Sunday, May 31, 2009

New Way of Carving Faces

Last time I mentioned that while carving at Territory Days I tried a new way of carving faces that I like better. I almost always carve faces "on the corner",  that is, with one corner of the block being the nose. I used to start with roughing out the nose, then move to rough out the eyes, then the mouth, THEN start to establish the width and depth of the head. I have now started to change the way I do things. I still begin with establishing the position of the nose and build the face around that. But now I establish the width and depth of the head before I begin on the eyes.

Those of you with sharp eyes will notice that this elf is being carved in Spanish cedar. "What?" you say. "Spanish cedar! Are you nuts? Don't you know that Spanish cedar DOES NOT HOLD DETAILS WELL?"

Well, yeah. I know that. But it was what was close to hand, and, since this was pretty much an experiment with new work methods, I figured that if I FUBAR'ed it I could blame the wood. And if I screwed it up just a little I could use the grain to hide the "design adjustment". So sue me!

Oh, by the way, this is my first elf. Talk about a glutton for punishment!

As it turned out, it wasn't all that bad. Sharp knives and tiny, tiny chips will allow you to carve in almost anything if you have the patience. Besides, I'm the kind of guy who is apt to say, "What the hell, let's try it and see what happens!" (See Kari Hultman's blog post on that kind of attitude and it's gender implications.) 

I also changed the way I do eyes. I normally use a straight "v" cut to establish the eye channels and refine from there. Here I have used a method similar to what Tom Hines uses. I made a stop cut alongside the bridge of the nose with the blade at a slight angle away from the center of the face (to establish the side slope of the nose), moved the blade up until it was almost vertical as I reached the beginning of the eyebrow, and then slanted the knife blade towards the bottom of the face to establish the slope of the upper part of the eye socket. I then started the second cut with the blade at a pretty acute angle up toward the top of the face at the beginning of the previous stop cut. I continued the cut up and around the top of the cheek trying to meet the previous stop cut. When the chip pops out you have established the upper slope of the eye socket and the upper slope of the cheek. Then (particularly if you are working with cedar) you take tiny, tiny chips out of the upper slope of the cheek, increasing that and defining the lower curve of the eye mound. You can see that in the four photos above. I hope. (Click on a photo to get a full size version.)

The point of all this change is that by rounding the face before hand and doing the eyes this way, I seem to be able to be more consistent in forming the eye mounds leaving me more leeway in how I choose to finish the eyes, whether open, winking, or happy squint as I have here.

(BTW, that wispy thing clinging to the elf's hat is NOT a cat hair. No. Absolutely not. It is, in fact, an artifact on the film . . . uh . . . digital imager. Yeah. That's it! An artifact. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

Which brings me back to Spanish cedar. You can carve it. I made several boo-boos that cost me a chunk of the nose and another chunk of the beard (such as it is). I was able to save the piece with two strategies: Start off making things a little bigger than they need to be; cut tiny, tiny chips with a very sharp knife while you are doing details. Because, EVERYONE knows that cedar DOES NOT HOLD DETAILS WELL!. Well, almost everyone.

Speaking of eyes, I do several different types. Probably not good for my "brand", but it keeps me interested. The eyes on the Santa are a type most often seen on Scandinavian Flat Plane figures. Four cuts and pop out a chip. Careful not to pop out the wrong one!

Well, I think I've rambled enough for one day. Until next time, when we get back to the lovespoon (I hope), let the chips fly!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Territory Days!

Well, Territory Days have come and gone, and, boy, were they wet! It rained every day, but it didn't seem to "dampen" [heh] the enthusiasm of the crowds. They'd find shelter while it was raining, then, when it quit, they were back out on the street. 

Territory Days is a street festival sponsored by the Merchant's Association of Old Colorado City, the touristy section of Colorado Springs. It was once it's own entity before Colorado Springs grew enough to gobble it up. Every Memorial Day weekend for the last 34 years they have blocked off the main street for 7 blocks, and set up a double row of vendors tents down the center of the street. There are a couple of stages for musicians, jugglers, and enough food stalls that if you wanted to eat at all of them, you'd have to have 9 meals a day each of the three days!

I was set up outside a store called Handmade Santas & More. This store sells all the Santas I can make. The lady that owns the store, Melanie De Shon, makes very ornate Santa dolls some of which stand 18" tall and sell for $400! My stuff goes for pocket change, comparably.

