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

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

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.

Stool with Sculpted Seat

This project actually started over eight years ago, but in a very different form.

While down in California working a trade show for Lee Valley, the crew and I made a detour to Sam Maloof’s house in Alta Loma. We got a very inspirational tour of the very unique house which he had built for himself and left me very inspired to make a sculpted chair.

I bought a copy of Sam Maloof, Woodworker which Sam signed for me. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to meet him.

Sam Maloof Autograph

Back home, I started by making a maple seat. I beveled the edges of four boards and glued them together to create a blank curved to the approximate shape of the seat, then sculpted it with my Arbortech carbide wheel on a grinder, and sanders. That’s as far as the chair progressed until I rediscovered it when I was cleaning out my old workshop earlier this year.

To turn the chair seat into a stool seat, I needed to shape it further. The chair required square edges to join into the frame members, but the stool seat was designed to be supported differently.

Curved workpieces have always been challenging to hold securely while working them, but that task was greatly simplified by using the Festool VacSys Vacuum Clamp at my workplace, Ultimate Tools.

Stool Seat on Vacuum Clamp

To make the seat look less bulky, I wanted to thin out the seat towards the edges. I started with a jigsaw, tilted at a 45 degree angle, followed by sanders.

Bevelling with Jigsaw

I designed a simple base and selected a suitably-sized board of Gary oak that I had bought years ago. I milled it into square sections and cut them to length to make three legs and two stretchers. I cut the angled dadoes by hand, and cut the mating open mortises with my table saw.

Stool Bridle Joinery

With carving gouges, I shaped round tenons on the tops of the three legs. I paused to admire the polished surface on the tenon shoulder left by my sharp tools. Then I assembled the base to locate where mating holes needed to be drilled in the underside of the seat.


It have always found it satisfying to push together a well-fit joint. Or four. Or seven. It was a little nerve-wracking pounding the leg tenons into the holes in the seat, wondering if anything would crack. Nothing did.

Bridle Joints

I used the VacSys to hold the stool for a final sanding before applying a couple of coats of oil-based polyurethane.

Stool and Vacuum

And here’s the finished result.

Sculpted Seat Stool Front Right Sulpted Stool Stool Back Left

21st Century Writing Desk – Making the Top

Last week, I saw a picture of a roof top that resembled a wave.

House with wave roof by Jules Gregory

House with wave roof by Jules Gregory

The roof prompted me to ponder the question: does a tabletop really need to be flat? Running with that notion, I carved this maple sample, dyed it black and waxed it to increase the sheen.

Carved Sample

I was really pleased with the sample, (and so was everyone to whom I showed it) so I decided to use the carved pattern on a table top. I glued together two mahogany boards and began carving texture into the panel using a #7/10 gouge.

Carved Panel1

The surface felt so good under my fingertips.

Carved Panel2

After two-and-a-half hours of carving, I had completed the 12″ x 25″ panel. During that time I did a lot of thinking (and tweeting). I came up with the idea of calling it the 21st Century Writing Desk.

Carved Panel3

So, with the top done, my next step was to design a suitable base for it. I went to my computer and started playing with designs.

On Team Flair: Grant McMillan

During the five years that I’ve been in business, I have made some great contacts, including local wood carver Grant McMillan.

Recently, a customer bought a cribbage board (Cribbage Board #8, the last one available) from me and requested to have some letters carved in it. Since I am not particularly experienced with letter carving, I asked Grant if he would be interested in doing it. He was, so he worked out the specifics with the client and I shipped the cribbage board to him.

I loved the font choice and thought that he did a great job with the carving.

Cribbage Board #8 with letter carving (Photo by Grant McMillan)

Cribbage Board #8 with letter carving (Photo by Grant McMillan)

On his blog, Grant writes that he jumped at the opportunity to do this carving because he “enjoy[s] letter carving, and this cribbage board is really cool, plus it would be a chance to collaborate with a fellow woodworker who I respect very much.”

Right back at you, Grant!  I think you do fine work, and that’s why you’re my go-to guy for letter carving.  Go Team Flair!


