Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Heart all a flutter

Yesterday I received a package in the mail, all the way from Sweden.  Yep!  I sure did!  How do you like that?  Oh ho!  Not just any package either mind you.  It was from Jogge Sundqvist!  Now what in the world would Jogge Sundqvist be sending me?  A heart!  Yep, a simple wonderful beautiful heart, carved from wood, and painted a golden yellow color.

Now you might be looking at this picture and wondering why I'm so excited.  This simple wood carving has inspired me.  It is so perfect in its imperfectness.  It hasn't been sanded down to a smooth finish, you can clearly see each knife mark that made it.  It hasn't been stamped out with a huge machine.  It hasn't been mass produced.  It is unique, it is beautiful, and I love it.

So what's my point?  I don't have one.  I just wanted to share this wonderful little gem with you.  It has inspired me to get back out in the shop after a long hiatus.  It has rekindled some of my excitement about a few projects that I have put on the back burner.  For example, I spent an hour out there tonight, making my own heart.

I've got a spoon in the works as well.  More on that later.  It has been storming tonight, a winter thunderstorm.  I'm not sure we need the rain, but this rain will bring down a lot of the leaves.  It looks like it is raking time this weekend, if it dries out I guess.  Those huge Oaks in my backyard drop an amazing number of leaves for me to deal with.

I grabbed my camera last Saturday at a football game and got a picture of some of the local fall color.  It has been a beautiful fall this year. 

Happy Carving!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ash me no questions

I have had 6 foot ash log laying in the back flower bed for over a year.  How do I know?  Well I posted about getting it on this very blog.  I've seen that log laying out there for months, feeling slightly guilty when I look at it because I felt like it was going to waste.  So what do you do with a piece of wood that big?  I was at a loss for a long time, until I came across my friend Kepis who was making Kuksas out of seasoned ash.  He was using European Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) and the log I had in the back yard was White Ash (Fraxinus Americana) but I figured that I would give it a try and see how it worked.

 Now first off, let me explain that working with seasoned white ash is like working with steel.  It brings new meaning to the term Hard Wood.  There is a reason that it is used for baseball bats, tool handles, and bowling lanes.  I wrestled and fought, nursed my blisters and sore hands, but finally I had something that sort of looked like a spoon, well a ladle actually.

When I had finished carving it, I remember sitting in the garage looking at the grain pattern and thinking how beautiful it was.  I knew then that I had found a use for this year old Ash log that had spent all that time outside.  There were spoons inside, probably a few Kuksas as well.  Do you ever do that?  Look at a log or a limb and see the spoons that live inside it?  I do.  And yes, my wife thinks I am a little bit strange as well.

I started my second spoon as soon as my hands stopped hurting and was much happier with the result.  This spoon has a nicely shaped bowl with a gentle sweep into the handle.  

It still needs a coat of oil on it to make the grain really pop, but I've been enjoying it unfinished.  I like the growth rings and how they wrap around the bowl.

Not long after carving these two spoons/ladles we had a visit from Hurricane Irene here in Virginia.  The result?  Wood, and lots of it.  We had a nice sized maple limb come down in the back yard, as well as a pretty good sized limb from a large Tulip Poplar.  I'll probably have to cut down the rest of the maple at some point as well, the limb split off and opened up a sizable tear down the trunk.  I'm worried that water will rot the top out of the tree.  My brother Jim was visiting that weekend, having had his vacation cut short at the beach by the impending storm.  He and I spent quite a few hours out in the garage, carving and talking.  It was really nice to spend that time with him.  We even had some time to fire up the grill in the middle of the hurricane.

Since I had a good supply of fresh green maple from the storm, I carved a coffee scoop that will probably end up being sent to a friend of mine in Pennsylvania.  It needs to be finished, but I like the shape.  It feels good in the hand, and is perfect for making your morning coffee.

