Wednesday, June 30, 2010

WIP: Nothing Like An "Ax In The Stump" (Part 2 of 2)

WIP="Work in Progress"

Continuing with the ax-in-the-stump carving project started here, you can see from the picture to the left how I first sawed out a series of "fins" on both sides of the ax head. I always like this part because it's fun to then flick them away with the blade of my jack knife.

Also notice that I purposely left as much wood intact on the underside of the blade for as long as I could during the carving of the ax. This would provide a much stronger foundation while carving and the disappointment of breaking it off the stump. When carving such fragile projects like this always think about ways to strengthen the wood while carving, whether it's leaving wood in weak areas like this until the last minute or even how you grip the wood while carving. The ax will be vulnerable for breaking from this point forward so keep that in mind as you carve and all will work out well.

In the picture to the right I continue roughing out the handle and head of the ax. Although you can't see it in the pictures, I also kept the "stump" part of the limb at least 6" long so that I could maintain a firm grip on the wood as I carved. The picture to the right appears to show my hand gripping only the tip of the stump but actually I've got a great grip on the long limb which I haven't yet trimmed. I'll do that when I've finished carving the ax. So many times I've had to correct my students who will start carving their project after cutting it out to the actual size. Always think about how you're going to grip the wood while carving, either with a table vise, your hands, or both during the planning phase. Carving should be a pleasure... not a struggle.

And here she is all carved, finished, and ready for a nice paint job. After carving I did so very lightly sand the ax with 220 grit sandpaper, but just a little because I wanted the carving to show.

Since I already have two red ax-in-the-stumps in my collection; one big and one small, I decided to paint this medium sized ax with blue acrylic paint. I painted a thin strip of metallic silver paint for the tip of the ax blade, then gave all the carved areas a couple coats of clear polyurethane. This is one of my funnest projects to carve and in addition to being a wonderful conversation piece it will also help you move to a new level in carving. Give it a try and have some fun!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Carving A Chess Set Rook

The summer heat in the mountains was very hot today but not so miserable that we were going to miss any carving time. This afternoon I had a two hour class with a group of kids who just returned from a canoe trip and they've been playing a lot of chess during lag time traveling on the van and while in campsites along the river.

Therefore one of my more aspiring students asked if I could help him get started on making a chess set while holding up a rook playing piece. "Sure", I told him as I inspected the plastic piece, then sent him into the nearby woods to collect a dry poplar limb off the forest floor of the approximate size. I told him that this was an ambitious project that would take a lot of commitment to complete but that I'd guide him along with his goal if he wanted to give it a go.

In a few minutes he came walking up with a fine poplar branch that would work just fine. As you can see in the pictures to the left he had excellent focus on his cuts and is using both hands with a nicely controlled push cut. At first he was having a bit of trouble getting his knife to make clean cuts so after I demonstrated how to incorporate a "slicing" motion with the blade as he pushed it through the wood, he did much better. "Just one sliced layer at a time until you get the desired depth", I would tell him and this kid listened well. Yes, it will take a lot of practice before carving becomes comfortable and second-nature, but I assured him that if he sticks with it then his hand muscles will develop along with better hand-eye coordination and with time his skill would increase.

Before the class was over my new carver had completed two rook pieces for which he was very proud. Before I left he was already thinking out loud about how he was going to design and carve his next piece. Now he knows how I feel at the end of my day... thinking and dreaming about my next project.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

WIP: Nothing Like An "Ax In The Stump" (Part 1 of 2)

WIP="Work in Progress"

This is one of those projects that has always amazed me, from the first time that I saw one and to the point when I knew that I had to try carving it  for myself. An ax in the stump is one of those carving projects that is sort of like a ball-in-the-cage... it's just interesting to admire, discuss, and most of all it's fun to carve.

On the other hand I'd also say that it isn't amazingly hard to carve, nor is it a simple project. I would class this one as "moderate" in skill level and also it can be cut out with a bandsaw or by hand using a coping saw. Be sure to read the cautions below if you choose to use the bandsaw.

Looking at the pictures to the left you can see that I've carved this project in several sizes, from the smallest one which was taken from a Jenga block which measures a mere 3" X 1" X 1/2" and that is very tiny. The larger one I carved from a basswood limb that had a 3" diameter. The wood used for my latest ax-in-the-stump (the blue ax) and the focus of this posting was a  seasoned piece of maple limb with a 2-1/4" diameter stump. This medium sized project or the larger one would be good choices for trying your hand at this interesting conversation piece.