I Can Do That with Festool and Flair

Last week, I worked at the Coquitlam showroom of Lee Valley Tools Ltd. demonstrating the Festool power tools.  I was given a stack of pine and a set of plans for Megan Fitzpatrick’s Shaker-inspired Step Stool which appeared in Popular Woodworking’s column, I Can Do That.  Over the three days, I had time to build two stools.

Festool Stepstool

The design was simple – too simple.  It needed something else to elevate the project to the next level.

After some deliberation, I decided to carve some paw prints into the stool’s treads.  From the Animal Tracks guide I selected a paw print and asked another Lee Valley staff member (hi, June!) to sketch the shape proportionate to the width of the treads.  I positioned photocopies of her sketch on the treads, then taped them in place with packing tape.

To carve the design, I installed a 1/2″ core box bit in Festool’s mid-sized plunge router, the OF1400.  A smaller router would have been more agile, but I liked the idea of the additional mass which I thought would give me more control.  I set the plunge depth to about 3/16″ and routed a test piece (which you can see under the bottom step in the picture below with the photocopy still attached).

I found that I had good control plunging the bit to the full depth and moving the router around with two hands on its base.   I focused on the perimeter first, then removed the waste from the centre area.

Happy with the setup, I routed the three treads, working up to the lines of the sketch.  Then, I removed the photocopies.

Festool Stepstool 2

I wasn’t concerned with following the lines exactly, but wanted each paw print to look similar.  The shape of the core box bit didn’t leave a flat surface which I preferred.


I found it amusing that during the course of three days demonstrating Festool products, the largest crowd I attracted was while carving these paw prints with the router, which is, perhaps, the loudest of all the tools.

In other news, I wrote two sidebars which appeared in the latest issue of Canadian Woodworking (issue #84 – June/July).  Find them on pages 12 and 30.

Table in a Tree

Last weekend, I met with some of my fellow Artwalk participants and showed them the yellow cedar chair that I’d built to hang in the tree outside The Bistro Gallery where I will be showing my work.

Chair in a Tree

Chair in a Tree

They loved the concept and encouraged me to make another piece for a second tree.  So, that’s what I decided to do.

I documented my progress live on Twitter using hashtag #FlairWW (follow me @FlairWoodworks) which was useful because each update had a time stamp so followers could see the rate at which I progressed.  I compiled the photos and Tweets into a video (duration – 10:21).

This is the eighteenth slide from my PechaKucha presentation.


Relationship Study

Chair in a Tree

Saturday was a full day in the shop.  After breakfast, I went down to the shop and built 90% of a chair which will be installed up in a tree.  (In case you missed it, here’s the back story.)

ArtWalk Tree Art I documented my progress live on Twitter using hashtag #FlairWW (follow me @FlairWoodworks) which was useful because each update had a time stamp so followers could see the rate at which I progressed.  I compiled the photos and Tweets into a video (duration – 22:41).

This is the fourteenth slide from my PechaKucha presentation.


Something Like That

Maple Trestle Table, Session 24 – Profiling the Table’s Edge

On the morning of Sunday, April 15th, Morton and I exchanged ideas about trestle tables, spurred on by a recent sketch of a table on which he was working.  That got me yearning to build a trestle table.

I documented my progress live on Twitter which was useful because each update had a time stamp so followers could see the rate at which I progressed.  Here is a list of the previous Sessions:

Session 1 – Flat Boards are Boring;
Session 2 – Playing with Slabs;
Session 3 – From Two Slabs to One Table Top;
Session 4 – Clamping Odd Shapes and Sketching on Wood;
Session 5 – Routing Pockets for Battens;
Session 6 – Making Battens and Installing Countertop Connectors;
Session 7 – Installing Battens and Flattening the Underside;
Session 8 – Make Your Tools Work for You and Flattening the Top;
Session 9 – Mortises the Slow Way (or Why I’m Buying a Domino XL);
Session 10 – Curvy Legs are Always Good;
Session 11 – Straight Lines on Wonky Surfaces;
Session 12 – Fitting the Mother of all Mortise & Tenon Joints;
Session 13 – Making Things Better, Worse, then Better;
Session 14 – Battens and Complicated Tenons, Again;
Session 15 – The Trestle Comes Together Session;
Session 16 – Angled Mortises and Tenons;
Session 17 – Two Feet for Two Legs;
Session 18 – Attachment Strips and Power Carving;
Session 19 – Refining the Sculpted Base;
Session 20 – A Little Sanding, then Lots More Sanding;
Session 21 – Preparing for a Big Glue-Up;
Session 22 – Fitting and Joining the Table Top; and
Session 23 – The Bottom of the Top.

