIAL TOTAL -- according to the site meter website -- as of this morning is 7009!

Thanks!  That means a lot!

If you have any questions or would like to see something specific, post a comment or send me an e-mail.  Perhaps I can address your request.

'Til next time...Keep Makin' Chips...and keep those cards and letters comin' in! :-)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Rebuttal to my Previous Effort

I received the following correction for the origin of the name "Toulouse-Lautrec"  from a fellow Punologist.

Seems that a group of amateur rocketeers in France, had been having problems getting their rockets to reach the planned altitude - They kept fiddling with the rockets' design, fuel mixture, adjusting the launch platform, you name it - but no, the hapless vehicles never attained anywhere near their anticipated height.

So, in desperation, they called upon the services of a well-known mechanical engineer to investigate the problem, Monsieur duPeunifi√©.   After he arrived, he looked over several of the rockets, examined the fuels, then walked over to the launch platform.   He pushed, pulled, prodded and poked various parts of the frame - and at one point, his eyebrows raised... He asked for a wrench, and tightened a few bolts near the bottom of the platform.

Finished, he invited the group to launch their next rocket - et voilà, it flew magnificently into the heavens, amid shouts of joy and adulation for le bon monsieur!

When asked what the problem was, Monsieur duPeunifi√©, replied in his typically way...  "Too loose - low track!" 

I don't know how long he worked on this one but I have to admit that I think he won this round. 

What do you think?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Sad Life of Toulouse Lautrec

The well-known Toulouse-Lautrec, one of the greatest painters of the Post-Impressionist period, was born in 1864.  A variety of physical ailments plagued his life.   His legs ceased to grow during his childhood so as an adult, he had a fully developed an adult-sized torso but only “child-sized” legs.  He stood barely 5 feet tall.

Physically unable to participate in many activities typically enjoyed by most people, Toulouse immersed himself in his art.  At the age of eight, his family recognized his talents lay in drawing and painting, and a friend of his father arranged for art lesson lessons.  He later studied under and hobnobbed with the many well known French artists of the 19th Century.  He became quite accomplished and when the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret opened in 1889, Toulouse-Lautrec was commissioned to produce a series of posters that are now some of his most well-known work.

Fame and fortune aside, Lautrec suffered relentless mocking and rejection for his short stature and physical appearance. Finally, after years of abuse, he had had it with Paris,  France and its local art community.   He was an ardent anglophile, so he decided to travel to London where changed his name to the more English sounding “Lewis Underwood”.  While his fluency in English was not a good as he might have wished, he felt that a fresh start, with a new name, in a new country his talents would improve his lot in life.  Regrettably, he was wrong.  While people appreciated his work they still never accepted him as a person.

Completely crushed, Lautrec began to drown his sorrows in alcohol.  From wine to mixed drinks to a cocktail that he developed called "The Earthquake": a potent mixture containing half absinthe and half cognac.  He would visit many of the fine establishments in Downtown London and consume one potent drink after another.  The more intoxicated he was the more melancholy he became.  As the evenings progressed and the crowds thinned down he would demand that the piano player accompany him as he sang his sad lament of how his life had become a continuous downward spiral.

     “It would always start, “Born Toulouse, but now I’m Lewis “U”…

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Ballad of Ezariah Bigler

The date was May 24, 1849, four months to the day from the day that John W. Marshall bent over to investigate the curious yellow rock at the Sutter’s millpond, unwittingly unleashing one of the greatest migrations across the North American continent.  The Place was the rough and tumble frontier town and final supply point for all westward travel, St. Joseph, Missouri.

Ezariah Bigler, inveterate fortune seeker and banjo player, stepped up onto the front wheel hub of his heavily loaded Conestoga wagon and swung himself into the seat.  He carefully stowed his beloved banjo under the seat, picked up the reins and spurred his four gray draft horses westward.  He was on his way to make his fortune in the California gold fields along with 83 other people in 27 similarly loaded wagons.   

Ezariah was particularly welcome on this trip because his singing and banjo playing were well known by his traveling companions and would likely be their only source of entertainment during the arduous, three and a half month trek west.  He would often sing and play as he rode along to pass the time and lighten the load for those who had to walk.  He often composed little ditties that he would play around the campfire at night.

As the days and weeks rolled by, Ezariah started to notice a disconcerting thumping that seemed be coming from this right front wheel.  Fearing that the wheel or the axle might fail, leaving him stranded in the middle of nowhere, every time they stopped for the night, he would pull the wheel, check the spokes and rim, re-lubricate the hub and make sure that the locknut was tight.  But as the miles added up, the vibration continued to get worse.

As they began climbing the foothills on their way to the Rockies, the thumping increased in intensity, as the road got steeper and the ruts got deeper.  Finally, just as he reached the crest of a small hill, the axle snapped sending the wheel careening over the edge of the road and into the valley below.  Ezariah limped his wagon to the edge of the road and sat there in the seat completely dejected not knowing what to do.

In total desperation, he spoke the words that would be made famous by Kenny Rogers many years later :

                    “You picked a fine time to leave me, Loose Wheel!”

