Thursday, 30 December 2010

Workshop build

I thought it may be of interest to folk planning on building a workshop, to post some WIP shots of the one I built recently at the bottom of my garden. I did quite a lot of research on forums before I embarked on the build and found it useful seeing other builds and learning about potential pitfalls so I could avoid them myself. I've built loads of sheds for folk but this is the first time I've built a workshop with lighting and power that is intended to be occupied 12 months of the year.
Hopefully the pictures speak for themselves so I'm not going to go into detail about construction except to make a few recommendations and observations. My garden falls away quite steeply from the house so I had a fair bit of groundwork to do to provide a level base above ground level on which to build the timber construction. I built a dwarf wall of concrete blocks (salvaged from old pit site) on strip footings and infilled it with rubble topped out with 4" of concrete. I rag bolted a cill on to the concrete blocks on which to build the workshop walls. This cill sits on some DPC to insulate it from the damp wall (you can just see this in the front right corner of the first pic).
The main reason for posting this now is to recommend spending a bit of extra money on insulation and wrapping the build in breathable damp proof membrane. I shopped around and picked insulation blocks up very cheaply via local free-ads and got the Tyvek off ebay. The difference it makes is amazing- I just have a small Oil-filled radiator on the lowest setting for the worst of the winter which keeps it really comfortable in there, I just turn it up a little when I'm actually working and it's toasty in no time. Equally importantly, it's bone dry in there- so no worries about condensation forming and rusting tools.

This is how it looks today. If you think I'm going to post pics of the interior-no chance, it's a right tip. Lol.
Cheers, John.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Sharpening carving knives

Well it's my last post of the year and, following on from my post illustrating my sharpening block, I thought I'd say a few words about how I sharpen my knives. I have all sorts of stones, grinders, jigs and the rest of it but for most sharpening tasks a bit of cheap, simple and non-powered kit is more than adequate. There is loads of information on the web about sharpening including Youtube tutorials, so I'm not going to add too much here- just convey my system.
You may be able to make out from the previous post that I have made blocks of different grits by sticking wet and dry onto offcut blocks of MDF and plywood. The finest grades I got from here in America and are adhesive backed. They are microfinishing film that were originally developed for body finishing in the automotive industry. I have them in 15 micron, 5 micron and 0.3 micron. You can get it now from here.
To use the blocks I sit them an a piece of anti-slip router matting, and lubricate the surface with mineral oil (baby oil is just perfumed mineral oil)- this floats away the metal fines and stops the abrasive surface clogging.

This is how the knife should be held for a right handed person, note the fingertips of the left hand are pressing the bevel down flat on the abrasive surface and the left thumb interlocks the hands in unity. The elbows should be locked and the upper arms held against the body so the stroke is driven by the legs. As you can see from this picture, we can only sharpen the straight part of the blade with the handle canted at the bevel angle:

So the handle has to be raised slightly at the end of the stroke to maintain an even bevel right to the tip. This can be quite tricky but comes with a bit of practice-just remember to keep the whole of the bevel in contact with the abrasive.

As you work through the abrasive grits getting finer and finer, you should start counting the number of strokes performed on each side of the bevel so that the edge remains central and an excessive wire edge is not formed. As you get to the really fine grits reduce the number of strokes on each side before flipping over and work only in the direction that has the cutting edge trailing. Also resist the temptation to roll the blade over on the cutting edge to avoid rounding it over- rather, lift off the surface before flipping.
After sharpening the blade on the abrasive blocks I hone my blades with a flat offcut block smeared with car body polish (which of course is super fine abrasive in a lubricating suspension). The grip is exactly the same. Unless the cutting edge gets really neglected and rounded over or picks up a ding, this is all that is needed to be done whilst carving to maintain a super sharp edge.
With hook knives the principle of keeping the bevel flat on the block surface is exactly the same. If you need to flatten the inside of the edge you can wrap some abrasive round a piece of dowel:

but the bevel is on the outside so this is where we need to work most.This is a compound movement with the bevel flat on the block and, starting from the tip, the blade is rolled towards the handle, whilst at the same time drawing the blade along the block-edge trailing. I have tried to photograph a sequence to illustrate this:-

As I said not much point in going into too much detail but hopefully this may be of some use to beginners.
Last project of the year is a chopping block and coasters for my colleague. He is converting a barn incorporating exposed green oak trusses so I thought I'd make him something to echo this. I guess oak would not be an automatic choice for a chopping block with its high tanin content so it will be interesting to see how it fares with use. It is treated with cold-pressed Linseed oil. The coasters are Burr Oak. I will bore a hole in the centre of these so they can be skewered on a stand with a central pole.

