Saturday, 8 December 2012

One Last Pen Post (Unless I Think of Something Else)

Ok, this is supposed to be a woodworking blog, and I know that making pens out of acrylic resins isn't really woodworking, but I'm having fun so humour me.I do have a couple more things I want to talk about before I move on to other stuff.

One of those things is this pen and the process used to make it.

The normal method of making a pen is to start with a blank, either purchased or home made, and drill a hole through it.  Then you glue in the tubes of the pen, square the ends, and turn the blank to the size and shape that fits the hardware.  Finally you assemble the components and if all goes as planned you have a working pen.

The process for this one was a little different.  Rather than making the blank in a traditional rectangular shape, I used of part A and Part B of the Amazing Mold Putty and shaped it around a large felt marker.  The bottom (right) end is left open.

Next I made a base from more of the mold putty and before it cured I stuck a straw in the centre...

and placed the first piece of the mold, now cured, over top.  I did my best to keep the straw in the centre.  Fortunately there is room for error.

Once the base is cured (about 5 - 10 minutes) you can pull out the straw and slide the brass tube from the pen kit over it.  The straws I used were just a little too small for the 7mm brass tube so I wrapped them with scotch tape to make a snug fit.  The pen kit I used came from Lee Valley.

Did I mention that you need two molds for these pens? You do... Unless you don't want the top and bottom to be from the same batch of resin.  Then you don't.  But if you want the top and bottom to colour match make 2 molds.  Let's  move on.

Anyway, slide the brass tubes over the straws so that the end of the tube is just above the bottom of the mold when you put the straw back in.

This is the set up I used to make the pen blanks.  It consists of part A & B of the five minute casting resin, yellow and black dye, two mixing cups and two stir sticks.  I start by filling one of the molds I made with water.  I then pour the water into one of the mixing cups and mark the level on the outside of the cup.  Then I transfer the water to the other cup and mark it again.  This way I will make enough resin to fill both molds.  After drying everything off I can fill one of the cups up to the mark with Part A and add one small drop of the yellow dye, stirring until you have an even colour.  Fill the other cup to the mark with Part B and add it to Part A.  Now you have little time to waste.  The mixture will turn cloudy.  Stir until it clears up.  Quickly add a drop of black dye and swirl it through the mixture so you still have distinct lines in the mix and pour the mix into both molds.  You will probably have to hold the straws upright in the molds for a couple of minutes.

The resin will harden in five to ten minutes, depending on the room temperature.  At this point you can remove the straws and pop the blanks out of the molds.  You wind up with the brass tube in the blank, no drilling or gluing required.

From here on it's pen turning as usual.  Except that, as a wood turner, I found it a little freaky to look down after I finished and see, not a pile of wood shavings, but this strangely coloured pile of plastic shavings.

This did, however, give me the inspiration for my next pen.  I gathered up that pile of shavings and snuck it into the house (I would never be allowed to bring wood shavings into the house) in a plastic bag.  Then I pulled out a mold for making regular pen blanks, green dye, and Parts A & B of the 24 hour clear resin.  I mixed up a batch of green tinted resin and poured in about half of it into the mold.  Next I packed in a bunch of the shavings.  More resin, more shavings, until I got I got a funny looking something like this.

It almost looks like it was left in the fridge for too long.  From here on though it is, once again, pen turning as usual.  Here are a couple of shots of the result.

I have only scratched the surface of what is possible with these casting resins.  I'm going to leave you with a video of a presentation my wife, Lee, gave to the Saskatchewan Woodworkers Guild on working with this stuff.  I have a bunch more pens to make before Christmas.

Sunday, 18 November 2012


Part of the appeal of woodworking, at least for a lot of people, is that it is something that you do by yourself.  Working alone, with just your own thoughts as your companion, helps you to relax and allows your work to be a reflection of your inner self.

Having said that though, some of the most fun I have had while woodworking has been in a room full of people all working away.  I don't know if I could do it all the time, but once in a while you need a different energy to keep things fresh.

That is why, when my wife Lee proposed that we work together on something, I was happy to oblige.  She is a fantastic artist in her own right.  You can check out her blog here and see more of her work here.

People have referred to pen making as the 'gateway drug' to wood turning.  I understand that now.  Making this first pen was a lot of fun.  A big part of that was using a blank that Lee made using Alumilite casting resin.  This pen was made using the five minute casting resin that dries to an opaque white colour.  She added a swirl of blue dye to give it some visual interest.  I want to go into more detail about the process we used to make the blanks for this pen, but I'm going to save that for another post.

