Tuesday, March 30, 2010

WIP: "Corn Cob Carter" - Another Scrap Stick Carving-Part 2-(Final)

WIP= "Work in Progress"

 Lately I've been involved with a lot of projects so my old friend "Corn Cob Carter" got put on the back burner for a while, but finally the old man has come to life and what an interesting character he is.

As seen in the picture to the left I just caught glimpse of him in an early spring patch of wild onions just at the base of his mountain. Just yesterday morning Carter was out from his hole-in-the-tree during a brief warm moment to catch a peek at the early spring  green. But unlike Punxsutawney Phil, Carter didn't return to his hole declaring another six weeks of winter but instead just gazed at the few green plants of spring with the hope that winter is finally gone.

This North Carolina winter was so long and hard that Carter actually ran out of his wonderful corn grain and had to compete with the squirrels and deer for wild acorns. He is now anxious to get his corn planted because that alone is what makes him strong, bold, and happy.

In the first posting of Carter you might recall that I had only sketched him out, then just briefly began the carving of his corn-cob head. Well, you might say that he has really "sprouted" into full-bloom since then and is now happily living in his tree hole.

As seen in the pictures to the right, after roughly beginning the corn-cob head I then went on to sketching on and carving his puffy little face. For some reason the big lips of Fat Lips Bill seemed to linger on with this carving.

After finishing up the face I then went on to burn in the kernels of corn into his cobby forehead. This is the part that I was looking forward to since I've never incorporated corn into any of my carving projects and using the woodburner is always a very fun way to compliment a carving.

The burning went well but I had to lightly sand it down just a bit with 220 grit since the initial burning is usually too strong and leaves behind  some rough hanging particles that don't help the carving at all.

I also liked the way that the husks "enclosed" the corn which almost gave good old Carter a sort-of bunny rabbit look. Also if you look at the pictures above before the burning I was also amazed at how similar these husks looked like a flower such as a tulip. This gave me the idea of perhaps experimenting with carving some sort of flowers as part of a future carving. It's amazing how one thing in carving a project can be the catalyst for another whole direction which certainly makes carving one of the greatest life adventures!

After burning I then went on to mix up my acrylic paints for adding the final color tones. All of my paints were watered down with water to one degree or another until I achieved the correct tone.

Although Carter thinks that he lives in a fine tree hole in the forest he actually sits proudly with his other scrap-stick friends on the shelf in my living room and that is where he should remain happy for the rest of his cheery life.

Carter was a lot of fun to dream up and then carve but I'm not sure just yet what whimsical character that I must carve next to be his new neighbor.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Carving The Classic Hippy Necklace

One of the funnest parts about most major Scouting events are the various themes selected by competing sections. Competition can be fierce between these sections who are competing for the events  spirit award so having a good costume or props is a plus.

The theme for our section at Conclave this April will be the psychedelic 60's so as you can see from the pictures to the right, I've been busy carving up a hippy necklace. This was a very easy carving project that probably only took about an hour to design, cut, carve, and paint.

Since woodshop and Scouting classes have been centered around the upcoming pinewood derby race, there were plenty of basswood scraps lying around so that's what I used for this project. I started with a piece of basswood about 7/16" thick, 1-3/4" wide, and 1-7/8" tall.

Although I could have used a compass and pencil to get a "perfect" circle, I just sketched out the circle freestyle thus giving it a more handmade appeal. Using the scrollsaw I then cut out the design in preparation for carving. As you can see from the pictures to the left I allowed for a small block protruding from the top of the the necklace where I then drilled a 1/8" hole for the cord.

As seen in the picture to the right I then just smoothed up all of the rough edges left by the scrollsaw, then used my small V-parting tool to etch in the notches seen around the "chicken-foot" peace sign. I decided to use hot pink acrylic paint for the peace sign, then I chose a variety of rainbow colors for the surrounding circular frame of the necklace. I completed the necklace by applying a satin polyurethane then strung a piece of black leather lacing through the hole as the lanyard.

This was a very fun and quick scrap wood project that has now inspired even more ideas for future necklace projects, perhaps with a different theme. The possibilities are limitless so I've already started brainstorming a list. Basswood was also an excellent choice for this project since the open spaces between the peace sign and the surrounding frame could be a fragile point using soft wood. Basswood also has the strength to withstand drilling the small lanyard hole.

