About Chris Wong

I make original sculptural woodwork in Port Moody, BC.

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.

Willingness to Try

Unlike some, I don’t shy away from trying techniques and processes that are new to me.

If you rely on somebody to show you how to do something, you may learn how to perform that task proficiently but you may not ever know how to do it another way, or develop your own methods of work. More significantly, you will never make a breakthrough and develop a new technique never before used.

Crossing Joint

Now, if your goal is to be able to make high-quality woodwork, simply mastering the well established techniques that we all read about should be enough. I do believe that having a solid understanding of the basics is essential, and knowing advanced techniques is useful as well.

It’s the willingness to look beyond what you know, and experiment, that will really help you develop on your own. This is the path to innovation.

To see if a process can be improved upon, focus on the desired outcome and identify which processes you know can be used to complete the task. Don’t stop there. Continue to examine the product and try to figure out how else it can be achieved. Chances are, you will figure out some ways of achieving the result that you hadnt realised previously. Many will likely be techniques already discovered and employed by others, but one or two may be viable options that are new.

There are always new woodworking tools and technologies coming out and it’s good to be aware of them, but don’t forget to look outside of the woodworking box. What tools are used in metalworking, upholstery, or ceramics that might be suitable or adaptable in whole or in concept to your application?

You may find something new that works well, or you may not find anything useful other than the new-found knowledge that you didn’t find anything worthwhile there. I believe that knowing even that is useful. But you can’t make new discoveries if you only follow.

More Quotes from Woodwork Magazine

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

There is some truly fascinating content in these old issues, and one article that comes to mind is Georges Vaufrey’s Wizardly Woodshop. The article describes the processes used by the French company that specializes in producing high quality, precision woodturnings in large volumes (600,000 watch cases in two years, 50,000 pairs of ebony chopsticks a year, for example) with a +/-0.03 to +/-0.05 mm tolerance in hard woods.

The quality of work is partially the result of refined processes and jigs, but human skill is still a key asset.

The Vaufrey sanding system is essentially simple. But in practiced hands, it yields results that defy comparison.

Vaufrey’s sanding methods works beautifully because it puts the operator not the machine, in control of the process.

David and Abram Loft in Georges Vaufrey’s Wizardly Woodshop, issue #35, page 58, paragraphs 1-2

Here are some other interesting quotes I found. Read more on my page, Quotes from Woodwork.

Krenov had asked his students for complete emotional and personal involvement in every aspect of their work, in every detail.

Tom Mcfadden in Ejler Hjorth-Westh ,issue 33, page 37, paragraph 3

Furniture is nothing but practical sculpture.

Michael Cullen in Where Engineering, Art, and Woodworking; Meet: Michael Cullen by Tom Mcfadden, issue 35, page 34, paragraph 3

The reason so much old furniture has survived can be attributed to the fact that hide glue was the only glue available until recently. Furniture repair had to be done with it. Considerable damage has been done to old furniture since the introduction of modern glues, because repairmen can (and usually do) chose to use another glue.

Bob Flexner in Animal Hide Glue, issue 35, page 46, paragraph 8

Woodworking Digitally is More Convenient, But Not Better

What Do I Mean By “Woodworking Digitally”?

First, let me define digital. I don’t exclusively mean the use of measuring tools with LCD screens. I mean the use of any numbers at all, whether Metric or Imperial, decimals or fractions. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

digital: of, relating to, or using calculation by numerical methods or by discrete units

Pros and Cons to Using Numbers

Whether following plans or making your own, numbers play an important role in communicating sizes. Of course, communication is not a bad thing. However, the disadvantage of building using measurements is that sizes of the things we design and build tend to be based on convenient numbers (e.g. 42-1/2” or 850 mm) rather than sizes best suited to either the materials being used or the product being built.

If you are designing and building the item yourself, why not build without numbers? There is no rule that says a board 3/4” thick is the ideal balance between strength and weight, or that it a 1×4 is perfectly proportioned.

A Few Examples of Not Using Numbers

Numeric values are not required to build a good chair. A chair seat should be deep and wide enough to sit in comfortably, and at an appropriate height. Stack some toolboxes and plywood and try sitting on it. Add or remove layers and experiment with different heights. Do you want your feet to rest flat on the ground? The chair height you find comfortable likely isn’t an even number.