This pen blank was made using the 24 - 48 hour casting resin, which dries clear.  She added blue and red dyes to the blank but very little of the red made it to the centre of the blank so it all but disappeared on the lathe.  The gold colour in the pen comes from the brass tubes of the pen kit.  If you click on the picture you can see a cool 3-D effect that comes from the way the dye swirls through the clear resin.  This pen was made using the standard technique of casting a rectangular blank and then drilling the blank to glue in the brass tubes with CA glue.

This pen was made with the five minute resin and red dye.  We goofed up and didn't mix enough resin, so we had to do a second pour.  The nice thing about this stuff is that it bonds to previous pours seamlessly.  Colour matching is a little more difficult.

I made this box just for another example of a way to use these resins in woodworking.  Lee poured the five minute resin into a flat mould and added colour and glitter.

It was hard to decide which side to use as the top of the box.  In the end I went with the side that had more glitter, because I think that was Lee's intent.

Working with these resins and making pens has been a lot of fun.  Like working with wood, you can never be sure exactly what the finished product will look like.  You can, however, choose the colour combinations you want,  add effects, and play with the resins in a way that you can't with wood.  I will definitely be doing more projects with this stuff in the near (and distant) future.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Bare Fence Posts & the Turnip of Destiny

Well, I finally got around to turning something.

This summer my wife and I spent most of our free time in July replacing the fence at the front of our house.  When it came to the front gate we wanted to fancy it up a bit. We talked about options like a trellis or lights or some fancy post caps but didn't really settle on anything.  So now the posts are bare on top and a lot taller than they really should be.

On the last weekend of July I attended the Saskatoon 2012 Wood Turning Symposium and saw a demonstration on how to do a barley twist by Beth Ireland.  Although I was impressed by the versatility of her method, inspiration didn't really hit me at the time.  It was only later that an idea of what to do with the gate posts started to form.

The image that eventually formed was that of a wooden candle flame.  Although I'm not 100% sold on the giant candlestick look for the gate posts it became one of those things I had to do.  Just to see if I could.

I started by creating a profile on my cad program and transferring it to cardboard as shown below.

When I turned the mahogany in the background to match the profile it came out like this.

I immediately christened it the Turnip of Destiny.  Yes I am a total geek.

Once the shape was achieved it was time to lay out the twist.  I started by making a copy of the template out  of thin plywood and using it to mark off longitudinal lines on the turnip.

My lathe has an indexing wheel on it with 36 positions, or every 10 degrees of rotation.  For every two lines you make you will get 1 helix, or twist, on your piece.  I used every second position, giving me 18 lines and 9 helix.  After marking the lines along the length I used the 1/2" increments on the first template to mark out the placement of the lines of latitude.  A quick spin of the lathe takes the line all the way around.

Once the grid was marked out I used a cardboard straight edge to mark the diagonals.

If you were making a reed (or rope) style twist you should mark the diagonals starting from all 18 of the long lines but because I planned to make a fluted twist I took a short cut and only marked 9 helix.

As the diameter of the turnip changes the angle of the helix and the space between them also changes.  This creates a cool effect as you go along.

Now it was time to pull out my weapons of choice to make the twists.  These were a Microplane Rasp with a round blade and a small riffler. 

I started with the rasp at the widest point of the turnip and worked my way downhill in both directions, trying to stay centred between the marked twists.

At the ends, where there is less room to work, I used the riffler.

When using the riffler it really pays to use as many of the teeth as possible.  Because it is curved you can fall into the trap of just using a small portion.  This cuts a few deep grooves, but then it slows down and looks like crap.  If you use a curving stroke though, you use all the teeth and, because of the random pattern, it cuts faster and leaves a cleaner surface.

The pattern starts to emerge.

After sanding, two finished fence post finials.

In the end, the hardest part of this project was trying to make the turnips match the template.  I really suck at making things match.  It actually took longer to turn them than it did to shape the twists.

Monday, 10 September 2012

My First Raised Panel Door

Two years ago I re-built the deck outside our back door.  The old deck had lasted for 12 years, which I thought was pretty good for untreated spruce.  It was starting to show its age though, so we re-built the frame with treated lumber and covered it with cedar.  Everything was done except for the access door underneath.  The deck was the last project after two years of nearly continuous renovation and fatigue had set in.  Since the access door was not essential, it went on the 'do it soon' list and waited.

Fast forward almost two years.  I had been working on projects like building fence and shingling the garden shed (By the way, if you ever need any help shingling, I'm busy that day) when a rainy Saturday put outdoor work on hold.  Driven by the desire and opportunity to do something in the shop and the guilt of not being able to work outside, I hauled out my small pile of left over cedar...

and set to work.

I've had this router bit set since before my son was born (he'll be 10 this month) and never used it.

It was a cheap set.  I bought it because I wanted to be able to make raised panel doors even though I had no plans to make any raised panel doors.  This seemed like a good place to practise.