Someone from the Merchant's Association was going around encouraging people who dressed the part. The guy gave me a lump of peanut butter fudge for having the best "costume" he'd seen all day. Trouble was, I wasn't wearing a costume! That's how I dress when I'm not at work. Oh well, the fudge was good.

Those pictures are to prove that I didn't just sit around looking pretty! I was working! Unfortunately when I work I go into a sort of zen state wherein about the only things that move are my hands. I can do that for hours! Given the fact that I was sitting in a chair that was probably made around the turn of the (20th!) century, that wasn't such a good idea. By the time I finally got up to move around, I was so stiff that I felt as old as I look!

But it was fun. Several of the tourists asked to take my picture. One little boy, looked about two years old, must have been absolutely convinced I was Santa himself, though strangely dressed. He must have stood there for a good five minutes just staring at me while his parents ate funnel cakes. 

In addition, I learned a few things. I found that carving away from home base, and in public, opens you up to new ways of doing things. Since I didn't want to have to keep up with my tool box with all the people around, I "only" brought four knives and a strop in a canvas bag along with the wood. The second day I accidentally left my detail knife at home. That forced me to discover that I can do everything with my 2-1/2" Harley that I can do with my 1" Flexcut, just not quite as quickly. At least as far as Santas go. I did have to modify the way I do my faces, but I like the new method better!

It was a terrific weekend, and I plan to do it again several times this summer.

So, have fun, and, until next time, let the chips fly!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Understanding Lovespoons and The Weekend

If you really want to understand lovespoons go read Dave Western's latest blog post. If I am half as insightful and technically advanced as this man is before I kick the bucket, I'll die a happy man.

This weekend Colorado Springs is hosting Territory Days, the kickoff to the tourist season. I'm going to be demonstrating carving Santa Claus outside a store called Handmade Santas & More. That's the store that sells most of my Santa output. I would have posted a Santa Photo, but I don't have any on this computer, so I opted for old Wetfoot up there. In any case, it should be fun. I'll post some pictures if I can remember to take my camera with me. Probably won't have much time to work on the lovespoon.

Until next time, let the chips fly!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Eagle Lovespoon, New Bowl and Whale-Fish with Teeth . . . uh . . . Tooth

Can you say "unrealistic expectations"?

I knew you could.

Last week I said the Eagle Lovespoon would be finished by now. It's not. It's taking just a leeetle bit more time than I anticipated. Part of that was the fear and uncertainty I was feeling over doing the eagle. As splintery as this piece of wood is, I was really afraid the chip carving would be a disaster. 
It wasn't. It wasn't easy, but it wasn't a disaster. I was able to clean up all the breakouts without too much trouble. All it took was patience. 

I also started relieving the frame around the hearts to bring up the kissing cranes' beaks. The cranes are my next challenge. Once I get them done I'll start on the back. I'm not going to go into anywhere near the detail I've done on the front, but I'm going to clean things up and round them off. If I didn't the spoon would look more like a casting than something carved. More to come.

This is my new bowl, carved from one of those green aspen branches I got a few weeks ago. Being green wood, this one carved very quickly. About the only difficulty I had was in dishing out the outside of the bowl without the blade of my knife catching and chattering.
I thought the design was fairly successful.

I particularly like the way the heartwood goes through the base of the bowl. What do you think?

Hooray! The whale-fish has his tooth! I got the blades from Mike at Preferred Edge this week, and was so anxious to try it out I had to neglect the Eagle Lovespoon and mount the blade. Not that it took all that long.

I traced the outline of the shank of the blade onto the handle, and cut inside the lines with my detail knife. Then I cut out between the lines with a small chisel and one of my other bent knives. The fit wasn't perfect and I need to do better at cleaning up the epoxy, but this was the first time I've ever done this. Overall, not bad. And it cuts like a dream. That larger blade really makes a difference when you need to move a lot of wood. The handle is comfortable, too. The tail makes for the perfect place for my thumb. I'm a happy camper!

Next time, more progress on the Eagle Lovespoon and maybe a bowl or two. Gotta use that new knife!

Until then, let the chips fly!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Whale-fish Redux and Eagle Lovespoon

You see, Kari, I told you the whale-fish was coming back for another sitting. This time he brought both his uppers and his lowers! He's so much more impressive now that he looks like he could do more than just gum you to death. :)

The knife blades didn't come in this week, so I can't finish the knife yet, but stay tuned. It promises to be something of a challenge. 

