Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Teeny tiny spoons

Well, there's an extra day this year, so why not an extra post this week?

Well, I've talked a lot about how you can get away with a lot more delicate/thin parts than some people think you can, even with basswood, like those workshop spoons. And, right after finishing those, I was working on some small spoons for someone who brought me some really old walnut scraps from a near-by Welsh-settled town. So, if you can get thin with basswood, just imagine how thin you can get with something hard & strong, like walnut. Well... you don't so much have to imagine, because I have some pictures. You can probably get away with even thinner, but this is thin enough.

Now, of course, you do have to be careful with these things when they're thin - keep the part you're putting pressure on well-supported - but still...
So here are a few pictures...

Then, here's that first one (just carved so far), next to the second one, a little after I started it.

And then, the next morning, when I finish carving the second one (each one took I guess around 3 hours, because when they're this small, you do have to be really careful not to break off the pointy petal ends, or the edge of the spoon bowl or the daffodil trumpet). So, here they are....

Of course, now I have to not break them while I sand them. But, the key to sanding them when they are thin is speed - not pressure. And, with speed, you also need caution to avoid snagging on the pointy petals or any other part. Other than that, no biggie. Well - maybe I should say that AFTER I finish sanding them, so I don't jinx myself, but... I'll be careful.

Anyway, there you go: teeny tiny spoons. Oh - well - teeny tiny for me. They're nothing compared to what some people do out of matchsticks and pencil leads... but I hear a lot of "that's so delicate" lately - so I just wanted to point out, it can be worse than those big spoons - just goes to show, it can definitely be done.

I don't make these very often, because they're too much work, and so little. They're actually  harder to hold than the big ones, and you have to be quite a bit more careful, so even though they're tiny, they still take a pretty long time.

Well, enough rambling for this week. Oh - and in 2.5 hours, it'll be St. David's Day, so happy St. David's Day, too!

Monday, February 27, 2012

St David's Day, Dragons, and other current projects...

For a Welsh lovespoon carver, this coming Thursday, March 1st, is an important day: it's St. David's Day! St. David is the patron saint of Wales. So I thought I'd encourage anyone reading here to celebrate any little bit of Welsh-ness you or someone you know may have this week! Happy St. David's Day!
It's an especially good week, then, to make a lovespoon!

So, while I've been finishing up the spoons for that carving workshop I mentioned in recent posts, I was also helping to organize my local Welsh Society's annual St. David's Day event. I also started a few new commissions, including some miniature spoons (maybe 5" long?) with daffodils, made from some very old walnut that came from a near-by Welsh settlement. I'm not going to tell you much about the other commissions, though, until after they've been given to their recipients, because they are gifts. I don't really think the recipients would be reading this, but you never know, do you?!

I will tell you, though, that one of these commissions includes a dragon that is not quite a flag dragon. I've heard from other lovespoon carvers that a favorite "typical" thing to carve is a dragon, because they are VERY open for design, and can be very beautiful. Mike Davies also told me once (after expressing how much he enjoys dragons) that the tongue and tail should always point up. I'm not sure why, but if Mike Davies (one of the truly great  lovespoon carvers in the world today) says so, that's enough for me.
Anyway, I've tried many times to draw a spoon with a dragon, but I can't ever seem to do it - I just draw a blank, every time! But this time, my client wanted a dragon, drawn by me, and not just a flag dragon. So, several times, again, I sat down to design this spoon, and I drew a blank. But finally, a week or so ago, I sat down, and I found myself able to draw a dragon! It just confirms what I so often say: spoons come out SO much better when there's a real person on the receiving end! And the other carvers are right - dragons ARE fun! I think mine still has very flag-like features in many respects, but it is also definitely not a flag dragon. It's also going to be a really challenging spoon, so I'm going to try to remember to stop & take pictures along the way so later on, I can show how it unfolds. Meanwhile, I will show you the back of this beautiful walnut board I found that I'll plan to use for this spoon... it's a crotch (the part of the tree where the trunk splits into two parts) so has lots of figure (challenging to carve, but VERY pretty). For the rest, make sure to check back here maybe around summertime!

