Waterleaf Molding — Exercise in Repetition!

 

Sample Piece and Frame to Be

Sample Piece and Frame to Be

Foster Planing Mill No. 95

Foster Planing Mill No. 95

A very classic design for moldings is the waterleaf motif.  Although they appear quite complicated its form comes from a series of cuts made with specific chisels in a given sequence.  Whew, all that being said as an ultra runner I seem to like repetition; you know the process — left foot, right foot, etc., etc. Start that pattern and in 10 hours or so you’ve conquered whatever 50 mile mountain race you happen to be doing at the time.  One of the molding profiles we found at Foster Planing Mill seconds area is the one pictured here.  It currently lists for $6.85 per foot and I know we paid a lot less than that for it!  The waterleaf will fit nicely on the Ovolo section.

For reference I’m using the water leaf molding series on Chris Pye’s website as well as his book:  Wood Carving, Projects & Techniques.  Another book used for reference is by Frederick Wilbur:  Carving Architectural Detail in Wood.  These are books that have been around for quite some time so you can probably find them bargain priced on eBay.  I also use Pinterest and image searches on the internet.  All that being said, the most difficult thing to find is detailed images of how to treat the corners of the molding — thankfully Diane has a pretty good eye for that, mine is still developing!

The frame I’ll be doing has a sight size of 16″ x 20″ and can handle a stretched canvas.  After doing a practice section and gilding it to see how difficult that may be I was ready to begin work.  I’ll break this up into a couple of slide shows to give you the basis of how I went about it — no substitute for Chris Pye’s video and practice but hopefully it’ll break the process into simpler steps.  First was to make a plastic template that fit in the Ovolo section of the molding.  The eye (place where two leaves meet) is generally 1/3 of the distance but your gouge size determines it as well, I had a #5/23mm.

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The spacing of the units was trial and error but main focus was matching the gouge size to create a nice pattern.  To draw the straight lines the pencil point is put into the divider mark, slide the square edge of the pattern to it, and draw your line, just be sure your pattern in 90 degrees and square.  A #9/3mm is used to make the eyes followed by a punch to flatten the torn fibers at the bottom.

Now it’s time to shape the leaves themselves.  I began by using hand pressure to lightly set the line from the lower corner to the eye.  This was followed by what I hoped were uniform taping with a light mallet to set them in to a consistent depth.  All cuts were made in one direction then the other.  Now to remove a crescent shaped sliver using the same #5/23mm gouge — difficult to get consistent cuts as you can see so practice is required!  I keep reminding myself though about that saying of the beauty of handcrafted items being their imperfections.  Also, it’s the painting that should be the star while the frame has the supporting role.

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Secondary Leaves

Secondary Leaves

When the frame is gilded the variations shouldn’t be so obvious. Now that the main leaves are complete the secondary ones between them need to be formed.  The #5/6mm fishtail is just right for this step.  By cutting all from one direction, then the other, then both sides of the main leaf I hoped to achieve a uniform rhythm.  Once all four sides were cut, they were popped out using either the fishtail or a small, skewed gouge.

All that remains is to form the tops of the leaves.  The line between the eyes was first stabbed with a double beveled, fishtail chisel (#1F/16mm) making it deeper at the top and shallow on the eye line.  The tops of the leaves were then formed with a #5/12mm fishtail.

So there you have it, a short tutorial on cutting waterleaf molding.  The question that always comes up is: “how long did it take?”  The first one didn’t count because I took all of these pictures to share the process but the second, 16″ leg took right at 45 minutes.  I recently had a conversation with a fellow woodworker and her and I seem to be on the same page.  Doing things like this is all about the process, the reward is mainly your own self-satisfaction.  Can’t ask for anything better than that as far as I’m concerned!

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Share the Completed Frames

Finding a good location to photograph these frames has proven difficult!  At home I’ll use the side of the house in the mornings before the sun hits and the lighting is really quite nice.  These are the best I can get here in Scottsdale — a corner of Diane’s studio which is lit up nicely now that she too has an LED shop style light from Rockler.

