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.

Butternut – it Carves like Butter with a Hot Knife

The latest addition to my catalog of air-dried slabs for sale is butternut (Juglans cinerea). A relative to the highly sought-after black walnut, butternut shares the same grain patterns but the colour is lighter – similar to the shades of bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum).

Butternut is also lighter in weight and softer than black walnut, making it an ideal wood for working with hand tools and is popular for carvings. Other common uses include furniture and boxes. It is an ideal material to use for a sculpted/carved panel, contrasting with a comparatively simple frame. It is also ideal for chair seats for the same reasons pine is the traditional seat material in a windsor chair.

It works well with both hand and power tools and glues and finishes well. Butternut is a great wood to work with – especially for beginners.

The seat of my workshop stool is made of butternut. The legs are bigleaf maple.

Butternut Stool Seat

I made the structural members and panel of this headboard out of butternut, and finished it with orange shellac.

Construction of the Butternut Headboard

See my catalog of air-dried wood slabs for sale here.

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.

Ryousuke Ohtake – Spiny Lobster

Lobster1

Artist Name:  Ohtake Ryousuke
Title:  Spiny Lobster
Details:  circa 2014 – 31cm – Boxwood, “beard of whale”

Why It’s Notable:

The form of the spiny lobster was impeccably replicated in boxwood.

Lobster2

Lobster3Lobster4

But the realistic appearance wasn’t enough to get recognized as a Notable Inspiration. This was: the joints were carved so they move just like a real lobster would.

This amazing video (duration – 3:04) shows how the lobster moves. Note how the artist holds the part he is working on at the 0:12 mark – so simple!


I think that the ball and sockets are snapped into place.

Lobster5

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!

Links:

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.

Footprint

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.

C.Wong-18

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.

C.Wong-14

Something Like That