Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sculpting Chairs Part 2 Start with the Hard Lines and a Rasp

Part 1 - "Lines, Shadows and Curves, Oh My!" contained some exercises to help train and improve your sculptor's eye. Let's put the rasp to wood in Part 2 and see what flows from the event.

I see chair sculpting in four phases:
  • Construction
  • Hard Lines
  • Soft Lines
  • Transitions
During the construction phase you make the chair's parts and join them using the band saw, table saw, lathe and other tools. Many of the hard lines are formed by this construction phase which ends with parts joined to each other. But most of these hard lines need to be transformed or sculpted so they form a flow from one part to the other. That is the topic for this article.

Where do I begin. Pick up a tool and see what happens. We are back to the fear problem unless we just jump in
and take a chance. Is everybody going to be good at it? No! There isn't a to risk in comparison to many things we endeavor to do, but a lot to gain by trying.

First find a model for comparison. In my newest "Build A Maloof Inspired" Instructional bundle I do a video segment comparing and contrasting the Maloof Inspired Low Back Dining Chair roughed out, assembled and ready to sculpt and a finished chair. In the comparison I draw what I refer to as topographical lines on the chair to show the way surfaces transition in various radii
to join other surfaces forming hard and soft lines. I used a white pencil on walnut to show these contours. For your own project a mental compare and contrast with a picture of the object you are sculpting would be of great benefit.

When I am unsure of finding my chair's shape in the roughed out parts, I prefer to sculpt my prototypes with a rasp. I use Auriou rasps and the number system I will talk about relates to them. The lower the number the more coarse the higher the number the finer. The Auriou's are hand stitched meaning their teeth are set by hand making that are totally random void of a pattern. The result is that they leave a much smoother cut which will not be furrow or tear-out if the rasp is used correctly. They also have teeth right up to and along the edge,allowing the sculptor to get into corners and crevices. They are a much harder cut on your wallet in that they average $100+ for each rasp. A set of 3 rasps I recommend will take care of a great many of your needs and is available at Highland Woodworking. There are other choices. Sam Maloof used Nicholson's patternmaker's rasp. They are the best of those not hand stitched.

The first rasps I grab are the combi flat #5 on one side #9 on the other and a big #10 cabinetmakers rasp that is curved on one side and flat on the other and comes to a point. cabinetmakers rasp. Work with how they cut on some long scrap. Use big muscles and make long sweeps focusing on holding the rasp at 45 degrees to the length of the piece of wood while pushing the rasp along the length . Do not saw with the rasp. When the cut is cleanest you have found its best working angle. Look at the rasp's teeth and push the teeth in that direction.

While making long sweeps you will be establishing a flat. When I round over a surface with a rasp, I mentally divide the surface into a series of contiguous flats and then join them with flats until they appxoximate a radius that pleases me.

Start with an arm. How do you want the outside line of the arm to flow? Is it going to provide lift is it going to have a sweep and in what direction? A way to answer this question is by deciding whether the flow for the chair from any point of view is going to be generally up and back (uplifting) or down and back, etc.

Are there lines that will flow from the front leg through the arm. Is there a line which will continue into the back leg?

Start with the big rasps, using sweeping, big muscle strokes. Work on it until it smiles at you!

Remember the best tools in your kit are patience, persistence and attitude!

Part 3 will explore the use of a grinder to transform and establish the hard lines when you know where they are and you want to get there in a hurry!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sculpting Chairs Part 1 Lines, Shadows and Curves, Oh My!

A graduate of one of the most prestigious woodworking schools in the U.S. recently wrote me to ask for help. I am not sure how he arrived at having constructed a roughed out Maloof type rocker since they were inquiring about my bundle. They were fearful of shaping and sculpting the legs, seat, crest rail ,etc. and then faring one into the other. You know the tried and true FDR saying,"The only thing you have to fear is fear itself!" Sometimes we are afraid of failure and sometimes we are actually afraid of success. It is the old writers block, only in this case sculptor's block.