Going through my pile of wood I wasn't sure I had enough long pieces to make the panel and rails but since this wasn't going in my kitchen I figured I could get away with joining a couple of shorter pieces in the middle.

I started by jointing and planing everything to the proper thickness.  At this point Norm would usually glue up the panel and set it aside to dry while he worked on the rails & stiles.  My little voice told me that I might need those long pieces if I screwed up my rails so I saved them for later.  Next, I set up the bit on the left in the picture above in the router table and made a test cut with a spare piece of cedar I had set aside for the purpose.  This is the result.

I made another cut on the other side thinking that I could have two sides to test the set up with the next router bit.  This is what happens when you don't pay attention...

This is why you do test pieces.  Anyway, I ran one side of both the railes and the stiles through so they all had this profile, making sure they were face down and inside against the fence. That part all went fine.

The next step is to make a negative cut on the ends of the rails so that they fit into this profile on the stiles.  This is done with the bit on the right side of the photo.  In order to keep the rail square to the fence I made this mitre guide.

After a few test cuts I ran the rails through.  This is the way the rails and stiles fit togrther.

Hmm... not too bad.  Here's the whole frame dry fit together.

Now I can start on the panel without fear that I will have to cut it apart to make new rails.  With everything properly jointed there are enough full length pieces to make the panel with 1/2" extra.  I cut slots for biscuits, even though I really didn't think I needed them.  Sometimes you just want to play with your toys.

I glued the panel together with Gorilla Glue (because it's waterproof) and let it dry overnight.

Now it was time to bring out the big boy router bit, the centre one of the set, to make the profile on the panel.  I really liked using this bit because after the panel passed over it the bit created enough of a breeze to blow all the sawdust off the surface of the router table.  I used several passes, raising the bit a little each time, to 'raise' the panel.  I then used a straight cutting bit to cut a rabbet on the underside of the edge so it would fit into the groove on the frame.

Now it was time to assemble it all and see how it all fit together. I slid the panel into one of the rails.  That was fine.  Stiles go on the ends... A bit snug but it all fits.  Slide in the top rail... It doesn't go in all the way... What the..?  AUGHHH!  I forgot to cut off that extra 1/2" of width on the panel!  Boy, did I feel dumb.  At least it was too wide and not too narrow.  I trimmed it on the table saw and repeated the previous paragraph on the new edge.  I also used my miniature edge plane to shorten the panel just a bit.

The second fitting came together the way it was supposed to so I glued it up and let it set.

So, after two years, the door is finally in place.  I didn't realize the huge error I had made, however, until my wife looked at it and asked "So... You can make cupboard doors now?"

Saturday, 4 August 2012

I Wanna Turn... Something...

So I spent last weekend at the Saskatoon 2012 Wood turning Symposium.  Wow.  I am totally psyched to do some turning.  I just can't decide what I want to do first.

I really felt that the symposium offered a great blend of instruction (this is how you make this), techniques (here's some things to try on your next piece), and inspiration (try to come up with an original idea!).  When you put all of these together my creative juices really start to flow.  Watch this space in the future for pieces influenced by the likes of Mark Sfirri, Jimmy Clewes, Beth Ireland, and  Mike Hosaluk.  If you know wood turning in North America, you know that's some pretty shameless name-dropping.  But really, they were all there and I attended sessions with all of them and more. 

How about a few pictures from the weekend?

A barley twist created by Beth Ireland

An attempted panorama shot of the instant gallery.  This didn't work as well as I wanted it to.  Too close.

Beth Ireland describing how she came to create the bowl in the picture.
The non-wood parts are epoxy resin and polymer clay.

Mike Hosaluk hollowing out a ladle.  That blur by his shoulder is the handle going around.

Finished product.

A garden of flowers made by Andrew Glazebrook.

And more of Andrew's work.

A pair of Asian influenced boxes by Jimmy Clewes

I just noticed  I have no pictures of the 'wacky bat' turned by Mark Sfirri.  That's really too bad because it gave me a couple of ideas that I'm dying to try.  It's too bad I won't be able to show what inspired them, assuming I actually get them done.

Another thing that I have been thinking of, in relation to the work of others, is this: Where is the line between 'inspired by' and 'blatant rip-off'?  And where do I want to fall?  In the case of the boxes in the picture above, I thought it would be cool to add a third level between the top and bottom.  Although the result would be something different it would still be pretty obvious where the idea came from.  I find now, suddenly, that I am not entirely comfortable with that.  It's really not any different from a lot of other things I have made, including the planes Ive shown on this blog.

I guess as long a credit is given when it's due it isn't a bad thing, and it's sometimes necessary to copy the work of others to learn a new skill.  Ultimately though, you need to leave a little of your self, your soul, in a piece to make it really satisfying.  How you do that is up to you.