Not sure why I’ve started calling the 8″x10″ a Corner Leaf Motif — it’s really a flower!  Just to recap, the Celtic Knot one was made from molding we got when we went to Foster Planing Mill from their “second’s pile”.  The other is modified from the molding they made based on Diane’s design.  In my last post about this frame it was ready for  the gilding  process.  Due to the depth of the molding there was some concern on my part about how this would turn out.  Here’s a look at the gilding process for the corners:

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Still working on the carving, it can certainly be frustrating being the student!  Watch video’s, read books, read blogs, and then for some reason my chisel doesn’t seem to do what I think it should.  Like Diane and I both say: ” if it was easy, everybody would do it”.  This is really all about the process of trying to accomplish as much as possible in life and keep on keeping on — next frame is going to be an exercise in perseverance for sure.

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New Picture Frame – Celtic Knot

Celtic Knot Practice

Celtic Knot Practice

Frame designs are chosen for a couple of reasons but one major one is so that I can develop different carving skills.  A fairly common theme would include interlaced patterns like those found in Celtic designs.  I have a friend, Mike Cook, who does some of the most intricate and beautiful Celtic designs I’ve ever seen so to “be like Mike” I set out to find one to use for a future frame.  Mary May has one in a lesson so that seemed to be the right one to choose for my first.  Fairly straight forward and after completing the pile of sample ones you see in this picture decided it was time to stick it on a frame.  Now the complication I had seems obvious but until actually putting the design on the actual frame it never entered my mind!  Mary May carves this knot onto a flat, solid board.  After doing it on some flat stock I also practiced on a cut off from the molding which proved to more of a challenge.

Profile

Profile

The frame I chose has this profile and is about  3 -1/2″  wide tapering from almost nothing to  1- 3/4″ in height.  Now add the miter to it and you end up with an odd shaped design at the frame corners that resembles two thirds of a pyramid.  For patterns  I like to use the plastic container material used for salads.  It’s easy to cut, flexible enough to press into the coves of a picture frame, they’re thick enough so a pencil traces the edge, and they’re easily flipped over when the sides of a design aren’t exactly the same which is the case here.  To make the pattern is easy, use double stick tape and cut it out.

Ready to start

Ready to start

Due to the strange angles at the miter the border around the knot was no longer parallel to the edges of the frame when the pattern is bent over the miter.  That problem was overcome by drawing parallel lines for the border.  This meant that even though the border is parallel, the knot is angled upwards.  In her video, Mary said to treat the outlining of the knot more like a chip carving.  Rather than using a gouge to form the radius, an 8mm straight chisel was used to carve around the outline.  This was an interesting process, I needed to constantly keep in mind the angle of the cuts in relation to the angle of the molding profile.  You can see how the initial drawing looked in this picture.  The challenge was to keep the sides straight and correctly angled — that was challenge one!

Next was forming the over/under look and removing the three areas between the loops.  Challenging enough on my flat, practice piece but even more so on these mitered and beveled corners.  The process was accomplished using the small, straight chisel, a #7 fishtail and a pair of #2, skewed spoons purchased a long time ago and rarely needed — until now!  They require kind of a strange angle to cut, made even stranger by the profile of this molding.

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I’m pleased with the results.  The grain goes in so many different directions it was time to look at it and say “enough is enough!”  The real star will be the painting that will eventually find a home in this 14″ x 18″ frame, I just want to add something pleasing to set that painting off in its own little world.

Next challenge — gilding!

