Saturday, April 28, 2012

C and G's Lovespoon

C and G's Lovespoon
Here’s another spoon that I have been sitting on this one for months.  But now, the gift has been given so I can finally go ahead and let everyone else in on the details.

Those of you who are regular readers of my blog are probably aware of my son’s, “C”, upcoming summer nuptials to a lovely young lady, “G”, from Germany.  “G ist meine neu Deutsche Tochter” i.e., “my new German Daughter”.  She is the one who so quickly and efficiently “paid” me for her spoon (see: with a photo.  That is my going rate for all gift spoons.  Soon after Christmas, I also posted a photo of the spoon (see: that I carved for her parents who live in Mönchengladbach in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.  This spoon, as well, was promptly “paid for” with a picture of it hanging in “G’s” parent’s house.

Almost as soon as I knew “they” were “official”, I started scratching my head for ideas for their Lovespoon.  This was a tough one.  Somehow I wanted to celebrate the fact that two families and, by extension, two countries were establishing a bond, without making an overly sentimental fuss.

Note to Self: Is it even possible to talk about a Lovespoon, which is by definition a manifestation of sentimentality without making a overly sentimental fuss?...hmmm…yet another fine subject to ponder whilst carving. :--)

I finally decided on two crossed flags at the top of the spoon: the triple-barred German flag to the left and the US flag to the right (I think that is proper US flag etiquette).  And I’ll save you the trouble of counting…Yes. The US flag is severely deficient in stars, but I only had so much room.  It is meant to be symbolic:--)

As is often the case, the initials themselves did not provide sufficient structural strength to suit me.  I went through a number of design revisions before I finally settled on the heart that frames the initials while providing the additional structural integrity I was looking for.

Since they are just newly engaged, I added the two interlocked rings in the bowl.

One for the Bench:

"You have to walk carefully in the beginning of love; the running across fields into your lover's arms can only come later when you're sure they won't laugh if you trip.” - Jonathan Carroll

‘Til next time…keep makin’ chips!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

My Latest Lettered Lovespoon

Some time ago I donated 3 “to-be-done-sometime-later-to-customer’s-specifications” Lovespoons to an auction to fund the upcoming summer mission trip for the teens from our church.  This spoon is the first of the 3 to be commissioned and completed.

Finished Spoon
I have wanted to do some sort of carving tutorial for some time but I lack all of the cool video tools that many of some of my fellow bloggers have.  However, this time I did, at least, manage to remember to take pictures of most of the steps (no small task).  So here is my chance to talk a bit about this spoon and present a “video tutorial” albeit in very, very slow motion. :-)


Layout and Rough Out

I have probably belabored the design “methodology” that I use on all of the lettered spoons way too much in previous postings so I won’t bother you with that this time.  Instead, I just give you a play by play of the rest of the craving process.  The first picture shows the paper design.
Paper Layout
You will see that I have some small arrows on the pattern where one part of the spoon is made to look like it is goes down and under another part of the spoon.  I have found in many spoons that it is easy to lose track of which parts go in front or behind another and the arrows make it possible to remember.  So I mark them on the paper design and transfer them to the wood.

I start off by simply tracing out the outline on a piece of ¾” basswood stock using a piece of carbon paper...Oh, yeah…carbon paper.  Hmmm…I’ll bet that some of you have never used or maybe even seen carbon paper before. Typewriters are now virtually extinct and carbon paper is one of those things rapidly fading into obscurity right along with them.  So, at the risk of being a bit insulting, I guess I’d better say a little about what carbon paper is and how it is used.  Carbon Paper is very thin tissue paper with a shiny, waxy form of “ink” applied to one side.  Many years ago, B.C. (B.C. can be interpreted here as either “before computers” or “before copiers”), if you needed multiple copies of a typed document, you would use carbon paper to transfer the image from sheet to sheet.  You would first make a “sandwich” of typing paper separated with sheets of carbon paper and wind it into the typewriter.  

The pressure of the keys striking the top sheet of paper would squeeze a bit of the “ink” out of the carbon paper and deposit it on the copy immediately below.  It worked reasonably well when you were making just a copy or two. The second copy was definitely good enough for the files.  But they got progressively harder to read as you tried to make more and more copies.  The keys would strike the paper harder on an electric typewriter so a secretary could manage to get a few more copies but beyond 3 copies on a manual typewriter and the whole concept sort of broke down. 

However, vanishing typewriters aside, carbon paper is still quite valuable for the wood carver for transferring an image from paper to the wood itself.  So, my advice is: “if” and “when” you see carbon paper for sale, you pick up a package to use now and maybe an extra package and put it in a safe place so you have it when you need it.  Carbon paper lasts forever but may not be available forever. 

OK, so let’s get that image onto the wood…

Place the wood on the bench, cover it with the carbon paper, “shiny side” down, and cover it with the paper pattern. Since you really can’t see what is going on while you are transferring the pattern, you do have to be careful that nothing “slips” during the process or you’ll just have a smudgy mess on your hands.  

