Well, sort of anyway.
In case you haven’t been following Seattle weather lately, it’s rained steadily for over 30 days, and it’s been chilly. Since I’ve no desire to be electrocuted by my chainsaw in a downpour, my wood box has run empty. Today was pretty decent by Seattle standards (i.e. dry), so the day was spent cutting firewood.
Actually, being cooped up all that time gave me an opportunity to carve a kitchen spoon for a couple of friends with a surplus of chickens. I sensed that there’s a lot of chicken soup in their futures. It’s made from a green piece of red alder firewood that I nicked from their farm a couple of weeks ago.
So, I gave the mother of my god-daughters a worm bin for Christmas. It’s nearly identical to the one which I described in my previous post. The only significant difference is that this one came with a half pound of red wiggler composting worms.
We packed up the bin (and other gifts) and embarked upon a long road trip from Seattle to Huntington Beach, California; five days away. The worms were ordered before we left, with explicit instruction that they should arrive the day AFTER Christmas. So what could go wrong?
Well, after two days on the road, we were eating dinner in the hotel restaurant when I got a text from the lady herself reading…,
“Did you guys send me a box of worms?”
I immediately thought, “Is there anyway for things to go more sideways than this? Now I have some explaining to do.” She said that fortunately she had a glass of wine in hand to soften the blow. What could I do but wish her a Merry Christmas and suggest that they go best with red wine?
Amazingly, the worms survived for another five days in their box, until we could set up the bin and give them a proper home. As Kris reminds me, it’s the unexpected that you remember in the long run.
Every once and awhile I feel the need for what might be called a “low project”, something made cheap and easily, either just for the fun of it or because it’s a needed utility project for the home or shop. This time it’s a project that I’ve been wanting to do since high school, …vermicomposting. Okay, “worm farming” if you must. The idea is to create a simple system for composting kitchen wastes using worms.
There are many systems for vermicomposting and many designs for composters. The system and design that I chose comes from the Oregon State University Extension Service. It’s an ergonomic (back friendly) stacked design that automatically separates the worms from the finished compost (called castings) via screened bottoms in the stacked bins. The worms naturally move up through the screens to the fresh garbage (yum!) I did modify the design slightly by offsetting the 2×4 sections in order to create interlocking modules.
Worm composting produces liquid runoff (called compost tea) that collects in the tray. Because it will reside outdoors, I also added a piece of 1″ urethane foam and a seed germination warming mat. Since it’s going on our patio, I gave it a quick coat of “Old Fashioned Milk Paint” in Lexington Green.
My worms will arrive in a few days. I’ll add a few new pictures and an update when that happens. If you would like to try vermicomposting for yourself, I recommend “Worms Eat My Garbage” (1982), by Mary Applehof.
*The Chair from Hell
If you read my post about, “My latest mock up“, then you know about this chair. Suffice to say, it has been a learning experience and I am glad that I used inexpensive lumber for my education.
As promised, the immolation reserved for this piece is shown in the above photo. No easy trip to the wood stove for this tormentor. Oh no, only a trip to the diabolical inferno that is the front window with do.
The finish on the chair is white latex primer, then yellow tinted shellac, followed by a gradient fog coat of red tinted shellac. Once the shellac dried, I coated the chair with a gelatin mixture. When that was dry, a thick coat of black milk paint crackled as it dried. Finally, the whole thing was coated with a sprayed on coat of Daly’s Pro Fin polyurethane.
P.S. Here’s the full effect of the front window
Any woodworker has to love trees. Trees not only create the basic material for our work, they also provide the mystery of what’s hidden inside them. Finding the treasure within is part of the joy that comes from woodwork. But trees also improve the environment in which we live. They cool the earth, they generate oxygen, and they feed, house and nurture life in and around themselves for decades, even centuries. So when I met a budding (sorry) young arborist with the goal of increasing folks’ appreciation for trees, I started looking for a way to help out.
Logan Fields runs Heartwood Nursery, a tree nursery in Port Townsend that specializes in nut and fruit trees. To promote her business, Logan makes necklaces from the shells of heart nuts. The heart nut is similar to a walnut but has an iconic shape that lends itself to some creative uses.
I have five of Logan’s necklaces available for sale at the shop, or you can buy them directly from the artist herself, via her website.
Usually, before I spend a lot of money on quality wood for a new project, I make a mock up from cheaper construction grade lumber. The mock up allows me to learn, and make mistakes at relatively low cost; but just as importantly, it gives me the courage to proceed with a new technique or design because I’m not using expensive wood.
I can’t emphasize enough the value of making a first off, throwaway version of a new challenging project. Often, having served their purpose, these mock ups end up in the woodstove. Sometimes, more rarely, they get a coat of finish and end up either in the shop or the front room as useful but less than ideal end products.
This particular chair* is not suitable for use, for a number of reasons, and so I have dubbed it, “le chaise d’enfer” (the chair from hell). But instead of the wood stove, I have a more interesting immolation in mind. Stay tuned.
*I should have mentioned that the design for this chair comes from Christopher Schwarz’, “The Anarchist Design Book“. He has generously shared his designs and knowledge with the woodworking community.