A few weeks ago I had a post about the evolution of a lovespoon design. I finally got around to starting the pattern I came up with. I first transferred the pattern onto a piece of alder and started drilling out all the places that would be pierced as well as a couple of places outside the pattern that would allow me to decrease the time it would take me to cut down to the outline.

I finally found my old Stanley egg-beater drill again, and drilled all the holes with that instead of the power drill. Call it a quirk. Actually, I discovered, after I learned to use it all over again, that it took no longer to drill a hole with the egg-beater than it did with the power drill -- as long as the holes were a small diameter. The larger the diameter of the drill, the more torque it takes to drill through the wood. You can only get so much torque out of an egg-beater, thus the larger holes didn't make it all the way through the wood before I gave up. Got close enough, anyway. Once the holes were drilled I ripped the handle to thickness with my Japanese saw. I do this after I drill the holes so that any tear-out on the back side will be cut away when I rip the handle.

Once that was done, I carved out the bowl of the spoon and drilled a few more holes in places I missed the first time. You'll notice that I'm not in such a big hurry this time to carve down the thin places, like the junction of the bowl to the handle. I may be a slow learner, but I do learn! In the close up you'll see why I always leave the rim of the bowl higher than it will be at the finish. For one reason or another I always nick the rim of the bowl while hollowing it out.

The next couple of photos show how I've carved the leaves/hearts of the four-leaf-clover and how I've started the piercings. You can see that I've left some extra wood at the bottoms of the hearts in the house to reduce the risk of breakage when I start rounding and relieving them. I've also started chip-carving in the feathers on the eagle.

I have to say I'm not well pleased with alder for this design. It has a tendency to get splintery on narrow cuts such as where the wings join the body and touch the roof of the house. It's also not good on the chip carving. It's nothing than can't be overcome, but it's one more pain in the tuchus that I could do without.  I am, however, pleased with the way the grain in the clover turned out. It kinda looks like I actually planned it that way. [Hah!]

One lesson that pounded itself into my brain while carving the clover was to keep an eye on the WHOLE length of my blade, not just the portion I'm cutting with. I don't know how many times I had to go back and recarve that central rib on one leaf because I put a nick in it while carving a different leaf. 

Next week, if I'm lucky and real life doesn't intrude too much, I'll have finished this turkey . . . . um . . . . eagle lovespoon and have a new knife to play with. Until then, let the chips fly!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

So Much Wood, So Little Time

This week I was multi-tasking. That means I worked on several projects and didn't finish any of them. Well, that's not quite true. I did finish my first bowl . . . . again.

The more I looked at the original, the less I liked that flower pot look. So I decided to get rid of it. I continued the concave curve of the side all the way up to the rim. I think it improved things a lot. I feel that it made the grain of the wood show up much more attractively. The next bowl I do I'm going to try to make the outside curve convex rather than concave. I'm not sure how that's going to turn out. I know it can be done. Coperthwaite's book has a page about a carver in Mongolia that turns (not literally) out bowls using an adze, axe and bent knife that look like they have been turned. The bowls have a base, a rim and a terrifically uniform convex exterior. Maybe when I get into my eighties I can produce bowls like that, too.

Project Number Two: I ordered a couple of bent knife blades from Mike Komick at Preferred Edge. I saw a handle style that I wanted to try out, so I decided to do it myself. I found some maple turning stock on sale at my local Woodcraft store and decided to give it a try. I've never carved maple before. It's hard! Not so much that I wouldn't carve it again, but it did take for freakin' ever to move wood! I decided to do the bulk of the wood removal with a wood rasp and finish with the knife. I call it a whale-fish. Whale because that's the general body type given the way you mount the knife blade; fish because whales don't have tails like that. I could have turned the tail the other direction, but then I wouldn't have had a place to put my thumb. 

Carving the teeth (he left his lowers in the glass when he got out of bed to come model for me) was an interesting exercise. It required some delicate maneuvering and a very thin-bladed and flexible knife (a Flexcut Detail Knife) to relieve the area between each tooth. Don't have it down pat yet, but it'll come. That flat opposite the whale-fish's head is where I will mount the blade when I get it; tomorrow, I hope.

Next time I'll have the knife finished, and I'll show you the progress on my Eagle Lovespoon. Until then, let the chips fly.