Sunday, May 21, 2017

Carving Wood Mobiles

Our middle daughter asked me to make a mobile for her son, our first grandchild, who will arrive early this summer. At the same time, the Northeastern Woodworkers Association announced a "2x4 Challenge", a competition to make something using primarily a common lumber stud. I had just joined the woodcarving special interest group who primarily worked on birds. Why not, for practice, make a flock of flying geese? 

Nine Completed Geese Ready for Painting

Painting Complete

 Suspending Geese So They Face the Same Direction and Stay Level Required Fancy Thread Work
The stand that mounts on a table and holds the "Vee" required more time to make than carving the birds. During a two hour video I could finish two of them. The curved stand required ripping half a stud into strips and then sanding them thinner and thinner until they bent over an aluminum form without breaking. The upper part has nine layers, increasing to double as many at the base.

A Different Perspective
 One advantage of working with accomplished woodcarvers is their knowledge of tools and where to get them. Or how to make your own tools. Very good carving blades are available from Warren Cutlery Corporation (www.warrencutlery.com). I used a variety of 6 shapes (6SBL for $7.25) and three copies of straight blade (22B for $3.79) that I curved for making grooves. These blades come very sharp and are very hard so they hold their edge very well. To bend them they must be red hot and then quenched in oil while hot to make them hard again. 
A Set of Carving Knives With Ebony and Rosewood Handles That Took a Morning to Make

The Beginning of "Isa", the Dog Before Her Hind Legs and Tail Were Added
 Our daughter and family often visit seashores so most of the characters I chose relate to life in the sea. We had to add a beagle so that we can tease this new little one by mistakenly calling an eagle or a seagull a beagle (or vice versa). And the owl is a nod to the book: "Owl Moon", one of our favorites.
Mobile Characters Before Being Sent to Another Daughter for Painting
 Carving legs with talons are too difficult in wood, so I twisted some copper wire together and pulled out digits. These figures are pretty substantial so that they can be unhooked from the mobile and handled or played with. The type of wood and direction of grain insure that appendages don't break easily. The starfish, turtle and seahorse are plywood.
Eagle and Owl with Wire Talons

The Owl Being Held by a Four-year-old, for Scale

Friday, May 12, 2017

2017 Spring Snakes, Turtles and Birds

The past months I've been carving wood figures in our basement. One day I was surprised to find a small garter snake climbing the stairs. I relocated it to our garden that is farthest from lawn where a mower could hurt it. A few days later, a much larger (30") milk snake surprised me by passing over the foot pedal that controls the carving tool I was using. It too I released outdoors.
Cellar Dwelling Garter Snake

Milk Snake Traveling Over Tool Power Cords on Cellar Floor
Same Milk Snake Released on a Garden Path

We have an enclosed blueberry patch that has fencing all around and netting over the top. It has a few holes large enough for birds to get in and they often cannot find their way out. I then climb in, catch and release them. Our dog, Belle, thinks this is great fun and often helps me by distracting them by running around outside the fence. One day when I was not inside the enclosure, she jumped on the fence and shoved her nose underneath, catching a dove in her mouth. She was very proud when he brought it to me. I praised her and she readily let me gently take it away. After resting awhile, it exploded in a cloud of feathers and flew away.
Mourning Dove Rescued from Our Dog's Mouth
 While walking through our acres of grass, I'm always looking for turtles, snakes and amphibians so I don't step on them. The dozen or more lady painted turtles in our pond lay nests of eggs randomly around our lawn. Though I've tried fencing these nests and moving them inside garden fences, skunks usually decimate every one. This year, one nest succeeded in producing baby turtles. So far I've found and relocated three to our small hidden pond that we keep secluded so that blue herons do not eat the frogs, salamanders and baby turtles that thrive there. These small creatures do not fare well in our large pond with its thriving bass population and visiting herons.
Newly Hatched Painted Turtle (2017 #2)

Same Painted Turtle Showing Plastron (bottom shell) 

Another Newly Hatched Painted Turtle (2017 #3)