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pictures of Fall Leaves and the Cats

If it weren't for the fact that winter -- which I can easily do without -- follows it, Fall would definitely be my favorite season of the year.  The beautifully colored leaves and the lowered angle of the sun that really accents them, the crisp clean air and the bright blue sky...who could ask for anything more.?

These photos were taken in out in our yard.  I just have a few of my favorites here but look in the Picasa Gallery for the rest.

Then I came back in the front door and Shelby greeted 

Man! That Sun is bright

Bailey and Shelby

...and a couple of minutes later...Bailey joined her. 

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Maine Lighthouse

The Maine Lighthouse
About the time I started the dolphin carving that I just posted, the woman who commissioned it e-mailed to say that the Dolphin carving would most likely be residing on one side the piano leaving the other side “a bit lacking.”  So could I do a another “beach themed” companion piece? 

We went through a number of ideas: seashells, sailboats and a few others but nothing really seemed to suit -- well, didn't suit me, anyway :-)  Then I suggested a lighthouse on a craggy, Maine-like shoreline?  What got me started down that path was that as I hacked away at the cherry log I uncovered another piece that, to me, bore a striking resemblance to a rocky shoreline.  She liked the idea.

I used a rather odd carving tool to refine the shape of the rocks.  I stuck a large Forstner bit in the drill press and by raising and lowering the bit and sliding the cherry around I sort of randomly “gnawed away “ bits and pieces of the log making it look even more “craggy”.  I went over the entire piece with a really aggressive wire brush to roughen up the surface.

I printed out a bunch of lighthouse pictures and set to work looking for a good candidate.  I didn’t find one picture that I liked or would fit.  So I took a little of this one and a little of that one and came up with the lighthouse you see.  I turned the basic shape on the lathe and then filled in the stones, door and windows. 

The general size of the lighthouse was influenced greatly by the size of the largest Forstner bit I had to drill the hole in the cherry for its base.  When I trial-fit the unfinished lighthouse into the cherry, I realized immediately that I needed to enhance its general shape by adding the little room off to the side. 

I made the roof of the little addition from strips of very fine sandpaper that I glued on into the sloped roof in a staggered fashion.  I don’t know what real lighthouse roofs are made from but I guessing from the pictures that a fair number of them must be of tile like the house roofs I saw in Germany, even though that strikes me a being very “southern Californian” and decidedly not German.

Dock and Rowboat
I attempted to carve an 1930s pickup truck and even tried to do a couple of Adirondack chairs but I couldn’t make any of them small enough to be in proper scale.  I did manage to do a small rowboat and dock however.  To give you a sense of the scale, I carved the two oars from the two halves of a single toothpick.  Talk about small!

I e-mailed the customer with a status report and indicated that my wife was growing “very fond” of the lighthouse.  I suggested that there might be some “Indian Wrestling” required to establish clear title to the piece:-). 
When I finished the two pieces, I sent pictures.  My customer said, “I can see why your wife might be reluctant to give it up."  That made me feel really good! 

Oh yes, my wife has relinquished all rights to the carving :-)

One for the Bench

In honor of a lighthouse carving:

"There are two kinds of light - the glow that illuminates, and the glare that obscures."
       James Thurber

‘Til next time…Keep makin’ chips!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Three Dolphin Carving

I recently received an e-mail request for a carving with a “Beach Theme” to be given as a Christmas gift.  I have done very few works in that genre, so I needed to pin the idea down a bit and be careful not promise to do something that would be beyond my experience/skill set. After a few e-mails back and forth it was agreed that perhaps one or more “leaping dolphin(s)” would be a good subject.  
I had done a dolphin very early on in my carving career, so that didn’t scare me, but carving with realistic looking ocean waves…that was another matter.  I recalled seeing -- at some point in the dim, dark past -- a dolphin carving with a mother Dolphin and two calves gliding over a rough sea floor .  Now there was a way around that “realistic looking waves thing”. 

In the interest of full disclosure: No, I didn’t know prior to this writing what they call baby dolphins. I first guessed “pups” but after looking it up and I learned that they are called “calves.   Also, up to that moment I thought that both "Dolphin" and "Porpoise" were names for the same animal, but they are not.  Flipper, and all of the TV and performing aquarium critters that you have ever seen, were probably dolphins and not porpoises.  How can you tell?  Well, a dolphin has a pointier nose and is much sleeker...much more photogenic.  The porpoise’s nose is more rounded and it’s body is …well… what can I say… “pudgier”.  Also, dolphins tend to like people and will go out of their way to “play with" humans.  Porpoises are, apparently, much more standoffish.

Now who says the Internet isn’t educational? :-)

I dragged out the dolphin sketch that I had done early in my carving career and drew up three new dolphins that are subtly different from one another in tail position and orientation.  Three is precious little else that differentiates them.  I chose the one that I liked best for “Momma” and used a copier to shrink the other two by about 25%.  I was surprised how much more difficult the babies were to carve (and get right) than Momma was, I guess due to the tighter detailing they require.

