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!


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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