I'm looking forward to Conclave 2010 which should be a premium Scouting event where everyone can have a lot of fun. The little hand-carved hippy necklace is small but I hope that it will generate a few laughs and to help us bring home the award for most spirit!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pinewood Derby 2010: The Power Of Simple Tools

Currently everyone is focused on the upcoming April Fool's 500 Pinewood Derby race next month so both woodshop and Scouting classes have been spent working on the winning cars. During Scouting classes we are usually on the trail working with map & compass, fire building, or perhaps a natural science hike but lately we've been working on our cars.

Working on our cars outside the woodshop during Scouting classes presents a wonderful opportunity for the kids to be more resourceful since the saws, drills, and hammers aren't available. What we do have are the most essential tools available which are our hands and our minds.

After more than 15 years in the woodshop, I am still amazed at the power found in a simple piece of sandpaper. Here we have all of these wonderful power tools (and yes they are wonderful!) but in their shadow I so often see equally powerful transformations of the mind and hands occur with just a simple piece of sandpaper.

As you can see from the pictures to the left, I spent almost two hours last Friday with one group working on their derby cars with no more than one piece of sandpaper per person and a few carving tools. The kids really got into the sanding with an intensity that would never be accomplished inside the woodshop. This was all that they had so they adapted to the situation and used their sandpaper like the sculpting tool that it was. They would fold in, re-enforce it, and shape it to reach the odd contours of their wood.
On the car to the right, a very nice hood scoop was first chiseled away with a small carving knife then another 45 minutes was spent carefully shaping it with a simple piece of sandpaper. Also notice the fine hood lines directly in front of the scoop that was the result of correctly folded sandpaper, even hand motions, and a fine connection of hands and mind to wood.

These same connections are also obtained from using power tools but sometimes I believe that an even more powerful connection occurs with just our hands and simple tools. Using just the hands is a more "primitive" connection with the wood and I think that something in our head registers the activity in our brain as being real, basic, and fundamental to our very being.

As seen in the pictures to the right I worked with another group today in our cabin as they had only sandpaper, carving tools, and paint brushes as their main tools. And once again another hour passed by way too fast. Here 12 kids sat around the table using their hands to fashion the  cars in their own way and if I had to sum up the class in one word it would have been "contentment".

They sanded their wood, they painted their tire rims, and they carved shapes to their cars. I moved around the class providing hints but most of all I complimented the creative ideas that had been produced from such very simple tools. Even though we weren't inside the woodshop with all it's expensive power tools, I also didn't hear a single whimper. They only had their minds and a few simple tools to make a meaningful and productive connection with their wood and they did it well.

For hours on end, they are content when using their hands to make something. They are calm, patient, and seem to have a lot more mutual respect for one another during these periods. They are also learning to be resourceful with just a few basic tools. Like the sandpaper they use to shape their cars, I am also convinced that the character of these kids lives are also gradually "shaped" into a better, more successful person. Never underestimate the power of using simple tools.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Carving Thunderbird Wings For the 16' Totem Pole:Parts 2 and 3 (of 3)

Here are the two remaining videos which concludes my carving of the Thunderbird wings for our new camp totem pole.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Carving Thunderbird Wings For the 16' Totem Pole (Part 1 of 3)

This is Part 1 of 3 videos (total about 30 minutes) where I demonstrate step-by-step how I made and carved the wings for the Thunderbird on our new 16' camp totem pole. I made the videos during the actual carving during November of 2009 and they now proudly fly upon the Thunderbird that is on top of the totem pole of yesterdays posting New Camp Totem Pole (Parts 1 and 2) 

I'll probably get all three videos uploaded during the next couple of days since I need to use some of my bandwidth for getting other stuff done too. I hope that you can perhaps glean some new tid-bit of helpful information from them but most of all, I hope that it will inspire you to pick up your chisels and take on a carving project of your own as the nice weather of spring is upon us. Happy carving!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

New Camp Totem Pole (Parts 1 and 2)

It's been a long time in coming but the day finally arrived last week on March 23rd when we raised our new camp totem pole! She is now flying high in the sky and proudly looking over all who walk the trail near her path.

