Thursday, December 31, 2009

Snowy Wood Spirit

Not all wood spirits are made out of wood. This one took form as a result of the snow that my snow blower packed on to the tree. My granddaughter loved it.

I wish all of you a Happy and Blessed New Year. Let's hope that 2010 will be a better year than 2009 was.

Just like the snowy wood spirit, let's all keep smilin'.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Brad Sells - Wood Sculptor

“A tree is a selfless mentor inspiring me to reveal its beauty, its truth.”
…Brad Sells

If you enjoy works of art created from wood, you are sure to enjoy the works of Brad Sells. If you have never seen his work you are in for a treat. Go to Make sure you click on “Media” to see the artist in action with his tools.

Brad is a wood sculptor from Tennessee. Like me, Brad believes in the spirituality of wood and the curious co-relationship between humans and trees. I saw his 30 minute show called Tree Safari – A Sculptural Journey, on PBS, and bought the video. (see: I was totally mesmerized. The video is about his trip to South Africa to find the rare pink ivory wood. But more than that, it talks about the spiritual nature of trees.

His magnificent work can inspire, but also intimidate a simple, hobby wood carver like myself.

What do you think of Brad’s work?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ugly Wood

I love trees, but not all trees. I loathe silver maple trees. When we bought our house, I inherited five of these monsters. The previous owner planted them because they are inexpensive and they grow very quickly. Those two attributes are the only positive ones I can think of. Silver maples are scraggily and ugly. If trees are God’s gift to us; silver maples are like an exploding cigar. God's gag gift.

The branches have brittle wood and break off easily all over the yard. In spring they produce seeds (My kids called them helicopters.) by the barrel full. Last year we used snow shovels to clear off the one inch depth on the driveway. No lie. Even if you get rid of 99% of these seeds the remaining 1% will produce a forest of little maple trees throughout your flower and shrub beds. In the fall, they produce lots of leaves, and because they are the last tree to shed their leaves. My sons and I are always raking leaves in frigid December weather. I hate silver maple trees.

Their wood isn’t even good hard maple. It’s relatively light density. We cut down a large silver maple that was too close to the house. I wrapped a few large pieces in black plastic bags to let them dry and age. That’s when I learned about spalted wood. Spalting is a by-product of the rotting process that is carried out by a vast array of stain, mold and decay fungi. The results are a bunch of random lines and areas of different color that are interesting to say the least. Some people love the unique patterns and view them as a work of natural art. Wood turners create wonderful bowl and plates. My silver maple chunks spalted like crazy. The spalting added to the natural grey streaks in the silver maple to produce some very interesting pieces for me to work with. I must admit, I enjoy the interesting effect, but I will always refer to spalted silver maple as "ugly wood".

My latest creation using spalted silver maple was a box for a good friend who was celebrating his 60th birthday (see photos below). Besides the spalting, it had many “bug holes” in it. I thought the rugged look of the box fit my friend’s personality. It's my first band saw box with hinges. I used small barrel hinges, but that's another story.

What has been your experience with using spalted wood?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

David Stehly - Carved Walking Sticks and Canes

David Stehly is a wood artist that specializes in walking sticks and canes. His work is outstanding. You can visit his website at: . I had heard of David and seen his work on the internet and in publications at various times. What I didn’t know is that he is practically a neighbor. His home and studio are about 5 miles from where I live. Small world.

I had a chance to visit David’s workshop as part of a local artisans’ “open studio” tour last weekend. He is noted for carving very realistic snakes that are twined around the walking stick. He starts out with a relatively large diameter log and carves it down to the normal walking stick diameter with the snake around it…a lot of work, but the result is certainly unique. His snakes and other creatures are very realistic with sharp details and life-like coloring.

His studio has a blue d├ęcor. Blue as in blue ribbons. David has won many first prizes in wood carving competitions. I went to his studio to be inspired. Instead I was humbled by his artistry and mastery of the wood. I've carved a few canes and walking sticks, but mine look like junior high school wood shop projects compared to David's. Nice work David!

Have you ever tried your hand at carving a walking stick?

Friday, November 6, 2009

New Saw for the Old Saw

The Old Saw has a new saw. I finally replaced my old undersized 10” band saw with a new Craftsman 12”. I don’t really have room in my workshop for a full-sized 14” band saw, but the Craftsman 12” fits in very nicely. Besides, the new Craftsman 12” has a maximum cutting height of 7”, which is more than many 14” units. This was my main reason for getting the new saw. It's smooth and powerful and I love it.