Until next time, Happy Carving all.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I can't even remember the last time that I actually sat down and carved a spoon.  People say that a lot and don't mean it, but seriously I can't remember.  Now to be fair, I have been distracted a bit with slingshots, so its not like I haven't been spending any time out in the garage working on things.  No spoons though, not until I carved these two.  I got some Tulip Poplar wood from my neighbor who had a tree taken down.  I would rank it somewhere in the middle for carving.  It is somewhat stringy.  Not horribly so, and honestly I was just glad to have some wood to carve.  I noticed that it was somewhat prone to tear outs and I had to be careful to avoid them.  I figure being out of practice didn't help much either.

In any case, here are the results of my garage efforts.  Not to shabby for not even being able to remember the last time I carved a spoon.

This first one is probably an eating sized spoon.  8 inches long, deeper than normal bowl.  I figure it would be good for eating soup or stew.  Might work well for eating oatmeal or cereal as well.  I like it a lot, it has a nice shape and feel to it.

Next up is a longer spoon, maybe 10 inches long, larger rounded bowl.  I think this would work well as a cooking spoon, good for making a pan of sausage gravy.  The hole at the top is from a natural knot that came out when I split the blank.  I liked the way it looked and I kept it.  Also this spoon has a natural twist to it.  I like the way it feels in the hand.

Probably too many pictures, but I'm just excited to had the opportunity to get out and do some spooning.

Last but not least, the kids and I were sitting at the kitchen table eating lunch a few days ago and we noticed a hawk sitting on the swing set.  I got my camera and was able to get a picture of him before he flew away.  Sometimes its hard to believe that we live in a suburban neighborhood.

Happy Carving all, I'm headed to Seattle Washington in a few days for work.  I'll be back with pictures.  A few days later the Barefoot one himself is making an appearance and I can't wait!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

More words from the BFC

Brother Jim is at it again, this time talking about what you need in your Bushcraft kit.  There seems to be a flurry of activity in the online bushcrafting community about the things that you need to include in your basic camping/survival kit.  Here is his take on the subject.  I've got a couple thoughts on the subject as well, I'll save them for the end.

The Kit
I have been doing a lot of reading lately about building a kit on the bushcraft sites. It seems like everyone has an idea of what items are needed for the perfect survival kit.  Some say you just need 5 items, others say 10 items and some say as many as 15 items.  So what do you really need?  What things do you just have to have in your basic kit?  I don't really know.  I'm not a survival expert, I don't even play one on TV.  I can take a guess though, or at least list the things that I have in my kit.

1.)  A cutting tool  Sometimes I think there are too many options in this category.  They range from knives to saws to hatchets.  You can cut trees down with a saw or a hatchet and make a shelter or use them to cut firewood.  Some knives are big and strong enough to be used for batoning (a fancy word that means pounding the knife blade through a stick of firewood to split it) and are able to perform most of the functions of a saw or an axe.  I think the point here is to bring the right tool for the job you need to accomplish.  If I had to pick just one, I would pick a good quality knife.  I almost always have a knife with me.

2.)  If you are planning to be outside overnight, you need to have some way to make a fire.  Now some folks would lead you to believe that lighting a fire is as easy as rubbing two sticks together.  Trust me, it isn't that easy.  There are as many different ways to start a fire as their are cutting tools.  Matches, lighters, ferro rods, two sticks, bow drills, magnifying lenses, the bottom of a coke can shined with chocolate, you know, all the regular stuff.  If I was going out for a night or two I would take matches, my strike force ferro rod, and some char cloth or a hand full of lint from the dryer. If for some reason the matches got wet I would have a way to start a fire. Most of the time If I am out for a hike or scouting I don't take a fire source with me.  Its just extra weight that I have to carry for no real reason.

3.)  You need some cordage.  How much do you need? 100 feet of 550? I don't know the answer to that question either.  It depends on what you are going to use it for. I have 100 plus feet of 550 cord that I take along if I am going to spend the night. I use it to set up my tarp, my hammock and a few other odds and ends.  I guess there are a thousand other uses for cordage.  Everything from tying poles together for a raft or shelter to making a trap.

4.)  A container.  I think this is one of the most important items to have along. It can be a pot or an old bean can or whatever else you can find.  It should be metal so it can be placed over a fire. I have a US Army canteen and a stainless steel cup that I take with me all the time.  Containers can be used to cook your dinner, boil water to sanitize it, carry stuff in, etc. 

