Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Christmas Projects

It's almost December and I have a large stack of projects to finish. I don't have pictures yet but thought I'd at least get the list posted.

Biscotti Weekend Project
This year I gave D a list of options for projects we could do. Not specific items but rather a list of people we could make something for (his parents, his cousins, etc). He decided that he'd like to make either a stool or a small cabinet with just one door. After digging through my stash of patterns I decided we would make a two step stool. The design is fairly simple so I can get the parts ready before December 5th, when I head to New Jersey for the assembly.

I go the parts rough cut last week. I'll do the necessary glue up this weekend, and will complete the machining next Thursday just in time to load the parts into the car.

Hiker Boy's Advent Calendar
This project is well on it's way, finally, but will not make it for this year. I'd be okay if I didn't have to work next week, and had all the tools I need to use here at home. Since I don't it'll be late. I do have a substitute (24 little boxes, labeled and filled) so HB will have an advent calendar for this year.

This is way behind schedule. I have a clear idea of design but nothing on paper yet. Looks like this may be a year with a very small edition.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

2007 Ornament

Almost every year for the last 11 I have made an ornament/window hanging for Christmas gifts. The number of ornaments produce depends on the complexity of the design I come up with, and my workload at my paying job. In an average year I make about 2 dozen (24 for those of you who are math challenged). As I've done these I've gotten better at coming up with designs which are simple enough to produce in quantity. The ornaments average about 4 inches in diameter.

The first ornament I made was a snowflake. One other year was a creche (manger scene), which I don't have a picture of. Others have been a moose, a dragonfly, a fish, a heron, a cabin, an owl, and a heart. The heart was made the year of our wedding (2004) and echoes the hearts that were on our invitations and cake.

Each of the designs are original. In most cases pieces of the design have come from other sources - pictures in catalogs, a set of sheets (the moose), image searches on Google and scroll saw pattern books. I have never used an entire design from another source. In the case of the Google searches I have only used photos as inspiration.

Which brings us to this year, which needs to start with an explanation. We have spent 2 weeks during each of the last 8 summers at Wakanda on Rainbow Lake in the Adirondacks of New York. Wakanda is a complex of 5 buildings owned by friends of ours - the owner's house (Moose), a cabin which they manage the rental of (Birch), and 3 rental cabins (Heron, Owl and Loon). You'll notice that I've made ornaments to match the cabin names except for Loon and Birch. A copy of each of those ornaments now lives in the cabin it matches. Birch is unlikely to be added to the list since it is owned by someone else, not our friends. Which leaves Loon.

In working out a design I didn't want to do the ubiquitous loon floating placidly. This image is so prevalent that it is almost kitsch. I found an image of a loon stretching it's wings. That is the basis for this year's design. First step was to trace the inspiration. Then there were a series of modifications and refinements. Each modification was designed to make the design as simple and clear as possible, and also to make it work when cut out.

Here's the design I have ended up with:
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With the design read the next step was to cut a prototype and make sure the design was going to be relatively easy to cut.

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If you look closely you'll notice that the head is not attached to the rest of the ornament. This is because I broke a cardinal rule of scroll sawing. The way intricate designs get cut without breaking is by starting in the center and working out from there. That way there is as much support for the section being cut has as much support as possible. My original design had a stylized eye. I forgot to cut it before I cut the perimeter of the head. Rather than leave it I went back to it after I'd finished the rest of the ornament. As soon as the blade touched to wood the head came off. I have since modified the design to have a simple hole for the eye.

Next step is stack cutting. In stack cutting a number of pieces of wood are attached together, for these I use double-sided clear tape, and cut as one. I'll do 3 or 4 at a time. Each stack should take about 30 minutes to cut.

I'll post more when I start the cutting.

Gingerbread House Progress

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The ridge beam has been beveled. I actually had to cut a new one when I got over-zealous on one and cut it at the wrong angle. And the tabs have been cut on the walls. This was the first time I cut anything with the scroll saw table at an angle. It took some getting used to. One thing I discovered is that I had to shift how the blade was set into the lower carrier because the knob was bumping into the table. Adjusting it wasn't a problem, it just wasn't something I'd anticipated.

You'll notice an extra piece sticking up in the middle of the roof. When I finally got the tab cut on the wall and fitted the roof there was an almost 1/4 inch wide gap at the top of the peak on one of the houses (I'm making 2). My options were to put filler at the junction of the roof and the wall or at the top. I decided to do this one at the top. Since this picture was taken the filler has been beveled to match the angle of the roof.

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I'm going to set the houses into a cut out in a piece of 1/4 inch plywood which will be glued to a piece of 3/4 inch plywood. I don't think I'll glue it in there to make storage easier, but I'm not completely settled on that. This is a view of the left side when set into the plywood. I decided I liked the look of the house set at an angle to the edges of the ply.

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And here's the right side.

Now that this is done I need to trim the doors. (With the house set into the base the door is taller than the opening.) Then it's on to accessories - trees, window trim, wooden candy... And sanding. Lots and lots of sanding.

Less than 2 weeks to biscotti weekend.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Gingerbread House Progress

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I had quite a bit of time to work on the gingerbread houses this weekend. The gable ends are complete. The ridge beams have been notched to fit over the gable ends, and one has been beveled to match the roof pitch.

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And here you can see the notch in the bottom edge of one of the roof panel. This will fit over tabs on the sides, which still need to cut. These took quite a bit of effort to cut. I cut out most of the material on the scroll saw. Then I made a 45 degree cut at the edges of the remaining material. Next step was to chisel out a segment to the 45 degree angle. Finally with the table of the scroll saw tilted to 45 degrees, I cut the remainder of the notch. (Note: there are two roof panels stacked together in the picture.)

Still to do - the tabs on the sides, the windows and doors on the sides, and the bevel on the other ridge beam. Once those are done I need to cut some plywood to serve as the yard, and cut trees, and other items to decorate the houses.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Biscotti Weekend Project

Each year for the last 4 I have spent a weekend in early December in New Jersey visiting my nephew D, and his moms. While I entertain the little guy, and my sister is holed up in meetings at work, his Mom is freed up to make biscotti which is then sent out to a variety of friends and family.

The first year I brought tools and gathered supplies at the local big orange store to build storage shelves in their downstairs bathroom as my Christmas present to the adults in the house. Although D was interested in the work I was doing at 2 his biggest concerns were getting away from the noise of the power tools, and that the bathroom door get fixed. I can still hear him saying "fis it, fis it".

In the intervening years I have taken supplies for a project for D and I to work on, although I cannot remember what we did when he was 3. The year he was 4 we put together a serving tray I had made after he painted the bottom of the tray. Last year we filled the center of picture frames with mosaic tiles to create coasters. D pronounced that "the best project ever". We talked a little that weekend about what project we should do this year.

Biscotti weekend is fast approaching. It's less than 3 weeks away. After checking in with D who suggested that we make houses for decoration, or something less clearly defined with tongue depressors and sandpaper, I put on my thinking cap. Finally Wednesday of last week the perfect solution popped into my head.

When I think of Christmas and houses I think of gingerbread. When my little brother was about 3 my mother made a gingerbread house. It was decorated with candy and confectioners sugar frosting. My brother announced that it was "Santa's house". My mother made a gingerbread house each Christmas until he was 10 or so, because we couldn't have Christmas without Santa's house. So, I decided that D and I would make "gingerbread" houses.

We won't be making them out of gingerbread though. Our gingerbread will be wood. I spent Wednesday night working on the design. The basic design is based on a gingerbread house cutter set I bought a few years ago (or as the box says a "Lebkuchenhaus Backset"). I've never actually used the cutters on gingerbread, but they worked really well as the basis for my design. I've changed the windows and added a ridgebeam, but the basic shape and size are those of the cutters.

Here's the house design:
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The other side:
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The gable end you can't see will have the round window but not the rectangular one. I'll make a plywood base with a cut out to set the house into. My goal is to make the house easily stored. The roof will be glued together, but the other pieces will simply fit together puzzle like.

WoodThursday night at class I milled the wood for these parts, including the miters on the roof pieces and the top of the side walls. I chose walnut since it is close to the color of gingerbread. While I waited for my tires to be replaced on Friday I worked on marking out the joinery.

Yesterday I cut the gable ends, and today I made progress on the roof and sides. Tomorrow I'll work on finishing the sides (door and windows) and the roof (bevel on the cut out). Once that's done it's on to the decorations - candy canes, peppermints, trees, maybe a reindeer... The possibilities are endless limited only by time.

About Elf Business

I'm in pre-Christmas present making mode and decided I needed somewhere to blog about it, while still keeping the surprise alive for my family. In our house the code word when one of use is working on something related to presents or other surprises is elf business. This means "don't ask". So this is my spot to document the present making process.

The picture in the header appears on the door of the advent calendar I made my nephew, D, several years ago. It is not an original picture, but is based on a design I found in a craft magazine.