I’ve just added a new item to my store. Something Like That is my first completed sculpture. Let me know if you are interested in acquiring this piece, or any of my other work.
In Part I – Visualizing in Wood, I selected and prepared the table components. Part II – Putting it Together covers everything else – joinery, sculpting, and assembly.
To facilitate laying out and cutting the long tusk tenon, I first flattened one face of the upright. I used three round, wooden bench dogs to immobilize the oddly shaped piece.
I then cut the tenon cheeks, minding my layout lines. I found that my wooden twin-screw vise really had a hard time keeping the piece secure while sawing the cheeks – one of the few times where it would have been clearly outperformed by my Tucker Patternmaker’s Vise. (Since I built my joinery bench 8 months ago, I have been using this new wooden twin-screw vise instead of my Tucker to see how it really compares.)
After completing the cheek cuts, I cleaned up the sawn surfaces. These tenons were not abnormally large compared to what my shop normally sees.
Two more sets of cuts established four tenon shoulders.
I couldn’t think of an easy way to cut the angled mortises by machine so I chopped them by hand. For this task, my 2-lb deadblow mallet was definitely a better choice than my usual 16-oz round carver’s mallet.
I used my largest mortising chisel, which was 1/2″ wide, to cut two parallel mortises before removing the centre section.
I inserted the tusk tenon through the table top to check my work. (Note the reflection off the surface of the table top.)
Next, I chopped a tapered mortise in the upright for the wedge. The mortise started a little lower than the table top to ensure that the wedge pulled it tightly against the tenon’s shoulders.
I cut the taper on the wedge and drove it in to test the fit. Cutting it to length was the last step after all other tuning was complete.
I sculpted the table top and upright with my angle grinder outfitted with an Arbortech wheel and refined the surfaces with my rasps and random orbit sander.
I cut the wedge to length, pillowed the ends of the wedge and tenon, and eased all the edges with sandpaper.
Next in Part III, I explore different methods of mounting the table to a wall.
This table was inspired by a coffee table design of Brian VanVreede with a daring cantilevered top. I worked out my design in my head over the next five months until I built the first wall-mounted version.
The entire table was made of black locust because it was hard and strong enough, and I had the right shapes available in the shop.
This crotch piece has the appropriate curves to become two uprights, for two tables. The curves minimized runout in the grain pattern that maximized the part’s strength.
First, I cut away the bark on the outsides.
Then I cut away the bark in the middle and separated the two uprights.
I used a framing square to eyeball the angle at which I wanted the upright and marked the vertical line with a pencil. I cut to the line with my bandsaw.
Although it didn’t look like anything special, I knew that this slab of black locust would make a fine table top.
A bit of work with my hand plane and my random orbit sander cleaned up the table top slab.
I crosscut the ends of the table top to make it easier to handle.
To taper the table top, I first made a series of blind cuts at the table saw.
Then I removed the waste and roughed out the taper with a chisel and mallet. The kerfs allowed me to break away the waste in large chunks without much effort.
I used this sled to finish the taper with my thickness planer.
With the preliminary steps completed, I was ready to cut the joinery and begin sculpting.
The table reaches completion in Part II.
Yes, I realize that the temperature is hovering around 5 degrees, there’s still snow on the ground, and the sun doesn’t come out much. But what I mean by summertime is that I can spend my day out in the yard doing my darnedest to cover the ground with sawdust and wood chips. I started around noon by deciding that I’ve been working too hard lately and that I needed a day off to have some fun. I went down to the shop and opened the pair of barn doors leading into the back yard, only to be greeted by a light misting of rain.
Undeterred, I hefted my Triton Superjaws into the dampness and hiked up to the garage to find a nice big chunk of wood to carve. I found it in a block of acacia, measuring approximately 24′x26′x10″ and weighing maybe 60 lbs. It had been drying for about a year, so it still had plenty of moisture in it, making it heavier. I lugged it around the side of the house and clamped it in the Superjaws. Then I went to fetch my 4″ angle grinder equipped with an Arbortech cutter. The three carbide cutters make quick work of stock removal and last for what seems like an eternity.