(If you are not familiar with the format used on Twitter, every update, or “tweet” below starts with a username, being the author of that tweet.  Sometimes, you see two or more usernames in a tweet.  The second (and third, etc) usernames are preceded by a @ symbol and are people to whom the author is talking.  The other symbol you see is #, which serves as a category.  I try to remember to categorize all my tweets pertaining to this project under #flairww.)

FlairWoodworks Welcome to Session 24! I’ll continue work on the Maple Trestle Table by cutting the ends, then working on the edge profile. #flairww -12:48 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I’m ready to make the first cut. #flairww -12:58 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I cut the curve with my jigsaw. Now I’m using my low-angle block plane to clean up and fair the curve. #flairww -1:22 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks This joint is nice and tight. #flairww -1:25 PM May 27th, 2012

gvmcmillan @FlairWoodworks Now THAT’S a joint! How thick is the wood there again? -1:29 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks It’s 2-1/8″ thick. #flairww RT @gvmcmillan:@FlairWoodworks Now THAT’S a joint! How thick is the wood there again? -1:29 PM May 27th, 2012

gvmcmillan @FlairWoodworks That’s substantial – what did you use to make that much thickness so perfect? Surely not a hand plane? -1:31 PM May 27, 2012

FlairWoodworks @gvmcmillan I used a router to get it close, then a handplane to get it perfect. #flairww -1:32 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks The curve looks and feels fair. Therefore, it must be fair. #flairww -1:38 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Now I’ll cut the other end. #flairww -1:39 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Here’s another angle of the cut end. #flairww -1:40 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks When using the jigsaw upside-down, I find it helpful to carry the cut line down the edge. #flairww -1:49 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I completed the cut. I have more control with the jigsaw set to not orbit. #flairww -1:58 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Again, I’m using my block plane to fair the curve. The light areas are the low spots. #flairww-2:21 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks The end curves are fair. The next step is to lay out the edge profile. #flairww -2:28 PM May 27th, 2012

DyamiPlotke @FlairWoodworks have you figured it out? -2:31 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks @DyamiPlotke All the edge profiles in the base are convex, as are the ends of the table. I want to mimic the profile of the legs. #flairww -2:34 PM May 27th, 2012

DyamiPlotke @FlairWoodworks good plan. -2:40 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Before I start profiling the edge, I’m going to tidy up the shop. #flairww -2:47 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I unscrewed the particle board cauls. The materials may be reused or tossed. #flairww -2:48 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I’ve used more than 22 sanding discs so far. They cost about a buck each. #flairww -3:03 PM May 27th, 2012

DyamiPlotke @FlairWoodworks they don’t seem very long lived -3:07 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks @DyamiPlotke Some still have life in them, but they do tend to wear quickly when working on sculpted surfaces. #flairww -3:08 PM May 27th, 2012

 Tumblewood @FlairWoodworks @DyamiPlotke Yea, it seems a big difference between finishing a surface and creating a surface, in terms of longevity. -3:09 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks To cut the edge profile evenly, I’m going to first cut a wide bevel. #flairww -3:27 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks To lay out the bevel, I made two simple jigs. They guide a pencil to draw a line parallel to the edges. #flairww -3:29 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks The second jig marks the other guideline. #flairww -3:41 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I’ve started establishing the end bevel with my biggest gouge and a mallet. #flairww -3:51 PM May 27th, 2012

gvmcmillan @FlairWoodworks Yep, that’s a pretty big gouge! My biggest is 1″ -4:00 PM May 27th, 2012

Tumblewood @FlairWoodworks are you still going for a cove vs a bevel? I can’t think of an expedient way to do that. #flairww

FlairWoodworks @gvmcmillan This one is a 9/25 (#9 sweep, 25mm mm wide, for the non-carvers). #flairww -4:03 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks @Tumblewood No, I’m doing an elliptical roundover. #flairww -4:03 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks @Tumblewood The quickest way to make a large cove on something like this table top would be a series of passes with a router… #flairww -4:04 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks @Tumblewood … then sandpaper to finish. #flairww -4:04 PM May 27th, 2012

