I like a lot of Rebecca DeGroot‘s stuff, it’s very nicely weird and creepy.
So when she did a how-to video for making an easter rabbit, I thought I’d have a go.
So, first up, turn the body and head from some sycamore spindles I had after the snowman production line at solstice. The head and body are basically just eggs…
The ears are made as a long pointy egg as well, but from a blank which is a glue-up with a piece of paper between the two halves.
Similar to how you’d do an inside-out turning blank, but just two pieces here instead of four or more. Once the shape is turned, you just split the shape along the paper line and sand off the remaining paper (newspaper will do, but any heavy paper works well). These were just some oak offcuts I had to hand.
So with the head, body, ears and tail turned (the tail is just a chunk of old xmas tree trunk turned to a sphere with a tenon), you sand flats on the bottom of the body, on the bottom of the head and the top of the body, and you dremel the base of the ears to fit to the head (and I dremelled a small hollow into the ears as well because why not). Then drill between head and body for two dowels, and between head and ears for bamboo skewers (because I don’t have dowels that narrow). Glue everything up and…
That sanding wheel and platform are proving very useful for this sort of composite piece.
For a finish I just went with a coat of acrylic rattlecan lacquer.
Made my first pen a little while back, and while it didn’t turn out too badly, using a woodworking vice to press the pen parts together was a bit janky at best and I didn’t find using the tailstock on the lathe much better.
Thing is, dedicated pen presses are spendy. The basic axminster one is fairly straightforward:
But that’s €75 and that’s not a rip-off pricing either, that’s from the carpentry store and they don’t charge much more than you’d pay buying from the source and shipping it. And fancier ones get spendier – the “deluxe” one is 115 euro (and I can’t even find the basic one in stock anywhere right now). And going to China’s cheapest didn’t help – the lowest price I could find was $45 but with another $25 in shipping.
However. T-track is about $8 for 300mm on aliexpress, a t-track stop is $10 on aliexpress and a push-toggle clamp is about €14 on ebay (and I think I could have found that cheaper elsewhere).
Now I need a bit of scrap CLS 4×2 to mount it on, cut the t-track in half because cos I don’t need it to be that long (and yes, woodworking bandsaw blades do make for a clean cut in aluminium), and route out (ugh, power router) a slot for the t-track to sit into
Next, need a small contact block for the t-track clamp and for the end of the toggle clamp. I’ll just turn a scrap of sycamore to a gentle cup shape for both sides. I can drill a hole for the toggle clamp’s bolt and epoxy that bolt into place on the one side, and on the t-track side I can just replace the bolt that came with with a lag bolt and attach it that way.
I did have to put a small spacer under the toggle clamp so that the heights matched up but that’s what happens when you use too large a pair of offcuts for the contact blocks 🙂
Screw an eyelet into one end and then hang it on the wall out of the way and now the next time I make a pen, I’ll have a press and it’ll have set me back about a third of what it would have cost to have bought one.
It’ll probably fail in interesting and expensive ways, mind you, but still. Fun to make 🙂
So along with the Gnomes, I wanted to do a batch job of something for solstice gifts from the lathe, and while I initially thought trees or baubles, it came down to snowmen in the end. So, first off, ordered a few sycamore spindle blanks from the Carpentry Store.
At that time, and at the moment, they’re one of the most economical (ie. I was being cheap) sources, but only for spindles. I mention this because we’re now two days from Brexit kicking in across the water in the UK, and already the costs of importing blanks from my normal source at HomeOfWood.co.uk has jumped (though not as much as it has for his continental customers). It’s a very small complaint compared to what’s coming, but the woodworking hobbists here in Ireland may be facing into having to find either local suppliers or continental ones, so costs may be rising right as we face into the damage done by the covid pandemic to our economies. So, y’know, yay. Kinda glad I stocked up over the last few months.
First order of business was to rough out the blanks.
The normally really fast anglefinder off aliexpress wasn’t quite long enough to get to the center reliably on the 70x70mm blanks, so back to more traditional methods.
Then into the lathe and rough out to round. No neat tricks or features here, just the routine operation. Round with the roughing gouge, turn a tenon on both ends, measure to find the half-way point between shoulders and part it in half there.
I really need to get a ring center, this cone live center is fine and all but it wedges something awful into endgrain like this. I did buy a ring drive center, but I don’t think you can use those in the tailstock without a fair amount of grease and smoke. F.Pain talks about using them in The Practical Woodturner but he’s also talking about lathes made from wood and a few other things that don’t really get done much today because (a) we have better alternatives and (b) the skills are mostly lost.
And that’s them all done (along with the blanks that became test gnomes and test trees and so on). Every spindle blank gave two snowmen blanks (and you’ll note there are some missing, they got turned into a test snowman and a wood witch for a friend who’s recovering from the nasty bug of the year).
First thing to buy after you buy a lathe, is a large dustpan and brush.
Also, I think this is what killed my air compressor. It has since given up the ghost with a loud pop, a hiss as it dumped the full tank of air, and a strong stench of burning oil and rubber. Le sigh.
