Monday, December 19, 2016

Departing Gifts from a Silky Oak Tree.

This is a story which is still being written.
It starts with a few logs, fresh from a tree. Please join me as the story unfolds.

My neighbours recently decided to have a Silky Oak (Grevillea robusta) tree removed from their back yard. The top of the tree was dying, and the termites had moved in. When the arborists were cutting down the tree, they also found there was a bee hive inside it. 
The last piece is cut from the tree. 
It was a tragedy to see almost all of this tree going into the chipper. However, the Arborists let me take as much as I wanted, so I picked a few pieces I wanted, and wheeled them back home on my fridge trolley. After sealing the ends, I stacked the pieces under the Mulberry Tree in my front yard.

The bunch of logs sections, waiting for me under the weeping mulberry in my front yard.  

To help preserve the logs, the ends are sealed, to slow down the rate of drying. 

I normally seal the ends with my favourite glue, Titebone III. As a waterproof PVA, it seals the timber well despite the moisture content. It also dries clear, enabling me to "read" the end of the log when planning how to open up the log.

This log was destined to become a bunch of stool legs.

1. Making some stool legs.
Later in the day, I pulled out a log section to break down. My aim was to create some stool legs from this piece. The following shows how I tacked the process:

Picking the first cleft line - splitting the log in half.

As the pic above shows, a line is chosen for the first cleaving, to split the log section in half. This decision is made weighing up the termite damage, any knots or branch buds evident in the bark, etc. The line must pass through the pith, the very centre of the tree, which we always exclude from what we are making, as it will most often be a source of splitting otherwise.    
Each section is then split in half.

After the log is halved, each half is halved again. As before, the cleaving line goes from the pith towards the bark. Initially, wedges are used. Once the sections are small enough, a Froe is used.
The log is now split into four quarters.

From halves to quarters.

Each quarter is split in half, creating the 8 sections. 

From quarters to eights.  With this log, hopefully we will get 8 stools legs, one from each of the cleft sections. 

Each of the eight sections now can be reduced down to make a leg blank.

The grain will tend to run out if the mass on each side of the froe is unequal, as can be seen in the pic above. Sometimes an axe will be the best tool for the job.

The side-axe can be very useful for facing off the pieces into the desired dimensions. 

The Drawknife and Shaving Horse quickly create the cylinders for the legs.

It's great to be on a shaving horse with a sharp draw knife and lovely wood like this!

This beautiful Drawknife was patented in 1895, for the folding design including the way it folds over the blade, protecting the cutting edge of the tool.

The eight roughed-out cylinder legs. Destined to become part of some stools in due course.

These legs have been roughed out first, to help speed up the loss of moisture. The seat top is still in the log form, keeping more moist. When the stool is made, we want the tenons on the legs to be lower in moisture content than the material in the seat top. This will ensure the joints will lock up tighter as the material dries, for we want toe hole diameter in the seat mortises to reduce as the seat material shrinks. If the tenons on the legs are drier, they will shrink less than the seat top mortises, thereby ensuring the joints tighten as the whole thing dries. Fantastic. The Wisdom of the Ages. 

2. Making Spoons and Spreaders.
There was a smaller log section, about 9 inches long. I thought I would try this material for spoon carving. So I split out a few pieces ready for spoon making. The first time I have worked with this tree species, the Silky Oak (Grevillea Robusta) wood from this tree appears to be easy to split, probably due to the prominent medullary rays. 
I used classic green woodworking techniques, with axe and knives, to craft a spoon and a spreader for my neighbours, who happily allowed me to have access to the wood from the tree in their back yard while the arborists were removing it. 

Wood, Bark, Spoon and Spreader, all from the same section of tree.

How's this pattern in the Silky Oak? Amazing medullary rays.

Having delivered the "Thankyou" spoon and spreader to my neighbours, in appreciation for the log sections derived from their tree. I thought it was time to mess around with some more of this delightful material. Time for some more spoons!

How about a nice new eating spoon for my morning muesli?

My new eating spoon starts to take shape.

It is a very restful thing, carving a spoon... 

I love finials on spoons. They give them a real lift!