As indicated in the picture to the right first you'll need to find a tree branch with an attached limb at about a 45 degree angle. Most limbs grow at this approximate angle so you shouldn't have much trouble finding one unless you live in Antarctica.

Since you're cutting round wood this will require adequate bandsaw experience as this type of cutting can create an unsafe situation. Bandsaws are made for cutting wood that has a firm squared grip on the cutting table so when cutting something "round" you greatly increase the potential for bending an expensive blade AND increasing the chance for bodily injury. Exercise extreme caution when cutting round wood with a bandsaw and don't do it if you have any reservation about your ability to control the cut. A safe and effective alternative would be to clamp your limb down securely then cut it out by hand using a coping saw.

After prepping the limb I then use a straight edge to sketch out the handle of the ax, as seen in the picture directly above.
I then proceed to sketch out the entire ax with the handle extending outward with the limb of the tree and the ax head in the body of the branch. Next I then begin cutting out the shape of the ax while keeping in mind that the head of ax needs to end up near the center of the stump.

I will conclude the carving of my ax-in-the-stump with a final posting as soon as I can grab a few minutes to do so. Thanks for taking a look at a project which is fun, moderate in skill level, and a nice challenge if you're looking for something that will generate a lot of inquisitive conversation.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Supporting Our Troops

At a recent Scouting event one of the busiest stations around was putting together care packages for our soldiers who are the real heroes of this generation. This station was one of the required service activities toward earning a patch for the day and putting together just one package was the only requirement. The true pride of this station was watching kids and adults go through the line, over and over again in a non-ending "tour of duty".

As seen in the picture to the left each pass through the line began with writing a thoughtful letter of gratitude and appreciation to a soldier at random. The letter was then placed in your box then, as seen in the picture above, you would work yourself down the line and place the allotted number of items into your box. It was then sealed and packed away for shipping to Iraq or  Afghanistan. This was a great service project where we had an opportunity to express appreciation for something bigger than ourselves AND something other than ourselves.

This activity reminded me of another project started by two 12 year old siblings from Massachusetts several years ago to provide Cell Phones for Soldiers. I've been following Robbie and Brittany who are young adults now as they have inspired the donation of almost $2 million  and distributed more than 500,000 prepaid calling cards to soldiers serving overseas. They started the project with just $21 of their own money then nurtured their plan into something huge.

Everyday I find more reasons to be inspired about the next generation.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

WIP: Carving Totem Sticks Re-Visited (part 3 of 3)

OK, it's time to finish up the totem so that I can play catch-up with more recent projects. As you can see from the picture to the left the totem is finished and personally, I'm quite pleased with the final look.

Without any doubt, with my last couple of totems, I have seen my style in finishing them change. The additional accent made with the woodburning pen is something that I'm sure will be part of all future totem carvings. That highlighting really pumps out the "Wow" look in my opinion and I'm going to stick with it on totems while looking at other ways to mix it in with my other carvings.

To the right is a close up of the Thunderbird figure on top of the pole.

Here's a close up of the duck.

 And finally here's the bottom master builder figure.

Sorry that I still haven't come up with a good story for this totem but it wouldn't be hard. Perhaps I will just let the story find it instead. It now sits proudly on my shelf of totem poles as it anxiously awaits it's next neighbor.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hard Drive Crashed, Then Burned

I hate getting the dreaded blue screen because it's usually bad news about something that's gone wrong with my system. On the other hand I have always enjoyed the challenge of finding my own solutions to the culprit. Usually I can find a workable solution within short order, then back to blogging I can go.

Unfortunately I haven't been able to post in quite a while because this time I lost the hard drive. I'd like to think that I also solved this situation successfully too because even after running in and out of everything from the bios and every other imaginable "blue screen" I knew that the hard drive had failed. Software detection programs verified the same thing. Fortunately I didn't give up and found one last "back door" into the hard drive after more slick  manipulation combined with an adequate dose of sweet talk, then just when I was done it smoked and burned into ancient history forever. That last window into the drive saved all of the files which hadn't been backed up. Fortune again that I'm also a back-up fanatic so I already had all of my high priority files on another safe drive long before any problems.

