Thursday, December 29, 2011

Twelve New Knives

My inventory of knives has been looking awfully sparse as of late.  I took some time out of my holiday vacation, in between Christmas cookies and crispy treats, to make a few more knives.  I'm extremely pleased with how they all turned out.  The variety of wood used for the handles is due to an early Christmas present that I received from a great man who goes by the name of Goody on the Woodcarving Illustrated forum.  Thanks Goody!  There truly is a Santa Clause!  Here's a group photo of all twelve.

Click the Knife Gallery tab at the top of this page to get a full description of each knife, or to purchase your favorite.  Thanks for stopping by. 

Now, time to get back to Cooling His Heels.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On to the Arms

With the legs and feet completed, it’s time to move on to another area of the figure.  I don’t want to do any carving on the torso until I have the arms positioned properly.  I want to make sure I leave myself plenty of wood to fit the arms in a natural position.  With that in mind, I begin carving the arms.

Here’s a photograph of the arm in a rough-out stage.  The hand is turned out at a ninety degree angle.  My intentions are to have the arms angled back supporting the reclining body and the hands angled perpendicular to the body in a natural position.  I will not do any carving on the arm above the rolled-up sleeve until I have the attached position to the body figured out.  Therefore, I will now move to the detail work on the hands.

The above photo shows the fingers penciled in on the bottom of the hand.  Notice that the middle finger is the longest, and the other fingers fan out from there.  These will give me some guidelines to follow as I start detailing the fingers.

These two photos show the hand blocked out and ready for some detail.  Always carve the basic shapes out before attempting to carve in the details.  It’s good practice and helps to conceptualize the finished piece.

The above pictures show the completed hand from different angles.  Working in the endgrain was a challenge, and I might have been better off carving the hand as an attachment, but, I’m quite pleased with how things turned out.  The palm of the hand was not completely carved, since it will be facing down on the landscape of my scene.

The final photograph shows the arm held against the body in the approximate position for the finished composition.  I considered making the hands larger, but I really wanted to add extra emphasis on the size of the feet.  I can picture this fellow leaning back, soaking his feet in the cool water, with a gigantic grin on his face.  The concept seems to be coming together rather nicely.  Now, one more arm to carve and I’ll get the arms attached to the body.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Successful Surgery

As you may remember from my post earlier this week, I was not satisfied with the way the feet turned out on my figure for the “Cooling His Heels” project.  After careful consideration, I came to the decision to amputate his pathetic little toes, and perform some judicious reconstructive surgery.  As you can see in the photographs below, the surgery was a complete success!

I am so much more satisfied with the feet now.  They now represent my ideal of what caricature feet should be.  The gentle curves and angles of the toes are so very pleasing now and the proportions are perfect for the mood I was attempting to portray.  Let’s have a look at the before and after photographs and perform a short critique.

The first photograph shows the foot the way it was originally carved.  Notice how the toes look deformed, small, and not very interesting; not to mention that one toe is missing completely.  After the repair, the toes have a nice curve to them, they are long, and have a natural shape.  Notice as well that the glue joint is almost invisible, and with a careful paintjob, it will disappear entirely.  Even though they have been exaggerated in the way all good caricatures are, they are still identifiable as toes and have a quality of uniqueness about them. 
Since the feet are to be the main focus of this project, it was imperative that I get them right.  Now, they should look fantastic, sticking up out of the bubbling little stream that I have envisioned in my mind.  With the successful surgery behind me, I am now completely satisfied with this feature and ready to move on to the next stage of the design.
The moral of the story here is, when something goes wrong and you make a mistake, don’t abandon your efforts.  With a little more thought and labor, you can fix your blunder.  Although sculpting in wood is generally a “subtractive” art, where material is removed until the subject is revealed, with a little thought and a bottle of carpenter’s glue, a seemingly disastrous mistake can turn into a satisfying triumph.  After all, we use add-ons on our carvings all of the time.  I have simply added-on some rather nice looking toes.