The wood was green. In other words, very high in moisture content. Traditionally in woodcraft, wood was worked green when it was soft and relatively easy to work. That was certainly the case for what I have done thus far with the Silky Oak. Once carved green, it needs to dry out. the spoon can be left to dry out over a week or two, depending on a number of variables. However, in order to speed up the process, I  used the microwave oven to reduce the time it would take, from days to minutes. Once dry, it is possible to finish the spoon with sanding and coating with Orange Oil. The Oil helps to slow the final drying and protects the spoon - as well as making it look good.
Side profile of my new eating spoon.

Nice spoon, lovely grain.

Rear view of the spoon.
Yes, that is a spoon I am very happy with.
I am surprised by how lovely this wood is to carve! Nice.
Planning a couple of spreaders...
Spreaders are often a by-product of spoon making, as we can utilise the smaller sections cleft from the log which are too small for spoons but just ideal for spreaders. 

Now for the knife-work.

A couple of completed Silky Oak  Spreaders.
There will be many more things made from this tree. I have given many pieces away to other spoon carvers, especially several members of the Women Working With Wood (W4) association. I have several other spoons "on the go", and the seat material for the stools. Just gotta get around to it!

Wood is a beautiful gift from the Trees. With so many trees going the way of the Chipper here in Perth, it is a tragedy that we don't honour those trees by utilising at least some of the wood on offer. Why remove or prune a tree and then go and buy a plastic spoon or spatula, or one of those nasty cheap and soul-less implements imported by the big supermarket chains? It makes no sense.

Want to learn how to make spoons using Green Wood, fresh from the tree? I periodically run workshops, sharing the joy of spoon carving. Check out the Upcoming Workshops" link near the top of my blog to see what is coming up!

Happy Spoon Carving!

Thankyou, Silky Oak.  You live on in a growing array of beautiful household implements...     

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Recycling a Pallet into Quality Kitchen Ware: Spoons and Spreaders.

Browsing through the pallets and packing crate materials on the verge of a local import business, I spied a pallet which sparked my interest. This company imports machinery from the USA, so the wood is all US and Canadian in origin. However, this grotty looking pallet was not the usual lovely northern hemispherical softwoods I like to recycle.
This one looked like it was made from American White Ash. I only know Ash after having made a Staircase from American White Ash, back in 2010. The blog post about the build is here:
That was the first time I had worked with Ash, so I was able to spot it in the pallet.
I chucked the pallet in the back of my ute, and drove away with it wondering what it would be like.

The American White Ash pallet... so much potential...
These pallet timbers are thin (about 1/2") and around 3 - 5" wide. Many are cupped, so when planed down and flattened you end up with a finish thickness of between 3/8"(10mm) and 1/4"(6.5mm) - an ideal dimension for converting into kitchen spatulas.  The three Gluts would have spoon carving potential, as they were about 1 1/8" (30mm) thick. 
The grain in the Ash was evident, despite being rough sawn and soiled.

The ISPM 15 Mark says Heat Treated in the USA. But what timber are these gluts made from?
Interestingly, the material the three Gluts were made of was not Ash, but had a medullary ray pattern very similar to what I understand Sycamore or Beech has. It would be great if someone from the USA would be able to advise me on this!

In the weeks that it took me to complete writing this post, someone came into my workshop and suggested the glut material was Sugar Maple. A hard Maple. That could well be it! this stuff is certainly very hard...

The boards cut from the Pallet, giving me 20 sticks from the top and bottom, and three gluts.
So now the challenge: How many Spoons and Spatulas can I make from the Ash Pallet?
For those who have not done this before, here is how you can use hand tools to make a Spatula.

1. Making Kitchen Spatulas from the top boards.

The 20 short sticks derived from the top and bottom of the pallet were  rough sawn and soiled. Many were also cupped and with shakes (splits) coming in on the end. That's OK, we can work around these.
I started with a pretty good one, to get the hang of the material. After pinning a temporary planning stop on the bench, I used a nice sharp No.5 jack plane to create a flat planed surface on each face of the stick.
Planing down the first of the Ash sticks, with my trusty Record No.5 Jack Plane.
With the stick prepared, now it was a case of marking out spatulas on this blank canvass. I just worked around the defects and the splits. I could get two out of this piece. with the shapes drawn on the stick, it's time for the Coping Saw.
Laying out a pair of spatulas, working around the defects and end checks (splits).
A member of the family of Turning Saws, the frame of the Coping Saw can always be kept out of the way. They are so easy to whiz around curves. To reduce vibration, the stick is moved upwards in the vice as the saw cut progresses down the hill.