Painted Turtle #3 Showing a Different Pattern on Its Plastron 
 A pair of geese make their home on our pond every year. They use our abandoned bee hive platform in the large pond as a safe haven for their nest. This year they had seven eggs and today brought us five goslings. I hurried to see what happened to the other two eggs and found one dead gosling sprawled across the nest but no hint of another. Last year there was a single large egg that did not hatch. Although I relocate every snapping turtle I find in our pond, earlier this spring we saw a very large one pass under our canoe. Maybe it ate the seventh gosling! 
Mom and Dad Geese with Five Goslings Between Them

Goose Nest Remnants Including One Missing Gosling

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Thoughts on Sustainability

This first week of March begins the transition to spring and the last quarter of winter heating. Now there is room for stacking new chunks of wood in our wood crib. It's time to replace the six cords of wood we'll burn for cooking and heating this season. By May we should have filled the crib for a total of 13 cords so next season we can burn wood collected during Spring 2015, letting this year's wood dry for two years.

Wall of 2015 Wood Opposite Room for Stacking 2017 Wood
Fresh 2017 Wood Being Stacked Opposite Wall Above
For me, collecting wood is a welcome aerobic activity. I cut up dead trees and fallen limbs within a quarter mile using a hand saw or battery operated chain saw. They are both quiet and easy to carry. I cut trees and limbs into pieces that are readily carried over my shoulder and make 15 to 20 trips per day to our garage that houses our wood crib. That way I am able to log over 10,000 steps a day that helps get me in shape (and shed winter weight) for planting chores. This year I'll be able to collect about two cords of wood this way before carting the rest from our neighbor's woods more than a quarter mile away. 

I have more than two cords of wood waiting at our neighbor's and will use our electric tractor to pull many wagons full home. I'm still using grid electric power to charge its battery but I'm working on charging circuits that will allow solar panels and a pedal powered generator to charge them directly. Maybe next year I'll be able to power both the tractor and a chain saw with batteries charged sustainably. I do now use a gasoline powered chainsaw for large trees and logs, but prefer using muscle power for limbs and smaller trees. Arm-powered loppers quickly cut anything smaller than a wrist.

Cherry Logs Waiting to Be Cut in Half, Split and Stacked, with the Stove Wood Cart
Our Stove Wood Cart that Carries Enough Wood for a Typical Heating Day


A Single Day's Supply of Wood Cut in Easy-to-carry Length
The Source of All Our Heat and Fall, Winter, and Spring Cooking, Maple Syrup (7 Pots Boiling Away Above), and Plant Germinating (The Four Blocks of Onion Sets on Top)


Eighteen Quarts of 2017 Maple Syrup from Boiling Away 180 Gallons of Sap
It takes time to realize how best to reduce dependence on using fossil fuel based energy. All its forms are so easy to burn and they greatly reduce human effort needed to perform most tasks. But, to me, it doesn't make sense to drive to a gym, fire up a treadmill or an elliptical in order to exercise. It's much more fun to be outdoors, listen to flocks of geese, woodpecker songs and spring peepers serenade spring, or late winter. This February, we've had brilliant sunny weather that's gone from 60F+ temperatures to near zero this past weekend with clear blue skies, visible in the photo above. And I enjoy all of this without leaving home!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Spring in the Air!

This last full week of February, winter transitioned to spring. Two day temperatures exceeded 70 degrees! That never happened in any winter. Broke all records, by many degrees! Inches of snow everywhere and thick ice on local ponds disappeared. Soil turned to mud.

But we're now in my favorite season: replacing wood we've burned for cooking and keeping warm, gathering sap from maple trees for syrup, planting seeds, losing weight and toning muscles. 
Moonrise With Lots of Snow

This Winter We Had Few Opportunities for Cross Country Skiing

February 18 Warmed  and We Tapped Four Maple Trees

 We Use a Gallon Jug to Collect Sap on the Tree We See from Our Front Window

Seven Pots Boil Sap to Make Maple Syrup

The First Batch: Six Quarts Boiled to 104C (219F)

Pond Ice Almost All Gone: February 25, 2017
Now There Are Four Sets of Onion Tubes Sprouting Above the Warm Stove