Monday, December 12, 2011

When Things Go Wrong

I've had little time to dedicate to my “Cooling His Heels” project over the past week.  But, I have made some progress on the lower body.  The photos below show the progress that I have made on the legs and feet of my reposing cowboy:

I am pleased with the manner in which the pants and legs have turned out.  I managed to get some nice fold details incorporated into the design.  There is one particular area in which I am not pleased and that is the feet.

The general shapes and details of the foot are spot on and quite pleasing, but, for all the “extra” wood I set aside for carving the feet, I did not leave myself enough.

As you can see in the photo above, I did my best to “squeeze” the toes into the available wood.  I really wanted the big toe to be large and exaggerated.  It should look great sticking up out of the stream of water in the final piece and I am quite pleased with the outcome.  After carving the first “Little Piggy”, I was left with even less wood to work with.  After mulling it over for a time, I made the decision to carve only three more toes onto the foot.  As the photo shows, even carving three toes in this small amount of space was pushing the limits.
After looking it over, and a few long moments of head scratching, I decided that the looks of a four-toed cowboy just wasn’t going to make the cut.  I wanted this piece to be a special one, so, anything less than my best effort would not be acceptable.  Therefore, as I promised at the beginning of this journey, I will show how I overcame this problem.
The way I saw it, I had three options.  The first option was to throw out the entire piece and start over again.  Second, I could cut the feet off below the rolled-up pant legs, carve a new set, and reattach them as an add-on.  Finally, I could attach more wood to the foot and recarve the toes.
I had put a significant amount of effort into this figure at this point, and I really liked how the pants of this hombre had turned out, so option one was out of the question.  Option two was a good solution, but, once again, I liked how the big toe turned out and the overall shape of the foot.  Ultimately, I chose to go with option three. 
Tip from the Stump:  There are almost always simple solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems when it comes to carving.  Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!  As in this mistake, a simple glueup can save you hours of carving a piece over again.  Moral: don’t give up.  Adapt and overcome.
After a quick trip out to the shop, here’s how the feet looked post-amputation.

I amputated the deformed feet with my stationary disk sander, sanding off the three decrepit toes.  Sanding the area perfectly flat makes a smooth and consistent surface for gluing.  I scrounged through my cut-off box and found a couple of small chunks of wood that I could use for this glue up.  After sanding the mating surface of the prosthetic pieces of wood, I glued them onto the feet using carpenters glue and rubber bands for clamps.  The following photo shows a seemingly successful addatoetome surgery.

I know that the amount of wood I have attached is somewhat excessive, but I’m not going to be left wanting for wood again!  Once the glue is completely dry, I will attempt to find four more toes in those new blocks, and if everything works out as planned, I’ll be back on track again in no time.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A New Journey - "Cooling His Heels"