With my old 10” Rikon, I was limited to a 3 ¼” maximum cutting height. Less, if you cut anything on an angle. Any band saw box I designed had to have two dimensions less than 3 ¼”, or some pretty clever cutting sequence. Just imagine how that limits your options. I could never make a decent-sized band saw box with multiple drawers.

With the new saw, my horizons have suddenly expanded. I look at my pile of logs and see all sorts of new possibilities. Ideas that were not possible with the smaller saw and stored in the back closets of my brain are now alive again. The creativity gates are open.

I wonder what other areas of our lives are limited because of the lack of the proper tool…or skill …or education. We make do with what we have, without making an effort to reach for something that is better. Something which would ultimately allow us to accomplish more. We get into a rut and settle for the undersized saw, the boring job. We lose the opportunity to grow or to succeed at new things.

Enough philosophizing. Does anyone out there want to buy a used 10” band saw? It’s a great "starter" band saw.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

the Hope Box - Part 4 - Finished!

Finished at last! So what did I learn from this project? Well, I learned that I get a little better with each piece that I do. I guess that’s good, but I still feel like an amateur when I compare my craftsmanship to what I see from others. Funny thing, when I finished the original Hope Box, the prototype made out of common basswood, I thought the result was the best thing I had ever done. My new Hope Box is a slightly different design, and made of beautiful old black walnut. I like it much more than the old one. Maybe I am getting better. I’m still making mistakes, but I’m learning from them. I look forward to the time when I can fully retire and devote more time to my wood shop / studio.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

the Hope Box - Part 3

Into the serious band saw work. With the ½” blade still on the band saw, and the sides still perpendicular to the base, I cut the box top and the bottom piece. Then I cut the side tapers by tilting the band saw table top. Of course, that made the previously cut bottom piece slightly wider than the sides, but it was easily adjusted with some shaping work on the belt sander.

I then changed to a 3/16” blade for the curved cuts. I kept the band saw table at the same angle setting so the inner sides would be tapered at the same angle as the outer sides. I took a deep breath and carefully cut out the box opening. This is always a scary operation for me. If you mess up here, you have wasted a whole lot of time. Sometimes I do a cut or two on an old piece of scrap wood just to get comfortable with the motions. Sort of like a pitcher taking warm-up pitches.
The smaller ring forms the rim of a hidden bottom compartment.

I have a fear of the band saw. I always have and I always will. My fingers are an inch or so away from a very powerful, sharp, whining blade. A small slip-up could cause some serious changes in my life. Fear is not necessarily a bad thing. My fear of the band saw is a kind of respect. I respect the power it has. At the same time, I know that its power is controlled within certain physical dimensions. If I do not come in contact with the moving blade, I will not be harmed, and the power will work for me. The power of the band saw becomes my power.

If using a powerful band saw creates a high level of keen awareness and excitement, then the repeated motion of hand sanding produces a level of boredom that would be at the exact opposite end of the scale. Sanding is boring. There are no two ways about it. Any beautifully crafted box must go through this dreaded hand sanding process. There is no way to skip it. Sure, there are power sanders that can get you most of the way, but the final finishing sanding must all be done by hand. All of the great wooden (or stone) sculptures that we admire in museums, or the carved wooden architectural details that fascinate us in churches and mansions, were all sanded tediously by hand by some poor artisan with tired forearms.
The finished form, all glued and ready for hand sanding.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Olive Wood - Assisi, Italy

A few years ago, my wife and I visited Italy. We stayed near Assisi in an old farmhouse that was turned into four apartments. It was on the top of a hill in the middle of a working olive grove. It was wonderful week. It was there that I fell in love with olive trees and olive wood. Olive trees are usually all gnarled and twisted. Some people would say they are ugly, but I appreciate their rugged diversity. They have personality.

We were there right after the spring tree pruning and there were lots of one foot long branch pieces in a pile to be used for fire wood. I picked out a nice small log, 2” in diameter, wrapped it in a hand towel and put it in my suitcase. Later I wondered whether it would cause a problem going through the baggage X-ray at the airport, since it might look like a stick of dynamite, but it got through all right. I used the piece of olive wood to carve a spoon. (see photo) Not a work of art, but a nice memento of the trip. Olive wood is great to work with, easy to carve and cut, and the grain and color of the wood is warm and earthy.

Assisi, of course, is the home of Saint Francis, a very spiritual man and a lover of nature. The trip to Assisi was part vacation and part spiritual journey for me. Even though a few years have passed, I can still feel the spiritual awakening I experienced there. All my senses were filled with God.