5.) Shelter, or something that can be used to make shelter.  There are several types of shelters you can carry with you. Tents, trash bags(the 55 gallon ones), or even a tarp.  Shelter can be a hard one. It has to be a place or a way to get out of the elements. A way to keep dry and warm at night.  I personally carry a nylon hammock and a tarp if I am planning on being out overnight. 

6.)  Food.  Again, some of the 'experts' in the field of bushcrafting or survival would like you to believe that you can easily gather the food you need to survive.  In some cases this is true, but it takes a lot of experience and skill to be able to identify wild edibles that won't kill you or make you sick.  That has never been something that I felt the need to worry about.  When I go out for a night or so, I bring my food with me.  It is usually something simple like a packet of noodles or some other prepared food.  No need to go into a lot of detail here.

Those are the 6 items that I bring with me when I am going out into the bush for an overnight stay.  The more items you decide to include in a kit means there is more junk that you have to carry around. You will need a larger pack or at least have access to one that you can use to carry everything.  I use a US Army belt and a US Army butt pack to carry my 6 items.  The more time you spend reading,  the more you think you need. Camp stoves, space blankets, wool blankets, ponchos, hammocks, a compass, a GPS, extra socks, and the list just grows and grows.

Camping experts have been making lists for years on what to carry.  The fact is that it boils down to common sense.  Carry what you think you will need for the time you plan to be out.  For me, most days its a walking stick, some water, a knife and my cell phone.  Take along items that will make you feel the most secure.  Now it is very possible that I could fall and break my leg and need to be rescued.  Will I have all the items I need?  Probably not.  I'll have enough to keep me going until someone comes looking for me.  I always tell my wife Lisa where I am going.  I think that is probably the most important thing to remember.  Always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be home.  If I'm not home when you expect me, just look for the old red truck and follow the trail.  That's where I'll be, spending time enjoying the woods, the beauty of nature, and not worrying about if I have the latest and greatest survival gadgets.


See?  This is solid, practical advise that anyone can follow.  One of the biggest traps that people fall into is that they think they need a list of the best gear that money can buy.  They are fooled into thinking that the items that go into your kit are more important than the knowledge and experience that goes into your head.  I find it interesting that native people managed to survive a very very long time without a $500 knife on their hip and the latest survival items strapped to their backs.  Be smart, don't do stupid things, tell people where you are going and how long you are going to be gone.  Bring items you will need and actually use.  Enjoy your time in the woods.  Thanks for the post Jim, I can't wait to get the next one you decide to send my way!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Slingshot design part 2, finishing

After putting away my advanced design tools, I went out to the garage and cut out the template.  I used a jigsaw, and contrary to my warning in my last post, I really didn't have the right blade for the material I was cutting, so it ended up splintering quite a bit.  No worries though, I just got my trusty Dremel tool out with a sanding wheel and touched it up.

I sanded the surface with a piece of 220 grit sand paper, trying to smooth out any of the rough spots.  I don't put a final finish on these yet.  Once I get a final design that I want to replicate, then I think I'll just sand them to 600 grit and then put a clear poly coat on them.  I am not sure I like the bottom of this slingshot that much, but that is a topic for another post on another day.

Using a chainsaw file I cut a notch around the tops of both forks about 1/4 of an inch down.  For some reason I don't have a good picture of this step, but you will see the notches later on in the pictures below.  After getting it sanded and the notches cut out, I was able to shake some saw dust off my clothes and come inside where it was much cooler and finish the process.  You can see the notches in this picture, they are there to help hold the bands in place.

Okay, we now have a slingshot frame, what about bands?  Here is what I use to make my bands and pouches.

 As you can see here, I have some scrap upholstery grade leather, a 6 foot length of Black Thera-Band material, a safety ruler, a circular cutter, and a self-healing cutting mat.

You can buy ready-made band sets online, some that even come with pouches that are already attached.  I find it is cheaper and just as easy to make your own.  I'm by far not an expert at the process, but when attached to my slingshots, they seem capable of flinging my projectiles down range with a satisfactory velocity, so I guess they work.  I like tapered bands, so I usually make them wider at the fork end than at the pouch end.  For this particular sling shot, the bands I made are 1 and 3/4 inches wide at the fork end and 1 1/4 inches wide at the pouch end.  I folded them before attaching them and they have a nice firm pull weight.