This is a very special totem pole for many reasons. For beginners, it was a sad occasion the day before when we had to remove the original totem pole that has towered over our camp for 17 years, since the spring of 1993. The pictures below show it just after removal last Monday and being hauled away. In a future posting I will most assuredly retire it here on the blog with the full story and with the respect that it deserves.

The story of the new totem began more than a year ago when the local power company donated a fine utility pole to our camp with a $400.00 value and a 30 year in-the-ground life. At the time I didn't know that it would become our new camp totem pole and the only thing I was thinking about was the generosity of the power company. Heck, there's a million and one uses for a utility pole.

During the fall fellowship last year I was studying the totem pole at Camp Raven Knob which was obviously made from a utility pole. The idea began to brew in my head of the possibilities and before you knew it I got my gouges and a maul for some experimenting on our utility pole. I was amazed at how well the wood carved so I then began sketching my own totem designs in a note pad until I had it all figured out. About Halloween of 2009 I had the pole on the back porch of our dining hall and the carving had begun!  

As you can see from my original design to the right, all of the characters were my own but I did love the upward slant of the wings of the totem pole at Camp Raven Knob. I've carved many totems over the years but this upward slant of the wings was very appealing and gave the Thunderbird a powerful look. By the way I will shortly be posting a detailed video of how I made and carved the wings for our new pole... that will be part 3 of this series so check back soon.

So all of the carving was completed between Halloween and Thanksgiving then between several other high priority projects and the many blizzard snows of this winter, the finished pole sat patiently for 4 months on the back porch. Finally a two-day window of opportunity was opened last week and with the help of a group of 12 boys, the new totem pole was set into it's hole. The following are the meanings of all the characters carved on our new pole:

The Bear: On the bottom is the bear which symbolizes strength and thus the counselors in our program because they build the foundation (see the hammer in the bears paws) upon which all else stands. Without our counselors we would be nothing so sometimes the most important character on a totem pole is on the bottom and for good reason.

The Beaver: Next is the beaver which represents the program directors since they always seem to be gnawing on wood seeking the sometimes elusive trail to a safe and effective program for the kids.

The Frog: This little creature represents the family workers who do a lot of "hopping" around between the kids, families, counselors, and everyone on property as they mediate various problems and solutions that make our program work.

The Wolf: Indian symbolism sees the wolf as having great wisdom and knowledge so this magnificent creature will represent the teachers who make sure that our students stay current in their school work and are well prepared to succeed in the future.

The Raven
: This bird will represent the campers family who are also working hard to make the necessary changes in their own lives and preparing the home "nest" for their son to eventually return and flourish into the future together again.

The Thunderbird
: The Thunderbird with his wings spread out tall and proud at the very top of the pole will represent the youth and the successful people that they are capable of becoming. If a strong foundation is laid beneath then every kid will have the opportunity to succeed and that will be the real story of our totem pole as they "fly" into their future.

The following are two videos of the totem pole that you might find interesting. I am currently editing another video that will show how I made and carved the wings so check back soon for that one.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

WIP: "Corn Cob Carter" - Another Scrap Stick Carving (Part 1)

WIP= "Work in Progress"

All that I can say is "Here I go again"! The porch is full with scrap pieces cut off from last years walking sticks that I just couldn't bring myself to throw away or burn in the pot belly so another folk-like character is currently in the process of coming to life. The wood I'm using is the same used in the previous carvings which is dried rhododendron.

For now I'm calling him Corn Cob Carter because I'm starting the carving with an ear of corn which I'm thinking will be part of his head. Carter will be a somewhat comical character but I'm not sure yet just what his story will be. As you might recall from my carving of Fat Lips Bill I've begun to come up with a short story and history of the characters that I'm carving. To me, the story gives them more personality, something to smile about, and perhaps if they ever make it to the Antique Road Show in a hundred years from now, then it will be worth 10 times more with a history than without one. Hey! You never know.

