Saved from the Firewood Pile

My neighbor took down her old flowering pear. Here’s a big chunk. I had despaired of using it for anything, but then I got a request for a side table, no wider than 7″, 24″ high, and about a foot deep. With a drawer. Aha! You can see from the square foot tiles under it that it’s not 2 feet long, but it’s chunky enough to give me the solid 7″ and most of the 12″.

Squaring up on the band saw is scary when the piece is heavy, but with each cut it gets lighter. It’s grain pattern is dull because I’m only cutting into the new wood, and by rounding the front, I lose visual interest, but the worm hole adds character.

With carpentry, you usually need straight lines so that the pieces match up. But with a bandsaw, no matter what shapes you cut from a single block, they fit together. Within the next few days, I’ll glue up the two drawers and the case. Then I’ll figure out how to attach legs and a top. Stay tuned!

Tour the Tomb Room: Dust Collection

You can see this table without stuff on it in my first blog.

Time to finish the giraffes. I’ve been using files on this but now I need to use grinders, so I need dust collection. You can see the open end of the suction hose behind the workpiece.

Here’s the back. The hose is just jammed into a hole in the wood.
A picture of a dust collector covered with dust is ironic.
This is NOT Foredom’s official stand.

The Foredom company was early in developing this kind of flexible shaft tool. . Now you can get them from Dremel and other companies as well, but Foredom’s is a workhorse, and it can turn either way, which is critical. This kicks up a lot of dust. You can see it in all the pictures. But the collector picks up the smallest particles, which hang in the air long enough to get pulled in. The heavier stuff falls, but I can sweep that up. Theoretically. I mean, if I ever wanted to.

The Foredom grinder hangs on that stand, for use and for storage. It’s made of the base of an office chair, some PVC, a shovel handle, and curtain rod hooks from my house in New Brunswick. I kept all those pieces because they’d be useful later, and they were!

Here’s the bullnose burr I’m using on the giraffes; it’s evil!

The dust hose fits pre-made plastic ports that are sometimes provided with tools, and can be added if they aren’t:

Belt sanders come equipped with a port but I needed an adapter.

Belt sanders are notorious for not collecting their own dust well. The giraffes make chunky dust when I cut them with the grinder, so it’s not too annoying, and cherry smells good. Pine, on the other hand, also smells good, but deposits very small particles on the belt sander and everything else, even though I run the collector.

The dust collection bags can catch anything over 5 microns, which I gather is very small. That’s the stuff I don’t want floating in the air. The lower bag has a window, so I can tell when it’s full. I compost the dust.

Maybe by the time we’re all free of self-quarantine, I’ll have dusted the dust collector. You never know. It could happen.

I’m A Late Bloomer…

I’m accidentally creating a coherent body of work.

Say what?

I’m cleaning up the shop and finishing things I cut out years ago. I never finished the rabbit because I snapped off the left ear with a grinder, and I never found that piece. I put it aside. Last month I carved the iguana and prairie chicken out of the same tree, and last week I cut off the broken ear and glued on a bit from a different slab of the same tree. It’s not invisible, but I retained the shape that I had wanted.

‘So’, says Iguana, ‘It’s been nice hanging out with you but I’m going to live in an office in Teaneck.’

I’ve often been told that I need to create a ‘coherent body of work’. And now, I have! I’m working on a line of fish out of the same wood in a similar flattened style. Halesia is a repulsive wood to carve; it chips and pops out and cracks, and its dust is acrid and bitter. (Sanding inevitably leads to a certain amount of ingestion. Tupelo, by contrast, is not exactly yummy but tastes like Tupelo honey.) But Halesia has curly variegated grain that stands out in pieces like this.

The Iguana sold at the opening show at South Avenue Arts, so in fact, I still only have two ‘coherent’ pieces, plus a lizard-shaped box out of the same tree. I’m carving the last of the wood, so this series is near the end. And it’s taken me 45 years to get one coherent theme! Now I have to find another?

Are You Cut Out for Woodcarving?

My Upcoming Class at the Metuchen Senior Center: May 7

The Metuchen Arts Council (which you can find on Facebook) has begun a series of art classes called the Metuchen Arts Exchange, in conjunction with the Westerhoff School and the Senior Center, and I’ll teach an introductory class on woodcarving. I’m pretty sure that I suggested the title of this blog as the title of the class, but they weren’t buying it. The class is an overview of knife safety, basic cuts, how grain works, and the differences between woods. Participants get to take home a wall-mountable key holder, which is useful and thus partially justifies the purchase of dangerous art supplies.

Imagine this with cup hooks in each little hole. Imagine my coffee table without the cat hair and dust. Thank you. Once again, I’ve photographed a workpiece on a table made of THE SAME WOOD! And I didn’t even plan that.

I’ll bring band-aids.

The hardest thing for people learning to carve is how much work it is for their hands. Most of us don’t do manual labor that requires small-motor strength. But if you like the hobby, the strength comes with time. And if you don’t like it after this class, you can learn that for $25 and quit while you’re ahead. That’s why the class is for adults; it’s not that kids are too careless to use knives, it’s just that they don’t have the size and strength they will have later.

The MAX classes are varied; they include everything except classic 2-D art or traditional music lessons. The goal here is to offer experiences in less-known arts. Right now, the Metuchen Arts Council website is down, but once it’s back I’ll post the link. Check them out on Facebook to see what’s up.

Timing is Everything

I was working on two pieces, from chunks of the same tree, when I found out that there will be an exhibit in which I can enter them. No guarantee that my work will be accepted, but I like the show’s concept either way. South Avenue Arts of Garwood ( (and that’s GarWOOD, not Garfield; I know this is confusing) has called for works about animals, and the show will benefit a shelter or animal welfare group. How perfect is that for a person who happened to be carving these:

Hey, haven’t I seen you somewhere before? Like, maybe on a curb?

Okay, the pieces in question do not represent normal shelter pets. But the wood wasn’t kitten-shaped. It’s salvage from a huge Halisia montecola that was taken down in Mount Holly. Halisia montecola is a variant of Halisia virginiana; some say they’re the same thing, but montecola grows about 60 feet tall, not 20, and I’d agree that it’s a significant difference. They grow along the warmer Appalachians, but they can live here as specimens. This one would have been planted around 1860.

The chunks were pretty random, cut with a chain saw and left behind. The wood is not very hard, but it’s stringy and fibrous, and this tree was spalted (aka half rotten) so it doesn’t offer a fine finish but I think they will work out well, with its marbled pattern. Hey… the table in the picture is from the same tree!

I’m also interested in a call for public art, and I’ve mocked something up:

My homage to Space Invaders… no, not really.

I’ll be busy with these through March. But you should be hearing from me before then about my carving class in Metuchen in May!

Eat, Drink, Buy Art 2019

December 7-8, Old Franklin Schoolhouse

Transformations Gallery is hosting it’s second Eat, Drink & Buy Art (EDBA) in the Old Franklin Schoolhouse, on Saturday, December 7 from 5:30-9:30 pm, and Sunday, December 8 from 11 am- 4 pm. If you’re headed for the Holiday House Tour, you’ll see the artists when you pick up your ticket.

I’ll be showing new and old work for the season: 

Holly Leaf Boxes made of holly wood, cut in … Mount Holly!
Fireplace Bellows
Finished Just In Time, Menorahs!

You’ll also see fiber arts, pottery, photography, glass, paintings, and soap, so stop by.