After marking the lines I cut them out using the ruler as a straight edge. 

Now the attachment of these bands is not something that I can photograph with any real success.  This is also the part where I tend to get frustrated and grumpy.  After a few deep calming breaths though, we are left with a set of bands that are now attached to our slingshot forks.  There are videos online that you can look at to see the process.  Trust me, they do it a lot faster and better than I ever do.  Notice the way these bands are attached, they are placed so that when the slingshot is drawn, the bands extend up and over the forks.  This produces a natural whipping action that sends the pouch and the projectile up and over the forks, preventing fork hits, but also allowing you to make a slingshot with a much lower fork profile.

Now, we need a pouch.  I just cut mine out of a small scrap of buffalo upholstery leather that I had here at the house.  It is 3 ounce leather, making it about 3/16 of an inch thick.  It is perfect for pouch material, very durable, very flexible and easy to cut.  I just cut out a square of leather, this particular pouch measured 4 inches long and 1 and 1/4 inch wide.  I folded it in half and punched two holes in it using a leather punch.  I also took a pair of scissors and rounded the corners.  This was more of an aesthetic modification than something that is done to make it perform better. 

From here, you just need to attach the bands to the pouch, making sure that they are tight and straight.  Again, I would suggest looking online for a video of pouch attachment.  I wound a bit of paracord around the handle for this last picture.  I didn't have a chance to shoot it, the day ended up being busier than I expected.  I'll take it out in the backyard and see how it shoots hopefully tomorrow.

This has been a long post, filled with a ton of pictures.  But before you click away and look for something else to read, here is a picture taken from my back deck facing down into my back yard.  We have a family of white tailed deer that come through almost every night.  I was finally able to get a nice picture of one of the bucks that came through a week or so ago, notice he still has velvet on his horns.  Truly a beautiful animal.

Thanks for reading, happy carving, or slingshooting, or doing whatever it is that makes you happy.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Slingshot design part 1, template design.

I read a post by Kepis Bushcraft earlier tonight about a slingshot that he had made and it got me thinking about the basics of designing a slingshot.  I had taken a few pictures of my most recent slingshot, designed a week or so ago.  I have spent quite a bit of time over at the Slingshot Forum reading posts and looking at custom designs.  The most important thing that I have learned about slingshot design is that a slingshot is a simple thing.  It's not much more than a forked piece of wood with some elastic bands and a leather pouch.
 Please take a look at my advanced tool set for my slingshot design.  It is a piece of white paper, a pencil, and a large plastic cup.
There isn't much more to it than that.  I just used the rim of the cup to draw circles on the paper.  I folded it in half and just worried about designing one side.  After cutting it out I simply unfolded it and had a completed slingshot pattern.
I traced the template onto a piece of 1/2 inch laminated plywood.  I'll cut it out with a coping saw or a jigsaw, following the lines as closely as possible.
One suggestion if you are using a jig saw or other power tool to cut out your design, make sure you have a blade that is specifically designed for cutting plywood.  Using a normal blade results in a lot of splintering.  I'll show you the rest of the process in part two of this post in a few days.

I took a few pictures of some mushrooms that popped up in the front yard.  After doing some research I found that they were not edible, not that I was planning on eating them anyway.  I can identify a grand total of two edible mushroom species.  Anything else I wouldn't risk eating.  Mushrooms are certainly something you do not want to take chances with.

I hope you all have a great weekend and are finding ways to stay cool on these hot summer days.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The wonders of nature

It's late, I've been driving for the last two days, but finally made it home to VA this afternoon.  We spent the last two weeks in Missouri visiting family and friends and although it was a wonderful trip there is something to be said about making that final turn into your driveway and being home. While I was gone, I bought a new camera and had an opportunity to take a few pictures with it.  Here are two of them.  Click on them to see a larger picture.

Columbia, MO.