So far I've sketched out what I think that an ear of corn looks like and begun removing some of the waste wood. All of this I did with just a basic jack knife and a "V"-parting tool. Not too much to see just yet but the next posting should have a face shaping up. Not sure exactly how I'm going to go about it at this point but when the knife is in one hand and the wood in the other hand, somehow things start coming together. I just hope that my corn don't start looking like a sweet pea but if it does I'll just have to adjust his name to Sweet Pea Pete!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Camp Raven Knob: Spring Work Day Event

This weekend I participated with more than 100 Scouts and Scouters at Camp Raven Knob in the first work oriented event of 2010. This was an Order of the Arrow sponsored event by Wahissa 118  but as you can see from the picture to the right, PackMaster Nathan (in blue shirt) was also leading a very motivated group of his Cubs on a conservation project. These boys were too young to be OA members but these kids were a big help and welcomed partners for their cheerful service.

Friday night the rains fell extremely hard on the 3,200 acre Scout reservation but on Saturday morning the sun broke through for wonderful working conditions. As seen in the picture to the right my first crew helped clear several fallen trees that were left from the tremendous winter snowfall leaving trails blocked off everywhere.

Camp ranger Dave Whitfield had already cut up the trees so that we could haul them off the mountain for pick-up. By the way that is Raven Knob in the background so we had a beautiful backdrop in scenery as we cleared the brush and others dug holes for night lights, and erosion control on this trail leading to the Wahissa Lodge building.

As seen in the next picture the afternoon brought back more rainfall so many chores were brought inside. Below one crew is busy in the massive sized dining hall giving the floor the loving attention that it needed. Others are seen cleaning the air duct system that runs throughout the ceiling like a creeping creature from outer space.

Even with inclement weather shadowing our every move, the Scouts who turned out for this event are the cream of crop in my opinion. Unlike other OA events such as Conclave, Spring and Fall Fellowship, this was strictly a work day and a time for living up to the OA code of cheerful service to others. But when you're working together as a team for a cause greater than any one person, a lot of fun can always be found.

Friday, March 12, 2010

WIP: Scrap Stick Bill Is Now "Fat Lips Bill" (Part 3- Final)

 WIP= "Work in Progress"

Bill is now finally finished and what a fine old chap he is! After finishing and studying his face for a day, I've now decided that Bill has been given the behind-his-back name of "Fat Lips Bill" by the hard working crew that he manages at an auto mechanics business.

Bill is the boss and he's got a quick (and quite intelligent) come-back to just about any sarcastic remark that comes his way. He's mostly fair, loud, smart, funny, no-nonsense when it comes to getting the job done right, and everyone realizes that he's the best man for the job of boss. But like any workplace setting the undercurrent still exists among the workers because that's just what employees do.

Yes, Bill's lips are a bit large but as the boss that's an attribute to his advantage because when he's throwing out direction in a very loud mechanics garage a bull horn isn't necessary. People hear Bill immediately and right after a quirky jerk of the neck to face the direction of his vibrant voice, those workers literally jump onto the job at hand without a whimper. Joke as they might about his big fat lips, Bill takes good care of his people because production is always far over and above expectations. Bill is a good man at heart and he pays his people very good for their hard work.

I used watered down acrylic paints to finish Bill and the rhododendron wood always takes on the finish well. The cigar was also made from a dry rhododendron twig that I cut off the undergrowth of a healthy mountain bush just a few days ago and I set it into his mouth by first drilling a 3/8" deep hole then applied wood glue for a firm grip. Bill was a really fun project and he's earned a nice spot on the nik-nak shelf but I sure do wish that he'd brush his teeth!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

WIP: Scrap Stick Bill (Part 2)

WIP= "Work in Progress"

Today I finally had a good opportunity to finish carving ole Bill and now all that I have left is the painting and finishing job. Just when I thought that I had exhaused every new idea something new always seems to pop up with each new carving and "Bill" was no exception. His hair is carved with it combed straight back over his head and I don't know why I've never thought of trying this before because it was amazingly simple... really easy!

From the top of the forehead I just carved in a "wave" outward then straight back into the wood. I really like this look and know that it will now become a regular hair style with my face carving. Heck, maybe I'll just go ahead and carve Elvis himself since after all, I think that I did see him running in the woods last week. :) I also decided to put a cigar in his mouth so he's looking like a classic blue collar guy to me. I should have him finished soon.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Mystery Of The Pileated Woodpecker

If you live east of the Mississippi river then you have probably had an encounter with a pileated woodpecker whether you realized it or not. The screeching yell from this magnificent bird can not be mistaken because he lets himself be know like no other bird around these parts of the North Carolina mountains, perhaps with the narrow exception of the crow. But when it comes to the pure magnificence of a bird in flight or of a bird defending his own territory, then the crow doesn't come even close to the stature of the pileated woodpecker.

