A Different Kind of Scrolled Sign

I recently completed this sign for my friend Mike. It bears his and his wife’s names, and those of his three dogs.


I created the layout using a computer, then printed it out and adhered it to a sheet of Baltic birch plywood. I cut out the waste around the letters with my scroll saw and dyed the wood to create contrast before gluing it to the backer board for support.


I had a lot of fun developing and making this project, and Mike was thrilled to receive it and has been showing it to everybody.

Feel free to contact me if you’d like a custom sign of this style made for you!

News About Woodworking Magazines

The December/January issue of Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement is now on newsstands.  If you’ve been following my blog for at least a year, one of the three pictures at the top of the cover should look familiar.


On the Contents page, we see that I have an article, Make a Wooden Bow on page 16.  Also, on page 28 is another of my articles, Shop Skills: Working Without Numbers.


This video preview shows some of the issue’s content in a different format.  (2:29).

In related news, Woodwork, my other favourite magazine, is now on newsstands.  Currently, only one issue is printed per year.  I highly recommend that you find yourself a copy.

Dale J. Osowski’s copy of Woodwork


Christmas Recap, Part II

The first post, Christmas Recap, Part I, covered the woodwork that was exchanged during our brief stay in Naramata.

After spending Christmas Eve and Christmas morning in Naramata, we drove back to the Lower Mainland for another family Christmas Dinner at my aunt and uncle’s house.  We were tired when we got home so we went straight to bed and slept-in the next morning.

When we finally woke up Boxing Day (December 26), we exchanged gifts among our immediate family.  For my mother, I had scrolled a 3-D jigsaw puzzle.  I used restraint and made it considerably more simple than Diamond Challenge, which I had made the previous year.  She appreciated being able to solve the puzzle in under two hours.

Cherry 3-D Jigsaw Puzzle

For my brother, Brad, I had built a small table.  Why?  I thought that functional art would be perfect for someone who didn’t seem to need anything.  (I did a “tweet-along” where I documented the progress of the table on Twitter.  I’ll post that soon.)

Christmas Recap, Part I

Well, I must say that I had a great time over the past few days.  I hope that you did too.

On the morning of December 24, we travelled to Naramata, a 5.5 hour drive.  There, we enjoyed a great dinner with my aunt, her family and company.  We stayed up late to open gifts at midnight.  I passed around a box containing Shell Boxes and Dogwood Screwdrivers and asked everyone to choose one item.

Shell Box

The majority of the females selected a Shell Box while the males preferred the Dogwood Screwdrivers.  The one exception was the 12-year old boy who excitedly picked a Shell Box.

The last time my cousin, Michelle, visited us on the Coast, she had made this cherry cribbage board in my workshop with only a little of my guidance.  She wrapped it up and presented it to her boyfriend.  (I must say that she did an outstanding job!)

Cribbage Board by Michelle

We stayed the night and had breakfast while opening stockings Christmas morning.  I found this wooden cube puzzle in mine.  The pieces were very simple to make and the puzzle was fun.  I enjoyed this puzzle and it took me less than ten minutes to put it together.

Wooden Cube Puzzle

I couldn’t help but notice the lack of fine consistency in the pieces.  Some were nicely-sanded on all sides, others were very rough, and at least one had a severe crook in it.  None of these characteristics had any affect on how the puzzle went together, but it was interesting to look at different levels of refinement and think about what was really required.  (see A Box Called “Tolerences” and A Box Called “Necessessity?”)

Wooden Cube Puzzle, Disassembled

The rest of this story can be found in Christmas Recap, Part II.

Why I Like to Wrap Gifts with Boring Kraft Paper

Though it may not be obvious, this article is really about how I build my furniture.  I want it to be practical.  I also want my work to be aesthetically pleasing and intriguing, or sometimes provoking.

Nearly every boxed gift I’ve received came wrapped in colourful, glossy paper.  You know what I’m talking about.

I prefer to use kraft paper.  Drab, brown, matte kraft paper.  The kind with no excitement, no particular appeal, and no focal point.

This is practical – it conceals the contents

Why?  I see it as a blank canvas.  It offers infinite possibilities and absolute freedom.

I love a blank piece of paper because it inspires me to create without influencing what I create.

On the kraft paper, I can write a personal message or draw something as boldly or subtly as I wish.  I can use paint, pencils, markers or glued-on found items.  I can do anything.  (Or I can do nothing.)