St Louis, MO

I'm pretty happy with the new camera for sure.  I need to get out and take a lot more pictures.  I have a lot of things on my mind this week, lots of things that I need to post about.  Watch this space!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Slingshot! The Sequel

Well, it took all of about two days to become totally, completely, absolutely obsessed with slingshots.  Maybe it is the fact that I can get the wood to make them from a craft store or the local Home Depot or Lowes.  Maybe it is because holding a slingshot takes you back in time, or at least it takes me back. 

I remember as a kid walking up to the railroad tracks that ran above my home.  I'd get up to the tracks, and get down in my hands and knees and crawl along looking for these small round balls.  I don't know what they even were, I think my brother told me at one point, but they were black and round, and made the perfect slingshot ammo that you could ever hope to find.  I'd come home, knees black from the creosote on the ties, with a pocket full.  I kept them in an old coffee can, and shot them out into the woods past where we parked the cars.  I looked for them the last time I was at the tracks, and I didn't see any.

I thought about that train track ammo as I stood at my work bench and cut my latest slingshot out of a piece of laminated birch plywood.  I also thought about how there should be an easier way of cutting out these shapes.  I'll see what I can come up with for when I make number three! 

Enough of my rambling!  Let there be pictures!

First off, I drew this on a piece of white computer paper, I used the ruler pictured and a child's cup to draw out the circle.  Both arcs are made from the same cup.  I like the way it flows.  I ended up extending the forks higher than in my drawing.  Probably by about 1/2 of an inch.
Here is the cutout and sanded slingshot.  I sanded down the finger supports to make them feel a little more comfortable in the hand.  As an afterthought I drilled a hole in the bottom, thinking that it would be nice to add some sort of lanyard.

Just another random shot, on the deck out back.  What does this picture tell you?  It tells you that my deck needs to be stained ASAP!
Here I am holding it, gangsta style.  This sideways style of shooting is actually pretty popular in the slingshot community.  You are able to use the lower fork to aim and it makes for a more natural wrist and arm position.  Plus it is really cool to tell people that you shoot gangsta. 

Finally the completed slingshot.  I just put a single flat band on it, it makes for a very easy draw weight.  I also made a pouch out of some 3 ounce buffalo leather.  I punched holes into the pouch with a leather punch.

I'm going smaller with my third slingshot.  I want something that is much more portable.  More on that later. Happy carving!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Setting my sites on a slingshot - Part 2

The time it takes to have a package shipped to you is directly proportional to how badly you want it.  I've been waiting for my band material for what has seemed like forever, but it finally came today.  A quick refresher on band installation techniques from the Slingshot Forum and away I went!  Well not quite.  I had to cut the bands first.  I need to get a circular cutter this weekend, using normal scissors just isn't the best way to cut latex band.  I used a ruler to lay out my bands on the Thera-band black I was using and cut them out.  They are tapered, 1 inch wide at one end and 3/4 of an inch at the other.  Why?  No clue, but the guys at the forum suggest that a tapered band works better.  Who am I to disagree?  Abyway, after some careful cutting, I had a set of slingshot bands.

Band installation is actually pretty simple, but I know that I still have some practicing to do there.  I fumbled around a good bit before getting them installed.  It is one of those things that after you do it one time, you immediately see ways to do it better.

I cut out a pouch from my 3 ounce buffalo upholstery grade leather and punched two holes into it to attach the bands.  I had to do a quick study on the constrictor knot and I am not 100% sure that I have it down yet, but the pouch seems to be fairly secure.  I'll check that out tomorrow when I shoot it a few times. 

So here you go, my first slingshot.  I hope it shoots okay.  Even if it doesn't I have learned a lot from making it.  Things that you can't understand until you experience them first.

I added a coat of polyurethane to the slingshot frame.  Not sure it will be my finish of choice though.