And, of course, those workshop spoons are now getting their last coats of oil, then wax this week. The workshop is next week, so I'm also starting a few more, so that I can have examples at different points of progression, and demonstrate different specific parts. Between those extra blanks, and the blanks for a few commissions I'm doing, I think I'll be relegated to my saw in the basement for the better part of a few days this week!
Anyway, here are some pictures. Now you can really see how the one is much darker than all the others. It's basswood from my local Woodcraft (they get it from from Heineke, so it should be the northern basswood), and then I got all the others from the half-price selection from Itasca. So they really are probably all the usual, northern basswood, but maybe it's the age that makes that one piece darker, or maybe it was just that odd, darker piece of basswood. I don't know, as I don't have any experience with aging basswood, either. The fluctuation in every piece of wood is one of the things, after all, that makes wood beautiful, but you still wonder a little.
Anyway, here they are, all stacked up (you know - like spoons!):

 Oh, and while I take all these pictures, something is normally happening that I normally crop away, but thought I'd zoom out a bit and show you this time...

That's Tri. (pronounced like "Tree"). Apparently, he's supervising.
Then, here are a few more pictures of the finished spoons. Oh - I think I'd mentioned that one of the things I'd observed in my limited experience with basswood is that it doesn't seem to like to polish up quite as  nicely as harder woods. On these, I did my usual process of sanding to 600, then wetting them with water, then re-sanding at 600, and then went through the rest of the grits all the way to 12,000 grit, and it seemed like they came to a nicer shine than I remembered. But, then, once I oiled them, they returned to a more satiny finish, like the polish they had at about 3200 grit. I let the oil dry, and then tried sanding between 3200 and 12,000 again, but the polish no longer improved. So, I'm keeping my opinion that basswood generally doesn't come to quite as nice a polish as harder woods usually do. Now, that's not to say that I don't occasionally find limits on harder woods, but that seems to be the exception, rather than the norm, unlike basswood, where it seems to be the norm. So, I'll be advising my students that I don't really see much point in sanding beyond 3200,  if they even want to go that far, with the basswood.
All that said, it's still a pretty nice finish, and certainly doesn't have any scratches or anything, so it's very acceptable for a lovespoon's finish.

On this one above, you can see a little bit of the sheen that's still there in the bowls... My camera seems to miss that (I seem to be lucky if I can focus at all) on most of them. I think this camera is more for taking pictures of kids at birthday parties and soccer matches. Maybe some day I'll get a nice camera with a nice macro lens. Until then, I'll just do my best.

And the backs...

Then, a few details...

You can see in the crevices how I'm not done oiling these yet - they need a couple more layers of protection. It shouldn't look dry anywhere - it should look evenly finished, and the wood literally won't soak in any more oil when there's enough oil already on it.

Well, that's probably more than enough for now. Thanks for stopping by, and hope you'll come back and see more another time! Have a nice day!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A workshop - Part 2

Last week, I talked a bit about a workshop I've been invited to give at a local carving club. Since this is a brand new endeavor for me, I may be a little over-analytic about it.... but, then, I'm kinda like that. Well, since last week's post, I've been busy with some commissions, and between work on those, I've been finishing up the carving part of these 6 carving workshop example spoons. And now, I'm pretty much through that part...
So, here they are...

I talked a lot last week about the various aims I had in mind when I drew up these designs, so I won't go into that today. But I will say that I'm pretty comfortable that I've met my goals with these designs. They're all pretty close in difficulty, they all took in the neighborhood of 3-4 hours, and they all had similar challenges.

On all of them, I continued the handle a little bit onto the back of the bowl, which isn't necessary. On several, I added some other details to the back, as well, just because I can't help myself. :) They could all have smooth backs (not flat, but smooth - all of them are a little concave in the back of the handle). Sometimes I add details just because it seems like they belong there - like they are some kind of continuity from the front. Here are some closer pictures of that...

