Whimsical Wood Blog Pages

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This blog features the current woodcraft, Art and Graphic work of David Stanley.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Carving the Gears on the Whimsical Wood Automata

Firstly I had cut the gear wheels and other mechanical devices from 6mm ply, in order to test a 'mock-up' assembly of the automata. Later the final, much thicker gears needed to be cut and shaped for the final assembly of the automata. The highly decorative look that I wanted for the gear wheels meant using thick blanks, 20mm to 25mm in thickness.


There would be a couple of problems that the material used would have to avoid if the gears were to function well. This would be particularly critical because the gear train was to be so long that accumulative errors would literally cause a grinding halt. The first problem was cutting a close enough to vertical line when cutting the gear shapes on the scroll saw and the second was wood movement after the cutting if plywood wasn't used.


Plywood would solve the wood movement problem well enough, but it doesn't carve very well. One solution was to 'veneer' both faces of some existing ply with around the same thickness of suitable timber for carving. Another was to make some relatively thick homemade three-ply from desired timber.

Blanks of gear carving ply were prepared and as coarse a blade as still able to negotiate the cutting line was chosen to cut that vertical cut mentioned before. I found a # 5 modified geometry blade able to do this reasonably well even in oak and jarra."


After cutting the teeth with a careful vertical cut, the inside cuts for the decorative spokes were cut with the table tilted various amounts for effect. Theffect produced with a slanted cut sometimes allows a slender, light look to the spokes on the viewable face but backed up with plenty of substance at the back.

After cutting on the scroll saw the thick 'veneers' of the ply were carved, sanded and finished with the same wipe on polyurethane finishing process that I used on the carved lettering. Some parts were cut from solid timber where wood movement seemed unlikely to be problematic.
In this way the more decorative gears and other parts were cut and carved while other smaller gears were, sometimes decoratively fretted, or cut unadorned from regular plywood. Many of the sculpturally decorative moving parts of this automata are hidden from view, deep within, what is admittedly an overdone redundancy-ridden whole. However one purpose of this project was always to be experiment and consequent learning.



Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Designing the Whimsical Wood Automata


Like a lot of people, I am fascinated by the sight uof the pre-digital, the pre-miniaturised-electrical-hidden-mechanism, devices in action. My comprehension of 'what makes them tick' is slight enough to allow mystery to enhance the experience.

When I was young steam trains still ran. They had moving parts that were not just wheels. They had visible moving parts. Lots of visible moving parts. They had many turning bits and linkages, choreographed to the exuberance of their exhilarating sounds. Riveted rhinoceros hiss-thundered past and then into the enveloping, billowing and dissipating doppler-effected past, they quickly went, while Into the wake of their memory, followed the slick, the smooth, the concealed and the 'less is more'. And in their wake we began to mourn the loss of mystery and wonder, their performance evoked.

The sealed unit might be more mysterious in one sense, without visible locomotion, but it's movement is easily taken for granted, it just goes. Visible mechanisms that achieve by complicated means captivate because work fascinates us.., we can sit and watch it for hours.

Perhaps mechanically minded people are just as fascinated with the visible workings of early machine age constructions because they can see and understand what they are doing and could be made to do. I can only see what they are doing already as a visual experience, an aesthetic rather than an understanding of the physics. I just like the way machines look.

So so back to the digital age. Mechanically minded people have made animations of the mechanical devices from the Industrial Age and there are sites that can generate gears to be printed, cut and used in a functioning machine. For a whimsical automata such as I envisaged for Whimsical Wood. I only needed to see what each mechanical element was already doing and if it looked nice and looked interesting it was a candidate for participating in the final construction. Plenty of time to figure out what it might do when it's finished.., so long as it looks good.


So with with a supply of print-outs that could be cut and assembled I mocked up a working pattern to begin the automata. My lack of mechanical ability meant simply assembling a chain of mechanical events with some characters tacked on here and there. The characters would include an elf-like character to drudgingly do the winding, a Cheshire Cat, an attentive dog meant to contrast with the disaffected elf, a chameleon and whatever else could be made to work.


Not a lot in the way of add-on characters could be made to work in this long chain-of-events whimsical automata I found. So I have kept it to its purpose as a complex looking simple automata useful for generating visual interest with movement both on the web and at shows. It's other purpose is to learn a bit about automata construction through experiment and perhaps design and build simpler more narrative based automata in the future.

From the beginning of this project I realised that any automata I built would depend on visual appeal rather than mechanical ingenuity. So I decided to make the larger gear wheels and pinions with heavily carved decorative spokes and to complete the whole construction with a high finish.

In the next post I will describe the process of cutting the decorative but still functional gears and other mechanisms for this automata.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Finishing and Colouring the Carved Lettering

After the completion of the carving, mostly with the hooked knives, the work has been sanded up to 800 grit on the more accessible surfaces ready for a wipe-on polyurethane finish. When the thinned polyurethane has been wiped off I prefer to have it ready for a final wax polish and or tinting with colour, in a single session without waiting for drying.

To accomplish this a very fine dusting with some rotten stone on the 'wipe-off rag', is used to further, dry and thin, the oil finish to a dry lustre. An old tooth brush also dipped in a little rotten stone powder works the same effect into all the recesses.