I used a double thickness of bands on each side.  In retrospect one would have been plenty, and a lot easier to tie.  I saw in a video that one option would be to just make the bands wider and fold them.  I might do that as well the next time.
I have had a ton of fun making this slingshot.  I have found a wonderful group of people over at the Slingshot Forum.  I have learned a lot about frame design, shooting styles, band materials, pouch manufacture, and most importantly perhaps, a good working understanding of how to make a slingshot.  Happy Carving all, and may your bands never break and your shots fly straight.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Setting my sites on a slingshot - Part 1

I had one as a kid, did you?  My first slingshot was homemade from a tree fork, an old piece of leather, and some rubber bands that my Aunt gave me.  She made ceramics and held her molds together with huge rubber bands.  They just screamed slingshot whenever I looked at them.  I can't remember it being very accurate, but I sent more than my fair share of rocks flying out into the woods near my house.  A few weeks later, I upgraded to a Daisy Wrist Rocket and used it until the bands broke.  I didn't have enough money to buy new ones, so my slingshot career was over.  That was probably 25 years ago and I don't think I've even thought about a slingshot in those 25 years, not until a few weeks ago at least. 

There I was, minding my own business, watching a Youtube video about starting a fire by rubbing two sticks together, when over in the right hand column under "suggestions" I saw a video by Joerg Sprave.  A few hours and many many videos later, I was hooked.  I just HAD to make a slingshot.  Joerg has a tutorial video on his channel that includes a PDF template of a generic slingshot called the Phoenix.  It is his own design, but he offers the template to people as long as they are making it for personal use and not to resell.  I printed the template out, traced it on cardboard to make it a bit stronger, and then headed out to my local home improvement store for some 3/4 inch laminated birch plywood.  I traced the design and cut it out using my jigsaw.

At this point, I rounded the edges of the slingshot blank, using a wood rasp and my carving knife.  Laminated plywood isn't really something that you can carve very well, so mainly I used the wood rasp to do the rounding of the blank.  After working for about 30 minutes with the rasp, I ended up with something that looked much more like a slingshot.

I did a bit more rounding, some initial sanding with 100 grit sand paper, and cut two grooves in the end of the forks to hold the bands when they are installed.  It is still pretty rough, but I am ready for band attachment.

I ordered some band material and some upholstery grade leather to make the pouch, they should be here in the next day or so.  I plan on smoothing out some of the rough spots and coating the whole thing with polyurethane to protect it once I am happy with the way the frame looks.  I'll be back in a few days with the finished product and some more ideas about my own design.  Until then, happy carving, and may your bands stay strong and your shots fly straight.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Words from the Barefoot Carver

I asked my brother Jim if he would do a guest post for my blog.  He agreed pretty quickly, which surprised me a bit, but then I remembered that he had just gotten a new knife and was anxious to talk about it.  So here you go, words from the Barefoot Carver himself, my big brother.

Ka-Bar Becker BK2 Campanion Fixed Blade Knife

I consider myself a bushcrafter, a camper, and fairly self sufficient. I just started building a survival "kit". A survival kit (as the experts call it) has a list of things that you need in order to survive if you become lost or stranded and have to wait for help or initiate self rescue.  Any kit must contain at least some basic survival needs.  These are often referred to as the 10 C's.  The first five "C"s are Cutting, Covering, Cordage, Container, Combustion. You need a cutting tool like a knife or an axe.  A container for water, preferably metal so you can boil water in it..  A Combustion device used to make fire. A Covering to keep you warm and dry.  The covering could be a tent, a tarp, a wool blanket, a plastic trash bag, or a combination of several of these things. Cordage can be used for many different purposes in a survival situation.  Dave Canturbury, from the Pathfinder School, explains the kit building process in this video. 

Today I would like to talk about the first and foremost item in any survival kit, a cutting tool.  I like a knife as my cutting tool and here is a review for the knife that I just purchased to go into my kit.

Ka-Bar Becker BK2 Campanion Fixed Blade Knife

Price $58.00 to $100.00
Knife with drop point shape, 20-degree blade
Made of 1095 cro-van steel for strength
Handle made of Grivory material
Blade measures 5.5 inches; knife is 10.5 inches long

This knife is a bear.  The blade is 1/4 inch thick . I used it to split small logs with a mallet. The blade is painted black and the paint scuffs up easy, but doesn't appear to cause any issues. It fits nice in your hand but has a heavy feel. It weighs almost a  pound.  It comes very sharp out of the box and ready to use.