 

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Short Follow-Up on Leaf Motif Frame

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and I know the quality of that picture will have a lot to do with that!  That being said I’d like to have a photographic history of the frames made during our Scottsdale adventure.  Seems as if the best place available is on top of the carving bench with the LED light on and the shade closed.  Not ideal but the best possibility here in Scottsdale.    These two pictures of the frame have very subtle differences:

Can you spot the difference?  On the left is how the composition gold looks when it’s first applied — notice how shiny and almost brassy it appears?  Compare that to the image on the right.  Here the panels (coved section on inside) and the outer band have been very lightly scuffed with 4/0 steel wool to knock down that shininess.  A traditional method of treating gold leafed frames is to alternate burnished and mat finish sections.  Since composition gold can’t be burnished I’ll leave alternating sections (carved corners and inner ribbon) un-scuffed by the steel wool to hopefully achieve that traditional effect.   After that the entire frame was sealed with two coats of platinum blonde shellac applied with an air brush.  The last step is to tone it down somewhat, I’m working up a few samples before I commit to that process.

In the meantime I’ve started on another frame based on a design by Mary May.  It features a Celtic Knot.  Here’s a picture of the almost completed frame as a teaser:

Celtic Knot Frame 14" x 18"

Celtic Knot Frame 14″ x 18″

This is actually the bottom of the frame in my photo set up which shows the depth of this particular carving.  I will tell you this, when Mary May demonstrated this knot it’s on a solid, flat piece of Oak.  Doing this carving on a mitered corner with a radiused profile really added a degree of difficulty to it.  I’ll share the process and complications in my next blog about it but it was a great learning experience, one that I think turned out successfully.

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Gold on the Leaf Motif Frame

If you read my last post the first carved frame of the Scottsdale adventure was ready for the gilding step.  I use composition gold which I like to refer to as Dutch Gold because of my heritage.  However; Diane feels this term is somewhat derogative and gives a cheap connotation to the process.  Since I want to market frames I’ll try to add the term, composition gold to my vocabulary instead.  Although I’ve done 22 karat gold leaf using the traditional water gilding method it gives me a lot of trouble!  I seem to have more than the normal amount of static electricity so the gold leaf just wraps around the gilders tip most of the time!  I’ve tried all the tricks, anti-static mats, anti-static gloves, standing on wet newspapers, humidifiers, etc. to no avail.  Add the cost of the materials and the additional labor of mixing and applying multiple coats of gesso and clay and I’m somewhat resigned to using only the composition gold.  All that being said, I’d love to take a traditional water gilding class from Charles Douglas up in Seattle to see if the humidity there would be beneficial to eliminate some of the static problems I have — maybe my next adventure!

 

Sizing Studio?

Sizing Studio?

The mailman brought  the slow set size from LA Gold Leaf Thursday so I applied a thin coat last night.  Needless to say, the conditions were less than ideal as this photo shows.  This is the  balcony of our apartment so wanting to have adequate ventilation decided this is where the process should take place. Winds were calm so not overly concerned about the dust, I moved the box and frame into the storage area you see behind the box.  I had lights on in there, the balcony light, plus the two rooms that face the balcony as well.  Just hoped I had adequate coverage of the size — always hard to tell in poor light.  Since the oil size needs about 10-12 hours to reach the proper tack, early morning laying of the leaf was on the schedule.

On the Way!

On the Way!

The workbench proved to be just the right height for gilding, I like the work to be slightly above my waist for this task.  It usually takes me a few sheets of gold to “get into the zone”.  Since this molding is modified from Diane’s custom design a full sheet of the composition gold covers all but the last half inch of the side.  I was more than pleased with how the leaf went into the carving.  This was the unknown, how deep could I carve and get the leaf down into it without cracking.

Molding Profile

Molding Profile

 

The profile of the molding looked like this before carving.  That very pronounced ridge going into the cove needed to be tapered down before the leaf motif was carved.