Seemed to have a little trouble with some of those pictures, but hopefully, you get the idea.
Next step, sanding. I'm interested to see what kind of finish I can get out of this basswood. You may notice, also, that one of them - the 5th one in that top picture above - is darker than the rest. That one is from a basswood board I got at woodcraft a couple years ago, as opposed to the others, which are made from half-priced basswood from Itasca, from a week or two ago. Honestly, I think that half-priced stuff is a great deal. A few boards have these little brownish - er - speckles through them, and I'm pretty indifferent about that. One board had a hefty couple of knots (both of which landed on one of the spoons, and I carved them both away without too much trouble, really). Anyway, I wonder if that darker one will finish differently than the others. I guess we'll see!

A little about basswood... I have always understood why it's so popular among carvers. It really is a dream to carve - can take quite a lot of detail, and is incredibly easy to carve. It's also very plain, so there's not strong grain to compete with details. It just goes so much faster than other woods. I'm finding myself thinking, "why don't I use this more often?" And then I remember, my spoons are usually filled with lots of piercings - these are a total departure from  my normal stuff, and were designed specifically for basswood. Oh yeah. :) Yeah, I still don't think basswood would be strong enough for those much more open designs. I am, however, very grateful for having been asked to do this class, because it forced me to make these much simpler designs, and to use basswood, which really has been a pleasure. Maybe I'll manage to come up with some more simple designs, too. You never know.

Well, that's enough for today. Maybe next week I'll have them all finished up, and ready for the workshop, or at least getting their final coats of oil.
Now, off to bed!  Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you're carving a lovespoon for someone for Valentine's day! Happy Valentine's day!
P.S. - nope, no Valentine's spoon for my husband this year... I need to top my last one, which remains my favorite of all the spoons I've done. It may take a while to come up with a better design, and then, for sure, to make it. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A workshop! Part 1

A couple weeks ago, I was invited to give a lovespoon workshop at a near-by carving club.
I have no idea, yet, whether or not I have any ability to instruct, but I'm certainly willing to give it a try, and always more than happy to encourage people to try their hand at this lovely tradition. The world needs more lovespoons!

So... I put some thought into what main points I could try to convey in 2 hours, what challenges I might be able to include in such a short time, etc.. Lots of blanks would have to be cut, we'd have to use basswood because we need to be able to work more quickly than you can with harder woods, and most people seem to prefer basswood, anyway. Many people probably prefer to carve mostly with straight knives..... lots of things to consider. Basically, this would have to be simpler than pretty much any spoon I've ever done. Then, I thought a little about what makes my spoons distinct. Terms I seem to hear most are "delicate," "elegant," and "you just can't tell what these are really like when you just see them in a picture." Hmm....
SO... First point to convey: while most carvers seem to be familiar with lovespoons, very few seem to be familiar with the tradition behind them, so I think I'll share a bit about that. They're not just another carving, after all - they're a lovely bit of heart & sentiment. I think they come out better when you're aware of that.
Another point: I think it's nice to have a lovespoon shaped like - well - a spoon, as opposed to a decorative board with a bowl on the end. I think that is where the "you can't tell what these are really like..." remark comes from. There is a lot of depth in all my designs, even if the blank was only 1/2" thick. As for delicate and elegant - I think long, smooth curves are one of the things that yields the "elegant" remark, and I think "delicate" often has more to do with sharp, pointy, or fine details, and less to do with actually being fragile or delicate. Although, sometimes they actually ARE delicate or fragile to some extent, too. Oh, and one other point a friend reminded me I should mention: copyright. All my spoons are from my original designs. I don't mind someone making one as a gift, but if they show it, they should note that it's my design (or, if it's modified somehow, but still clearly based on my design, an acknowledgement of that would be appreciated, too). But my designs shouldn't be reproduced for sale. It is a good point, after all.

Anyway, next, I sat down with paper & pencil, and started trying to come up with a design. It occurred to me, not everyone likes the same things, and I have lots of ideas, and each person will just be working on one spoon, so why not offer a few designs, all with some similar challenges, and with room for modification?
So, I ended up drawing 6 relatively similar designs. 3 have a single piercing, one has a chip-carved element, one has a relief element, and one has a sort of organic shape to it. They all have opportunity for long, smooth (elegant) arcs, some fine (delicate) details, and they all have a very narrow (somewhat fragile) part. Not too fragile for basswood, though. They also all have an overall backwards arc from the bowl - or a "spoon" shape. As far as symbolism goes, I didn't get very elaborate. A few have hearts, a couple have diamonds... most could be modified a bit, if desired.
Next, I'd have to prove them...
Here's a picture of the designs, cut into blanks (had to buy some basswood! that was weird!).