As you can tell, I do love this particular bird and they are evidently in abundance in the woods where I live. If you haven't already seen the short video of my close encounter with one such bird about a month ago then you can see it by clicking here.

Just this morning I was preparing for a Boy Scouting class that would arrive in about 15 minutes when all of a sudden you would have thought that a bloody murder fight was taking place on the mountainside about 100 yards away. Of course I knew that it was just another pileated woodpecker marking his territory. I decided to take a very quick ramble to see if I could spy on the bird since this would be an excellent educational opportunity for my natural science classes.

I didn't expect that finding the exact tree of this woodpecker would be as easy as it was, but I actually listened, looked, and walked almost straight to this very tall sourwood tree as seen above. To my amazement there were five nice sized holes all in a row on the south side of the tree with the freshest hole made this morning right on the top.(see third picture above to the right) Fresh bark was scattered all about on the ground and the bird was perched on a limb far away during my inspection.

This sourwood tree was still very alive including healthy bark all the way around it's diameter but the core of the tree did appear to be somewhat hollow. It was also obvious from the healing wounds of the tree around the holes that each succeeding hole moving up the tree was the newest, so this woodpecker just keeps moving up the tree each year. Very interesting I thought.

I researched the mystery further because I was wondering if the woodpecker was looking for food or if this was a nesting tree. According to my research the pileated woodpecker makes a new nesting hole each year and never uses an older one. Also I learned that the transition between winter and spring is when the male woodpecker is cutting the new nesting hole.

With this information and with the physical evidence I'd have to say that this is a nesting tree. The sourwood tree is also very alive and this bird is cutting through solid wood. Most of the trees used for gathering insects are close to dying (or already dead) and the bark is very brittle and thus a prime habitat for the insects that they need to survive. This strong sourwood tree would be a excellent choice for nesting and I will now keep an eye on it for a few months to be sure.

This nesting tree will make an excellent natural science class hike while also providing an excellent opportunity to research and learn more about this magnificent bird. After some initial research and some good teacher guidance, I'm sure that the kids will also reach the same conclusion that I did. Sometimes my students discover even more theories and possibilities that I do when reading a mystery in the forest so I will be anxious about their conclusions.Since our school incorporates experiential education into the curriculum, this will be another great opportunity. Wonderful stories are everywhere in the woods around us if we can only slow down long enough to discover their mystery.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Pinewood Derby 2010: I've Decided On A Totem Pole Car!

For the adults category of this year's "April Fool's 500" pinewood derby race, I have begun carving my car. Seems like I've made every car possible during the last 30 years of ardent racing competition so I decided to pursue a totem pole car for 2010. As the accompanying pictures show I have designed it to sit upright, just as a real totem stands on sacred land so it will double as a fine nik-nak shelf piece after the race.

Each car starts out as just a 7" block of pine with four plastic wheels and axles, then as the pictures to the left show a design must then be thought out and applied to the wood. My totem starts out on the bottom with a bear, an Indian with full head dress, a frog, a coyote, and an eagle towering above on the top.As the pictures above indicate, I used some of the scrap wood cut away from the center of the pinewood block for shaping the eagle wings separately.

This car is going to be extremely light so it's not going to be a fast car... and that's okay because for a second year I've decided not to go for speed
because I just want to have a nice car and I think that a totem pole will be that car. Although I've begun painting the totem-car I still have a lot of detailing to go, so perhaps I'll post pictures of the finished car later.

The trophy shown in the pictures to the right is the car that I entered from last years race and yes, that's Dolly Pardon driving her pink country girl car. As mentioned above I also decided to step aside from last years race since I already have enough winning trophies on my display shelf and that would give others a chance to win.