I thought it might be fun to take you along on a creative journey with me.  I hope you will join me as I begin with simple inspiration and see it through, until that idea is realized in a finished carving worthy of a special place on the mantel.  In doing so, I hope to share the creative process that I go through as I start with an idea and develop it into a concept.  Once the concept is understood, you will observe how it evolves and develops as creativity and, on occasion, serendipity, take over.  I’ll share with you the successes and the mistakes, for there are sure to be many, that I have along the way.  You’ll likely see how I struggle to rise above obstacles and perhaps how ingenuity and utter tenacity can overcome almost anything.
I hope this will inspire some of you to move away from the cookie-cutter patterns available out there in books or on the web, and carve something truly original, something you can claim as your own.  Now, please don’t misunderstand.  Carving someone else’s pattern or following a tutorial is a great way to learn technique and practice your carving skills.  But, there is nothing more satisfying than coming up with an original idea and seeing it through to a completed work.  The whole process is euphoric and all consuming.   Let’s get started.
The inspiration for this carving concept came to me as I attended my first carving show over the summer in Provo, Utah.  There was a beautiful piece on display depicting an animal walking in a steam of water.  The water was so realistic and well done, that it inspired me to make an attempt at incorporating water into a scene with one of my caricatures.  The vision of a cowboy sitting alongside a stream, dangling his feet into the water to cool his heels, began to take shape.  Thus, inspiration struck and a concept began to take form.  Ideas can come from anywhere.  You simply have to be open to new possibilities.
The Idea:  “Cooling His Heels”
The Concept:  A caricature cowboy, lounging on the bank of a stream with is feet dangling in the water and a look of ecstasy on his face.  His hat and boots will be cast haphazardly on the side of the bank.  Great care and attention will be given to the landscape to make it as detailed and realistic as possible.  Some other fun elements will be incorporated as inspiration continues to come.
With a solid idea and a concept to work from, it’s time to give the mind a bit of a rest and put the hands to work.  I’m not one for fancy patterns and detailed drawings.  For one thing, I’m not good at pencil sketches.  For me, a simple pattern that I will use to cut out my carving blank will suffice.  Ideas for the details will come from my imagination, personal observations, and research photographs as necessary.  As I stated before, my cowboy will be relining back on the bank of a stream.  After deciding that my figure would be around nine inches tall if he were standing up straight, I sketched out the following pattern.

As you can see from the photo, my pattern is a simple outline which I will use to cut out my blank.  The figure will be made up of four parts: the head, two arms, and the body/legs.  I prefer to carve heads and arms separate from the body.  Carving them separate gives me the flexibility to get the positioning of the limbs correct and the tilt and angle of the head just right.  You will see what I mean as the creative process continues.

After a trip to my workshop and the wonderful aroma of basswood sawdust, I returned with my blanks cut out.  You can see in the above photographs that I have left an excessive amount of wood for the hands, feet, and shoulders.  The extra wood at the hands and feet will give me the opportunity to get the shape and angle that I need to make the figure look natural.  The extra wood at the shoulders will also allow me to attach the arms at the correct angle for the position of the body.
Tip from the Stump:  When cutting out blanks, always leave yourself “extra” wood.  This excess wood can be removed easily as you refine the shape of the object, but adding wood onto a piece if you run out is a much more difficult process.
With the parts cut out, it’s time to put steel to wood and begin the carving process.  The following two photographs show the progress of my carving.

Take note that I have only “Blocked Out” the carving.  Don’t rush the details!  I know that the fine detail carving is what most of us carvers live for, but you must first get the basic shapes correct before beginning detail work.  If you are not patient, you may find yourself carving off premature details as the carving takes form, wasting valuable time and effort.  Take things slow and allow the general shapes to form before moving on to the fun part.
Thank you for joining me on the first leg of my journey.  I hope you will come back often to follow along with me.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

My Shop-Made Tool Sharpener

I mentioned that I made my own sharpening system a few weeks ago on the Woodcarving Illustrated forum and was inundated with questions about it.  I thought that I might take some time and share it with you.  Here’s a photo of the overall sharpening unit.

First of all, let me say, I made this as a prototype with the materials that I had lying around my workshop, so it's not as pretty and polished as it could be.  I built the box out of scrap 3/4" MDF and the front from a piece of 1/4" underlayment, all held together with wood screws and no glue so that I can open it up for maintenance.  I really made it as an experiment to see if it could be done and it worked so well that I never got around to making the finished product.  Let's take a look at the parts.

Here's the meat and potatoes of the sharpener.  I went to my local thrift shop looking for a motor that I could use for this project.  I found a foot massager that had a DC motor in it that looked like it would have enough power to get the job done for about $8.00.  After stealing the motor, AC to DC transforming circuit, belt, bearings, and pulley with spindle, I mounted them in the configuration that you see here.  The spindle protrudes through the top table of the unit to give me a place to mount my sharpening disks.  It's not very technical, I just adapted the equipment that I found.  I also used the power chord and wiring from the foot massager too.  Now that I have the mechanical system in place, I needed to add some controls.