Move forward and sit on the edge of the seat. Move backward until you’re comfortable and make a mark where the back rest would be. Or start with a chair already made, and test it to see if you would change any proportions.

Already have your materials on hand? Maybe your project allows enough flexibility to use the wood to its fullest. Pick the best boards for the table top and arrange them for the best grain match. Then cut the table top as big as possible. Maybe it’ll be rectangular, or maybe it will be elliptical.

This table was made for a cherry crotch slab, and I made it as big as it allowed.

Building a cabinet for a specific spot and need it to hold dishes? Use a straight scrap of wood to make a story stick. Simply make marks on it indicating the length, width and depth of the cabinet. Line up your plates and bowls on the counter and figure out how many shelves you need, and how much headroom is required for each.

Flip your story stick over and make additional marks on the back for the location of each shelf. Then transfer these dimensions either to the material or directly to the saw.

Story sticks are also ideal for replicating something. You never have to ask – is this shelf 14-7/8 or 14-15/16 inches wide”, or “is 14-3/4 inches close enough”? Instead, it’s just a definitive line for the width of the shelf. Better yet, if the shelf is removable, you can use it to set up a stop block or rip fence to produce an identically sized part.

How often do you need to find the middle of the board? This is a task that I do very frequently, and there’s no reason to bring numbers into the mix. A common approach is to set a combination square so that when the stock is against one edge, the blade is locked near the middle of the board. Make a small mark along the end of the blade and flip the square so the stock rests against the opposite edge. The middle of the board is equidistant from those two marks, and you can readjust the square to be as precise as you need.

Never forget, invert, or mix up numbers again. Never make a rounding error and stop working with convenient dimensions. Work to a level of precision beyond what is practical with numbers. Save the digital for reading blogs.

Stacked Veneer Experiment with a Shocking Lesson

You’re probably aware that I like to incorporate a twist in my designs.

For some time, I’ve had this idea to laminate a stack of veneer in a twisted manner, so each subsequent piece of veneer is rotated just a degree or two. I suspected that, due to the difference in appearance between long grain and end grain, I would see a gradual lightness/darkness shift along the surface.

To test my theory and see what it would really look like, I cut cherry veneer into 2-3/4 inch squares with my bandsaw, because is was the quickest and easiest way I knew. I chose cherry because of the marked difference in darkness between its long grain and end grain, for better contrast.

I also grabbed two Quick Grip XL clamps, a bottle of Titebond Extend wood glue and prepared some small pieces of melamine as cauls to permit even distribution of clamping force and help ensure the faces stay flat.

Working efficiently and methodically, I spread glue on one face of a piece of veneer and placed another piece of veneer on it, rotated one veneer thickness counter-clockwise. I repeated the process for about a dozen pieces, then put the assembly between cauls and clamped them tightly. I glued together another dozen, then glued it to the previous dozen and put everything back in the clamps, continuing until I had two stacks each about 1″ high. The whole process took about an hour.

After a full day of drying, I unclamped the twisted veneer stacks and trimmed the uneven edges. The yield wasn’t particularly high, so I didn’t have many options for a finished product. I did have some pen kits on hand, so I decided to make a pen with the veneer. I cut one stack into 5/8″ squares, then glued them together, again rotated the thickness of one veneer.

I built a mini router jig to true up the pen blanks then drilled out the centres and mounted them on the lathe.

Once that dried, I made the pen. As I neared completion, I noticed some darker rings in the wood. They puzzled me, and I wondered if I had somehow put some veneer pieces in indirectly. Anyhow, I finished the pen and this is the result.

The twisted design I had attempted to produce was evident, and even more pronounced when I applied a thin coat of oil-based polyurethane to accentuate the long grain/end grain difference. But those rings!

After carrying the pen around for a few days, it struck me that the dark lines were caused when I put a dozen pieces of veneer in clamps to work on another stack, then glued them together! Somehow, this resulted in a darker veneer. How? Did the PVA glue absorb more into these pieces?

To avoid those dark laminations, I may have to glue all the veneers together in one shot before the glue starts to set. A glue with a longer open time would definitely be an asset. Or maybe a different glue, such as a plastic resin or epoxy would work. Or maybe if I just soaked the veneer in water first, the PVA glue would dry more slowly and encourage equal penetration.

If somebody can offer an insight as to why this happens, or if you have your own theory on how to prevent it, I’d love to hear it.