 

Close Up of Gilded Corner

Close Up of Gilded Corner

In this close up, you can probably see how that was accomplished.  Next up is toning the frame and knocking down the glare of the composition gold — it just doesn’t compare to 22kt. gold but we’ve already discussed that!  Since you really can’t burnish composition materials, that was done first on the yellow burnisher/sealer. After at least 24 hours to ensure that the oil size is completely dry it’ll be time to knock down the brightness of the leaf.  For that I use 4/0, oil-free Liberon steel wool only.  I’m going to experiment a bit on this frame and knock down the panel, outer edge, and sides only leaving the ribbon and the carving as is.  This is followed by a couple of coats of clear shellac that is sprayed on.  I’ll wait until Monday morning to do that, not too sure how the other tenants near me will like the smell of shellac in the morning.  Waiting till Monday rather than tomorrow (Sunday) gives me a better chance of not having too many folks around that may complain about the smell!  I purchased a small, quiet compressor just for this purpose so anxious to see how it’ll perform.  My shop Porter Cable pancake is way too noisy for apartment living.   My plan is to make a series of pictures of the frame showing its progression from the bright gold it is now to (hopefully) a toned down version ready for someones painting.

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First Scottsdale Adventure Picture Frame

Clayed Up & Ready for Gold!

Clayed Up & Ready for Gold!

So it begins — the first of hopefully many frames that I’ll be able to accomplish on our 6 months Scottsdale adventure!  This one features the corner leaf design from Chris Pye’s series.  What you see is ready to be gilded but I’m waiting for the slow set gilding size to arrive from LA Gold Leaf.  Silly me, thought it would be a cinch to find it here in the Phoenix area but neither Dick Blick, Jerry’s Artarama, or the local Arizona Art Supply carry oil based — just that water borne stuff I don’t like!  Thought I’d begin this blog by showing the final results and then back track and explain the process used to get here.  Very anxious to see how the composition gold (which I like to refer to as Dutch Gold) will confirm to the depth of this carving — that’s the unknown at this point.

This frame is for an 8″ x 10″ painting and measures about 4″ wide.  It’s modified from the remaining molding Diane had custom made at Foster Planing Mill.  After doing three exercises of the corner leaf motif from CP’s website I decided it could make a nice frame.  The challenges were to incorporate a design from a flat piece of wood to the coved profile of this frame.  First up was to draw in a double ribbon that would go around the entire frame then diagonally across the coved area as the border of the design calls for.  Drawing free-hand is not one of my strong suits so several templates were made.  Using the plastic from salad containers will give you a template that has some real advantages.  First of all it’s flexible enough to conform to the coves, you only need to make a half pattern since you can flip it over to do opposite sides of the corner, and lastly it is clear so you can see through it for proper placement.  It took two templates to accomplish the inside ribbon, the outside of the straight frame sections were done with a combination square and pencil.

Notice in picture #2, a diagonal line was drawn across the width of the ribbon to determine the template location to add the width.   This “ribbon” may look a little bit off but that’s probably because of the cove of the profile.  Pretty tricky to outline it with the V-chisel too!  There is a pretty hard line where the flat section of the frame transitions to the cove which was softened with a #3/20

gouge.  At this point the entire frame was sanded with 220 grit paper.  Since I want the carving to be crisp there’ll be no more sanding after this.

Center Boss in corners of frame

Center Boss in corners of frame

Once the ribbon was complete around the frame it was outlined with the V-chisel in its entirety.  It’s not perfect and I’m considering taking a marking gauge the next time I need to carve a straight line completely around the frame — it may give the V-chisel a guiding point.  Now it’s time to locate the center boss, this too was awkward to the profile but I’m happy with how it turned out.  Cut with a #8/8mm using hand pressure only.  My concern here was popping it out accidentally or having it separate since it’s located right on the mitered joint; all’s good!

Being symmetrical is important in a picture frame.  There is that saying about the beauty of an item crafted by hand are its imperfections but you don’t want to take that too literal!  The goal is that they’re all pretty similar but not so hard edged that they appear to be either compo or CNC routed.  After drawing in and cutting the three main leaf separations on each corner (again with the help of a template) the details were drawn in on all sides before any carving began.  In this picture you can see those 3 main lines that radiate from the corners and the top of the miter.  Notice how steeply the cove comes into the miter making it pretty interesting to carve!CornerLeafFrame-WoodworksbyJohn-Design-InitialCarve - 1

The motif on the right side has been outlined with a variety of #5 and #3 gouges that approximated the shapes of the leaf.  Once that was complete on all four corners the modeling began.