So…, my beautiful staked leg tables aren’t selling. Despite their beauty, practicality and bargain price, they just don’t generate any interest. Kris has suggested that it’s because no one buys a table alone, but as part of a dining set. Therefore, chairs are next on the list.
The chair that I’m hoping to make is Christopher Schwarz’ “Staked Chair” from his book, The Anarchist Design Book. As per my usual method, I’m making a mock up from inexpensive construction lumber in order to fine tune my technique. The chair has staked in legs without stretchers, so the grain has to be dead straight with zero runout. Fortunately, I had some CVG (clear, vertical grain) douglas fir 2×4 leftover from a previous project. I roughed out the legs to 1 1/2″ square, then tapered them to 1 1/8″ at the end using successive passes on the jointer.
Once the legs were tapered, I laid out the facets for making them octagons, and started planing. However, the temperatures in Seattle today peaked at 95ºF (35ºC); too hot for much bench work by an old Northwest mossback. So after finishing one leg, I left the other three for another day.
Next up, boring the tapered holes in the seat pan to accommodate the legs.
…the hexagonal wooden tool wrap mentioned in Jim Tolpin’s, The Toolbox Book. Since I needed a place to keep the new knives that I made plus the other spoon making tools, I thought to re create it in my own fashion.
In the book, Jim encourages the reader to adjust the dimensions to fit their own tool collection. In my case, I made the box just a bit larger in order to accommodate my carving axe as well as my knives. Other changes were using douglas fir instead of cherry, making the carry strap detachable, and adding a short carry handle.
I used #14 ring nails wherever fasteners were required, and finished it with boiled linseed oil. For me, there is something magical about the combination of doug fir and linseed oil. It’s like the two were made for each other.
The leather bits are simple vegetable tanned leather, stained and oiled with neetsfoot oil. The plans call for tool loops on the inside to hold tools onto the three wrapping panels. I haven’t added those yet as I want to see how I end up using the box first. I also intended to put a buckle on the shoulder strap to allow length adjustment. However, the buckle I want is back ordered, so that’s still to do.
My initial impression is that the box is easy and comfortable to carry, and allows quick and easy access to the tools. Time will tell if my impressions are justified and if the box provides the protection the tools deserve.
… is used to secure a knife or other tool while a handle is fashioned.
Although I’ve said before that I dislike working with metal, that is somewhat inaccurate. More to the point, I dislike working with metal in my shop. My shop is a wood shop and every time I have to work with metal, I feel like I need to detox, decontaminate, or perform some sort of ritual cleansing. I’ve also said that I like making tools, and that usually requires working with metal. Out of this paradox I have fashioned a cutler’s vise.
This all started with carving spoons. In order to better carve wooden spoons, I started making left handed hook knives and slöjd knives. Now, to better make knives, I’ve made a cutler’s vise patterned after one made by D. Comeau.
The vise started with four pieces of iron pipe cut at the local pipe yard. The bird’s mouth of the upright piece was cut with a carbide hole saw.
After some sanding, a local welder helped with the assembly (thanks Dan). The knobs on the adjustment screws are fashioned from trimmed carriage bolts and brass channel with wenge wood infills.
The wooden jaws are white oak, lined with cork. They have magnets imbedded to hold them open and in place when the adjustment screws are backed off. I indulged myself by having it covered by a local powder coating firm.
Although I do like making tools, I think that I’m also a bit fed up with the metallic mess for awhile. Time to start the chanting, the burning of incense, …or maybe just the vacuum cleaner.
I firmly believe that if you expect to learn anything in this life, you have to be able to rise from failures. So in the wake of some rather humbling opportunities for growth, I can now boast of having completed a small number of left handed, hooked carving knives.
The top knife in the photo is the original Robin Wood, Woodtools™ knife that was the inspiration for the project. The next one down is my first completed attempt. You’ll note that the curve is slightly tighter. The curve is also not as fair as I would prefer, it has a couple of hard spots, or kinks in it. The handle is cherry and was a close match in size and shape to the original.
The next knife that I made is the fourth from the top, also with a similar sized cherry handle. The curve of that knife is more fair, consistent and open; a better match to the original. I am much happier with that knife than with the first attempt.
After I was able to reproduce my inspiration, I decided to customize a bit. The third knife from the top is my interpretation of a decreasing radius hooked knife. The hook gets tighter toward the tip and allows for deeper hollowing of spoon bowls. I also enlarged the handle a bit to better fit my own hand. The wood is black walnut. All of the handles were burnished and finished with Kukui nut oil.
I also made leather sheaths for all the knives including the slöjd knife.
How do you sheath a curved knife blade? The tip of the blade fits into the stitched pocket at the strap end and the top is folded over and wrapped. Like this:
These sheaths were inspired by legendary spoon carver Willie Sundquist, in his book, “Swedish Carving Techniques”.
I am nearly finished making knives for the time being. Although I do want to make one more slöjd knife, and perhaps a scorp for making kuksa (Sámi wooden coffee cups). Then I need to get started on some spoons.