Thursday, March 19, 2015

Vase and Flowers from Trail Debris

In early February, I took my daughter to a natural area near our house.  She rode her tricycle along the path, and stopped to pick up all kinds of debris.  Dried up weeds, bits of branches that had blown off trees, pinecones, etc.  Most of it she tried to bring home, packing it along on the back of the trike or trying to make me carry it.  At first I furtively tossed it back into the woods when she wasn't looking, but then she handed me a big clump and I got an idea.  So we collected a few handfuls, and I snapped off a dry teasel stem that had survived the winter.

Back at the parking lot, we went to look around in a wooded area that had been cleared of underbrush a couple of years before.  I found a wet chunk of mystery log, only slightly rotted, and we took it home with the other materials.  She insisted on hauling the log into the garage on her own.

 Back in the shop, here's a "before" kind of shot.

I cut the log in half on the bandsaw.  I can't identify the wood species, but I suspect it to be Prunus laurocerasus, English or Cherry Laurel.  It's a common invasive escapee in the woodlands around the city.  The wood was pretty dense, had no odor, and had a bit of spalting.  I quartered the round to make a blank for the lathe.

Once I got it on the lathe, it wasn't the best turning material.  Chunks tore out during roughing, and it cut fuzzy unless I used a very sharp skew and a light cut.  I sketched an outline on the blank before I started the shaping.

I sanded the little vase, but didn't put any finish on it, mostly because it was still soaking wet.  If it doesn't self-destruct from the drying process, I might put some shellac on it in a few months.  All in all, it turned out pretty cute for something made of materials collected by a toddler.

Not bad for "flowers" in mid-winter

Thursday, March 5, 2015

New Mallets

My mom used to have four beech trees along her driveway.  One by one, they've come down over the past several years, and I've made use of the wood.  One tree had a fungus issue, so I let the log lay on the ground for a while and then sawed it into boards on the band saw, which gave me a small stack of spalted wood.  I still haven't had the guts to make it into anything.

Last fall, I found a piece of another tree in her firewood pile, and I decided to confiscate it and make a couple of mallets.  I cut off a blank and turned it into a large carving type mallet on the lathe, which was fun and pretty easy.  Beech turns well.  I used the plan in Fine Woodworking's 2013 Tools & Shops issue as a baseline for dimensions.  I think I've decided I don't particularly like big round mallets, and the handle is a little chunky for my hands.  But it is pretty and does a really good job of sealing quart size paint cans when you use the round end as the whacker.

Beech turning blank cut at the bandsaw
With some creativity at the band saw, I managed to get enough from the offcuts from that to make a traditional two-piece joiner's mallet.  Check out The Woodwright's Shop "Big Ash Mallet" episode from Sept. 2013 for the general idea.
beech blanks for a joiner's mallet - they're bigger than they look
The handle was sawn, planed to shape the taper and smooth the surface, and then turned to round off the grip portion.  The end of the handle had a pretty good end-grain split going, so I turned a 3/4" tenon on the end and made a walnut cap that I attached with a small screw.  The cap provides a nice stop to the end of the grip, and the grain runs across the crack in the beech handle, preventing it from getting any wider or splintering.
3/4" spigot on the end of the handle...
The head was a lot more work than I expected.  I marked out the tapered through-mortise, and then used a brace and bit to bore a 7/8" hole through the middle.  The spiral of wood that came out of the auger can't be called a shaving or a chip.  It was more like a piece of leather, fibrous and tough.  Then I chopped, and chopped, and chopped, mostly using a 5/16" pig-sticker style mortising chisel.  Beech planes fine, and light cuts are no problem.  I can pare thin slices of end-grain with a sharp chisel by hand, but trying to bite off a bigger chunk, or plunge deeply into solid wood was just not happening, so I resorted to nibbling out the mortise bit by bit.
Mortising the head starts out with boring, and
doesn't really get any more exciting later on.
Fortunately, it went together well, and can apply a hell of a whack to a big mortising chisel or other stout tool.  I don't use it an awful lot, because I have a rubber deadblow mallet for assembly tasks (less chance of bruising the finished surface) and it's just too much of a beast for most smaller-scale work.

Here's a photo of my three mallets.  The smaller one is also beech, made a decade ago from scraps of trim material from the building I work in.  I didn't have any pieces big enough to make a head out of, so I laminated several smaller blocks together.  I think I used a chunk of 2x4 framing lumber as a mallet to cut the mortise in the head, since I didn't have any sort of mallet at that time.  It was my first "real" mallet, and it's held up well.  I've beaten a lot of things into submission with it and it turns out to be the one I still reach for most of the time.  I guess I could make a new prettier replacement for it.