The sheath is the part I hate. Its made of molded Kydex. The knife is made in the USA but the sheath is made in China.  I think that Ka-Bar should have made a leather sheath for this knife and charged a few more bucks for the set.  Once the knife is in the sheath it is very hard to get back out.  It takes two hands, one to hold the sheath and the other to pull very hard. I almost cut my thumb trying to unsheathe it the first time.

Overall, I am happy with me new knife.  I'm not a fan of Kydex though, so I will be replacing the sheath as soon as I can.  If you what a nice heavy knife that will chop cut and take a lot of abuse this knife is for you.

And there you have it folks.  My first ever guest post.  Go check out what else the Barefoot Carver has to say if you have time.  In the meantime, stay safe, get working on your survival kit, and happy carving.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Maymont Foundation

On Thursday of last week I had the pleasure of going with my daughter on her field trip to Maymont.  It was my first visit, but certainly not my last.  After taking a quick tour through the indoor Nature Center, filled with animals that live in or near the James River, we exited through the rear doors and out into the property. 

The first thing you see is acre after acre of rolling pasture that extends out into the distance in every direction.  There is a path, and a map, that takes you to areas of interest, a barn, filled with sheep, goats, chickens, rabbits, and even a donkey.  The mansion itself, open to the public for tours.  The Japanese garden, the Italian garden, and the carefully restored ornamental lawn.  There are also various animal exhibits, black bears, several birds of prey, red and grey foxes, and several species of owl. 

Any of those things would be worth a return trip.  Without a doubt though, for me, the thing that sealed the deal was the trees.  I found myself staring dumbfounded at the immense trees that cover the property.  I don't think I have ever seen a larger collection of huge trees in my life.  Huge Oaks, with trunks easily 5 to 6 feet in diameter are everywhere.  Huge Tulip Poplars, larger than any that I have ever seen are found throughout the property.  Down near the path to the Japanese Garden are Beech trees that are monstrous, with huge twisted branches curling up into the sky.  I was at a loss for words. 

Here are a few pictures that I took, they do not do justice to the arboreal spectacle that awaits you should you have the opportunity to visit Maymont.  I'll be back, the trees have assured my return.  Remember, you can click on each picture to see it in full size.

Not to be outdone by the trees that cover the grounds, there is a huge stand of rhododendrons that were in bloom.  I had to take a picture of those as well.
  As a woodworker, or whatever it is that I am, a woodworker might be a stretch I guess.  I am always looking at trees and thinking of the wonderful things that I could make from them.  I was surprised that my first thought when visiting the trees of Maymont was just the opposite.  These trees need to stay as they are, for all to visit and enjoy.  Maymont just got added to the list of must see places for people visiting Richmond, VA  Come on down, and I'll show you the trees.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Function over form

I struggled over the title of this post for quite some time.  I wasn't sure how to convey the topic of this post in the title, and I'm still not sure I have, but at least it sets the stage.  In my opinion when carving something that is going to be used by someone for a specific purpose there are two main design elements that must be considered.  Form and function.  What does that mean?  Well you could carve the most beautiful and artistic spoon in the world and if it doesn't work as a spoon should, then what good is it?  On the other hand, you can carve a spoon that isn't visually appealing, but works outstandingly well.  There must be a balance between the way it looks and the way it works.  Getting that balance right is the key. 

Okay, so where am I going with this?  What is my point?  I think a lot of people, myself included, often have a misguided view on what is more important when it comes to form and function.  I think that we often give a higher weight to form, the way things look, than to function, the way things work.  I also think that people give up on themselves because the things that they make don't look as perfect or well-formed as those that others make.  I think it is natural to compare your work to others, but while that comparison is often helpful, it can also cause feelings of inadequacy. 

I'm guilty and I have talked about it in the past on more than one occasion.  Today though, I came to a realization.  When you first start carving spoons, or making anything else for that matter, you MUST consider function first.  If you are carving a spoon, make a spoon first and foremost, then worry about how good it looks when you have figured out the technique.  Case in point, I present the following spoon.