The carved lettering now has the thinnest of polyurethane coatings, virtually invisible except for the enhancement of colour and grain. This surface is the sympathetic to coloured pencil and artist's oils for colouring. I have used water soluble oil paint and coloured pencil to colour parts of the carving.

Using oil paint means there is time to put on applications of paint washes and remove some, until the desired effect appears.


The lettering, carved, finished and coloured is ready to be photographed for title graphics on the whimsical wood website and for fitting to the whimsical wood automata. The Automata, being a kinetic sculpture, is intended to attract interest at shows with its animation and likewise useful as video linked to the website.

My my main carving interest is Lovespoons but I find mechanical movements to be fascinating to watch and though I have not much native mechanical ability or understanding I intend to make some simple automata with carved elements.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Carved Lettering for Whimsical Wood Title

Here are the first steps in carving the 'yellow walnut' timber for the whimsicalwood website title lettering. Yellow walnut, a native Queensland timber, has not been as easy to carve as true walnut or black walnut, but it does have an attractive colour and takes a fine finish. A pattern printed from the black line version of the lettering is first pasted onto the timber, holes drilled for most of the pierced areas and then cut on the scroll saw ready for carving.

Not all the pierced apatures have been drilled and sawn out as they may be be carved just to a suitable level but not all the way through.

The next step is to set in shallow stop cuts following prominent lines on parts that I envisage being at the uppermost levels of the carving. A lot of the dimensional aspects of the carving have been worked out in the rendered drawing done earlier, but as the carving proceeds some changes might be made.

When a few key shapes are outlined with these shallow stop cuts, shallow so as not to prise the fibres of the wood away from the intended line with the wedge of the cutting edge. The surface fibres are sliced back to the stop cut forming a little ledge. The little ledge then allows a deeper stop cut to be made safely with a more firmly made cuts. Then a greater depth of wood surface is removed back to the stop cut. Repeated outlining with stop cuts and slicing back back to them gradually reveals the form.

Making these cuts that create the form of the carving require either different tools for different parts of a line or a different way of using one tool or another for the different aspects of the carving. Stop cuts along the outline of forms can be followed with the natural curved edge of a variety of gouges or with a series of narrow shallow-curved or straight stabbing cuts made incrementally along the line.

Apart from from some well defined fast or tight curves, where I have a gouge that fits it exactly, I have tended to use either a small very shallow gouge or flat chisel to make the stop cuts along lines. But mostly I have used a small round-nosed straight chisel made from piano wire to 'walk' the cutting edge along a line of any shape safely and accurately.

In larger scale carving, using both hands with clamped work at a bench, a vee tool might be best for outlining the forms. Or if using a knife, cutting along the line following the curves. In miniature carving,like this lettering, a knife-cut swerving along the outline, could be swift and accurate if you are skilled at it., and lucky!

With the right kind of knife or knives a lot of the carving of this lettering could be set in with stop cuts and the forms shaped. A rounded tip on a knife blade would function just like a round nose chisel and bent or hooked knives could form various concave and convex surfaces on the slicing cuts back to the stop cuts. To carve these curved surfaces, particularly the concave I have always used gouges because bent knives don't seem to be readily available in Australia.

Now while I agree with the wise notion people often express about tools, that is; always purchase the best you can afford. Experimenting with cheap options has provided me with some of my favourite, most used tools.

So it was that I found, by disregarding the appropriateness of steel types and 'best you can afford' advice, an eventual swag of useful tools that I used extensively on this project. To find the source of raw material for making these tools (little experience required) go to the fourth drawer in the kitchen, gravitated to the bottom of the drawer are the no-longer-Tele-marketer-offered stainless steel.., steak knives.

With shortened blades roughly ground to shapes of various geometry and then sharpened on various abrasive papers and finally honed and polished they can then be, a bit randomly, wrapped in a cloth for safety and bent with round-nosed pliers to a variety of sweeps.

With these knives being as cheap as they are, apart from the time spent preparing them, you can experiment with all kinds of shapes for specialised tasks and utility compound shapes that can do most things.



Monday, November 6, 2017

Coloured Ink, Watercolour and Gouache Rendering of Title Lettering

A carved wood title combined with an automata will feature on the title pages of www.whimsicalwood.com but graphically rendered title pages will be used for the graphics pages. This version of the title lettering is painted with coloured ink wash followed by some local watercolour and gouache washes.


The initial light wash of Liquitex Ink, burnt sienna with a little cerulean blue added is followed by repeated washes of the same mix, with some black ink added, in order to establish the form  of the lettering design as a grisaille under-painting. Over this washes of water colour and some gouache have tinted the final rendering of the lettering.


 To build up the tonal values I used a #2 pointed filbert synthetic fibre brush and a small Chinese calligraphy brush to lay in multiple light washes, a little wet in wet and then using the very tip of the, just damp with pigment brush, to 'wipe' on a very light 'wet-dusting' of pigment. This technique is a bit like dry brushing but with a moist brush loaded, not fully, but with a fair volume of ink or water colour wash.