In this next photo, the right side has been modeled, primarily with #8 gouges and then the edges were rounded over with a small #3 fishtail.  It’s beginning to look like a real leaf!

In Progress

In Progress

That leads us back to the first picture where the entire frame is now covered with a yellow burnisher/sealer that I get from LA Gold Leaf too.  I’ve found that with the yellow, any cracking of the composition gold is less noticeable.  That’s the next step, still trying to figure the logistics of that process.  When Diane came home after I had applied the size she noticed the smell right away!

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More than one way to skin a Cat!

          ….and I don’t mean this one!

Ali checking it out!

Ali checking it out!

Just thought I’d start this out with a little bit of humor and show you how close to me my cat likes to be.  When we first began our search for a 6 month place to live, finding one with a garage was high on the list.  This proved to be hard to come by and now I really like my little corner of the bedroom where the bench is set up.  An advantage too, is that my Oriental Shorthair (who is bonded with me to the max) can spend more time in my company.  I also wanted to use the title as a lead in to my self imposed teaching.  The phrase, more than one way to skin a cat; is one I used when I taught construction at the boy’s prison — funny how some of the boys took that literally!  Just as I explained to them that there can be more than one way to complete a job successfully, now that I’m on the other side of the desk I’m reminded of exactly how true that is.  While watching both of the workshops I’m enrolled in I see differences in Mary May and Chris Pye approaches as they do similar work.  My task as the student is to experiment using both of their techniques or a modification of them to see which works best for me.  It’s a definite learning process that brings me enjoyment and maybe a bit of frustration thrown in for good measure too!

Corner Motif #1

Corner Motif #1

This project is one I wanted to incorporate into a picture frame.  It’s based on a mirror frame that Chris Pye has on his site.  Essentially it has an 8″ diameter mirror on a flat piece of Lime wood , I was attracted to the leaf motifs in the corners and thought they could be incorporated into a design for a frame.  This is the first attempt on a piece of the Basswood brought from home that is somewhat grainy — excuse? yep!  After quite a bit of experimentation this is the final result.  It’s interesting, being on the student side of the desk and watching CP (Chris Pye) take out those little pieces that outline the edges of the leaf — cut here, cut there, and out it pops!  Took quite some time and practice to get that process down.  Just a side note here, I have some friends (you know who you are Bill!) that have suggested that if I didn’t spend the time to photograph and blog I could probably get done quicker.  The bottom line is that by following this process it makes me stop and think, plus there is now reference material on line for me to refresh my memory when this process is needed again.

Corner Motif #2

Corner Motif #2

The next step was putting this leaf motif onto another Basswood piece, this time mocked up to mimic the miter joinery found on picture frames.  Grain direction would really be interesting here!  I had some concern about the boss in the center of the leaves but the results were acceptable.  Laying out the inner curve was interesting and will be even more so when it comes time to do the actual frame.  That penciled in line on the inner edge shows where there is a ridge on the actual molding.

Molding Profile

Molding Profile

 

Okay, it didn’t come out too badly on the flat surface in #2 but the frame in mind has a very pronounced ridge and cove to it’s profile.  MM (Mary May) had a video where she did an altar piece that was already assembled with mitered joints.  Watching that gave some inspiration of how I may approach this.  Lay-out was tricky but I’ll explain that more when I do the actual frame.  Here’s a piece of the molding with the design partially drawn on it.  It’s not mitered so that’s only penciled in.  The design will have two “ribbons” that separate in the corners and I’d like to have them crisscross in the middle of each leg.