This blog is about wood and art, and today I am talking about olive wood and St. Francis, so I can’t help but mention the most beautiful carved olive wood statue of St. Francis that I saw in Assisi. The humorous irony, however, is that this wonderful life-size statue was not in the basilica or in the garden, but rather in the foyer of the underground restroom facility for tourists. (see photo) Go figure.

Friday, October 2, 2009

the Hope Box - Part 2

I finally found some time to get back to the box. I was about to say that cutting the shape with the band saw is a critical step, but then I realized that they are all critical steps. I use a small 10" Rikon band saw which has a vertical clearance of only 3 1/2". This severely limits the size of the boxes I can make.
Working with these smaller blocks of wood can sometimes put my precious fingers dangerously close to the saw blade. Believe me, I have a great respect for that blade, but more about that in some later posting.

I used gouges and power burrs to take out wood on the sides and approach the final rough shape of the arches.

The band sawing exposed a crack in the wood which wasn't visible from the outside. However, the piece seems strong, so I may be able to use some filler. I always save fine wood dust from sawing, sanding or power forming in a small tin for filling in such cracks or kerf cut marks.

Here is the new rough shape. There is still a lot of forming to do on the arches. I have left the sides square, not making the bottom box side angle cuts yet, so that I can easily saw off the box top at a right angle to the side, and parallel to the base.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Hand-Crafted Wooden Boxes

Boxes have been used since ancient times to store, separate and protect things. They can store common things like corn flakes or sugar. Or they can store very precious items like jewelry and mementos and separate them from the every day items. These specially crafted storage boxes are the objects of my interest. They can be made of metal or glass; of plastic or cardboard, but it seems that the vast majority of these types of specialty crafted boxes are made from wood.

Storage boxes are somewhat of a dichotomy. They conceal, yet at the same time, they invite you to open them. When you open such a storage box it is usually to remove some special object. It can be an important moment in time. You are revealing the concealed. You are resurrecting objects and memories that have been hidden for a period of time, perhaps even a long period of time. You may be seeking a piece of jewelry to wear at a special event. You may be searching for answers to questions about the past. You may be in financial need and looking to sell something that has great value. Or, you may be simply getting out a good cigar for your enjoyment.

If the box has hidden its contents for a long period of time, opening it might produce surprise and excitement. It also may produce many other feelings. You may not remember what you put into the box. Once you open it, memories come to life. Each of the objects has its own story attached to it. Do you remember where you were when you first received that object? Do you remember who gave it to you? Do you remember the feelings at the time?

Crafted wooden storage boxes are indeed a very special part of everyone’s life.

Friday, September 25, 2009

the Hope Box - Part 1

I make band saw boxes. I call my latest project “the Hope Box”. I got inspiration from a design, by an artist by the name of Ron Lowe, which I saw in the book called “400 Wood Boxes” by Lark Books. (Check out this book if you want to get blown away by wonderful creative design in wooden boxes.)

I first made a Hope Box out of basswood as sort of a prototype. There was a lot of tricky work involved, on the drill press, the band saw and with hand rasps and carving tools. I stained the resulting box to cover a few errors, but overall, I was pretty pleased with it. See the photo on the right.

I had a nice chunk of black walnut that I bought from the local sawmill for a few bucks. I thought it would be ideal for making a “good” Hope Box or two. The photos show the walnut block with the openings rough drilled. The next step is to cut the outer profile with the band saw. I’ll keep you up to date on my progress with photos.

black walnut block (left) with basswood "prototype" (right)

block with openings drilled through

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Green Man Revisited

It has been about 5 years since I carved the Green Man. I became captivated by the whole Green Man mystery when I saw my first Green Man in Chris Pye's book "Elements of Woodcarving". Visit his website at: Chris is a great woodcarver and his books have taught me a lot about woodcarving. He has a page on his website devoted to the the Green Man with links to other sites. There are many theories on what the symbol of the Green Man means and why the symbol appears in so many medieval churches. No one knows for sure, where the symbolism comes from, or why he was so ubiquitous during that period.

Some people think it is purely a pagan symbol. Personally, I think it is simply a symbol of re-birth which may have roots in pagan beliefs, but has been absorbed and transformed to represent Christian beliefs, like Easter and Resurrection.

I am quickly approaching retirement age, and a new phase of my life. Seeing the Green Man hanging in my living room reminds me that my passage into retirement should be a re-birth into a new life of creativity and appreciation of nature.

Have you ever carved a Green Man? What do you think the Green man symbol means?