I thought you might like to see how I spent my Saturday.
As long time readers know, in addition to lathe work I also do custom woodwork on consignment. One of the local Air Force squadrons asked me to build a base for a bear statue which they traditionally give to departing officers. All the services tend to follow similar traditions – going away gifts are usually something unique to the location or the command, usually both. Here in Alaska, military gifts are often engraved gold pans, bear or salmon themed items, or maybe a plaque carved into the shape of the Great Land. For many, Alaska is a unique duty station, gifts are designed to reflect that. Most of us treasure these things for the rest of our lives, they remind us of strange and distant lands, our comrades in arms, and the adventure many of us sought by joining up in the first place.
I’ve done a number of these in the past and shown you the results here. This one was sort of short notice and I thought you might be interested in the process of creation from start to finish.
Basically what I’m making here is a sculpted base for this bear statuette. I don’t make the statuettes, those are cast in resin and hand painted. They’re fairly unique and pricey. I sculpt the bases to mount the statuette on. The base has room for a 2x4” brass plaque and two Air Force challenge coins. I start with a piece of Alaskan birch from my stock log pile. It has some interesting grain and spalting, but it’s a little too large for what I have in mind:
So I cut it in half with the chainsaw, ran it through the planer to get flat and parallel top and bottom faces, and then trimmed it to rough shape on the bandsaw. Now we’ve got something roughly the size and shape of what I want:
Next I mark out the recessed top where the statuette will mount, and mark the location of the plaque and challenge coins:
I hollow out the mounting recess using the drill press and forstner bits, which leave a flat surface at the bottom of the recess. I’ll clean up the recess bottom and edges using hand chisels and a mallet. Those wavy pencil marks show the basic pattern I’ll follow for the sculpting:
I sculpt the base using a variety of powered and hand carving tools, roughing it into the basic shape I want:
Sanding and finishing follow:
Next the recesses for the coins are cut using the Shopsmith in articulated horizontal drill press mode (which is a hell of a lot easier to get right than trying to do it by hand or on the big fixed drill press. All the cracks and checks are filled, the whole piece is given a final sanding and then buffed using a high speed felt wheel to close all the pores and bring the wood to a gloss. Then it’s finished in natural Danish oil:
The oil brings out the natural color and grain of the birch.
The Air Force will mount the plaque in that flat space on the front and they’ll have a unique going away present for the departing officer.
How did you spend your Saturday?
I hope you didn’t waste it.