Next up, story stick. Because I don’t want to make that many snowmen and have them all horribly different and disfigured, that’s a Calvin and Hobbes routine.
I used nails here, driven in at the lines and then filed the heads off with the grinder. That’s a standard approach and I think I’m going to completely ditch the entire thing as a bad idea from now on. Yes, you can mark lines with the nails readily enough, but the lathe does want to grab the whole thing out of your hands if you’re clumsy and storing this would be a PITA. I plan to copy this onto a piece of thick-ish plasticard with lines drawn on it and that’ll store in an envelope more readily. Much much easier for the small shed. And marking off every line with a pencil is just easier than with nails, and that’s what I did with the gnomes.
And that’s the middle snowball thicknessed (the thorax? Absnowmen? What body part categories does a snowman have?). And pencil lines marked in at midpoints by eye. And now came the humility lesson.
I tries this with the skew. Yeah. Nope. At this point (and I’m pretty sure, now too), my skew skills were not up to the task. I mean, this was a month of work ago, and we all know that time dilation is in full effect here in 2020 so this was many years ago now, but still. I eventually had to give up on the skew and do the rest of the blanks with the spindle gouge.
Also, I’m going with BB Turning’s advice here about not getting perfect spheres in a snowman. Yup. That’s exactly what I did. Totally deliberately.
And then on to my woodturning secret, buying 80 grit sandpaper in bulk.
And from 80 grit up to 220 grit and then everything was set aside for finishing (the idea being to batch things, so you do each step and repeat, not follow through on every piece like normal).
That’s as close to a montage as I’m getting (also those other new blanks in the last one there were for trees and there are still a few out in the shed today, mocking my working speed).
At this point, various large work projects as well as the gnomes ate all the shed time and it took a while to get to the next stage. But eventually, the snowmen got back on the lathe for sanding sealer, sanding to 360 and then yorkshire grit and hampshire sheen wax (because it’s toy safe).
Then drilling for a nose was done by hand with a 3.5mm drill bit. And that meant it was time to crank out some noses….
Step jaws (which are really meant for expansion mode inside bowls but they do grip down to a small diameter internally and are more stable than my pen jaws), and a dowel length bought some years ago in Woodies of all places. It’s probably poplar, at least it’s not pine.
And yes, I did redeem myself doing all of this with the skew. And after the first few noses, I actually got the rythym of it, and okay, Steve Jones’ job is safe, but at least I wasn’t quite so dismayed by the results this time.
And yeah, that dowel goes right through the headstock spindle and you just pull out the 70 or 80mm you need to work on at a time.
Mark off the nose length with dividers…
Deepen the mark for the base of the nose with the point of the skew and another mark for where the tenon will end (judged by eye, about 5mm).
Shape with the skew – no, not scraping, but cutting, like a real turner 😀 Don’t look too close at that bevel btw. I’m going to sort out my sharpening jig, honest.
Sand to 120 grit at this stage, and on the other side of the work so I don’t have to move the rest.
That there is a tiny dinky Moore&Wright vernier calipers that only goes to 70mm but is so damn handy to have to hand in the shed. Not giving up my 300mm one but this one is remarkably handy for stuff.
Also, that trick where you cut down to dimension with the caliper itself? Managed that a few times, kinda. Mostly it was just parting tool and guesswork but I got it once or twice.
And then part off at the headstock side of that tenon, using the skew to get as much tenon as possible.
Now pull through the next 80mm (stop the fecking lathe first you daft eejit) and repeat 20 times because you miscounted how many you needed.
Honestly though, I was really happy with those.
Drill a bunch of holes in some scraps and get out the airbrush and….
Two-tone carrot noses 😀
Oh, and also drill a 6mm hole in the top of every snowman’s head for hats, which you can turn in a few different styles (but you’ll have to explain the daft punk headgear to everyone apparently).
Chestnut ebonising lacquer for the hats works well I found.
And now you just have to post them off mid-lockdown. Well, most of them. The one in the Fez is staying with us, and one or two others might as well. We’ll see.
Honestly, I only did 18 of them (including the prototype). I don’t know how BB Turning gets through hundreds every year without going loopy or absolutely mastering the skew.
Overall, I’m happy with them. They came out pretty well, and honestly adding the eyes and arms and things doesn’t give them a lot more. I mean, I did make a few with eyes, but I wonder how long those eyes will remain CA’d in place…
Also, I did finally ask Steve Jones about the kit he’s using (yes, I know it’s not the tool, but still) and as a result…
Ashley Iles 1″ flat skew. Not that spendy, about forty euro, but it’s such a more solid tool in the hand. Looking forward to trying it once I sort out the sharpening jig. It’s flat on the faces and round on the edges, so when I get a catch and the work slams it into the rest, it won’t dig out as sharp a gouge as mine does right now.
Tip came dipped in wax to prevent slicing yourself when unpacking it. It’s the small stuff like that that makes the difference with good tools like this – the tang is a bit longer, the fit and finish is that bit better and when you put that all together, it’s just an entirely different class of tool even though there’s no one thing I can point to and say “this is why”.
Really looking forward to using this. And still have some more spindle blanks…
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