Friday, November 1, 2013

Rick’s Knife Handle

My son-in-law Rick brought me a beautiful steel knife blade with tang, and a piece of buckeye burl wood, and he asked me if I would make him a knife handle.  I couldn’t say “no”.  He must have thought that just because I make things out of wood, I would automatically know how to make a knife handle.  Wrong.  I’ve never done this before.  If he had asked me to whittle a stick in the shape of a knife, I would have used trial and error until I got it right, but with one expensive blade and one fancy piece of wood, I knew I would only get one single shot at doing it right.  Thanks Rick.  I really needed the stress.

Well the bottom line is that, like so many things in life, I created stress where there was no reason for stress.  The task was actually not as difficult as I had first imagined.  As a first step, I searched the internet (and more specifically YouTube), for information on how to attach pieces of wood to the knife tang and make a handle out of it.  As you might imagine, it’s all there.  Also, as you might imagine, there are a number of different approaches or techniques.  Most of the techniques use epoxy to hold the wood handle parts to the metal tang, and that’s the direction I took.  Of course, you have to use metal pins to hold the whole thing together, but with the use of the epoxy, there is no need to peen the pins to secure the wooden halves as you might expect. I used some common sense and left some exposed wood in all directions for sanding.  Even though I normally hate sanding most wooden objects I make, I have to admit that sanding and shaping the knife handle was actually fun.  My stationary belt sander was quite useful in the shaping.

I wrapped the blade and the exposed metal in duct tape
to protect the finish, and my hands.
During the shaping on the belt sander,
I scraped the metal on the handle.
This came out with steel wool and buffing.
I used tung oil for the
finish, and fine sanded
between each coat to get a
very smooth result.

Of course I couldn’t just hand him the knife, so I fixed up one of my flat cigar boxes as sort of a “presentation box”.  I must admit, I was pretty proud of the final result.  Now that I am an “expert” at making knife handles, I’m starting to look into knife kits on the internet.  Have any of you had any experiences with making knife handles?  If so, I would love to hear about them.

The finished knife in a presentation box

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Inspiration Stagnation Liberation

photo of my zinnias
top of carved cigar box


I’ve heard of writer’s block, but I wonder if there is such at thing as carver’s block.

I had this beautiful discarded cigar box made of thick cedar wood.  It was just aching to be carved, but the box sat for weeks because I had no inspiration what-so-ever about what to carve on it.  I could use one of those graphic Japanese crest symbols, or Celtic designs, but this box had a certain elegance that seemed to cry out “flowers”.  I went through images of flowers on the internet, but nothing popped out.  I then decided to go through my own file of flower photographs that I had taken myself.  Bingo!  I found a nice photo of zinnias taken in my front yard. 
With some tweaking, the design seemed to fit the box well.  It had nice detail, but not too difficult to carve. I printed the photo on plain paper and then simplified the flowers by selected the elements of the design that I thought would make a good carving on the lid of the box. 
As I mentioned in a previous post, these empty wooden cigar boxes are available from my local cigar store for just $1 each, so I carve the design in the lid first, before I attempt to work on the rest of the box.  If the carving doesn’t work out, I just discard the box without wasting time on the finish or interior of the box.  Well, this carving turned out pretty good, so I went on and finished the box.  I added the black walnut corner inserts.  This was the first time I did this on any box.  I used a special jig that I built based on plans in a box making book.  I cut the thin walnut corner inserts to an 1/8 inch thickness to match the kerf slot made by my table saw blade.
interior tray
I finished the box by using the interior cedar side spacers that came with the box to construct an interior tray.  Like anything else, the more of these interior trays I make, the better they turn out. I’m pretty pleased with the resulting box.
The finished keepsake box
Now, I have to get inspired for my next carved box.  Any suggestions?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Carved Wooden Doors of Europe

door on street in Florence, Italy
detail of door on the left
There is something about carved wooden doors in Europe that captivates me.  Many are beautifully works of art.  Some are centuries old.  Some are in cathedrals, but others are on ordinary city streets. You don't see many doors like this in the United States. 
Here is a collection for your enjoyment.

door to choir loft - St. Peter's Church - Munich
door on street in Florence, Italy


Detail on main door of Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli near Assisi, Italy
side panel of door shown to the left
Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli
Cathedral of St. Lorenzo - Perusia, Italy

Monday, April 29, 2013

Woodcarving in Oberammergau - Both Sacred and Profane

Oberammergau is a small village in the Bavarian Alps which is known for its famous Passion Play performed every 10 years, and its woodcarving. It seems like half the shops in this tourist destination are wood carving shops. Some are small, with the local wood carver proprietor actually working on pieces in the shop. Most shops are large and overwhelming with thousands of carved figures appealing to every type of tourist. They range in size from huge carvings selling for hundreds of Euros down to tiny 5 cm animals and saints. Most of the huge carvings are hand-carved in Bavaria. Most of the smaller carvings are from China or Indonesia, although not marked as such. Some items are obviously machine-carved.

For the most part, the subjects are sacred religious carvings of saints and crucifixes mixed in with a few traditional Bavarian figures. The odd thing is that most window displays also include profane or suggestive carvings right next to a Madonna holding the Infant Jesus. One might see a nude woman right next to St. Francis. On some shop websites, anything that is not religious is actually classified as profanfiguren.

One reoccurring carving theme that certainly fits into the profane category is a carving of a chubby man in a squat position, grunting and…defecating. (See photo above) This little man appeared in several shops, right on the shelf with all the religious figures. I discussed it with a shop owner who was actually carving one of these figures at the time. He explained in broken English that it is a traditional Bavarian theme. At one time, long ago, it was actually used as a form of political protest. When Bavaria was occupied by a conquering army, the carvers gave the swatting man the face of the foreign leader. Today, it is the same traditional shape but it is done as just a humorous character.

As a contrast, take a look at the photo below of the grave marker. This is not a famous carving in a prominent place. It is just a simple grave, hidden in the church cemetery. It is not a recurring theme, but rather a unique work of art. No doubt the grave marker was done by a local carver, perhaps by a family member or friend. The symbols and saints probably had some special significance to the person buried there. It is certainly sacred. It will not be found in any shop window.

If you screen out the crass commercialism and tourist focus, without a doubt, the carvers of Oberammergau are highly skilled craftsmen and they produce beautiful work. Oberammergau is a repository of carving skills passed down from previous generations. If you are a woodcarver, you get the feeling you are in a very special place, a place sacred to woodcarvers.

Carving of a Kraxentrager. 
These traveling salesmen carried wood
carvings to villages throughout Bavaria.

Detail of Kraxentrager carving