Let me qualify this as a discussion of art over engineering. The engineering qualities of the woodworker are very necessary as I have written before. This is more about freeing oneself from formula to producing what looks good to you and hopefully other observers.

Does nature or nurture make a wood sculptor? A man sat in the back of one of my Maloof Inspired Rocker Demo Classes for a day and a half before raising his hand and stating, "I can put it together but I can't shape it!" He went on to describe his totally frustrated attempts to do anything art related.

What are the human tools necessary for success as a sculptor of wood? Sight is huge but not totally necessary. If you can see the line or visualize it, you are ready to pick up the tools and sculpt. If not, you must become a student of sight. Try this activity. Most cars are automotive sculpture. Follow the hard lines (they define the edges or movement) and how they pull the eye around the car. Find the softer lines and how they cause transitions to be made from surface to surface or hard line to hard line. Make visual comparisons of two cars that are in a competing group. Observe a Camry and a Honda. This will really work well if both cars are the same color. How are the lines the same? How are they different? Observe how opposing surfaces meet. Is the line caused by the meeting of two surfaces that have different radii? What surfaces are concave? Which are convex? Where are the flat surfaces? Where are the shadows? What causes the shadows? Train your powers of observation. Now describe the lines and decide what their purposes are in the over-all design. Do the same thing with nature. Trees, leaves, flowers all have shapes, lines and surfaces in opposition. How do they work together to form the whole?

The first sentence in the previous paragraph sounds ridiculous and yes, I am sure an overstatement. Touch is huge and can help if you have a vision deficit ! When I started studying Sam Maloof's work I saw them in a museum setting and I explored Sam's chairs kinesthetically. I touched and rubbed them with my fingers every time the security guard turned his head. I was using my fingers to get the details. Just another way to program them to memory. As I sculpt I am always touching and asking myself how does it feel? Is it flat, hollow, round? How does it flow?

Get a ball of modeler's clay and form surfaces in opposition that you like and form a lines at the transition between the two. Visualize , think and feel, you are on your way!

The next post will discuss lines that are satisfying and flowing versus what is not!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Kreg Router Table & Router Lift

What do I expect out of a router table? As a chairmaker and teacher I want dependabilty and durability. The stand and table need to be heavy without being a boat anchor. Weight reduces vibration that can induce chatter in the cut. Because I take my router table with me when I teach a class, sometimes transporting it 100s of miles, the frame needs to be rigid and it has to have good casters. I want the table top and plate to be absolutely flat and I want them to stay that way because I have enough tool set-ups when I get to the class location. I don't want my router table to need adjustments, too. The fence needs to be easily secured and allow for micro adjustments without too many moving parts. It also has to have great dust control which is important for your health and happiness in the shop. Besides that, I don't expect much!

The router table is used for two very important operations. I trim or copy the back legs of my Maloof Inspired Rocker and Low Back Dining Chair using a 2" spiral router bit w/top pilot. The other operation is rounding over the inside of each leg at the joint to fit the radius of the seat 's rabbet. In this case I need a full round over without a bead. The fence helps me round over even though I round past the dados that are cut through the legs. Otherwise, without the fence the pilot could plunge into the rabbet. It's just a matter of control and this table and fence give me what I need.

The lift is the icing on the cake. The plate is heavy duty milled aluminum. It has a multiple jack screw system that makes it easy to level and machine screws to hold it to the table when you have it just right. It is built for a porter-cable router but there are adapters available for all the popular router motors from Kreg. My Bosch router motor fits tight without any movement. The real reason for the lift is adjustment. This baby comes through in several ways. There is macro adjustment with a rod that locks, unlocks and positions the router horizontally. A thumb wheel makes the micro adjustments easily and it all locks in to prevent slippage. It's all EeeZeee !

If you need a lot of stops and micro-adjusters for the fence, Kreg has thought of them all including some handy feather boards. If you want the best new thing check out there Beaded Face Frame Kit. I don't do this kind of work but after talking to people who do this system will add beaded face capability to your shop's router.

This router table and lift meets and exceeds my expectations everyday in my shop!