I carved it in October of last year, 7 months ago.  I had been carving spoons for maybe four months at the time.  A neighbor had a Bradford pear tree come down in a storm and gave me a few sticks of wood in exchange for helping him clean up the mess. I carved this spoon the same day the tree fell, and I was pretty proud of it, but then I noticed the crack in the bowl. 

Not wanting to throw it away, I threw it into a kitchen drawer.  It wasn't pretty, the wood was hard to carve and my tools were less than adequate.  I was still having trouble with handle design.  That being said, it was still a spoon and from a functional standpoint a pretty good one.  I didn't think much of it at the time, but in the 7 months that have passed since I carved this spoon, I have used it almost every day. 

I have stirred gallons of iced tea and Kool-Aid with this spoon.  I have made pan upon pan of sausage gravy, I have used it to stir soups, to saute vegetables, to make scrambled eggs, to stir pancake batter.  I have cooked with it, served with it, and tasted food from the cracked bowl.  This regular old spoon has become one of the most used cooking implements in my kitchen.

I have carved better looking spoons since this one was made.  Spoons that I have given as gifts and are in use by other people today.  They have looked better than the one pictured above, my sincerest hope, though, is that they have performed just as well.  A spoon, if it is truly a spoon, must work.  The way it looks, the fact that it was sanded or has a tooled finish, the shape of the handle and the bowl do not matter in the long run.  Form is important, but function reigns supreme.  Let us never forget that we are essentially tool makers.  Focus on making tools that work and the beauty will come naturally.

Happy carving my friends.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Luray Caverns and a 140 year old spoon

My family and I have been talking about visiting the Luray Caverns for a long time.  They are located in the Shenandoah Valley, deep in the Appalachian Mountains.  I grew up in the mountains, and driving through them, seeing them in the distance always makes me feel like I am coming home.  It was a really nice drive, fairly short, and the countryside is just beautiful this time of year.  On our way home we stopped at two viewing areas, here is a picture taken at the first one, with a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains far in the distance.

I honestly didn't know what to expect at the cavern.  In many cases things aren't what they are advertised to be, but I can tell you that the Luray Caverns more than exceeded my expectations.  When we got to the cavern it was raining and cold, but we braved the elements and got our tickets and stood in line to go on the self-paced tour.  Your ticket for admission covers entrance to the cavern, an antique carriage and car museum, and the Luray Museum that contains artifacts from the local community collected throughout the years.

To get down into the cave proper, you descent a long fight of stairs and then arrive at a sort of holding area where you can put on your headphones and get the audio tour started.  You begin the tour by following a walkway with a metal hand rail down and into the cavern.  It took me all of about 30 seconds to let out my first gasp of amazement.  The flow stone, the draperies, the stalactites, the named structures, were breathtaking.  One structure in the deepest part of the cave was said to be over 7 million years old. 

Flow stone, named because of the way it looks like a frozen waterfall.

Draperies or Curtains


Tallest formation in the cavern, 40+ feet high.

My camera does not even begin to do this natural wonder justice.  The sheer size of the formations, the timelessness that you feel by being inside the cavern, and the beauty, all combine to leave you feeling like you have just done and experienced something amazing.

After our tour was over, we headed into the Carriage and Automobile museum.  To be honest, we should have done that first.  Man made items, even those that were made over a hundred years ago, seemed to pale in comparison to what we had just seen.  The Luray Museum was much the same, but a bit more interesting.  I enjoyed the displays of pottery and other items from the past.  Still, after seeing a 7 million year old rock formation 165 feet under ground, it was hard to be impressed.

I did see one wooden spoon along with a few other wooden cooking implements, a bowl and several rolling pins on display.  I stood and looked at the spoon for quite some time.  It was just a tool, just an implement to stir a soup or mix a cake.  

Nothing fancy at all.  Just a plain old spoon, its only decoration was a small cone shaped finial on the end.  It's a spoon that was made to be used.  Not to be put away in a drawer as a keepsake.  It's the kind of spoon that I like to make.  140 years ago they weren't worried about how many people liked what they made, they crafted and carved tools and items for their every day use.  I need to remember that more often I guess.