I use “push pins” to hold everything in alignment until I’m completely done making the transfer.  I push them into the waste stock beyond the edges of the spoon.   That way, you’ll never have to deal with the holes they leave behind because they will all be just cut away later.  I like to use three (or more) pins because no matter where you put them, Murphy’s Law states that one (or more) of the pins will be in your way as you’re tracing, and you will have to move it.  If you use three (or more) pins then there are always (at least) two of them left to hold things in position while you move the offending pin.  Use only two pins and I guarantee that something is going to move and mess up the transfer.

Then, using a pencil – a semi-sharp, handy, old Yellow #2 is always a good choice – carefully trace the outline.  If you use a “reasonable” amount of pressure the carbon paper will leave a nice crisp black line on the wood.  Make sure that you trace all of the lines, because once you pull the pins and remove the paper, you can’t go back.

I hope that it goes without saying that you orient the grain direction goes tip to tip for maximum strength.

Then just like probably everybody else, I use my bandsaw to cut the spoon out of the overall piece.  I guess there is nothing much new to expound on there.  Just be careful and stay clear of that saw blade!


Cutting out the Openings

As you see, this spoon has a lot of openings in it that had to be cleared out.  I used to cut out these openings using just my knives and chisels, but I soon learned that it was way too much like work.:--)   My current method is to cut as many of them out with a coping saw as possible.  I’m sure that a scroll saw makes this job even easier but the finance committee at the Carvin’ Tom Workshop has never approved of such a purchase.  

As crude or labor intensive as hand sawing may seem, I don’t really find it so.  It only takes about an hour to clear all of the openings of even the most complex spoon.  The most time consuming part of this job is loosening and re-tightening the blade as you move from opening to opening.  I did see one of those nifty new coping saws that have “snap in” blades recently.  Someday I’m going to buy one of them.  They seem like a really good investment.  But whether you “scroll” or “cope”, you’ll need some holes for getting the blade into the openings.

Cutout Spoon with all Holes Drilled
At the drill press, I carefully drill one or more holes in each of the openings.  I try to use a ¼” diameter drill bit when I can, but you can go a lot smaller than that if space is tight.  If possible, you want to locate a hole near each corner of the opening.  The makes turning around much easier.  Be careful not to put them too close to the pencil line.  You want the knife/chisel to remove that material, not the drill bit.
You can see my coping saw cutting board in the photo.  It is just a piece of ½” plywood with a long, tapered notch cut in the end. 

I fasten mine to the bench top using a carriage bolt.  I splurged on one of those big, spiffy plastic thumbscrews for the underside. That saves having to crawl under the bench to get the thread started.  They have the secondary benefit that you can really torque them down to keep the cutting board from dancing around while you are sawing away!

 Removing the Wood in the Openings
Then, as you can see in the photo, I just use a couple of clamps to hold the spoon to the cutting board while I saw.  Make sure to reposition the work piece as necessary to avoid sawing into the cutting board.  And here’s what it looks like after all the cut outs are completed.
Spoon Blank after Clearing the Openings


One of the first things that I typically do is to carve small notches to replace the arrows at the crossovers.

Note to self: Next time take more “in-process” photos because this would have been a good one to include:-(. 

The position and angle of the cut help me remember what going on there. Eventually, I work the surfaces at the “crossover” so that the curves are all as smooth as possible.  Even though there is no actual “crossover” the eye will perceive that there is if the “joint” is nice and smooth.  You’ll “know” when you have this right because it will magically “just look right”.

The carving is pretty straight forward after that.  One thing to keep in mind is that in spoon carving you are you are almost always running along the grain.  The shape and/or the direction of the grain are always changing -- sometimes very subtly -- as you meander along the length of the spoon.  You will have to re-orient the spoon from time to time to keep from “going the wrong way” with the grain.  So, pay close attention.  Remember, you always want to be carving “downhill”.

So take your time, keep your tools sharp, keep the glove on your non-carving hand and have fun!


Carving the Bowl

Nearly every spoon carving tutorial I’ve ever seen starts off carving the bowl first and leaves the handle until last.  I always do it the other way: I always carve the handle first because that is the “fun part”.  And I carve the bowl last because that is the “putzy” part.  I think the reason for this advice is to protect the newbie from disaster.  

Many people like to carve the bowl very thin.  I guess if I was going to eat with the spoon I carved, I’d like the bowl be thin, too, so that my mouth would get more soup and less spoon.  But they call for making it so thin that in some write-ups they talk about holding it up to the light to see where “the thick parts” are…Yikes! that’s way too thin for me!  

I guess their logic is: “If, because you are making the bowl so thin, you punch through before you start carving the handle then you haven’t lost much and can just start over.”  My answer to that is: “Don’t make the bowl any thinner than about 1/8”.  Since you are not sticking a decorative Lovespoon in your mouth, it really doesn’t matter that it is a little thick.  As a result, I have yet to ever punch through the bowl of a spoon…well, no, I take that back.  I did once intentionally punch through once to add a heart-shaped hole to the middle of the bowl.:--)    After you have a few spoons under your belt you can try that “see-though-bowl-stuff” if that floats your boat.  