Corner Motif #3

Corner Motif #3

Work began by rounding over the pronounced ridge before starting work on the design itself.  Any problems encountered now will only be magnified when working on the already assembled.  In any case here’s the results on the molding profile sample.  I can see I was a bit too aggressive with the initial outline of the area with the V-tool.  Also need to be more careful to maintain a uniform width where the ribbon dives into the corner.  All I can say is “so far – so good”.  Many unknowns at this point which can only be solved by doing.  The carving needs to be deep enough to be clear under the gesso (sealer/burnisher) but not so deep that it’s difficult to lay the leaf without it cracking and leaving many voids.  Onward and upward — anxious to see how this will all end on my first, Scottsdale Adventure frame!  I’ll leave you with this picture of the pre-assembled, uncarved frame and the sample piece.  This frame is for an 8″ x 10″ painting.

Frame to Be!

Frame to Be!

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Rosette/Patera Final Post

This blog about the Rosette will start with two pictures, taken at the same time with my iPhone but at slightly different angles to illustrate the way the light hits the carving.  I’m super happy with the “fruits of my labor” and since my blog is all about sharing my woodworking journey with you, hopefully you’ll not find all of this boring!  The purpose of our Scottsdale Adventure for Diane is to focus on her painting and really get involved with the Scottsdale Artists School.  Mine is to become a better carver, concentrating primarily on picture frames — that’s where I have a slight quandary!  I love the modeling and the effect of the light illustrated by these pictures but realistically that would probably not be found on a gilded picture frame.  With gilding, much of the detail would be obscured by the gesso applied prior to the gold leaf.  Even at that, my perfectionism drives me to get the cleanest, sharpest carving I possibly can and after the third Rosette feel it’s time to move on.  Those of you that know me personally know of my obsessiveness and difficulitng in knowing when to say “enough is enough”.

Okay, I’ll say it now, it’s enough!  The next carve I want to tackle is one that can also be done on one of the frames I brought along with us.  One area of the Rosette that really gave me lots of trouble was scooping out the insides of the main petals, can you see the progression of that area in these pictures?

Using Chris Pye’s video workshop is a real benefit and I’ve watched him doing that scoop section over and over.  Finally (after the umpteenth time) I grasped onto what he was doing with the gouge and now it won’t be forgotten.  It was all about the slicing motion up and out of the hollow when he reached the center point.  Almost as if he used the gouge to create a faint vein line there.  Maybe this will explain it better:

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It’s like so many things we learn, seems really daunting at first but after several attempts you have that ah-ha moment and you wonder why that didn’t happen sooner!  Like Diane says, if it was easy everybody would do it!

Enough work and blogs about this project though  The over-all goal for me is to keep learning these small steps and strife to incorporate them into larger projects.  My focus will be teaching myself to become more proficient at carving plus improving my sharpening techniques to make it somewhat easier.  Invested in some DMT continuous diamond stones today since they are very highly rated and not as messy as oil stones — want to make sure we get our cleaning deposit back for the apartment.  Shavings are easy enough to get off the carpet, sharpening oil and sharpening residue would be a different story!  Besides, Woodcraft gave me a 10% off coupon for my upcoming birthday that just had to be used.

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Some Issues (problems) but also some Solutions!

Even though I’m over half way into my sixth decade I really dislike the word “retired”; like Diane says it gives her the connotation of giving up.  At church there is a group called The Next Chapter so that’s what I’m adopting at this stage —- I’m into my next chapter!  Looking back over the years there have been many, many chapters of my life so why stop now.  The goal is to end each day a little more skilled and with a bit more experience than the day before even if it’s accompanied by a bit of frustration.  Okay, enough philosophizing, you can  probably imagine how my day went!

Rockler LED Shop Light

Rockler LED Shop Light

First issue I’ve had to deal with is the lighting.  Planned to visit the Rockler store here in Phoenix to also see about doing hand cut dovetail lessons and while perusing the aisles found their 4′ LED Shop Light.  Here you can see how much bright, daylight this thing puts out.  Very light in weight and the apartment managers said any hole up to the size of a quarter was acceptable.  Hung this with plastic anchors, hooks, and chain provided.  There are two strips of LED’s with an aluminum reflector and, much to my Dutch guys approval — it’s currently on sale!