So how did I get that wonderful trophy you ask? Although I didn't race it in the speed race I did enter the car in the competition for "Best of Show" and I'll be darn if she didn't win! Dolly is one of the funnest cars I've ever made and she surely produced a lot of laughs from everyone. Some even accused her of being too "front" heavy (use your imagination) so I guess it's a good thing that I didn't race this car. A pinewood derby race has the potential for a lot of fun, laughs, and group spirit so once again, if you haven't been part of such a race then find one in your community and help a kid have the time of his life!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Cowboy Coffee: A Divine Lifetime Indulgence

Although at times I don't believe it myself, there can be more to life than just carving a nice woodspirit walking stick or making a just right slide-top box in the woodshop. Sometimes life just needs to be an indulgence in pleasure  and that's what I mean when it comes to brewing the perfect pot of coffee. Recent studies even show that java is good for your health if you don't have chronic heart disease.

Just recently I purchased my first French coffee press and once again I've discovered the joys of chasing the perfect, yet elusive cup of good tasting coffee. As you can see in the pictures to the right from my 1979 Alabama log cabin it was a daily ritual for me to relax beside the fire pit and enjoy a fine cup of cowboy coffee made in an open pot right over the fire. The coffee made over open flames with my dog licking my face was always the "perfect" cup and I'll explain why as I go along...

And I'll tell you my method for making it but first I have to give you a little background about how my love affair with "real" coffee came to be. To do that I'll have to take you back to the 1960's and Grandma Brock. Whenever  we visited her there was always a pot on the stove or else she would make one. I always thought that her coffee was special because it just tasted rich and with full bean flavor. She made it in a peculator on the stove so it wasn't sifted through a paper filter which is what's wrong with most of today's coffee. The rich flavor found in the coffee beans natural oils are filtered out so the "body" of the brew is lost and that's the sad story about modern coffee.

As I came of age in the 1970's it wasn't long before my indulgence with coffee matured into what has become a life long obsession. In 1979 I went to work for an Alaskan  outfitter in the Chugach mountains where I was first introduced to real cowboy coffee.

One thing that I learned is that Alaskan's are tough people and if you want to learn how to make the best coffee possible then find people who work for a living in the Great Outdoors. For about two months of the season, we were up at 4:00 a.m. feeding and saddling horses, then up into the high country we'd go. We usually didn't get to bed before midnight so when you work like this, having good coffee isn't an option and Alaskan's do know how to make perfect coffee. Therefore I soon discovered that the best coffee is found not in the office, but 20 miles into the wilderness so I am fortunate for this experience.

The first two pictures to the left is the log cabin that served as our base camp and that is where I lived for about one year combining the 1979-80 season. And yes that is a pot of cowboy coffee on the stove after a long days work.

The picture directly to the left is about 5 more hours on horseback to what we called Glacier Camp and this is the exact spot where I learned about coffee that will make you clear your throat and leave hair growing on your chest, so ladies please beware! I had already learned about making cowboy coffee by the time I first arrived at Glacier Camp but this was a unique experience, to say the least!

At Glacier Camp there was a shortage of fresh water nearby so we had to use the river water coming directly out of the nearby glacier for making our coffee. The problem with that was that this water had a gray color due to all the silt from the glaciers underground erosion machine. We had to use this water or either take a layover day for hauling fresh water from a mile away so the choice was easy for us when time was short... learn to enjoy a cup of coffee with a "crunch". That was the wildest coffee I've ever had but it seemed to make us as tough and wild as the grizzly bears roaming the bush around us.

Imitation cowboy coffee can be made right over the stove at home but that's not the method I'm describing here. Real cowboy coffee is made preferably right over the flames of an open fire but a wood stove works good too. Ideally I like using a one quart spouted pot with/handle but a regular cooking pot with/lid and wire handle will work. Just fill the pot with water up to the desired level and at least a couple inches under the rim. I then pour in my desired "hefty" amount of coffee grounds, then place on the flames of the fire without the lid until it begins to boil. Set the coffee on just enough flame to allow brewing with a very subtle roll for just a few seconds then take it off the direct flame and let it sit for about 5 minutes with the lid on.