Tumblewood @FlairWoodworks oh cool. The round over would’ve been my choice, too.  #flairww -4:10 PM May 27th, 2012

gvmcmillan @FlairWoodworks I think I’d be tempted to knock of the largest bits with my jig saw set at a 45 degree angle. #flairww -4:11 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks @gvmcmillan The only trouble with that is the bevel angle is a 1:2 rise/run ratio. #flairww -4:11 PM May 27th, 2012

Tumblewood @FlairWoodworks yea with a big cove bit. Would still require a LOT of extra work. #flairww -4:11 PM May 27th, 2012

gvmcmillan @FlairWoodworks Yes, but, ahem, who decided that? ;) #flairww -4:12 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks @Tumblewood Some extra work for sure. How would it be compared to the alternatives? #flairww -4:13 PM May 27th, 2012

Tumblewood @FlairWoodworks I think your approach melds w/ the base very well.  #flairww -4:15 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Thanks, Vic! I do too. RT @Tumblewood:@FlairWoodworks I think your approach melds w/ the base very well. #flairww -4:16 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I’ve used the gouge to remove most of the waste. #flairww -4:33 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Now I’m using a coarsely-set block plane across the grain to refine the bevel. #flairww -4:34 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Here’s the first bevel completed. I’ll do the other end next. #flairww -4:45 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks As I’m wasting away the bevel with my gouge and mallet, “Wasting Away” by The Northern Pikes started to play! #flairww -4:47 PM May 27th, 2012

Tumblewood @FlairWoodworks SWEET! #flairww -4:50 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks When chopping away waste, it does not make sense to be timid. When the chips break free, they fly 4-6′ from the table. #flairww -4:56 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I cannot believe how long this gouge stays sharp. #flairww -5:00 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks The second end is shaped. I’m tired and hungry so I’m stopping for lunch. #flairww -5:14 PM May 27th, 2012

DyamiPlotke: @FlairWoodworks what brand? -5:43 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks My gouge is a Pfeil (a.k.a. Swiss-Made). #flairww RT @DyamiPlotke: @FlairWoodworks what brand? -5:44 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks After a delicious lunch, I’m back at work on the edges of the table. I’m going to work on the long edges next. #flairww -6:19 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks The curves present a little bit of a challenge but mostly they will make progress slower. #flairww-6:23 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks The difficult figure won’t help either. #flairww -6:24 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks My drawknife works quickly to remove most of the waste. #flairww -6:30 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I cleaned up the edge with my flat spokeshave. #flairww -6:40 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks As I expected, this section is difficult to work. #flairww -6:43 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks The best way I’ve found to work this section is to use the gouge to chop into the edge. #flairww -6:47 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks My right arm is sore from swinging my 12oz carver’s mallet but the gouge work is done here. #flairww -6:56 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I’ve got one long bevel done. Next! #flairww -7:29 PM May 27th, 2012

woodshaver101 @FlairWoodworks A draw knife would do wonders on such a large bevel.looking good. -8:04 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks Thanks! This is a lot of work! #flairww RT @woodshaver101: @FlairWoodworks A draw knife would do wonders on such a large bevel.looking good. -8:05 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I just finished the difficult (and beautiful) section on this edge. #flairww -8:06 PM May 27th, 2012

BCcraftmaster @FlairWoodworks that looks great with the curve of the flitch -8:07PM May 27th, 2012

Tumblewood @FlairWoodworks looks awesome! #flairww -8:11 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I’m just glad my spokeshaves can handle this grain! #flairww -8:12 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I resorted to the gouge for this heavily-figured section. #flairww -8:25 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks When the grain is this figured, is it any wonder it took so long to shape? The bevel is complete. #flairww -8:33 PM May 27th, 2012

FlairWoodworks I’m done work for now. Next, the bevels will turn into gentle curves. #flairww -8:34 PM May 27th, 2012

In the next session, I’ll continue working on the bottom half of the edge profile.  You can leave a comment here.