About Chris Wong

I make original sculptural woodwork in Port Moody, BC.

My Tripot: Shaping the Exterior

Fascinated with the form of the tripot, and interested to see what was involved in making one, I have started my own. I couldn’t think of a better way to understand and appreciate it than to make one myself.

Loosely following an article in Woodwork by Hugh McKay on his process of making a pentapot (five vessels in one), I began work on my own.

First, I played around with a sheet of paper and a compass to lay out the overall sizes of the three vessels for my tripot. I wanted their diameters to be significantly different for interest. Since most of the shaping is done on the lathe, I knew that I needed the other two pots to clear the lathe bed when any one was mounted on centres. That limited the overall size of the piece I could make. I figured that it was also important that the three pots meet in the middle, and for the walls to not overlap so much that, when hollowing them out, the cavities would meet.

Once I had a layout that met my criteria, I transferred it to a piece of 1/4” MDF which became my template. I’m not sure this was really necessary, but it was one of the steps McKay used in the creation of his pots (the template did help me when I needed to start again… more on that later).

I chose a chunk of black locust about 8” thick. At the bandsaw, I squared up the blank, ensuring both ends were parallel to each other. I carefully positioned my template on the end grain, avoiding any checks, bark, or knots that could have compromised the strength of the tripot.  With a short screw in the centre of each circle representing a pot, I fastened the template to the black locust. Carefully, I cut to the lines using my bandsaw.

Next, I determined how tall to make each pot. I had to remember to accommodate for some chucking wastage at one end, where the screws would go in to hold the face plate. Again, following the recommendation of McKay, I used a drill press and forstner bit to remove the bulk of the waste. Boring into the end grain of a hard wood was not quick, and the results were not especially clean, with stalagmites and brad point divots abounding. I quickly cleaned up the resulting surface with a hand saw and chisels.

To profile the exterior, the pot could not be simply spun on the lathe and a gouge be presented to the work unless you were impossibly good at quickly applying and removing the tool as the other two vessels off-axis came around at you. Instead, shaping is done with a router with the work mounted on an unplugged lathe. This required some jigging.

I created a plywood platform that got mounted to the lathe bed. For my smallest router, which I had chosen to use for the shaping, I built a cradle to hold it securely in line with the lathe’s axis when resting on the platform. Lastly, I cut a template for the router to follow.

For a clean cut, ease of control, and long reach, I chose to mount a 1/4” up-spiral solid carbide router bit in the trim router. With a pot screwed to a faceplate and mounted on the lathe, I used the router to estimate where to position the template to remove the minimum amount of material, while creating a fully shaped vessel without flat spots. I clamped the template with a pair of clamps and got ready to start routing.

My left hand was on the wheel controlling the rotation of the lathe, and my right hand moved the router on the platform. Taking shallow bites, I slowly worked my way around the pot as far as I could. It took patience and focus to take only small bites, and to keep the router firmly on the platform. Several times, the router caught, tipped forward, and ended up carving deep holes in the side of the pot, requiring me to re-adjust the template to remove the divots. In the end, I ended up deciding that there was not going to be enough material left to make it worth continuing.

I started again. This is where that template came in handy. I simply screwed it to a new piece of locust and cut it out again at the bandsaw. After determining the height of the pots, I cut across the tops of the pots with a coarse handsaw, then split away the waste with a chisel and mallet. This was much quicker and cleaner than using a forstner bit.

At the lathe, I took the shaping process much more cautiously. Analyzing my previous failure, I realized that I would have a better chance of success if I: clamped the router to the platform to avoid tipping; didn’t use a spiral bit to prevent the bit from wanting to pull itself into the work; used a router bit with a short cutting length and a bearing to keep the cutting part from engaging with the other two vessels; and screwed the template securely to the platform. I took all these precautions for the second attempt.

In this video, I describe my setup, and demonstrate the shaping method.

My process worked well, and the extra precautions I took were worth the effort.

After routing all three pots as much as I could, there were a few spots that the router couldn’t access. I cleaned those up with skew chisels and carving gouges.

Next up: hollowing!

Power Tools vs. Hand Tools, and When Can You Modify the Design?

I am continuing to work my way forwards through back issues of the since discontinued magazine Woodwork.

If you are proficient with the tools at your disposal, the decision to use either hand tools or power tools can be based on pleasure or efficiency. I use a combination of hand and power tools, and my choice is usually based on which will produce a satisfactory result quicker with less effort.

The machinery is important for sizing and rough shaping, but much of the work in the shop is done with hand planes, chisels and carving gouges. It is not a production shop; handwork is often faster than setting up jigs and machinery for an operation that will only be done once or twice.

Kristian Eshelman in Master Craftsman Robert Whitley, in Woodwork issue #41, page 34, paragraph 4

In another article, the author writes about building a piece inspired by one that he saw, but made changes to suit his needs, aesthetics, and the materials he had available.

In you can appreciate what it is about the original that is so proportionally appealing, by all means change things according to your circumstances and rely on your own eye to preserve the spirit of the original.

Graham Blackburn in A Pepysian Bookcase: A handmade case-on-stand in Woodwork issue #42, page 46, paragraph 3

Read more on my page, Quotes from Woodwork.

