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.