On this particular wrapping, I decided to draw puzzle pieces.  I experimented with pencils, pens and markers before deciding that a rollerball pen was the right tool for the job – it provided a fine, even, bold line.

As the line drawing developed, they seemed to want to move in an arc.  I allowed the puzzle to follow this course and continue off the edge where it then wrapped around to the side of the package.

This is practical and interesting – it conceals the contents and provides some visual interest

Suddenly, my unpretentious wrapping paper became an original, hand-made covering.  Clearly some time and effort went into this wrapping job.  To realize this drawing, patience, focus, a steady hand, the right tool, and above all, the idea was required.

But I wasn’t done.  By simply adding a few letters, I added another level, another dimension.

This is practical, attractive, and provoking – it conceals the contents, provides some visual interest and conveys a message

I chose to place the letters in the middle of puzzle pieces.  I also chose to make the message a little difficult to read (it says, “there are no limits”).  I wanted to invite the viewer to pause and examine it more closely.  I think that it is these little details (and in this case, the challenge to figure out the message) that draw the viewer into the piece, where he/she can then begin to fully appreciate what they are experiencing.

While writing this post, I was reminded of this saying:

A person that works with his hands is a laborer.
A person that works with his hands and his head is a tradesman.
A person that works with his hands, his head, and his heart is a craftsman.

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.)

A Unique Way to Wrap Presents

Deciding what to get someone is the hard part; wrapping them up is usually easy… unless you’re trying to disguise a hockey stick.  But don’t overlook the creative opportunities available to you in the wrapping process.

I’ve done some pretty crazy wrapping jobs in the past – some just awesome, others tacky but definitely fun.  This year, I came up with the idea of using wooden ribbons and bows.  I started with a 4′ board of straight-grained poplar.  From this, I took a relatively coarse shaving from my low-angle jack with a 25-degree blade for the ribbons.  I found that the low cutting angle was best for cutting ribbons without excessive spiralling though they still did end up looping.  I was able to push the plane with one hand and receive the shaving with the other to keep them relatively straight.  I wrapped them around the packages concave side in and cut and taped the ends to the underside.

For the ribbons I used the same material but switched to a bevel-down bench plane.  My #4 is usually set to take a really thin shaving for final smoothing, however, I wanted the bow to have a little more substance to it so I increased the depth.

To produce the tight, wavy shavings I needed for the bow I modified my grip.  My right hand pushed, but instead of holding the front knob with my left hand I cupped it over the mouth of the plane to restrict the escapement of the chips.  Trapped, they had no choice to fold over on themselves.  I found that skewing the plane at different angles also affected the shape of the shavings.

I took four passes for each bow and selected the three best shavings. Towards the end of each shaving it ended up zig-zagging back and forth.  I cut off this part with scissors.  Then, I gently tucked one end of each shaving under the ribbon and carefully twisted them together to make a homogenous bow.  A couple snips here and there with a pair of scissors cleaned up the bow.

I wish you a Merry Christmas and lots of time to spend with those whom you love!

* * * * * * * * * *

After posting this, someone sent me this video, perhaps implying that I should wrap my presents with this next year.

Dedication to Woodworking

Some of you who regularly check for updates on this site have been reminding me that I haven’t added anything new in a few months.  The reason:  all my free time is dedicated to woodworking.  You see, while I punch these keys to form the words you are now reading, I am also letting a coat of finish dry on a recently turned pen as well as the glue for another.  If that isn’t enough to convince you of my dedication to woodworking, let me go on.

Since my last writing, when I wrote of acquiring a section of Douglas Fir trunk, I have acquired three more.  During the summer (when daylight lasted past 7:30 pm), I spent many hours working in and outside of the shop.  On some days, I would get home early, at around 5:30 pm.  I would eat a quick dinner before heading down to the shop.

Most such days, the weather was dry, the air fresh, and light abundant.  So I would start by rolling out a section of Douglas Fir and buck off a section which by the end of the night would be a bowl.  I would then haul my 110lb lathe out of the shop and plunk it in the middle of the backyard with an extension cord snaking out after it.  With the freshly cut (also known as “green”) bowl blank secured onto a shop made faceplate on the lathe, the turning would begin at around 7:00 pm.