Took me about 1 hour & 45 minutes to cut out all 6 from 3/4" basswood, on a scroll saw. And, I'd made the designs pretty simple, so that they could probably (except the piercings, of course) be mostly cut out on a band saw.
They all have a very narrow neck right above the bowl, which means you have to consider the order in which you carve different parts (the narrow neck should be one of the last things to carve). I made them all with a little design you could carve on the back of the bowl, if desired, and room for carving more or less detail into other parts (like the whole back). When I'm carving them, I'll probably add some details, just to show more options.
So, I am hoping they'll all take between 2 and 4 hours to carve, then a couple hours of sanding, and then the finishing takes days because of dry-time. I'll start with the carving. Here are some progress pictures of the first one. A lot of what I consider through this one will also need to be considered on all of them, so I may show a few more details this time. Anyway, I start on the front, because then I can work on a table. Oh - by the way, when I work on a table (which is good for leverage, especially when the back is still un-carved and flat), I use a piece of leather to keep the piece from slipping, and to protect the table.
As I start taking away wood, I also like to frequently check the symmetry by looking at it from either end.
 Note the long, smooth, backwards arc I'm going for from near the bowl to the top point of the spoon. In this case, I made that top point the closest to the back plane of the spoon. (that means, the side points will be higher, so if you lay this on a table, it'll want to lean to one side or the other, once the back is carved away). This is important to consider, because hanging it on a wall could be a little tricky. Also, if I were to lay it on a table, it would mainly just touch at that point on the top tip, and a point on the back of the bowl, then, to stabilize, probably one or the other of the side points of the diamond - but still just 3 points - not a lot of support - making it a little fragile. You'd want to be careful setting it down.
Now, on this one, that big gap in the middle makes for a bit of a challenge, keeping symmetry on both sides of it - making it look like one continuous surface, even though in fact, there's a big hole. One solution would be not to cut the piercing when I cut the blank, and to simply cut or carve it out after I've carved that front surface. But, I didn't do it that way.
Then, once I'm pretty satisfied with the front surface of the handle, and the symmetry, then I move on to the bowl... Another thing I'll want to emphasize is the shape of a bowl - it should be smooth and curved, not flat on the bottom and vertical on the sides. A nice bowl is widely considered an important aspect of a good lovespoon. This time, I start with the inside of the bowl. Doesn't really  matter inside or outside...

I also decide to make a little more arc from side to side on the front surface - notice here, the side points are a little lower now than they were in the previous picture.

I'm also looking inside the piercing, checking for symmetry... And then, once I'm pretty satisfied with the inside of the bowl, I turn it over, and start on the outside / back of the bowl. Now things get trickier because the front isn't flat. Here, I find myself picking up the spoon more often, and working on it in my hand. Anyway, I start around the detail on the back of the bowl...

Then I finish up the outside/back of the bowl (except that detail extending from the handle). I check the profile from the side, I frequently feel the thickness with my fingers and thumb (want to make sure not to cut through!), and I also check the profile from the end, being careful to avoid looking at the grain, which will throw me off.

I might also take out my skew to smooth out the surface a bit. (so far, I've been using my #5 gouge).
Then, it's time to get into shaping the handle's back...

Now, with the neck starting to get thin, I need to start being more careful... but it's still pretty sturdy, even though it's made of basswood.

Then, another check for symmetry from the end... And the back is generally concave, just like the front was generally convex.

Needs to be thinner, though.

And a last check from the ends...

I think that's about "done" for the carving part of this one.

Well, that's more than enough for now. In a few days, I'll check in with how the rest are shaping up.
I promise I'll edit more next time. It's late now, though, so I'm going to sleep! Thanks for stopping by, and have a good night! (or day, or whatever) :)