The Coping Saw is a quick way to cut the flowing shapes from the stick.
The secret to the Coping Saw is to use a nice regular continuous action, using the full length of the blade, and keeping the blade perpendicular to the work. Piece of cake.

The end result, after completing the sawing out of the spatulas.
Before long, both Spatulas are cut out ready for the next step - the shaping.

The best tool for much of this is the Spokeshave, with the spatula held in the vice. With the flowing shapes, there will be changing grain direction, so the direction of the tool in relation to the work will vary to reduce tear-out. Careful - these tools are so much fun to use, you can find yourself  "in the zone" and before you know it, you'll emerge from your trance-like state to find your handle is super thin!!  

What a joy to use! The Spokeshave is the tool of choice to clean up the side profiles.
While the flat bottomed spokeshave is easiest to use, the curved bottomed model will shave inside curves of a tighter radius than the other.

When there is cantankerous grain, skewing the spokeshave to do a slicing cut works well, giving nice spiral shavings. 
Remove the spatula from the vice periodically, so you can check that the curves and parts have the grace and proportions that are pleasing to the eye. With the outer shape completed, it's time to do the bevel on the business end of the spatula. A bevel on one side or on both sides? that depends on the style, the anticipated use, and your personal preference.
Use slicing cuts, with the spokeshave askew to the work, so you can remove material without creating a "blowout"on the ends.
The last part of the shaping is the bevels on the end. The Spokeshave again is the tool of choice.
With the shaping done, it's time for the small refinements. Will the handle be squarish on the edges, round or slightly rounded? It's your call... Spokeshave, abrasive paper, or maybe both? 

The two completed spatulas, placed in the stick from which they were cut.
The final stage is the sanding. Ideally, you want to do as little sanding as possible. Best to use the edge tools for the bulk of the work.

Adding the finish completes the process. I used Australian Orange Oil for this. It is food safe, penetrates well as it is very thin, and dries quickly. Lovely stuff. The spatulas look delicious!

The first completed pair of Spatulas. Not bad for a grotty looking pallet left on the side of the road! 
Now to make the rest of the short boards into spatulas...
I will make a bunch of Ash spatulas from this wonderful resource. Thankyou pallet!

2. Making spoons from the pallet's gluts.

The three gluts (the spacing boards on edge separating the top from the bottom, giving room for the forks of the forklift) are a heavier material, so have much promise for making a few spoons. However, many of the nails were still in the tops and bottoms, and were almost impossible to pull out. So I would mostly be working around the nails...

Laying out a spoon amid the nails, cut-outs and defects.
Most of these spoons will be eating spoons I think, as it will be harder to get longer cooking spoons from the material, due to the stuff we have to work around. No problem, we'll get what we can. Maybe we can get a few Butter Spreaders as well from all the small bits in between?!

It is easier to hollow the bowls before cutting out the shape. with the board cramped down on to the bench.
Laying out the spoons would be an interesting challenge, working around nails, nail holes, splits, and defects in the timber. However, there would be some nice spoons in these sticks...
After drawing the spoon shapes, a mallet and gouge is used to hollow out the bowls of the spoons. The bits left over can make a few Spreaders.

The first couple of spoons emerging.
With the spoon shapes cut out, the rest is down to a mix of knife work and spokeshaving.

One glut will give a bunch of things, here cut out before the shaping is undertaken.
This glut material, probably Sugar Maple, is very dense. Ideal for tough Spoons and Spreaders!

A nice spoon side profile. More work to do yet on this one.
So the story unfolds. While I have not yet had a chance to complete the spoons, I am posting this now, even though the spoons are not yet completed. But you get the idea!
Maybe I will get to post the pics when I have completed them.

Remember, there are some amazing pieces of timber out there, currently in the form or pallets and packing crates, just waiting to be up-cycled! I hope this story gives you some inspiration.