 

Hugh McKay – Tripot #5

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Artist Name:  Hugh McKay
Title:  Tripot #5
Details:  Maple burl

Why It’s Notable:

When I first saw this photo, I thought, “Those are three nicely-proportioned vessels made of nicely-figured wood.” And then I looked again. What I failed to realize at first was that the three hollow vessels were actually made from a single piece of burl, and still connected!

This is a level of multi-axis lathe work that I have never encountered or imagined before, and it has reignited my interest in turning.

Make a 3D Wooden Jigsaw Puzzle

I’m not sure if there is any project that brings more pleasure after it leaves my shop than a jigsaw puzzle.

After buying a scroll saw, I was soon making jigsaw puzzles from 1/4″ plywood. As fun as they were to make and assemble, I soon began experimenting as I do, and started cutting multi-level 3D jigsaw puzzles. To date, I have cut thousands of puzzle pieces on the scroll saw dd(and even a dozen or so with a manual fret saw).

If you’re interested in learning how they are cut, check out my article in the latest issue of Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement: Make a 3D Wooden Jigsaw Puzzle. There are some good scroll saw tips in the article as well.

Not interested in making your own puzzle? I sell them too – they’re a great gift idea. Click here to shop.

Knotty Pine

This question kept me awake in the wee hours one morning:

What would it look like if I carved a knot in a piece of wood?

I lay in bed trying to visualize it, and figure out how best to attempt it… Start by finding a fairly thick piece of rope, tie a knot, use it to layout the carving, rough-out the carving with a saw, then finish carving with a knife and/or gouges.

Tracing the imaginary path of the rope with my index finger while laying on my back, I rehearsed the carving over and over, over and over.

At the first semi-reasonable hour, I got out of bed and went down to the shop to find an appropriate piece of wood to carve. I found a clear piece of Austrian pine, salvaged from a piece of 6×8 dunnage in a container of Felder machines.

I tied a knot in a short length of 3/8” rope and used a pen to roughly indicate the path of the rope on each of the four faces of the blank.

Using a jigsaw and long blade, I cut to my layout lines. Then I completed the shaping with my folding carving knife.

And that is how you turn a clear piece of pine into a piece of knotty pine.

knotty pine

Work That Leads to Discovery

I found another good quote from the back issues of Woodwork. This one is from the article titled Traveling Woodcrafter in issue #38, from April 1996. 

“Work which leads to discovery is the highest kind of work. Its reward of inner renewal and the generation of energy is of the purest kind.” – Brian Mills

Find this quote among others on my page titled Quotes from Woodwork.

Defects Are Hints For Something Better

In all the creative work I have done with live-edge material, I have always looked at a cut section – where a limb was removed or the material cut to length – as a shortcoming.

But recently, I had an epiphany.

Like so many of my revelations, this one came while experimenting on a piece of scrap wood worth nothing to me. This particular piece of wood was about the size of a 2×4 roughly three feet long. The middle foot had the bark intact and the area to either side was cut straight.

I was carving for no reason other than to carve for enjoyment. I started removing material, trying to make the cut edge flow into the live edge. Then, as I like to do, I began forming a twist. Completely by eye, I carved a quarter twist into the first third of the board, blending it into the bark as best I could.

The result was very interesting. It was no longer an area of defect that you should divert your eyes from and politely pretend you hadn’t noticed. It was not apologetic, rather it was a bold feature that demanded equal, if not greater attention than the live edge. I think that the irregularity of the done-by-eye twist worked favourably with the organic bark edge.

Moreover, I feel that if used between two sections of live edge, this twist would not only fit in with equal authority, but it would in fact visually tie the two live edge sections together.

I am never satisfied when I have to make a compromise in a design to make up for a shortcoming. This, however, is not a compromise – it is taking a problem and fully exploiting it for what it really is: a design opportunity.

twisted edge sculpted into live

More Wood Uploaded, Big Sale This Weekend

This weekend, I am opening up my once-private wood shed to all my readers and the public in a bid to reduce inventory levels so I can finally finish moving out of my old shop space.

1114 Barberry Place, Port Moody… wood shed around the right side in the back

Friday September 29, 10-4
Saturday September 30, 10-4
Sunday October 1, by appointment only

For anyone with a specific project in mind (table, mantel, shelf, headboard, etc), or just getting into woodworking, this is a great opportunity to get quality, local wood that is of premium quality and at very affordable prices. Volume discounts available! (I also have a 2-speed Delta ceiling-mounted air filtration unit that I would like to sell.)

I have finished uploading all the pictures that I have; some wood still remains undocumented and will be priced this weekend during the sale as I have time.

Check out my online inventory here.

Big Wood Slab Sale/Moving Sale

When:

  • September 29-30, 10 am – 4 pm
  • Sunday October 1 by appointment only

Where: 1114 Barberry Place, Port Moody, BC… wood shed around the right side

Wood Slabs for Sale!

I gave up some shop space when I moved, but the real loss was wood storage space. With only limited wood storage, I brought with me the material I needed. The rest – about 1500 board feet – stayed behind. Now it’s time for it to move, too.