For the sake of comparison, here are the before and after pictures.  I’ll need to play around with the settings on the camera to find the best quality picture.  Needless to say, this old camera doesn’t have a light source setting for LED!

I suppose that this means I can’t use the lack of being able to see what I’m doing as an excuse anymore.

The second issue is one that I’m sure plaques anyone who carves or works wood and that’s sharpening.  On this project I’m doing it’s become obvious that chisels that don’t have the sharpest possible edge just lead to frustration.  You’ve heard me say that if you ask 12 woodworkers the same question you’ll get 13 different answers and this is no exception.  I checked out the videos from both Chris Pye and Mary May and guess what — they both have a slightly different take on it.  As Chris says: “Sharpening is not a mystery but a skill — a make or break aspect of carving”.  Although my sharpening skills for cabinet chisels and planes is where I’d like it to be using water stones and jigs, carving gouges are a different matter.

Chris Pye suggests taking one chisel and really working it until it’s right.  He calls for quite a pronounced inner bevel (Mary May disagrees) so I’m combing their advice for my work.  For these I’ll be using oil stones, old ones that I’ve had for probably 30-40 years!  No power since that can mess things up in a hurry, and not water stones since they’re difficult to keep flat especially in our current apartment situation.  Carved Ram's Horn Table Big Leaf Maple and Chakte KokI began with one of the chisels I’ve had the longest, a #5/19 that I bought for this commission.  I also had a #5/23 which I’ll use for comparison.  This was a table for an art gallery and my first attempt at adding a carved element to my furniture.  That makes this chisel at least a dozen years old or so and during that time most of the honing has been done on a paper wheel charged with compound.  Pretty obvious when I look at it closely that it has many facets and some rounding over.  Rather than bore you with a lot of verbiage let me explain what was done with this slideshow:

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After working it on the rough stone and finally raising a burr on the inside, I switched to a finer stone.  This was followed up by stropping.  I can see that the bevel is square but the heel is slightly off.  I could use a finer stone to get more polish but this is what I have for now.  The adage I tell my students when I teach sharpening is true here too: “if you see something, you have nothing!”  When you inspect the cutting edge any light reflected means there is a dull spot.  I’m pleasedwith being able to establish one long bevel from heel to the tip by hand which did take some time.  Used the technique of locking in my elbow, swaying my body from side to side, and rotating the gouge at the same time.  This is how both Chris and Mary approach sharpening.

Well, that takes care of a couple of issues which leaves one major one to solve ……

Operator Technique!

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Always Learning & That’s a Good Thing!

As we’re coming up on our first full week here in Scottsdale I’m finding that I, a life long teacher; am now in the different role as the student!  I’ve taken classes through-out my life (much to the chagrin of my high school teachers!) where I’ve listened, taken notes, followed directions, etc. but this is proving to be an entirely different experience.  As a student I’m really hard on myself and expect my efforts to be first class the first time out of the gate — reality shows that to never be the case.  Now I need to self motivate, listen to the videos very carefully, take notes, and (as I’m learning) watch them more than once to really grasp what is being shown.  As an ultra-runner I had no problems putting in the miles to prepare myself for an upcoming 50 or 100 mile race knowing it would take lots of training to achieve that goal.  Don’t quite understand why but, mentally; I feel I should be able to master the carving first time out — just not reality.  I am settling down to that and determined to meet my final goal of carving that Edwardian style frame Chris Pye’s newsletter mentioned last month.  I’m thinking of that to be my Doctoral Thesis at the end of this adventure.