Here's the front face showing the sharpener's controls.  As the prototype developed, I kept asking myself questions like, "what if I did this?" and, "I wonder if this would work."  I started with a simple on/off switch, the toggle switch in the upper right corner for about $3.00.  I wired in the switch and gave the unit a test run.  It spun around in a circle just like I though it would, which was very encouraging.  In retrospect, the original on/off switch is redundant after adding the additional controls. So, if you decide to try your own version, you can skip this switch.
Now the questions started coming into my head.  I wondered if I could switch the direction of spin.  With a DC motor, if you switch the polarity to the motor, you change the direction in which it rotates. 
Tip from the Stump:  You have to use a DC motor for this to work.  Switching the polarity on an AC motor will not change the direction of spin.  It's just the nature of Alternating Current power.
After a trip the local hardware store, I returned with a switch called an on/off/on, the toggle switch in the lower right corner, which I purchased for about $5.00.  After a little head scratching and testing with my multimeter, I wired the switch in place and fired the unit up again.  SUCCESS!!!  Flip the switch to the right, the motor spins counterclockwise.  Flip the switch to the left, the motor spins clockwise.  Now I can sharpen both sides of a knife without any trouble.
Next, I really wanted to be able to control the speed at which the motor turned.  After another trip to the store, and another $5.00, I returned with a dimmer switch used for lighting.  The dimmer switch changes the resistance and effectively the current and voltage to the motor.  I squeezed the dimmer into the the box and wired it in place.  SUCCESS AGAIN!!!  I was on a roll.  It worked perfectly.  Here are a couple of photos of the "guts" of the sharpener.  The first picture shows the switches wired in place.  The second shows the AC to DC circuit board that I used from the foot massager.  It looks kind of complicated, but it really wasn't too bad.

With the unit working, it was time to mount the sharpening disks.

Here's a picture of the mounting disk.  I cut this mounting disks and all of my abrasive disks out of a piece of melamine shelving that I picked up from the hardware store for about $10.00.  Melamine is nice and flat, smooth, and very stable, all the characteristic that I was looking for in my sanding disks.  Using my circle cutting jig that I built for my band saw, I cut out 5 inch disks and, using my disk sander and another jig, I trued them up so that they would spin without vibrating.  They aren't perfect, but the vibration is minimal.  The two pins sticking up from the disk are finishing nails and are for mounting the abrasive disks which I'll show you in the next photo.  A little 5 minute epoxy, and the mounting disk is fastened to the spindle below.

This is the bottom of one of my abrasive disks.  The Left and Right holes are drilled to accept the mounting pins from the mounting disk below.  It's a primitive, yet extremely effective method for mounting and interchanging disks as I progress through the sharpening process.

Here are my abrasive disks all lined out.  I cut circles out of progressively finer grit sand paper ranging from 150 to 1500.  The sandpaper costs around $1.25 per sheet for the good-grade wet/dry paper.  To attach the paper to the disks, I simply use rubber cement, the kind you used back in grade school.  It holds the paper in place, and is easy to remove when it's time to change out the paper for a new piece.  The last disk is my strop.  Using an old piece of leather that I had lying around from recent craft projects, I used rubber cement to attach it to a disk, smooth side of the leather down.  After charging it with stropping compound, it's ready to go.

This last photographs shows the stropping disk mounted in place.  The finishing touch was to attach a dowel to the unit to give me a place to wind up the chord when it's not in use.

There you have it.  The shop-made tool sharpener that I build for about $30.00.  It works great!!!  I've sharpened a bunch of my custom knives with it and it just keeps on going.  I think it works just as well as the commercial sharpeners that you might spend $200 to $300 and offers extra controls that they may not.  Not too bad for $30.00 and a lazy afternoon in the workshop.