The good news is that I'm anxious to get back to posting more of my projects, activities, and adventures. All is now fixed and most of my software is back in place. If you aren't backing up your high priority data then I would encourage you to do it so that when it happens to you (and it will happen) it will only be a minor inconvenience instead of a major disaster. It feels good to be back and a new posting will follow shortly.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Finishing Up The April Tree Spirit

Way back in April I posted an article on the new tree spirit that I carved during an outside woodshop class which can be found here. At the time of the initial carving on April 9th the pictures didn't show the completed woodspirit with the honey brown stain so finally the picture to the left shows the completed carving.

As mentioned in the first posting I carved the spirit into a dead section of a large tulip poplar tree where a tractors bucket hit it several years ago. Unfortunate for the tree but on the other side of the coin, what a great opportunity for the woodcarver!

The woodspirit now stands guard at the entrance to one of our groups campsites to watch over and protect them during their stay in the forest. For two months now this particular group has had great respect for the carving and amazingly they have let it be with no scratches, cuts, or bruising. I hope that it will live on for many more years where hundreds of more kids can have their days graced by the watchful eye of the tree spirit.

Friday, June 4, 2010

WIP: Carving Totem Sticks Re-Visited (part 2 of 3)

It's been a little longer that I had anticipated to update with my latest progress on carving a new totem stick which I started a few postings back here. As you can see from the picture to the left all of the carving has been completed, the wings attached, and I also decided to accentuate the detail with my woodburning pen.

During the last year I have begun to contrast a lot of my carvings by woodburning the detail which I'm beginning to like very much. So much that I'm afraid that it might be altering my carving/finishing style as my carving methods and personal style continues to evolve.
To the right you can see my progress (prior to woodburning) on the middle "duck" character where all of the carving has been finished except for the two round eyes. I've used the duck on many of my totem poles over the last decade and it's one character that I really enjoyed developing.

Like anything in carving, when I want to come up with a new object in carving I just do my research in the field guides, then add my own style to its design until I come up with something that I like. Although I have come up with a general design, I must say that it comes out a little bit different with every carving whether in color, detail, or style. Back to the "evolving" thing I suppose.
To the left you see the bottom character which is a little bit mystical in that it's probably part human and part animal. Not exactly sure what the story is that I'm trying to translate at this point but this will most certainly add an interesting angle when it does hit me.

As usual I first sketched it off on the wood then began moving away the waste wood until I achieved the depth that felt good, the dimension that felt right, and the overall aesthetic complement that added to the overall completion of my vision.

Next I will present the completed pole in all its color.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

14 Foot Totem Pole Retired To Museum

While reviewing the blog archives I was surprised to learn that I never posted anything about our original camp totem pole that was retired a few months ago when we raised our new totem pole. I really thought that I had posted something about it but I found nothing. Therefore I'd like to share a little bit about the 14 foot totem pole that graced our camp for 18 years.

The picture to the left shows the pole back in 1993 when it was fresh, proud, and in it's glory days. (Due to Federal Hipaa laws I unfortunately had to distort faces of the people, but it was my best picture of the pole.) We cut this fine pine tree during the Thanksgiving holiday during 1991, skinned the bark off, then allowed it to dry under cover of the back porch of the dining hall for a year. Finally the carving was finished and the pole was raised with the aid of tractor hydraulics into a hole that was dug 4 feet deep.

And there it stood proudly for more than 18 years and thousands of people enjoyed it's beauty and story over all those years. But like all good things nothing lasts forever and due to decay that was creating a safety concern, we finally had to bring her down.

Just today I completed a final resting place for the only  remnants from the totem which were still solid; the wings and a section from the poles center that included the feet of the raven, the whole frog, and the beavers head. Sad that all of the pole couldn't have been saved but the internal parts of the remainder were severely rotted.

But fear not because the history of our pole has now been preserved for thousands more to learn and enjoy as we made a permanent display in an educational cabin near the woodshop. If you look at the picture to the right and directly between the wings, I placed the picture above of the totem pole back in it's glory days on the wall. Also there is a story of the totem and its meaning  that I wrote for our camp newspaper just after it was planted in the ground some 18 years ago. You can click on the images below if you'd like to see that story. Preserving history can sometimes be as important as the actual life of something and this old totem has earned its place.