Now the fun part: With the lid securely on the pot take the wire handle and sling it around in a circular motion 10 times with a firm grip. This will finalize the brewing but mainly it settles the coffee grounds to the bottom of the pot by centrifugal force. Beware that you should first practice this method of "slinging" coffee first by using cold water because the coffee water is boiling hot and WILL cause serious injury if slung on you or a bystander. Make sure that the area is completely open and clear of other people and obstacles such as trees and bushes. Coffee can then be poured directly into a thermos or a cup but pour gently so that only just a few "complimentary" grounds get into your cup. Now that's real coffee!

Take a look at the video below for a quick example of how to sling your pot. Notice that he is standing far away from other people in an open area and actually slinging the pot over the river bank. Also notice how he uses very good "technique" in gradually stopping the pot and not so quickly that the grounds would mingle back into the brewed coffee. This guy does it exactly like I do it and he even has my 10-swing count down to a "T".

Then came the 1980's when I went to work as a counselor/teacher in a wilderness camp working with at-risk kids, and where I still work today as an educator. Part of our education program includes an adventure aspect where students experience a 2-4 week canoe trip so this is where my cowboy coffee brewing skills were further refined. I estimate that after 30 years I've accumulated about 8,000 paddling miles and more than 2,000 miles on Florida's Suwannee river alone. That's certainly a lot of coffee-making miles where I honed my brewing skills to a fine art. It was a regular competition among counselors to compete for the best cowboy pot so I've sure had my fun.

Coffee is something to look forward to after a long day on the trail and it's a wilderness luxury like none other. For some reason coffee tastes a lot better when out on the trail and for that I can only explain that it must be the chemistry of good company combined with the wilderness and a warm campfire that makes coffee so good while "on the trail". If you haven't had real cowboy coffee then in my opinion you haven't yet lived, so find some friends, grab a canoe, then make a pot and I bet that you will agree.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Pinewood Derby 2010: Start Your Engines!

The pinewood derby comes around these parts about spring time each year and April 1st is currently the official race day for the April Fool's 500. During Scout classes we will be examining a lot of things which will include the history of this classic Scouting event since 1953, a look at different car designs, our rules for the race, then ultimately each participant will design their winning car on a project design sheet.

Although the initial beginning of the

event begins in the classroom it is the moment of actual hands-on activity that everyone anticipates. To a pre-occupied adult the preparation for a race might seem insignificant but in the minds of kids this is a very big event for them. I know because I'm working directly with them and I know for a fact that their brains are on "wide-open". Walking around campus or the dining hall someone is always sharing their new idea for a car design with me so getting them in the woodshop is as exciting for me as it is for them.

Once the foundation has been laid and they understand the basics of what the race is about, many of the kids can come up with some very creative designs. Every year I'm always surprised at what their minds conjure up once they have just a basic understanding of the cars. As seen in the picture above, just last week one of my students had cut out his car then decided to use the scroll saw for some fancy cutting out of a nice tail-end spoiler. I've seen a lot of spoilers glued on to the tail-end of a car but this kid knew how to make the scroll saw work for him and he now has some very attractive detail that stands out from the crowd. That's special.

Some of the students will spend a lot of time sketching out their design as a combination of their own ideas and the designs gleaned from several books on cars that I have available for research. As a beginner woodworker we have all attempted to copy an exact design from a book or magazine to make it ours and that's just fine as part of the learning process. But at some point during the life of a woodworker something begins to "click" inside our heads when we step out of our comfort zones and take a risk. Before you know it we are designing and building things that we never could have imagined just a few years earlier. That's just the magic of woodworking and I love to see it happening right before my eyes... and it does every day in woodshop class.

As seen in some of the following pictures the pinewood derby has mainly been a Cub Scout activity for boys between 6 and 10 years old for more than 50 years and the popularity of the sport is huge in the United States. Strangely it can be just as compelling for the adult leaders as it is for the kids and our troop is no exception so we also have an adults race category so the big kids can have a little fun too.

And even though pinewood derby racing is primarily for the little kids I can honestly say that it has a very broad appeal to all age groups. It's fun, exciting, and contagious! The age group of our troop runs between 11 and 16 years old and it amazes me that more Boy Scout troops don't have annual races... well, except for us of course. Pinewood Derby racing is mostly a Cub Scout activity but don't tell that to our troop!