There is only one tool I use for turning bowls – a 3/8″ bowl gouge.  I would start on the outside with the tailstock engaged for additional support.  It takes anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes to shape the outside, depending on the shape and size of bowl.  With the outside shape established and perfectly round, I would then remove the tailstock (after boring a hole to establish the required depth) and turn my focus to hollowing out the inside.

At this point, the sun is going down and it is probably 8:45 pm.  I shut the lathe off for a minute and go retrieve a lamp from the shop to aid my vision.  Regardless of how much light there is, green wood is much different than dry wood to work with, and thus requires different techniques.  Green wood is very flexible, and thus it must be turned to the final wall thickness at the rim before working further towards the base.  Also, what I find especially interesting about green wood turning is how the wood moves – even as it is being turned.

By the time I have finished hollowing out the bowl, it is past 9:30 pm and well into the twilight zone.  Because I often turn my bowls to a wall thickness of 3/16″ or less, the moisture in the wood is released quickly.  And as the moisture of the wood dissipates, the wood changes shape and the bowl morphs from being round to oblong.  One of my bowls measures 10″ across the rim in one direction and 7″ in the other.Small Douglas Fir Bowl

As the 10:00 pm is closing fast, I know that I should be packing it in soon.  Fortunately, the mosquitos have not been too bad in this area this year.  While it never occurred to me while I was working, when I look back now, I realize that it must have been quite a scene:  a lone figure standing over a lathe in the middle of the yard working at night under the light of one lamp clamped to the lathe stand.

Now, anyone would say that I could have (and should have) packed it in when the sun started to go down.  But there’s no way that I could do that.  First of all, when the sun is going down, I’m in the middle of turning a bowl.  Why wouldn’t I finish it then?  Secondly, it is impractical.  If I were to leave it for another day, the wood would have moved so much that it would be virtually impossible to turn a bowl with an even wall thickness.  Last of all, what else would I do at 9:00 at night?  Certainly nothing practical.  Certainly nothing productive.

While turning a bowl into the night certainly proves dedication, in my mind, it also borders insanity.  However, I believe that what I did today shows even more dedication (and less insanity).  Today is Sunday, my “day off”.  I may get days off from my day job at Lee Valley, but I never really have a day when I don’t work.  (Can you image what it will be like when I start my own business!)

On my days off I get to sleep in.  Sometimes until 8:00 am, others until 10:00.  If I feel particularly inspired, I may wake up at 7:00 am, or if I was up late the previous night (usually designing a project using a CAD program and working out a cutting list) I may sleep in as late as noon.

Today I woke up at 9:45 am.  I got dressed, walked into the kitchen to say “good morning” to my mother and her brother who had stopped by to visit, and turned towards the shop.  I worked until around 1:00 pm when I took a 15-minute break for lunch (time really flies when you are busy and when there is no clock to remind you what time it is).  After that, it was back down to the shop.

At 7:10 pm, I surfaced for dinner.  After dinner, I had other things to do, meaning that there was to be no more shop time that night.  I volunteered to do the laundry after dinner, and snuck out to the shop for half and hour while the clothes washer was doing its thing.  After the load was done, I tossed the clothes into the dryer and spent another few minutes in the shop.  Soon after, I made my way back upstairs before anyone noticed my absence.

Even when I’m nowhere near my shop, by no means am I away from woodworking.  I often bring a small piece with me with a third of a sheet of sandpaper.  The longer I am away for, the smoother my workpiece is when I get back home.

Those who know me know that I am never without a pen (usually one of my handcrafted beauties).  Whenever I get an inspiration, I jot it down.  And I get my inspirations from absolutely anything.  Most people look at an object and take it for what it is.  When I see something, I look at it and dissect it.  I analyse its proportions and shape.  Is it pleasing to the eye?  Does it look top heavy?  Too tall?  I look at its function and why it is able to do what it does.  Then I think about what something with the same shape could be made into.  If it has any moving parts, could that same principle somehow be incorportated into a workpiece?  The mind of this die-hard woodworker never stops.

A Gift Box

By the way, the bowl above was a retirement gift for a friend, Klaus.  I built a small box for it out of Western Red Cedar with box joints and used cedar shavings for packing material.  I named the bowl “Out of the Woods” and used a wood-burning tool to mark the bottom.  I think that it’s an appropriate pun.  He was thrilled.

Bottom Detail