Without an inspiration, I worked decisively. I started by carving away what I saw as defects. Defects, in this case, include bark and cracks. After I carved away the bark inclusion and checking in the middle next to the pith, I decided that I was looking at the bottom of the carving.
Many of my carvings have three legs so that they never rock, but I decided to do something different. I carved out four feet, one in each corner of the blank. Next, I fetched a scrap of 3/4″ plywood and used it to ensure that the feet would make contact. The board rocked, so I trimmed off a little off of a high foot and tried again. Once the board no longer rocked on the feet, I clamped the plywood in the Superjaws and placed the carving feet down on the plywood. It was not necessary to clamp it in place because in this case the workpiece had adequate mass to stay put.
Working on the upper half of the carving, I once again started by carving away cracks and bark.
Left with only good wood, The carving was still big and blocky. One of the things that I don’t like about some of my previous carvings is that they look like they came from a square block of wood. My goal with this carving was to make it look more organic – to have it come alive. I started by taking off all the corners and reducing material left and right. The legs ended up looking like those of a creature, rather than a piece of furniture. I hollowed out the areas between the legs and rounded over some areas to better showcase the grain.
I found myself carving into the night (or at least the dark). It is not unusual for me to be working for many hours straight or in poor light and I continued on making noise and dust. Until, while holding the grinder away in my “rest” position away from the wood while inspecting my work, I heard it contact something – my leather glove I soon discovered. The cutter had put a hole in the tip of the glove’s finger, but that was all, fortunately. I took that as a sign that I’d finished for the day and shut off the grinder and packed everything inside for the night. It’s best to know when to stop. I looked at the clock. It read 6:08.
I continued shaping the sculpture over the course of two years. I sanded the sculpture March 2011.
One holly log, approximately 14″ diameter and 5′ long;
A large stack of 2″ to 3″ thick spalted maple; and
An assortment of turning blanks. Currently, maple, black walnut and acacia make up my stash.
Just recently, I realized that 7′ skids make ideal platforms for drying & storing wood. They keep it off the ground providing good air circulation and are also sturdy enough to handle the immense weight of freshly cut wood with a high moisture content. I always use sticks of wood known as stickers between each layer to promote circulation. The more circulation, the faster the wood will dry.
In my backyard, I’ve converted an unused play house into a useful wood storage shed.
At left is the storage shed. I’ve added the cross brace because the weight of the wood in the upper half was causing the shed to lean. In the center are more turning blanks. These are apple and plum. In the right photo, from left to right, are: two hornbeam logs, a stack of 1-1/2″ thick maple slabs, a stack of thick cherry slabs, and scrap wood.
And the latest haul – a fraction of the maple my good friend Dave milled. Arbourists at UBC decided that a number of trees had to go. Dave got word of this and arranged to have a large amount of it delivered to a site in Langley where he proceeded to mill the trees into usable (not to mention spectacular) lumber during his free time. To mill the crotch, which measured up to five feet and change, Dave used his biggest chainsaw equipped with his longest bar which measures 72″ long. To guide the saw, he rigs the chainsaw up to a modified Alaskan Mill. Much of the wood he milled was donated to a local high school. Today he brought over a few slabs for me - about 1200 lbs or so worth. To make it easier to handle, we cut some pieces shorter.
These picture doesn’t show the scale of the wood. The slabs are just over seven feet long. At the base of the crotch, the slabs are four feet. The picture on the right shows the piece which I think is the most prized. It’s got a wavy shape and medium burling at the near end as well as substantial figure and colour throughout. Inspirational.
Dave is using a chainsaw with a 24″ bar to cut the slabs into manageable pieces. Whole, they can weigh well over 400 lbs.
Here is a view of the figure in some of the wood.
And here is the end of a slab exhibiting spalting, which is caused by rot. Spalting produces many colours and results in very attractive wood. If it is halted at the right time, the wood doesn’t lose any of its structure. If allowed to rot for too long, it just crumbles.