 It seems to me at this point in experimenting with these brushes rather than round brushes, that the fullness of body, that tear-drops into a longish hair thin point, part characterising both these brush shapes, allows a lot of thin wet flowing pigment to be put in place with the feel of coloured pencil rendering.


It also seems that the acrylic ink washes themselves resist lifting even though used highly diluted and they also leave enough tooth and or absorbency to accept subsequent water colour washes without those washes








lifting too readily.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Whimsical Wood Title Lettering

Larger than full size scans from the Inktober 2017 Sketch Book are available on my Flickr page – davidstanley2 flickr you can download them from there, for your personal reference only, of course.

In preparation for the re-build of my website I am carving the lettering for www.whimsicalwood.com. to use for some of the title pages and for an automata construction to represent the site.

First a small sketch of the proposed design in an A6 size sketch book to represent the concept.

Then a modified version on A4 paper for scanning and tidying up in photoshop and illustrator. This isn't always a necessary step but it is useful when fitting the design to available materials for carving if that material hadn't been already chosen.

This title will have its graphic version as well as the carved one, so I have printed a faint grey line print onto Arches medium coarse (Not) Watercolour Paper. The faint line work has then been inked with black waterproof ink ready for coloured ink and or watercolour wash.

The inking was done with an 'Eva Extra' 320, medium flexible pointed nib. This nib was in an attractive glass pen holder that my daughters bought for me years ago on their return from a trip to Venice. I hadn't used the pen until the recent Inktober but I found the nib very good for fine linework. I am familiar with the 303 and 404 pointed nibs from my survey drafting days nearly fifty years ago and this nib seems to fill a gap between the two. I will do a post on nibs sometime in the future.


I chose the Arches Not WC paper for its slightly rough and pleasing texture. This texture will be sympathetic to the wash rendering I intend later. For placing ink on the nib I use ink from a rubber-bulb ended dropper in a small screw top jar. This way I can drop ink directly at the right amount under the nib rather than dipping the pen, which leads to dried ink building up quickly on the pen. Even then the nib needs periodic cleaning on a damp cloth.

It might be that my inking technique is a bit slow and meticulous, consisting of carefully laid short strokes, that allows the ink to thicken on the nib. But that beautiful to watch, from the elbow, graceful copperplate calligraphy that master flexible-pen calligraphers accomplish, with a pen dipped deep into the ink, is way beyond my ability. I can only admire that kind of penmanship – extreme parkour and free running across the intimidating surface of expensive paper has me heading for the handrailed staircase, escalator and lift of the careful plodding inking I'm used to.

There are some nuanced ways of getting a good result from the slow and meticulous method however  and they also need at least a bit of practise and careful thought as you go about rendering in ink. So you have been careful with your pencilled-in design, related the lines well to one another. Ordered where they come from, lead the eye to, continue and discontinue, established the fairness of the curves and their relation to the whole design. But now when it comes to rendering this in ink it's not just a matter of 'tracing' over what you have.

 Well it is.., but tracing isn't tracing. Tracing or rendering in ink is designedly drawing – all over again. It is planning as you go with the inking keeping curved lines fair, you can help accomplish this by working with the natural geometry of your various hand movements to aid rather than hinder, and land well-aimed strokes of comfortable length seamlessly over one another while you turn the page to facilitate. Do this as you take, an albeit interrupted, intersected or discontinuous line, through its whole course or part way, mindfully in the direction of its course. In effect avoid following part of one line and without stopping change direction as you continue along another that will have you lines looking like a mapped coastline rather than suggesting form.

With the carved version of the title a print is pasted to some yellow walnut, a native Queensland timber and then fretted out on the scrollsaw ready for carving.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017


Inktober 2017

Participation in the Inktober 2017 challenge, keeping up and getting to the end with a completed set of mini ink and ink wash illustrations, has really been what it was designed to be – a challenge. But a rewarding challenge. 

My main hoped for outcome from this exercise has been to get past my several failed attempts at re-starting this blog, use the momentum gained from the daily discipline of posting Inktober pieces and do as I have intended for so long. Utilise the greater strengths of blogging for shared learning, informing, inspiration and thankful valuing of our enjoyment in making things for others enjoyment, because we can.

'Inktober' is an open challenge to produce an ink based work each day in October following a daily word prompt. So unless you opt for a 'lite' version with your own rules, perfectly acceptable they say. Then you will end up with thirty one ink drawings, paintings, letterings or whatever at the end of the month.

My participation was a daily entry into an A7 size visual diary, mainly pen and ink line work using various nibs and then diluted ink wash, sometimes coloured ink for the wash. There were just a couple of torn-out pages for a re-start on an undamaged page, but the little book remains intact with its thirty one pictures. Some of which might lead to larger more finished work.


































My next project will be to re-work my website www.whimsicalwood.com. Mostly because the software I'd used to put it together is not being continued. 

I have made an automata to go with this and have been documenting the process. So a stock pile of visual material from this and some planned major lovespoon carving projects, simpler love spoon projects, graphics, jigsaw puzzles and hand lettering should help in a reasonably regular blog series to follow.