I am currently awaiting delivery of some adhesive backed thin cork matting to stick to the bottom of the coasters to make them anti slip and non abrasive to table surfaces. Similar to the commercial coaster in the picture. A good use of offcuts I reckon, and hopefully they'll be gratefully received.

And finally, I filtered my Sloe Gin this week and it is proving very popular, Slainte!!!!!!!!!

Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year, John.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Christmas is coming....

I've started making a few items to give away as Christmas presents and, at the same time, clearing away some timber offcuts. I pulled out this nice lump of figured timber which is about 3" thick to make a kitchen chopping block from. As you can see it has some fairly deep Band saw marks on it so I set about flattening the surface with the number 7 jointing plane.

The nice figuring is becoming more visible now but there is still a low patch over near the top left corner. This is where you have to work hard even though it seems you have the surface nearly flat since you are removing lots of material from the whole of the surface to get down to the low spot rather than just working away a high spot.

well I got there and chamfered all the arises with a block plane to prevent splitting out of end grain. I also chopped away some hand holds with a chisel to make it easier to pick up. The finished block has had several coats of Cold Pressed Linseed Oil and will have more coats applied as it cures.

You can see the mark I have carved on the under side to indicate the timber species (refer back to blogpost: timber ID). This wood is ideal for chopping blocks as it is hard, close grained and is taint free, so ideal for food prep situation.

I've also finished the large Sycamore bowl I featured in a previous post. The wife decreed it would be a Christmas present for her sister ( who has a large house to accept it!! ), so I had to get a move on to complete it. Ideally I would have liked to produce something with a tooled finish, but because of the size, time constraints and the tricky grain I decided to sand finish this one. Again it is treated with Linseed oil then buffed. I may hard wax it too- haven't decided yet. I'm not sure whether or not I'm happy with the form, though visitors are impressed. What the picture cannot convey is the way the rippling shimmers and seems to move as you walk past the piece.

As the snow and ice has kept me indoors the last couple of weeks I have been catching up on little jobs like making some tool sharpening blocks. These are just strips of abrasive, of various grits, mounted on some MDF offcuts. I will illustrate how I sharpen edge tools with these in a subsequent blogpost, but it is a cheap and versatile way to get a good edge.

Finally I thought I'd show this Crotch Bowl I made recently to illustrate the interesting figuring that occurs in crotch timber. A crotch is where a branch splits from the main trunk or the trunk splits evenly into 2 branches. This one is Sycamore, you can see the other half of the crotch piece underneath the finished bowl. For this piece I sanded the inside and left the outside tooled- makes quite a nice quirky fruit bowl.

Cheers for now, John.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

For Reference

Blackthorn. (Prunus Spinosa)

I thought I'd share my thoughts on some of my favourite native UK timbers I like to work with. Starting with Blackthorn. Prunus Spinosa translates as 'Spiny Plum', it has various local names in the UK such as Sloe in English, and Slae in Scots. It is the original indigenous Plum which, crossed with the Cherry Plum, is the parent of our domestic Plums, Damsons and Greengages. Blackthorn is a true native tree, with some fossil evidence from the last interglacial period.

The Latin name is very apt . the numerous thorns are hard and as thin and sharp hypodermic needles. They were used by country women as pins for sewing. Extreme care must be taken when handling Blackthorn as the thorns can cause serious infection if they become embedded in flesh.

From ancient times Blackthorn was used as hedging around livestock enclosures due to its predator proof habit of forming dense thickets. Nowadays, it is less common than Hawthorn due, in part, to the fact that Hawthorn grows readily from seed where as Blackthorn more readily reproduces through suckering.

The easiest time to tell the 2 apart is in early spring when the unique white blossom of Blackthorn comes out weeks before Hawthorn and before its own leak buds burst open. The bark varies regionally and with age; from light brown to a deep black with ruby brown hues in between. The leaves are small oval shaped and 1 1/2 " long, turning yellow before dropping in Autumn. In Autumn the round plums ( Sloes), up to 3/4" in diameter, grow in bunches along branches.