Many More Plants Are Sprouting in the Front Greenhouse




Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Making Harvest Baskets

We gather a lot of vegetables and flowers. For major harvests we use a wheelbarrow or cart. But most summer days we pick smaller amounts, enough for a meal or two, berries for jam and baking, or flowers for tables and windowsills. Our primary basket was a wedding present we have been using for over three decades. My wife likes to use it for carrying her cut flowers and that often interfered with my collecting veggies for dinner. 
Woven Harvest Basket, 35+ Years Old
It became obvious that we needed more than one harvest basket (that we call a trug). My wife presented me with one that works okay, but is too small, and, like her basket, has a handle that often deflects thrown peas and beans so that they miss the basket. Both handles also get in the way when grabbing peas or beans between hands when they are on opposite sides. My first trug raised the handle pretty high, attempting to make it easier to fill and empty. This design was heavy and the handle still got in the way. Permanently erect handles also makes baskets bulky to store. Empty, they take up a lot of space.
Commercial Harvest Basket: Coated Steel Wire Mesh
My First Trug: Too Heavy, But Won a Prize
An ideal baskets should have handles that swing out of the way. When you have more than one, they should also stack, one inside another. They should be light enabling heavier payloads. My next one incorporated a handle that could swing to the side for filling, emptying and storing. It also used only a frame of wood and very lightweight rawhide for lacing.

Trug with Handle Swung to the Side
Trug with Handle Erect

Three Trugs Together Showing Relative Size
Trugs Fills With Produce
 The rawhide I used for the swing-handled trug came from a deer I harvested with a bow and arrow when I was still in high school. With only a limited supply of rawhide, I used one-inch wide webbing for the next pair of trugs that I made for four-year old twins. These work great and though they are a bit large for them now, they'll grow into them and should last their lifetime. To make them waterproof so that veggies can be washed in the trugs, both the rawhide trug and those made with webbing were given many coats of marine varnish that also melds the webbing to the wood frame.

Twin Trugs with Handles Swung to the Side

Stacked Trugs






Monday, January 16, 2017

Scroll Saw Bowls with Segmented Feature Ring

A year ago my wife gave me an interesting book on how to make bowls without a lathe. At that time I did not have a wood lathe and the prospect of making bowls without creating mounds of wood shavings intrigued me.
Carole Rothman Uses a Scroll Saw to Make Her Bowls 

Carole Rothman has developed techniques that transform flat boards as wide and long as the dimensions of the piece into incredibly beautiful bowls. One drawback: these bowls typically have sides that are around 45 degrees. 

I like to make things that are useful and have been planning to make a series of sturdy bowls for chopping vegetables and nuts so that the process doesn't send pieces all over the place. My wife's mother had a very functional wooden bowl and chopping knife that she used many decades.  The bowl was shallower than the one pictured above so, in order to use a scroll saw, I had to modify the technique. 
Mother-in-Law's 12.5 Inch Diameter Bowl and Chopping Knife
My first attempt used two boards of hard maple to make the bottom four layers of a bowl. Turning a solid piece of wood involves slicing through the grain at various angles. It is much easier to cut "with the grain" than "across the grain". The woodworking group I belong to introduced me to segmented bowl techniques and the advantages of creating layers that have no "end grain". For the fancy top layers, I added feature rings of trapezoids.
First Chopping Bowl with Cherry Feature Ring on Top of Four Layers of Maple
Side View of First Bowl


Two Handled Chopping Knife, Handles Cover Blade When Not in Use
Second Bowl with Cherry Feature Ring and Pine Separators
Top View: Second Bowl Showing Trapezoids and Separators
Second Bowl Complete

Discs on Left Have Been Cut Out of a Square Board at 45 Degrees. They Will Be Cut Again to Make Layers #2 and #4 of Two Bowls.  Stacked Discs on Right Are Layers #1 and #3 of Those Bowls.
The Four Bottom Layers of a Bowl

Glued Up Stack of Four Layers of Yellow Birch

Feature Ring: Alternating Trapezoids of Walnut and Cherry

Feature Ring Added to Four Layers of Yellow Birch
Chopping Knife with Leather Cover


Bottom View of Chopping Bowl #3

Top View of #3

Top View of #4: Yellow Birch Layers 1-4, Alternating Trapezoids of Cherry and Oak, with Purple Heart Separators

Bottom View of Chopping Bowl #4