Thursday, March 29, 2012

Final Pictures of the Mahogany Carved Box

It's finished and I am very proud of this one. A few more of these document chests or bible boxes (call them whatever you want) and I'll feel prepared to move on to a whole joined chest. But first, there will probably be a foray into joined stools (Thank you Lost Art Press)

Ever since the book "Make a Joint Stool from a Tree" came out 17th century furniture has been under a lot of discussion and I have to admit I was surprised to hear some of it. I expected to hear words like impractical and people claim that green working is not appropriate for craftsman making furniture less than everyday. The one word I was not prepared to read was "ugly."

I can remember the first time I stumbled across Peter Follansbee's blog I have been smitten with 17th century style furniture. From the joinery to the carvings, especially the carvings. When I first saw his pieces I thought, now there's something I really want to be able to create.

I like 17th century furniture most because in today's modern age it looks refreshingly new and different. Look into any book on antique furniture and you will likely find a timeline showing the development of furniture styles, often starting with William and Mary baroque styles and pushing forward from there. It will hit on Chippendale, Queen Anne, Federal, Shaker, Craftsman, and Modern styles and at least a dozen more. If you take that list of styles and go to any large furniture store filled to the bursting doors with mass produced, disposable furniture you will find some watered down version of each style represented.

I have never seen an attempt at 17th century furniture in a press board, paper veneered fashion. I don't believe that's because it's "ugly" I believe it's because it's too difficult to mass produce even a watered down piece of this style. I suppose it could be done, but why should corporations go to the bother when they already have so much other crap, built to the lowest common denominator, to convince you to buy.

The eye is drawn to these pieces, the carvings give it a feel of authority and antiquity, the construction is straightforward and strong. They carry a weight to them that is beyond their physical presence. Set in a room with other furniture styles and they instantly become the rock star of the room, everyone notices, everyone comments, most come up and brush their hands across the carvings. The style stands out like a bright red in a field of muted grays. 

I'm not sure if you can call what I do perfectly 17th century either but I'm not working on reproductions as much as "work inspired by..."

I have always had a desire to create things that are different, things that stand out from the background. In my current explorations I've found my way of moving forward by looking backwards. Inspired by Follansbee I have delved into my own research on these furniture styles, buying or borrowing many books and visiting some of the original pieces in museums. There is so much more depth to this furniture style than I think most people realize.

My wife often accuses me of being born in the wrong century, sometimes she looks at me like I just stepped through a time portal stretching from somewhere in the 12th century, and she might be onto something  You don't have to agree with me, but to my medieval eyes the carvings and furniture look beautiful and desirable, no candlelight required.

Ratione et Passionis

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Sanctuary Of Sorts

I was pissed.

It was not an acute anger, one filled with immediacy and a desire to instantly set the world on fire. It was one of those slow boiling fumes, like a layer of lava underneath a delicately thin cooled crust. The heat still radiated outwards as a warning to those nearby but any accidental brush against the shell would break free a small eruption of consuming flare.

Every time I tried to contain myself from unfairly snapping or doing something I knew I would regret I could almost envision the scene in the movie "The Matrix" when Neo flexes his muscles and the hallway bends around him, eventually snapping back and reverberating like a wave moving out from his disturbance of reality. I could almost harness all that power with my willful rage.

It was the fault of nobody in particular. The unfortunate combination of a very restless nights sleep, spending the day working with a very demanding and narcissistic surgeon, getting a very late chance at a lunch break, and a hundred other small jabs or nips at my psyche throughout the day. Things I can normally shake off easily, stuck like glue today, and the load of them weighted me down to the most base version of myself. I was sarcastic and short with my children, I snapped at my wife when she was just trying to tell me some news that only seemed to pile on.

I spent my afternoon being much less than the person I would like to think I am.

I needed to separate myself for a while. A self imposed time out.

I stuffed in a pair of earphones and retreated to the shop. I knew if I tried to accomplish anything constructive it would only end in tears and possibly blood. So I just stood there for a while, my hands on the bench, my head bent down, and my eyes closed. Pearl Jam pouring into my ears as my meditative breaths brought my shop's slightly piney sawdust scent into my nose and my fingertips absently caressed the grain of the bench's timber.

Eventually I picked up my head and started to look around. I'm usually good at keeping my shop clean and organized but I had left out a handful of things. My marking knife and small tri-square absently lying over here. A mallet out of place over there. Some carving chips that had escaped the shop vac strolling around the workbenches legs. My joinery saws had been put away out of order the last time my daughter used them and my off cuts were a mishmash pile of chaos.

I picked up the marking knife and turned it around in my hands. Its comfortable and familiar weight felt right in  my hands. I inspected the edge and decided it was still sharp and in good shape. I walked over and put the knife carefully back in it's plastic, protective sheath and stowed it away in my tool chest. The tri-square followed as did the mallet. Slowly I just started to pick up and organize the scattering of items I had left about. Finishing by sweeping and vacuuming the floor.  It took me less than a half hour and when I was done I felt better, not perfect but better.

I found my wife and apologized, I also apologized to my girls. Then I started cooking dinner, something everyone likes, Alfredo noodles and meatballs. While I was boiling the Penne I thought about a passage I remembered from "The Anarchist's Tool Chest." and after supper I had to go and look it up.

"When I am too exhausted , ill, or busy to work in my shop, I will shuffle down the stairs to my 15' x 25' workshop and simply stand there for a few minutes with my hands on my tools."

Today is over and I'm putting it where it belongs, behind me. Tomorrow will probably be better, but if it isn't at least I'm lucky enough to have a sanctuary where I can reset my psyche to equilibrium.