There are more ways to shape the inside of the bowl that I can even give room to here.  I have used (and do use) several.  But for someone who is actually trying their hand at their first spoon – I assume that might be you, because you have read this far – I would recommend a small “U” shaped gouge.  

My weapon of choice is a gouge that is about ¼” wide and a ¼” deep. (I never could remember which blade number goes with which blade shape).  I start from the outside edge and cut towards the middle.  I make a series of 1/16” deep cuts going around and around.  After each circuit around the bowl it looks sort of like a daisy with a couple dozen petals.  You often have to go back and clear out the center before making the next pass.  When you get close to the depth you want, make the cuts shallower and closer together.  Even as a novice you can get it pretty smooth.  

Once the inside is about where you want it, use a straight blade to work the outside to match.  As you work the shape into the bowl, just use your thumb and forefinger like a micrometer.  It is amazing how accurately you can judge thickness.  As you zero in on the magic 1/8” take it slow so that you don’t go too thin.  Be very careful of the direction that you are cutting relative to the grain.  This is one place where misjudging the cut can cause a big chunk to come out.


I generally start to sand with 150 grit sandpaper and drop down to 220 as it gets smoother.  If the surface is really rough, you may need to briefly use 100 grit, but if your spoon is Basswood, I wouldn’t go any rougher than that.  It is up to you whether you sand out the tool marks.  I used to sand much more than I do now but I don’t want anyone to forget that this spoon was carved, not molded, into shape! If you remove all traces of the tool marks, all of the “evidence” is gone.
Take care to vacuum, brush or wipe off the spoon whenever you switch to a finer grade of sandpaper.  If you don’t, the finer sandpaper will drag bits of the coarse grit around leaving horrible grooves in the surface you are working very hard to smooth out. 



My methodology for finishing a spoon differs from most other folks.  I use Sanding Sealer. 
This presupposes that this spoon is for decorative purposes ONLY 
If you have any intension of using a carved spoon for preparing, serving 
or eating food, DO NOT USE SANDING SEALER. 
There are many other products that you can get that are food-safe.

With a wood like Basswood, sanding sealer binds the soft surface together turning it into a “hard” surface that will take a nice shine.  

Sanding sealer comes in two types.  To tell them apart check the label.  The first type, and the one that I prefer, is what I would describe as “varnish based”.  This type requires paint thinner or Mineral Spirits for cleanup.  The other is what I would describe as “shellac-based”.  It requires alcohol for cleanup. The brands available from location to location will probably vary, so I hesitate to make a recommendation.  Both types do a fine job of bonding the surface, but the “varnish based” type produces a harder finish and leads to a nicer look (IMHO).   

I typically apply three coats, sanding with 220 after the first coat dries, with 320 after the second coat and with #0000 steel wool for the last coat.  Make sure you vacuum off all of the little steel whiskers when you’re done.  Sometimes they will require some judicious “scrubbing” with a soft toothbrush to dislodge them from some of the smaller crevasses.  It just looks bad if you don’t get rid of all of that black fuzz.

Then give the whole spoon a generous coating of a good paste wax.  Personally, I like Carnauba wax, but I’m sure there are many other good ones.  Let it “dry” for 5 minutes or so and buff with a soft rag -- old T-shirts are great – and then hang it up or give it away! 

But don’t forget to sign it first, it might be worth big money someday:-)

One for the Bench

The only time you run out of chances is when you stop taking them – that includes carving the bowl of your spoon really thin :-). 

‘Til next time…Keep makin’ Chips!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Hey, We've hit 5000!

Over the weekend the ol' blogcounter finally hit 5000 thanks to all of you loyal readers.

Looking at the statistics, the blog has had hits from all over the world with a surprising number from Asia, eastern Europe and Australia.  I guess they must do a lot of woodcarving in those areas.   I feel particularly honored that in the past few weeks there have been some folks who have spent as much as 45 minutes (!) on the site.  I guess they must have read everything all the way back to the beginning.

Anyway, THANKS, I really appreciate the interest.  I'll try to keep things coming.

Coming Soon!

I don't have it quite done yet -- is this beginning to sound like a broken record? -- but I do have a spoon carving "tutorial" almost ready to post.  I took the time during the carving of my most recent Lettered Lovespoon to take a bunch of pictures as the carving progressed.  I am now wrapping some discussion around the pictures and hope to post it in the next couple of days.  Unfortunately, I don't have the video capabilities that a lot of my fellow bloggers have but I hope you will still find it helpful/interesting.

Thanks again for "tuning in".

One for the Bench:

This one is from my own grand-daughter:  "Mommy, when you talk to yourself, I think you're supposed to whisper."  You gotta love 'em!

'Til Next time...keep making chips!