I had a piece of a split cherry log in the shop with the beginnings of two small branches protruding from it.  I went at it with a hatchet and split away some more of the log to reveal what looked,  to my eye, like a pretty passable replica of a littered sea bottom, complete with a couple of waterlogged logs sticking out.  A couple of coats of sanding sealer brought out the beautiful color of the cherry, quite a nice contrast to the light-colored basswood dolphins, I think.

I played around with the positioning of the dolphins relative to one another and to the base and then secured each one in place with a 1/16” steel rod.  Like my first dolphin carving, the animals are free to move just a bit and do so with just a "little" floor vibration.  In retrospect, I think that I should have used slightly thinner rods so that they would have been slightly less noticeable, but they couldn’t have been too much thinner.  Because of her greater size and weight, Momma already bounces around quite a bit.

I hope you -- to say nothing of the eventual Christmas present recipient -- like the Three Dolphins.

One for the Bench

I already used this one but it seems strangely apropos to use again here:

“Dolphins are so smart that within a few weeks of captivity, they can train people to stand on the very edge of the pool and throw them fish.”

‘Til next time…Keep makin’ chips!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

This may be a New “Un-Tapped” Market for me!


Finished Beer Tap Handle
That is a carved wooden handle for a Beer Tap!

When I first received the commission to carve my first Beer Tap Handle ever, I did a little “research” into Beer Tap handles on the Internet.  To my surprise, I discovered that there are many people -- “home-brewers” for the most part, I’m guessing -- who are making, or having made for them, beer tap handles that are as distinctively personal as the fermented results of their hard work and patience.  I’ve found a little bit of everything from fancy turned spindles to replicas of handles you’d expect to see in a 200 year old Irish pub to dragon’s heads to images of drunks and monks!

This commission came about as sort of a “chance encounter”…with the emphasis on the “sort of"  part.  At the dinner following my Son and brand-new Daughter-in-law’s wedding a few weeks ago I ended up sitting next to…now, give me a minute to get this right…my wife’s...cousin’s... daughter’s...husband. You know, one of those really “straight-line” family connections.  

“A” (his name, for our purposes here) and I had met a number of times before.  Since he knew I was into carving our conversation started out with a question from him regarding (kitchen) knife-sharpening techniques.  One thing led to another and within a few minutes he had his Smart Phone out and was looking at pictures of carvings on my blog.

A couple of days later he e-mailed me to ask if I would be interested in a commission to carve a Beer Tap Handle for him.  As I intimated above, prior to this time, I didn’t know that people even did that sort of thing.  But we e-mailed back and forth and he soon came up with a pretty respectable picture of what he was looking for that he had cleverly cobbled up with bits and pieces from a number of Google Image pictures.  Ain’t Photoshop great!

It took a couple of days for the ideas to gel in my head but eventually I plunged in.  (I think/hope) I was able to capture his concept of an “open design” with Barley “Sprigs”/”Stems”/”Stocks” (?) and Hops “Blossums”/”Buds” (?). 

Roughout with Drilled Holes to begin Carving
I thought that a nice full head of foam sliding down over the edge of the glass was a really cool idea.  He wanted a design that was as “open” as possible, i.e., with a lot of “negative space”, so the latent Engineer within me was very happy about the additional source of rear support it provided for the Barley.  After all, there may be times when the handle will be pulled “very enthusiastically” and we wouldn’t want it to snap. :-)

The handle threads onto the end of the tap onto a standard 3/8-16 threaded stud.  At his suggestion, I found a suitable “T” nut at Home Depot and installed it into the base of the cutout.  The handle has to be as light as possible – you don’t want it to accidentally flop forward and spill any “goodies” on the floor -- and can really only be about ¾” thick in order to clear the front of the refrigerator door and still have room behind it for your fingers.  However, the flange of a 3/8-16 thread “T” nut was slightly over 1” in diameter, so I ground it down until it was sort of oval in shape.  I countersunk it a bit and to use some “five-minute” epoxy to make sure it stayed put!

"T" Nut in the Bottom End
The carving went pretty well.  I found, via Google Images, some very good photos of both plants.  The kernels and petals on “real” hops and barley plants are very irregular and random.  To my surprise, making them irregular was much more difficult than would have been to keep them in a nice, regular pattern, particularly, on the nearly round hops.  While I think they came out OK, I wasn’t as pleased as I might have been with the petals where they start to wrap around to the sides.  In addition, right in the middle of the piece…precisely where the barley and hops come together… there was either a “bad spot” in the wood or I was asking the Basswood to do something that it just wasn't willing to do.  As a result, the hops are slightly smaller than they started out to be (the result of “uncarving” and then  “recarving” them) and are now present only on the front side, because I just could not get them to “lay” down correctly all the way around to the back.  The outline of the glass got in the way, as well…so I’ll blame it on that.:-).

Beyond that there is not too much else to tell you.  I like the piece and look forward to doing some other handles to keep the suds flowing.

One for the Bench

The voices in my head may not be real, but they sometimes have some really good ideas!

‘Til Next time…Keep Makin’ Chips!