How I Prefer to Make Speculative Work

When not required to make something that meets a certain set of criteria, I am free to let the design evolve on its own. Sometimes (but not often), I end up making nothing more than scrap wood and sawdust. That’s how it goes sometimes.

I feel that this quote embodies my philosophy on making speculative work (for starters).

“A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”

- Lao Tzu

This is also how I make my jigsaw puzzles. I start with nothing more than a piece of wood and a new blade in my scroll saw. I don’t draw a pattern so I have no lines to follow. I just make one cut at a time. Once I free a piece (or section) from the rest, I proceed to cut it into smaller pieces, making cuts from the edge, end or face.

The result in a very complex puzzle with pieces that must be assembled in the correct sequence. For example, when viewed from the top,this section appears to be three pieces.

140-Piece Puzzle1

However, it is actually made of nine pieces which slide together. Reassembling these nine pieces alone takes several minutes. Can you imagine if they were mixed among a hundred other puzzle pieces?

140-Piece Puzzle2

This 3D puzzle is made up of sections one to four layers deep. That is how the complexity of the puzzle is hidden. Would you have guessed that this puzzle is comprised of 140 pieces?

140-Piece Puzzle Top

This puzzle is for sale and all the details can be found on the product page. Please contact me if you are interested in acquiring it.

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Christmas Ornament Ideas

Everybody has an idea of the perfect Christmas and more than likely, a tree is part of that vision.  In my household, decorating the tree has always been a family activity.  We work together to put up the tree and adorn it with lights, garland and our favourite ornaments.  We each have our favourite decorations and as you may have guessed, many of mine are wooden.

Here are a few examples of wooden decorations in the house of my friend Morgan.  (Morgan lives in Phoenix, AZ.  He brought me down to Phoenix in 2008 to complete the tabletop for the bubinga table, Flow).  I hope that this article will give you some ideas and an excuse to spend some time in the shop.  See if you can get your friends and family members involved too – after all, Christmas is about togetherness.

These white doves are both simple and elegant.  Cut out the wing and the body, glue the wing to the body and paint them white.  A small hole through the wing allows a loop of thread to suspend the bird from a branch.  If you are making more than one, try stacking a few bodies (or wings) together and cutting them out together.

This angel is a little more creative.  To form the arms, legs and wings, soak thin strips of wood (veneer or shavings) and let them dry while rolled around a form.  White glue holds thin strips of wood together with a wooden ball for the head and craft supplies for hair and a tiara.

There are literally hundreds of designs you can cut out for Christmas.  For complex designs with fragile points and narrow sections, plywood is a good choice because it doesn’t have any short grain.  Baltic birch plywood with thick plies and veneers is a good choice for work like this.  Like the dove, this design lends itself well to stack-cutting.  The snowflake is suspended by a loop of red ribbon through one of the cutouts.

While these trees certainly don’t belong on the Christmas tree, they certainly deserve a mention.

The trees are made from a single piece of straight-grained wood.  Starting from the top, begin to take a moderately heavy cut with a chisel oriented bevel-down and stop before the chip breaks free.  Work your way around and down the tree, taking progressively longer cuts until you have a full tree.  Finally, shape the tip of the tree and the base.  Be sure to undercut the base to insure it doesn’t rock.  This does take some skill and is good chisel practice, so why not give it a try?

Christmas Gift Ideas

I love making gifts.  I really do.  I was raised to believe that anything hand-made will always have more meaning than something store-bought.  While there may or may not be a capital investment for materials, the real investment is the time and thought to develop and produce the item.  For me, making gifts is a fantastic opportunity to explore processes, designs and materials.

Balancing wine bottle holders are a simple gift for the wine-lover.  Give one with a bottle of wine but without any documentation and see how long it takes the recipient to figure out what it’s for.

Balancing Wine Bottle Holders by Tim Charles

Turned items can be quick and are also often practical.  Pens and pencils are always popular.  For that extra-special someone, consider making a box for a pen-and-pencil set.

Pens and Pen Box by Mike Bardell

Paperweights are probably the most unrestrictive things you can make.  Use your imagination.  A small paperweight can double as a playing piece for a board game.

Paperweight/Playing Piece by Chris Wong

Cutting boards can be as simple as a single board planed smooth, or as complex as you can dream.  Every household needs at least one good, wooden cutting board.

Cutting Boards by Larry Maykin

Looking for something a little more obscure but still fairly quick?  Last year, I scrolled Diamond Challenge, a 65-piece puzzle.  This one will keep anyone occupied for hours.

Diamond Challenge by Chris Wong

If you have a little more time, a cribbage board is a fun, practical gift.  (Okay, it’s more fun to use than to make and you’ll want to have a drill press for one of these!)  If you choose a simpler design, you can easily make one in a day.  There isn’t much better than a gift that forces people to sit down for a while and just have some fun and enjoy each other’s company.

Live-Edge Cribbage Board by Chris Wong

Regardless of what you make, take an extra few minutes and add value by embellishing the item with a little carving, paint, or pyrography.  The idea is to make it unique and personalized.  I like to use an engraver to dedicate the project to the recipient.  And of course, I sign my name too.

In the age where so much of our surrounding environment is mass-produced, who wouldn’t like something unique, made just for them?

(Last year, I wrote a similar post HERE.)