Sunday, April 18, 2010

Saturday In the Wood Shop

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.


  1. Spent some of Saturday at a wedding and the rest of it at a reception at NWSC Norco.

    Cathy = girl not my wife

  2. Nice! Man, that grain is awesome. Reminds me of a certain bowl...

    Spent today gathering bits and pieces for some future projects, scratching my stitches, cleaning up the yard a bit, and catching up on just stuff. Looking back - pretty productive. Tomorrow it'll be a bike ride, a little more shop time, bottoming some bowls and starting two new walnut go cups - one with pistol grip type checkering for a retired Trooper/SPO and one for a workmate who just wanted one.

  3. It's the weekend after a fantastic tropical holiday so we moved furniture and took junk to the garage for assessment - that is dump or donate

  4. In a word, "wasted."

    In lots of words, some Half Life 2, shopping for new 600 TC sheets (aaaaaah), and dinner at a little Mexican joing (carne asada, beans, rice, guac, pico, yummm!), and watching the Red Sux.

  5. Beautiful work.

    The husband took the kids to camp. I took a long shower without interruption. Followed by toner and moisturizer and stuff I used to use before frazzled mom became my "look". I followed this with cups of overly strong coffee, sipped in a comfie chair without a whine, a whisper or a Wii in the background. The rest of the day continued like this and culminated in a Dove chocolate coconut smoothie made with Kahlua instead of milk.

    Thanks for asking:D

  6. Demolition of a kitchen. Ripping and scraping and hammering Whoo Hoo!

  7. Pretty!

    Though I find the bear head kinda disturbing. (shrug)

    I spent the day cleaning and organizing the house. Michael went to Akron for the day to visit his Grandmother, so I was trapped in the house.

    Sadly, I never did get around to cleaning the kitchen floor. Which is disgusting.

  8. Mostly spent Saturday recovering from walking all over the outdoor art festival I went to Friday night.

    Plus some minor spring cleaning.

    Sunday afternoon is a going away party for an elderly friend who is leaving Atlanta for Texas to move in with family. He'll be greatly missed.

    curly = looling for Larry & Moe

  9. That's beautiful work!

    I spent the day doing some work, talking with a couple of friends, sleep, and much Dr. Who. A good day.

  10. The base is truly nice work.

    Though 'bear' looks entirely too much like a wolf with round ears and the mane of a lion.

  11. :::face palm:::

    Anonymous, you are nothing if not predictable, "It's nice, however...."

  12. I spent yesterday at my grandmother's 90th birthday party.

    I spent most of the time outside getting a sunburn on my scalp and avoiding the crowd of self congratulatory relatives, may of whom come around less than once a decade unless they have something to show off.

    I envy Tom his Saturday. Though i did at least get to hang with Grandma away from the crowd today.

    Beautiful work n the shop Jim, were the mounted coins placeholders for the intended recipient to place his own? Or are those the actual challenge coins?

  13. Those are the actual coins. They are both the same coin actually, the Air Force generic coin, one mounted front, one mounted back.

  14. Wow. That's awesome.

    Spent my Saturday buying a car and seeing movies. Not wasted at all, I'd say.

  15. Heh, Saturday was so long ago that I had to consult my notes. That was the day I wrote and submitted two ecology articles. Productive, but nothing exciting to write about (ironically. Also literally, because I also wrote out the detailed process of writing that I use in a blog post, and trust me, it's boring. ;) )

  16. Hello,

    I just read through one of your wood turning pages and thought about one of my latest purchases. fanch-Schmancy DrumSticks.

    These guys are making them and I think they can be improved upon.


    Better grip. Slightly longer and what not.

    maybe add some of that magic stuff you created to make pens.

    Anyway. I like you site.

    Juat a thought.

    -Cole Alanson


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