I don’t have space to store it, and I’m not going to pay for storage fees, so I’m selling it.

Benefits of Buying from Me Instead of from a Commercial Lumberyard

Of course, you’re supporting me and helping me clear out surplus material, but there are many benefits for you as well.

Fully Air-Dried and Ready to Use

All of the wood has been air-dried for at least five years and is stored in a dry environment, so it is ready to be used. If you’re not familiar with working air-dried wood, I think you’ll find it to be a treat. The drying process has not been rushed, so there is less tension in the wood. This means less risk of warping in the future. Air-dried wood also feels less brittle. It cuts smoother, and this is particularly evident if using hand tools.

Two Live Edges Intact for Unlimited Possibilities!

Since much of my work revolves around the natural characteristics of wood, I have been careful to preserve the live edges. Whether you are making a dining or coffee table, mantel, headboard, or chopsticks, you will have the option to leave the bark intact, remove the outer bark only, or cut off the entire live edge for uniform lumber. The slabs have been moved and stored either on end or flat, but never on edge.

I Saw the Whole Tree, Through and Through!

My inventory consists of sets of slabs that together comprise an entire tree. This is useful because it makes matching grain and colour easy. This means that you can bookmatch two sequential boards for perfect continuity without resawing and losing thickness, or ensure all the drawer fronts look consistent. This also means that you’ll find beautiful flatsawn grain patterns, riftsawn wood for straight-grained legs, and quartersawn wood for a straight-grained look and stability.

Plus, you’ll find some nice wide slabs, perfect for table tops.

Domestic Hardwoods, Sustainably Harvested

This wood is from BC trees. Many of the species are not commercially available or easy to find. I helped mill much of it, and have worked with all of them and can share my experiences.

Please come by to have a look. Cash preferred, but I can also accept credit cards. Sorry – no debit. Delivery can be arranged if required.

Want to know what goes into milling logs? Click here to read about one day of milling.

Woodworking On-the-Go with Modified Knives

Anytime I go somewhere and anticipate the possibility of having some free time, I like to have a knife with me to carve.

My First Modified Carving Knife

I started with a German #8 chip carving knife with a fixed blade. I modified the blade to extend the cutting edge right to the handle, and to reduce the overall blade length. Since the blade didn’t fold, I drove it into a wine cork and used that for safe carry. This is a very nice carving knife, and it has become my shop knife, used for everything from opening packages and quick scribing rapid material removal (like a small one-handed drawknife) and carving.

The synthetic cork shown here is the second or third guard that the knife has had, as they sometimes get lost. I find that this synthetic cork does hold together better than the first natural cork, since the blade width is about half of the cork diameter.

Two Folding Knives: One for Carving, One for General Work with a Chisel Tip

A Folding Knife for Carving

The German fixed-blade knife got replaced as a pocket carving knife when I acquired a folding Opinel knife with a broken tip – the perfect opportunity to make a folding carving knife, which is safer and more convenient to carry, and equally suitable for carving.

I like the Opinel knives because they are lightweight, comfortable to hold, have a simple lock that secures the blade in the open and closed positions, and feature a taper-ground high-carbon steel blade that takes and holds a fine edge. They are also very affordable.

To modify the knife for carving, I shortened the blade length, reshaped the back of the handle for comfort, fit a piece of wood inside the handle to keep the blade from closing too far, and put it to work.

 

A General-Purpose Folding Knife with a Chisel Tip

The knife that I carry with me most often is a cheap Gerber with a stainless steel blade. I like it because it has a handy spring clip, is easy to open with one hand, and features a stout blade with a solid frame lock. The blade is bevelled on both side, so this is more of a utility knife for me – I use it for opening packages, trimming my finger nails, and most recently, to assist in some impromptu joinery clean-up/furniture repair (dowels were too long and needed trimming).

As a reader of my blog, you likely know my affection for chisels. Knives are very useful, but chisels afford more control, and the force is applied inline with the blade. So, I decided to modify my stainless steel folder to include a chisel tip as an experiment. First, I wanted to see if it was possible, and how it would look. Second, I wanted to find out how useful this chisel grind really would be, and if it would restrict the capabilities of the knife in ways I typically use it..

I used my bench grinder and 120-grit wheel to first blunt the tip and grind it straight (I was surprised at how quickly the metal disappeared). Then, I angled the tool rest and ground a 25 degree bevel by eye (length of the bevel is about twice the height). I refined the bevel with my diamond plate, then polished it with a felt wheel charged with honing compound, which was mounted on the other end of my bench grinder.

The modified blade looks good and the ~5/8″ chisel tip seems useful, though I haven’t had a real-world application to test it. I did notice that the actual edge is not straight. This is a result of the shape of the blade – as supplied by the manufacturer, the un-ground back section of the blade is flat, the primary bevel is hollow-ground, and then there is a secondary bevel. The result is a chisel with a slightly hollow back and two trimmed corners – kind of like a lazy W shape. This chisel isn’t intended to replace a proper one, but hopefully will prove handy when one isn’t available. I will continue to carry this knife and test it at every opportunity.