The wood is possibly best known for making walking sticks and the fabled Irish club- the Shillelagh. The side branches being cut back to leave the that give the finished stick shanks their character:

As you can see from my previous post the Sloes can be used to flavour Sloe Gin.
Where I live in the north of England, Blackthorn is quite ubiquitous so I have worked extensively with the timber. It is typical of most fruit wood being hard, close grained and hard wearing. The wood has a lovely orange glow and the the heart of older wood becomes tinged with green/brown which makes a nice contrast.

If you intend carving treen from Blackthorn I would recommend removing the bulk of the material , close to the finished design, as possible whilst it is still green and easy to work. As it dries, the wood hardens severely to a hard plastic like consistency. The wood has a beautiful polished surface direct from a sharp edge tool, once seasoned. Here are a few examples of items I have carved from Blackthorn.

The 2 caddy spoons just below the knife handle with the orange hue are Blackthorn.

Hope this is useful.

Friday, 19 November 2010


Well my computer has been away over a week now which is why I'm unable to post any photographs for the time being. Unfortunate really as I've been on leave this week and thus been quite productive. I got the large Sycamore bowl finished, made a few spoons and started making Christmas presents in the form of chopping blocks and such like ; I will post pics when I get my pc back.
Last night was a big event at work- a 1000 ticket charity boxing night. This was for non boxers who had learnt to box from scratch in about 3 or 4 months. I put myself forward and did all the training and sparring only to find out a fortnight from the big night there was nobody in the opposition camp near enough to my weight and age to fight against. Never mind, it was a great way of getting fit and I really enjoyed learning how to box. It has certainly given me an appreciation of how fit a boxer needs to be to compete- we only did 3 x 11/2 minute rounds and that was lung busting!! Unfortunately a lad on my shift was knocked out and ended up having a scan in hospital so I hope he's ok.
apart from that I've started doing some coppice work in my local woods- mostly Hazel. A lot of the stools have been neglected for a lot of years but my aim is to rejuvenate them over the next few years. I did a fair bit of work in the area last winter but unfortunately most of it was undone by grazing deer so fingers crossed they don't pass through next spring!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Timber I.D

The question I seem to get asked the most when I make something for somebody or do a bit of demonstrating at the local country park, is 'what wood is it made out of'. With this in mind I decided to come up with a system of identifying timber for the benefit of the recipient. The symbols below are Runes that I chose because they are almost all straight lines and thus quick and easy to discretely carve on the back of my work As it states, this is just my own system and does not relate to the real meaning of Runes, which I know nothing about. I know I am not re-inventing the wheel here, but thought it may be of interest to other folk. Here are some examples of the carved symbols on finished work. I use the point of my frosts carving knife to carve these, choked right up to within an inch to afford close control. Draw the lines in pencil and come in either side with angled cuts to form the line. I sometimes give engraving definition by smudging in ground coffee before oiling.

The last time I demonstrated, I made some of these timber discs to help folk identify timber. they are sanded and treated with sanding sealer to help preserve the colour a little longer. I did have quite a few more but they seemed very popular and folk kept blagging them off me- presumably for coasters. They have labels on the back to identify the species but I won't publish pics of the reverse sides for a few days so you can test your knowledge. Unfortunately the pics aren't very good as it has been really overcast here today.

Cheers for now, John

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Caddy Spoons

I've been busy making a load of Caddy Spoons for somebody, in between making bedroom wardrobes from 'orrid mdf. I originally spotted a nice one on Niklas Karlsson's blog under 'Birch bark boxes' and thought I'd have a go at making some. I don't yet have a design I'm totally happy with, but they're quick and easy to make so the prototypes soon mount up! They are about 21/2 to 3" long and are intended to be left in the tea or coffee caddy. They soon pick up a lovely rich patina. These spoons only need a tiny block of wood to work from, say 3" x 11/2" x 3/4" thick. I think the woods I used were Rhododendron, Sycamore, Elm, Blackthorn and Lilac- see if you can pick them out. While I'm on about caddy spoons, here's some examples of the caddies I make:-

These are based on Scandinavian shrink pots but I just use rotting timber I find on the forest floor and fix a base myself. I'll show my method of construction in a subsequent blogpost, suffice to say it's not rocket science! The above caddies are Elm which is really 'pippy' and has a beautiful nobbly texture.