Tuesday 16 November 2010

Tapered sliding dovetail bench

  A bench for Garden for George

Some projects just take years. I was approached 3 years ago about making a bench or benches for a garden in memory of George Harrison. The representative and I went through all my designs and finally, a couple of months ago, settled on a design that came from using tapered sliding dovetail joints in a bowl horse. I had never made such a bench, but was comfortable making the joints for green wood work tools. A great joint that can easily be knocked apart, and which gets tighter and firmer when pressure is applied.
Again it was a short lead time and great fun to make. Just before I confirmed that I would make the bench I had to make a pre-prototype-prototype, which is what I call this little stool.

I learnt a lot about this joint made from sawn and planed timber and it took me a long time to figure out how to mark out the legs. Marking out and cutting the mortice is simple, not so with the tenons on the leg, lots of compound angles that made my head hurt. If anyone knows how to figure out these angles mathematically so they can be transferred to the legs then please let me know.My solution is simple, and I suspect it is a way that many of us actually work things out. I made a mdf angle template, for each side of the joint.

 The dovetail joint has a slope of 1in 6 just like a normal dovetail.
After making the little stool, which I really like, even though it was made with the crappiest bits of wood in my shop. It has a solidity and presence that other stools I have made do not. It also has a price tag equal to its weight, not this one, but a similar one you will commission me to make you ; )

The plank for the bench was in the £300 mark - expensive - so I made a prototype from a 4 inch thick oak plank that had woodworm. I also wanted to get the angles of the legs and back right, before committing myself to the expensive plank of wood.

One problem with making the joints for the bench was that the plank of wood did not fit through my planer thicknesser, so it had to be hand planed. I also kept the dome in the top of the wood, to help shed water, but had to get rid of any wind. I did not have the proper planes, or time, to really square the timber off as I would have liked. So each joint was slightly different, I had to make lots of these templates.

The legs are hand-planed down, and had to have lots of fitting to ensure a tight and even fit. The waste was taken off on my band-saw, rather than using one of my ripsaws.
Click on image to embiggen

The bench is going outside in a public place so I also glued the legs in to help with keeping water and eventually rot out of the legs. Most of this bench is made with hand tools and no sandpaper.

It is a simple but elegant bench that takes quite a bit longer to make than its looks suggest.

oak bench, tapered sliding dovetail joints from Sean Hellman on Vimeo.
They also come flat packed, and simpler than Ikea furniture to assemble, that is if you can lift it!

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Coffin Smoother

Coffin Smoother

My Dad recently gave me a plane of his, a coffin smoother. He is a sculptor mainly working in metal.

I have fallen in love with this old and battered plane and am appreciating its uses and qualities. I am newish to the use of planes, although I have renovated a few metal record planes and old wooden ones. The plank of wood you see in the picture is 4 x 13 inch and 6,1/2 feet long, an inch too wide to fit through my planer thicknesser. Out came the planes, and Dan and I had to take the wind out and level smooth. We both by far preferred the wood planes, they just glided over the wood, light and warm to the touch. This is all very subjective, but these things certainly add to the pleasure of the work in hand.
I have a lot to learn about planes, and I think one of the problems with both these planes is the rather large mouth size. In the larger plane the shavings all bunch up in the throat. I think it is time for an insert to be fitted to reduce the mouth size.

This plank of wood is being made into a bench, the "mortice" joints you see are sliding tapered dovetail joints. The female parts are easy to cut, but the male tenons are not that easy and take a long time to pare down to fit. More about this in a later blog.

Sunday 7 November 2010

A Little Sculpture

Salmon sculpture

Two months ago I was asked by Eden Design to design and carve a sculpture for Stoke Gabriel Community Orchard. Two months is just not long enough and it certainly put me under a lot of strain, but it was reasonably paid, and local.
Any business will have an order book and sometimes I have been booked up for months ahead, so a two month lead time is often not enough. I have another deadline next week, and have taken far too long to supply some smaller orders than is polite. I do not agree with  Douglas Adams: 'I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.' it disturbs me deeply if I miss them.

Anyway this had to be a last minute project that took over two weeks to make and I was uncertain whether I was going to complete in time. Luckily after the first week, I knew it would be completed and would look good, so the strain receded a bit.

I should have bought a carving bar for my chainsaw, something that has been on my list of tools to buy for sometime. A chain saw was not much used in this, and most work was undertaken with axe, carving adze, gouges and three long handled hook knives - the same ones that I finished Nicola`s box with. These knives are fantastic carving tools but I really also needed a long handled knife as well.

The first time I saw the sculpture as it should be was today at the opening of the new play park. I do not have the means to hoist the sculpture upright in my workshop to see it as it would be when erected in place, so it was with great relief to see that it looked even better in situ. I was also used to looking at it close up all the time, and not being able to get any perspective on it. 

Although the work was co-ordinated by Eden Design, a lot of community input went into it as well, especially with some of the fund raising. The play park was opened by the oldest resident of Stoke Gabriel who was born and still lives in the house opposite. The children rushed in as soon as they could and played with the joy and intensity that only children can.

My very talented friend Isabel, one of the other artists involved,
 made this large apple sculpture