If you aren't already part of a big race day each year then consider getting involved and working with a kid on a car that might not have one otherwise. Pinewood Derby is one of the most effective parent/son activities around so turn off the video games and the TV and spend some quality time together. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Making Simple Wood Cross Necklaces

Once in a while there is a great woodshop project that comes along and today was that day again. This is one of those projects where the greatness can  easily be lost in the pure simplicity of making it.

It began last week when one of the court counselors who is associated with our program asked if I could repair a couple of small wood crosses that had come apart. It looked like a simple enough job so I finally got a moment to play with it today and discovered an absolutely fantastic new project for the students in my woodshop classes.

When tapping the tiny dowel rod into the two pieces I broke one of the crosses which ended up being a fortunate opportunity because I then had to make another one from scratch. Doing so, I had to figure out all the measurements then take it from the bottom up and I thought about what a nice project this was.

I first cut a small square of oak on the table saw 1/4" X 1/4" then cut one piece 1-3/4" long and another 1-1/4" long. On the long piece I then used the drill press to drill a 1/8" hole for the necklace cord. Next I used the bandsaw to cut two overlap notches on each piece, then connected the "cross" pieces with wood glue and pressed them together firmly with pliers.

I then switched out the 1/8" drill bit for a smaller 1/16" bit which I used to make a hole "top dead center" straight through the "cross" in the two pieces of wood. The last remaining step was rolling the dowel rod in a bit of wood glue then carefully tapping it firmly into the hole. I broke the first cross because when I was tapping the dowel rod I had left way too much dead air space underneath for support. I corrected this mishap with the remaining crosses by drilling just a 1/4" hole in a piece of scrap wood for the tapping of the dowel. That made all the difference giving the cross plenty of support during this conjuncture in connection.
The best part of this relatively simple
woodshop project came this afternoon when I was showing the crosses to my students and saw their initial excitment. Three of the nine students asked if they could make one so another very popular project has been discovered. I gave them the measurements and one of my completed crosses for a visual aid and they did a grand job of making three absolutely perfect crosses.

As seen in some of the pictures above, they cut out the measured overlap notches on the scroll saw until the two pieces fit together snug and firm. Just one of the kids failed to get a snug fit on the first try but he stuck with it until it was right. The kids leave Thursday on a short home visit so it was an exciting afternoon completing unfinished projects and making new ones for their families.

On top of that the woodshop atmosphere was just right. As you can see in the picture to the right the snow was falling again all afternoon and we got another 4" of the stuff. Inside the shop it was warm and snug as we just went about our way making great stuff with our hands and a few simple tools. Just don't get any better than that!

Monday, March 1, 2010

WIP: Scrap Stick Bill (Part 1)

WIP= "Work in Progress"

With more snow in the forecast for tomorrow and this being the coldest, snowiest winter in many years I'm a little bit surprised that the carving bug is continuing to bite me. But that's just how it is right now so I'm not going to fight it... just give in and milk it for what it's worth... or until the carving doldrums set in, but hopefully not.

After the little face in my last posting I've decided to continue carving in the small face category and I'm using the larger end of the same rhododendron stick that I used in the last carving. That particular stick was well cured and a left over from last falls auction, a walking stick. That means that I cut it over a year ago and there was no precious moisture left in it's veins so carving it is a bit on the tough side. If you're new to carving then I'd strongly reccomend sticking with basswood if you want cured wood but I've been at it for many years and my hand/finger muscles are well developed for this task.

From the pictures you can see the progress that I made Sunday and I didn't get a chance to work on him today. As usual, I started out my face by roughing out the nose and eye-wells first. From there I could then decide on how puffy the cheeks would be. With a full-toothed smile I suppose that I'll have to try and get the cheeks a bit more rounded than usual but I'll just have to see what I can do with this thin 1-1/2" diameter stick.

After seeing those teeth come to life it immediately hit me that he would from this point forward be know as "Scrap Stick Bill". Naming my carvings makes it a little bit personal and seems to make me try a little harder. You know how that goes when it comes to naming your newest dog... there's just no turning back because a name makes him "family" from that point forward. Some say that I'm somewhat demented when it comes to things like this but the way I see it I first have to adopt something before I will treat it with the respect that it deserves.

...And hopefully "Scrap Stick Bill" will soon sit proudly beside his other stick friends where he will bring a new smile to all those who kick up the dust around his parts.