Now that I've shared way more than I probably should I'm going to go, before I confess the secret recipe for my wife's famous "Six Pound Cookies."

Ratione et Passionis
(Reason and Passion)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Back to the Bible Box

I had finished carving the front of the new bible box . . .

 . . . and I had finished the sides.

It was time to start on the lid, period or not I enjoy carving the lids. It gives me a little chance to work on a larger piece and the lid can really draw the piece together. With that in mind I try to pull elements from both the front and the sides.

The thumbnail cuts from the sides and the opposing hearts from the front.

I had the main parts of the box finished.

But I had the inside of the box to worry about and I wasn't sure what to do. At the time I was preparing this piece to include in an art gallery show I'd been invited to. The show eventually canceled (But the good news is I secured the opportunity to carry my own show once I have enough pieces built up, It's gonna be a busy year for me I think) I wanted to do or try something different. 

In the middle of trying to figure it out I had the chance to take my oldest daughter to the Milwaukee Art Museum. I had an amazing day and took many, many, many pictures of their selection from the Chipstone furniture collection. I also got a look at this Game Chest, carved and inlaid and the inside was lined with marbled paper. 

I remembered marbelizing paper back in one of my old art classes, it wasn't too difficult of a thing to do. A few minutes searching the web and I found the recipes I needed. A little liquid starch and a little acrylic paint later and I had something to work with.

In case there is any interest I shot some video of the process.

The results inside the box can be stunning.

Ratione et Passionis

A quick note: The music I selected for the video was performed by a friend of my Travis Oppelt, He is a great musician, writing and playing all the instruments in every song on his album "You'll Never Stop Me" under the band name TravAce. If you enjoyed the song in the video then support another starving artist and download the album at and iTunes.  You can see more of his stuff on YouTube as well.

TravAce on

See more on YouTube

Thanks again

Saturday, March 10, 2012

My Carving Set

Recently I posted some pictures of the lid for my most recent bible box on Google + and some discussion about woods for carving and tools followed. One friend, Brander Roullett, (who writes his adventures on one of my favorite blogs Badger Woodworks and who has been working down a similar path of 17th century carving techniques) suggested I put up a post about the carving chisels I use.

"Wow," I thought, "That's a pretty damn good idea."

So here we find ourselves, at the gateway to the executive tour of Oldwolf Workshop Carving Set. Please remain in your seats and keep your appendages within the confines of the ride at all times. No flash photography please and hold all your questions until the end.

First we'll start with the first two carving chisels I purchased. A pair of Pfeil chisels brought home from the Woodcraft store.

It turns out the 45 minutes I spent agonizing over the multitude of choices present on the "Wall Of Pfeil" turned out well. The "V" chisel was a no brainer, but getting the perfect sweep gouge was moderately tormenting. I'm still happy with my one choice. It gave me enough to start playing with carving.

In the next year Peter Follansbee released his first video on 17th century wood carving and I was raring to go. One of the area antique stores had a set of a dozen carving chisels hidden back in a corner, I had my eye on them for a long while and I finally couldn't resist any longer.

Half the set is made from 6 Bucks Brothers gouges. There isn't a whole lot of difference in the sweeps, in fact They are almost 3 pairs of twins. The shallow sweeps on the left easily see the most use of any gouges beyond my V tools. I think the previous owner favored them as well because the bottom of one handle is pretty beat up.

The remaining 6 from that set are a nice selection of old Miller Falls chisels. There is a couple different, deeper, gouge sweeps, including a couple smaller detail gouges, a goose neck chisel that is great for material removal, and a very elegant V chisel.

I did have to replace one ferule that was missing.

Then I have a small detail set of old Craftsman chisels. I only just recently got these off eBay and I haven't gotten to using them much yet, so the jury is out on whether they stay around or not.

Finally I have a small selection of tools let's call pattern tools. One of these is a simple nail set, The others are old tool steel I modified myself.

The tube was a leather punch, the cross shaped punch was an old beaten up alignment bar and the texture punches were an old beaten up center punch and cold chisel. You can read the post I wrote about creating the texture punches HERE.

I wasn't completely happy with the texturing punches when I first made them, somehow I believed the marks they were to make should have been more vivid. But I have a bit more carving under my belt now, and a whole lot more looking at pictures of period pieces and comparing them to my work and the punches really do hold up well.

Other tools that end up helping with my carvings are a scratch awl, sometimes to make a layout line and sometimes to make a round punched hole similar to what I do with the nail set or cross punch. Sometimes I also use a marking knife to carve in a fine detail or refine a line. The pencil helps because there are times I will take a period carving and use that as a jumping off point for my own direction, the pencil helps me layout my feelings and ideas without cutting into the wood, so I have a chance to refine the idea before I cut any wood.

Add a mallet, hammer, square, several dividers, a marking gauge, and a little time and practice and you too can be carving.

 In all reality the kit I've been able to assemble here is more than a beginner needs and I am certainly not advocating that you build a kit just like mine. Hell, most of my kit was collected by another person years ago and I was simply lucky enough get my hands on it. There are a couple more things I'd like to get my hands on like a couple chip carving knives, and a larger goose neck chisel. A hook knife and a couple bigger gouges like one would use in spoon making would also fit in well with this kit. Beyond that though I'm pretty happy where I'm at, After all, more chisels just means more sharpening and less carving.

I'd rather be carving

Ratione et Passionis

Monday, March 5, 2012

Simple Curiosity

"Ours is really a simple craft. But it is a rich one, too. At its best, the simple becomes obvious; a band of small discoveries, strung like pearls on a thread of curiosity, lending richness to our work."

"Simplicity is the beginning of many fine things."

-James Krenov, "The Impractical Cabinetmaker"

Ratione et Passionis