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