Archive for the ‘carving sculpture’ Category

Corsair #4

December 16, 2008

Finishing the toy: At this stage, and before I do anything else, I am going to give the toy several coats of varnish. You can use anything you like. Personally, I am more in favor of old-fashioned oil base varnish. My reasons have to do with longevity and wear. Simply put I have never had any other product hold up as well. An alternative is Tung oil, which works well too, but has a lasting odor that some children will not like.

Again, I will repeat that this is just my experience, but I have had very poor results with poly-products. I have used both water-based, and oil based poly and what I have found is that they do not bond well enough to the wood to hold up to constant play. The result is that they chip, crack and peel, and that makes me nervous because I don’t want the little ones eating chips of anything that comes off a toy.

Varnished toy

Once the varnishing is complete, painted details can be added. I paint on insignia, nose art, and any other decorations. In this case, my nephew is only two, so I am keeping it simple. However, if the child is a little older, the decoration is an area where you can personalize a toy, giving it a name, or insignia that have a special meaning to the child in question.

The last two pieces of the project are the propeller disk and the canopy, both of which will be molded from acrylic that is one-eighth of an inch thick.

The acrylic pieces can be a challenge. The propeller is just a disk of clear acrylic, drilled on the drill press and cut out on the band-saw. However, even such a simple piece must be carefully drilled and cut to avoid blistering and cracks. The cockpit canopy is made by carefully and slowly heating a piece of acrylic and shaping it over a poplar form. In some cases I will use a vacuum jig to help form the canopy, but I have to point out here that complex shapes are hard to achieve and it takes practice to get good results, so the simpler the design and the easier it is to execute, the better your chances of success. If you want to know more about shaping acrylic, or plastics, go to “you tube” and type in vacuum molding.

I glue on acrylic parts using two part marine epoxy that has been slightly thickened. The resulting paste will be stronger than either the acrylic or the wood, and it will not be as prone to run or drip.

The finished toy:

The completed toy

The completed toy

Wooden Corsair #3

December 10, 2008

The third phase of construction on the corsair is the tail/after-cockpit section that defines the cockpit. As part of this phase, I will be making the pilot too.

If you look at the top of the body of the plane, you will see a long tapered flat spot where this last section will attach. The shape of the long tapered flat spot will determine the shape of the after-cockpit.

Cut rough and then sanded to fit, the after-cockpit has a vertical slot to help hold the tail in place.

In the aft end of the body I have cut a lap for the horizontal stabilizer.

The tail wheel is pegged so that it can swivel.

All of these pieces are glued together:

The pilot is shaped out of select pine and glued into the cockpit:

In the next section we will look at the acrylic and the finishing steps.

Creative stump removal

October 28, 2008

If you have never dug out the stump of a large tree by hand, then you have missed out on the true pioneer experience. There are few jobs that are more miserable and that are harder on your tools and your body.

When I was building the Wheelhouse there was a large double birch tree quite near the building. I went to great lengths to protect the tree and the roots. Despite this, the tree came down in an ice storm several years later. The stump was too large and too near the building to ignore and it looked like a back-breaker to remove. After considering my options, I decided to take the approach that “obstacles can be opportunities”. So, I turned the stump into a planter.

A couple of hours with a chainsaw and a chisel and mallet and I had carved a face on each of the two stumps. I cut a shallow bowl in the top of each head and drilled a couple of holes to allow water to drain out of the bowls. Then, I filled the bowl with potting soil and transplanted some myrtle that was growing locally. The myrtle grew out like hair and what had been an ugly stump became a piece of sculpture and a planter.

stump planter

stump planter

It has been many years now since I carved these faces and the stumps are rotting away, one is almost completely gone and the other is in advanced decay. The carvings have become echoes of what they once were. I no longer make a concerted effort to plant anything in them because nature has taken them over. They have evolved into something that looks like fragmentary ruins of some sort of Viking settlement. Accented with moss, a favorite hangout for woodpeckers, they have acquired a value different and more complex than the one that I originally intended.

I had hoped that by making the stumps into planters, the constant exposure to dirt and water would accelerate the process of decay so that the stump could be more easily removed. What I did not anticipate was that the process of decomposition would actually add something to the sculptures. Now, I find, I will miss them when they are finally gone.