First Carving Day Teachings

My buddy -- Ali

My buddy — Ali

After setting up the work area in the master bedroom the first slight problem was Ali, my totally dedicated cat with more loyal, dog like tendencies then most cats tend to have.  She’s an Oriental Shorthair and has really bonded with me over the years.  As you can see, she wants to be right in the middle of whatever I’m doing!  Even striking the chisels with a mallet doesn’t seem to deter her.  I’m realizing how small my space is but it’s all good.  There is room for my laptop so videos’s can be seen (over and over as needed) and some space at the left for tools.  One of the first things I discovered is that the over-all height of the bench is too high.  This is the same height as my bench at home so it took a while to figure out what the problem was.  Eighty percent of the work I do on the portable bench mounted on the right is dovetail and mortise & tenon type work.  For that the chisel is held either vertically or horizontal.  Carving, on the other hand, has a more inclined angle and I found myself standing on tippy toe to get the angle needed to carve.  That resulted in some cramped calves that night.  In any case though, here is what I accomplished on the first carving day:

Other than the figuring out the bench is too high I also came to realize that not all Basswood is created equal!  The pieces of Basswood I brought are nothing like the quality of the picture frame material from Foster Planing Mill or the wood I ordered from somewhere in the Northeast for the sculpted shorts I did, check out this BLOG for that project.  In any case, this wood is grainy and even somewhat stringy resulting in a rougher cut then I want.  I did bring a small, remaining piece of Basswood left from the shorts project and plan to do this carving again on it.  Next problem is the bench height; what did we do  before the internet? After searching through much of the info and finding photos of people carving I came up with what I hoped would be the right dimension.  One thing that kept coming up was to bend your arm at 90 degrees then subtract a few inches from that for the optimum height.  Tried that and also held a carving chisel at what seemed to be the correct angle and had Diane measure where the chisel was.  By the end of the evening, the decision had been made to cut 4 1/2″ off of the legs.  Not having access to my shop and assorted pieces of wood to make temporary platforms to find the height I decided to just go for it and cut first thing in the morning.

Second Day Teachings

My buddy Ali -- day 2!

My buddy Ali — day 2!

By contrast to the first day, here’s how the second day looked after cutting that 4 1/2″ off of each leg.  Ali has decided that she didn’t need to be right on top of me — most of the time!  Since everything has to do double duty, Brandy’s apartment has now become Ali’s roof top terrace, safe place and also a place for me to sit while watching Chris Pye’s videos.

Cutting on the Balcony

Cutting on the Balcony

My Christmas present of the bow saw from CME Handworks proved to be a good one.  As I mentioned before, it’s a tool that has always intrigued me and admittedly I’m not sure of it’s proper name: bowsaw or frame saw?  This one was purchased on eBay and is hand crafted of Curly Maple and Walnut.  The blade is a rip/joinery combination and has 9tpi.  The saw is advertised as an 18″ and since the blade is 1 1/2″ wide I soon learned that it’s quite accurate.  The saw is very light, holding it loosely in my hand and letting the saw do the work gave me a surprisingly accurate cut.  I really do like this tool!  This bench is made of 8/4 Poplar and I really didn’t want to use a dovetail saw on that.

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The altered height of the bench turned out to be much better.  I can get more control and approach the wood at the proper angle.  Learning how to model the wood to make it appear to be an actual petal will take time but I’m pleased with the results so far.  As I mentioned, I want to do this same carving in the better piece of Basswood I have and apply what I’ve learned on this piece to that one.  Here’s a look at the final rosette.  There is a problem with removing pencil marks from wood, especially a soft species like this.  Attempting to sand it without touching the carving proved to be difficult.  As a furniture builder I always want hand planed surfaces so will aim for chisel cut surfaces in my carving as well.  Sanding wood just seems to obscure the grain and beauty of the wood — even this Basswood!

Completed Rosette, first Scottsdale project

Completed Rosette, first Scottsdale project

As we’re settling in there will always be some problems to figure out.  Scottsdale has been getting its share of rain so the overcast skies aren’t helping the lighting situation.  Although I’m set up in front of the window which faces west, I’m not getting a lot of light on my work.  Other units block direct sunlight because of their height.  The overhead light in the bedroom is behind me and I do have the LED desk light to illuminate my work area. I’m not complaining though because it’ll give me an excuse for less than perfection on my carving!

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