Sculpted Cargo Shorts: Work Diary

The Chopped Challenge contest is over so I can now post this blog!  The title of this project is Heavy Starch and I’m happy to say they tied for third place in the People’s Choice award which gave me a $25.00 prize.

Heavy Starch

Heavy Starch

And so it Begins!

And so it Begins!

Before I begin on this particular blog allow me to explain what it’s all about.  For the Sin City Woodworkers end of the year party we generally have a themed, anonymous show/contest.  This year we’re following the television show “Chopped” format and have a list of mystery ingredients that we need to utilize to make a project of our choice.  Project will be brought in, assigned a number, then displayed around the shop.  Members will select the project they feel is the best and that one will be awarded a gift certificate to Lee Valley.  I’ll get into the mystery ingredients later but first want to get my thoughts down as I attempt this project.  The main ingredient is wood of your choice limited to 1″ x 6″ x 8′ and I chose Basswood for my work.  I’m going to attempt to carve a set of cargo shorts from it.  At this point, this will be more of a diary where I’ll document my thoughts and decisions as I attempt this challenge!  Obviously,  since the contest is anonymous I can’t publish this until it’s over.  It started with soaking the model shorts and using the entire bottle of spray starch to have them maintain their shape.  Pretty straight forward what happened next, three pieces were glued together and then roughed out on the bandsaw:

Carved Basswood Shirt

Carved Basswood Shirt

That was the easy part!  My only other attempt at doing this type of work was when I sculpted/carved a portion of a ruined shirt I had.  The inspiration for that was a carved tank top at WoodItIs that I’ve always admired.  The tank top is a full, in the round carving whereas my shirt is one dimensional — these shorts will be (hopefully) in the round and to be honest, I’m not 100% sure of how to go about it — hence this diary to document my thoughts, successes, and failures!


Roughing out Design

Initial Pocket, creases are too hard!

Initial Pocket, creases are too hard!

Discovering a correct sequence to go about this is completely different from building a piece of furniture, box, or picture frame.  I find I need to “think differently” and first locate the main features of the item and go from there.  I think first the features need to be located.  These include the pockets, belt loops, and zipper.  You learn from your mistakes right?  The first was trying to create everything with straight lines.  Thankfully, Diane has a much better trained eye for this so pointed out that there really isn’t a straight line anywhere on the shorts.  Due to my technical nature I had gone so far as to make a cardboard template of the rear pockets and traced then onto the board!  After cutting out one side and having her critique I soon saw the error of  my ways!  The trick is to make a bit of variation without exaggerating what is really there.  Cloth has a natural flow to it and it’ll be my job as the artist to fool the viewer into thinking this piece of wood is actually a piece of cloth!  In this picture you can see the original hard lined pocket on the right side and then some slight waviness to the outline on the left side.  The cargo pocket begins at the back but will wrap around to the front side.  This is where I realized the main features need to be placed first, the creases and folds of the cloth should come later.  The ones I’ve put in are way to hard but I recall that when I did the shirt it’s best to refine them once the features are in place.  It’s virtually impossible to replicate the actual shorts in the wood sculpt.  What’s required is getting the general flow and then “letting the wood talk to me” with it’s grain direction and workability.

Going Around the Edge

My Basswood is a full inch thick.  My first thoughts were to leave the edges squared off to make it easier to clamp but, as my carving friend Randy pointed out; that’s not a good approach!  According to what he told me, you need to know what’s happening on one side to be able to have it flow over the edge to the other side.  I followed my plan of outlining things first around the edge to each side.  This is still in the rough stage but now that edge needs to be rounded over.  Chisels allowed the grain to splinter off (so to speak) and left a rough finish.  To overcome that my first thought was a block plane but the sole is too long so the obvious tool for this process was the spokeshave.  You can see here that it does work!

The outlining of the pocket needs to be re-carved as the edge becomes round but that’s easily done with a knife and appropriate gouge.

Work continued for a number of days………

Being a naturally detail oriented guy (my principal called me anal!) working on a free flowing project like this is good for me.  No real pressure, just a personal desire to conquer this challenge and see what I can accomplish in this artistic realm of woodworking.  Time doesn’t matter as I bend over the work bench creating what I hope will be some realistic cloth out of this chunk of Basswood.  CarvedShorts-9:2aOne thing I’d forgotten that works to smooth out the wood is spraying it with a mixture of denatured alcohol and water to soften the grain.  Check out how thin the shaving is at the end of the gouge!  As is my bad habit — I’m getting ahead of myself.  The first thing that needs to be done is getting the entire shape and main features in place then, and only then; should I be concerned about the final finish.

The area that’s really giving me fits is where the crotch flows into the legs.  There is so much going on there with folds and creases that Back seam-carvingcloth-8-29bI need to step back and do what I can to simplyify things.  I started by cutting too deep of a crease in that area so now — like Tim Gunn of Project Runway says: “make it work people”!   Well, no sense boring you with the work that’s going on currently with this project.  It’s now September the sixth and I have until December to get it complete.  Just received a custom order for a box on the Etsy store so will be working on that to pay the bills!  Since the holiday season is approaching it’s a good time to make more and build up the inventory.


They are Done!!

Well, as projects go this one was great and as usual — time just doesn’t seem to matter as it is now mid November!  Don’t know how many hours I have in these but I’m satisfied with how they turned out and what I’ve learned.  The Christmas Chopped Challenge is 11 days away and no matter what the results are, I’m pleased with what I’ve accomplished.  The rivets were added, they are brass and from Tandy Leather.  All of the stitching was completed with a tool I made by putting external lock washers on a metal rod with tubing as spacers.  The stitching varies with single, double, and triple rows depending on where it was located.  Here’s a slide show of the finished project.  I fulfilled the requirement of using dowels by having 1/2″ acrylic rods on the stand which is on a lazy susan bearing.  The stand itself is a piece of Poplar.  Here’s a slideshow of the final results:

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About woodworksbyjohn

I'm a retired woodshop teacher. I build one of a kind furniture pieces and custom picture frames. You can see some of my currently available work, boxes, carvings through my Etsy store: Contact me about your project -- always up for the challenge of unique work.
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6 Responses to Sculpted Cargo Shorts: Work Diary

  1. ctregan says:

    Thats very cool. They look like winners to me (third place!!??)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. These turned out very nice!

    Liked by 1 person

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