More Toys

December 28, 2006

This year my nephews made it easy for me to make them toys for Christmas. At Thanksgiving, my six-year-old nephew pulled me aside and let me know with great earnestness that he did not have nearly enough Greeks and Trojans to have a proper war. So that was easy, another score of Greeks and Trojans and he was taken care of.

Greeks and Trojans

          My eleven-year-old nephew had been asking me lots of questions about Medieval catapults and siege-engines. I made him a working model of a Trebuchet, complete with several different length throwing arms and slings. He had a delightful time out on their porch flinging things at other things (It is worth pointing out that the Greeks and Trojans make terrific targets).


          My niece provided me with more of a challenge. Whenever I put out feelers about what she might want for Christmas, she was very vague in her responses. Without much to go on, I fell back on two reliable interests; she loves horses, and bears (see the whole bear thing post). She also likes to work on things, rather than just play with them, so what I came up with was this: a traditional, horse-drawn caravan, driven by, and occupied by bears.


I put my efforts into the caravan itself, the bears, and the horse and carriage tack, leaving much of the interior details unfinished. Instead of finishing out the interior, I gave her a box of raw materials to complete the bear caravan to her own design. The round top of the caravan slides off so that it is easy to get at the inside. She was already planning what she was going to do with it, including more bears, on Christmas day.

Caravan back

Caravan inside

The Wooden Computer

December 12, 2006

I have always loved sculpture that fills a second function. A piece that works as sculpture, but that does something else too has an added element of surprise. My wooden computer is an example of what I mean.
         This is a piece that I made a little more than a decade ago, at a time when what I needed was a better way to organize my desk space. What I set out to make was a sort of file holder; something with places to sort, and store, the flotsam, and jetsam that covered my desk. I thought it would be fun to make something to meet my organizational needs and play up the impression I sometime make that I am a Luddite. Thus the wooden computer was born.

the Wooden Computer

         The front of the monitor opens and has three shelves, the “A” drive, “B” drive, and “C” drive. The keyboard opens and has pens and pencils in it, and the mouse just sits there projecting attitude.

Computer Mouse

         The wood computer still sits on my desk, and still works, in fact it has never crashed. Like most technology that has never failed, I tend to forget about it and take it for granted. At least, that is until someone new stops in to the office, at some point the visitor will notice the wooden computer, fun ensues, and I am reminded of why I made it in the first place.

The Mouse House: another toy blog

December 5, 2006

When my niece was quite small, she wanted a dollhouse but was not old enough yet to inherit the elegant, and rather delicate, dollhouse that the grandfather I never knew built for my mother. I built the Mouse House as a sort of fill-in-the-gap toy, to play with until she was old enough for a real dollhouse.
      The premise for the mouse house was Miss. Mouse; a three inch tall stuffed mouse, who needed a place to live. The idea was that I could make the mouse house out of an actual tree stump and make it much more rugged than a conventional dollhouse. After finding, and cutting, and drying, a stump that was the right size, and approximate shape, I set about cutting the stump in half vertically. This is when I discovered that the maple stump I had harvested was actually a rock-maple stump. When I got the stump cut in half, I began to hollow out the insides of the two halves to make the rooms of Miss. Mouse’s new home. The idea was that one-half of the stump-house would be glued to a solid base; the other would swing out on a large hinge so that the house could be opened in order to get to the rooms inside. Hollowing out the stump took some time with big gouges and chisels, but the simple and sculptural interior was just what Miss. Mouse needed. I had chosen a tree stump that had some wonderful natural clefts in it. As I hollowed out the two halves of the stump, I cut through the back of these clefts in several places to make irregular openings. By cutting these openings, I was able to make two places for small, hinged, doors. I filled other irregular openings with pieces of plexi-glass cut to fit the individual openings and glued in with epoxy to make windows.
      The furnishings for the mouse house were made from matchboxes, thimbles, acorn tops, and empty thread spools. I cut small cedar shingles to glue onto the roof of the house, and painted the base.
      The tree trunk that makes up the mouse house has cusped slightly over the years, but is otherwise intact, and has survived a lot of play. My niece has now inherited the dollhouse that her great-grandfather made, yet the mouse house remains a popular, and well played with, toy. In fact (this is a sensitive subject, and is not a topic for discussion with my niece and her siblings,) we are on our second Miss. Mouse, as the first one wore out.

The mouse house:

The inside of the mouse house with Miss. Mouse on the second floor: