Wednesday, March 16, 2011

It's Always Sunny in Brooklyn. (Part 3)

Shape and bake.

If time flies when you are having fun, then the surface of space-time must be folding like origami when you are shaping the wood. During this phase of the handle-making process, I lost track of any sense of time, and as a result forgot to snap photos of the entire process. Sorry.

On the other hand, that means that this installment of handle-heavern will be relatively brief (compared to my previous build-blah-blab-fests). I should add, handle shaping is a territory that is well described on the internets and you can find many excellent tutorials from many great sources such as:

…to name a few. In addition, these pages are packed billions of links to all kinds of other information like old patterns, sharpening, use, philosophy, blah blah. All good stuff!

Alright, so lets get started by heading over to the drill press. The shaping process starts by defining an outline of the profile of the handle with all edges square to the faces of the blank. The drill press makes quick and clean work shaping the various inside circular curves of this shape. Also, the holes on the inside handle loop will allow me to get a bow or coping saw blade in there to cut that profile.

Next, I take a trip to the bandsaw which I’ve set up with a very narrow ¼” fine blade to shape the outside profile. Making smooth transition is made SOOOOO much easier by the presence of previously drilled holes. Although, the bandsaw cuts fairly smoothly, I stay at least 1/16 outside of my layout lines as I feel I have more control with rasps and files.

The only remaining area to be roughed out is the handle look, where I use a bow saw whose blade can be inserted through the drilled holes. At this point you’ll notice that I am holding the workpiece with a simple handscrew clamped into my face vise. This is a fantastic way of holding the piece that allows you ample access to the various parts and can be reconfigured with a great degree of freedom. This simple solution has kept my lust of a proper patternmaker’s vise at bay for the time being… hahaha

After all the surfaces have been roughed out I use a straight mill file and a spindle sander to quickly smooth and fair all of the edges. At this point I go ahead remove the paper patter with a couple of swipes of with a smoothing plane and dress up both faces for the forthcoming freehand filing fiesta to follow.

At this point simply use my finger as a guide and pencil in some references lines on both sides. For the areas where there are simple roundovers like the top and the horns I mark a single line roughly 3/32” in from the outside edge. For the more shapely areas like the actual tote I mark two lines the first approx ¼” in and the next ½”ish. I use my Peace saw to gauge some of the transitions, but after the initial shaping I will be using my own hand to guide the removal of material. All other transition will be aesthetic choices that I’ll make on the fly. OK so here is one of those moments where, in future handles I would probably opt for the initial shaping to be done with some round over router bits, simply to save time on the more regular shaping. Since I am only making one handle (for now) it’s no big deal. Regardless or router or rasp the shaping transitions and the fine details are what set beautiful handles apart from mass produced blister-makers, I’m for anything that speeds the process and gets to you the fun (more difficult) parts.
The shaping itself, happens with a smattering of rasps and file. I find the curved side of shorter “modeller’s rasps" are great for shaping the inside curves and the flat sides of "cabinetmaker’s rasps" and a smooth-cut mill files are great for the outside curves. The shaping of the inside of the handle loop is by far the most awkward area to shape. It’s a cramped space where shaping the transition from face to edge is made very difficult without stabbing the opposite side of the loop. However there is a secret weapon to aid in this process and that is a “handle-maker’s rasp”. You might be able to make it out in the background of one of the images above (it’s subtle).
The most difficult feature for me to visualize (layout) was the lamb’s tongue. This is because the two curved surfaces not only come together, but they also overlap at over the area of contact. It’s also made tricky because you are shaping two surfaces at once and if you focus too much on one surface you will end up butchering the other. A “correct” tongue seems to me one in which the two elements join without disruption of the overall shaping of the individual curves. At least that’s what I think looks good, but whatever floats your boat- it’s a aesthetic choice.

I shaped the tongue first drawing in the interface between the two surfaces and using a marking knife to stake in the line. Next I a long and narrow rasp to define the two curves. I rolled the flat surface of the rasp as a cut and gradually the feature emerged from the wood. The last step was to finish shaping the profile of the cheeks as they entered the tongue and blend as necessary. The last small adjustments were made with fine sandpaper (always) rapped around hard shopmade sanding blocks. It’s really important to use sanding blocks to do final blending. It would be a damn shame to ruin all of your crisp handwork by sandblasting all your edges into indistinct-oblivion.

Satisfied with the overall shaping, it’s finishing time. Went back and forth about how I was going to finish this handle. Lots of people just use several applications of boiled linseed covered with wax and call it a day. However, I have heard of BLO contributing to the growth of mold over time and have always been a fan of tung oil (and tung/varnish blends). I decided to finish the handle in two stages. In the first stage I would soak the handle in tung oil cut with a little bit of turpentine (for drying). After the oil hand  week to dry and harden, I would add some sort of film finish (shellac) with some light sanding to fill the open pores of the walnut. Above is a picture of the handle in the tung mix and below is the handle after drying for about 18 hours. As you can see the color and the grain of this walnut are really blowing up here. It’s going to be a looker! 

As we end part three of our story, we conclude last week's two-day handle extravaganza and converge to the present state of the re-build. In part four, we’ll be looking at cleaning the rusty sawplate, assembling all of the parts, and sharpening up this sucker. We'll meet again sometime soon in the near future (thursday?)to with the conclusion of how billy(burg) met phil(adelphia) (and how they mated).

Hold on to your pants… your saw pants.

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