Thursday, February 24, 2011

I think I finally got it right

The Dove and the Rainbow - rev 4.0
It has taken 4 tries but I believe that I finally have the proportions right for the Dove and the Rainbow.  I had no more than fact, as I think about it, I had not yet finished...the Dove and Rainbow, rev 3.0 (the one with the cloud) when a friend asked me to make yet another Dove and Rainbow as a gift for her sister.

The Dove and the Rainbow - rev 3.0

The Dove and the Rainbow - Rev 2.0

Over the course of making the 4 iterations of this carving, I have continuously made each the rainbows skinner and skinner always looking for the best dove/rainbow size ratio.  I think that now, finally, the rainbow and the dove are properly proportioned. 

Tell me what you think.

One for the Bench:

            You can tell more about a person by what he says about others than
             you can by what others say about him.

'Til next time...keep makin' chips!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Good Ol' No. 119

No. 119
After six years of construction on the Transcontinental Railroad, the trailheads of the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific railroads finally met at Promontory
Summit in the Utah Territory on May 10, 1869. 

To commemorate the completion of this incredible accomplishment, two locomotives, the Union Pacific's westbound "No. 119" and the Central Pacific's eastbound "Jupiter" came together until their cowcatchers were separated by less than the length of a single railroad tie.  Four spikes, two made of  Gold from California, one made of Silver from Nevada and one made of Gold, Silver and Iron from Arizona were driven into the final tie while the message: "Dot...Dot...Dot...Done" was flashed from coast to coast by telegraph.

I understand that my accomplishment here pales in comparison to laying a couple of thousand miles of railroad tracks, but about a year ago, I produced a model of the "Jupiter" for John, my one boss, in honor of his 20th anniversary with our company.  That might sound like an odd subject for an anniversary present, but when your company makes railroad equipment, it actually *does* make sense. 

This week, my other boss, Harry, finally caught up and celebrated his 20th anniversary.  It was only fitting that he should receive a model of the *other* of these two historic locomotives.

Just like the "Jupiter", old "No. 119" was made primarily of Basswood although there are a few odds and ends that I fashioned out of small dowel rods and other wood scraps.  I turned the boiler, smokestack, sand and steam domes, cylinders, bell and wheels on the lathe and then assembled the cab, cowcatcher and drive rods from hand-carved/cut pieces. 

The roof of the cab was covered with a piece of 220 grit sandpaper painted black to simulate rolled roofing.  The track measures 16" long and the case makes the overall length about 2" longer.  I do hope that Harry has room for this relatively large piece in his new house:-)

The two locomotives are "nominally" of the same scale.  Unfortunately, the lack of any drawings and only a few good photos  -- those taken at right angles to the train so I could actually measure things -- made it very difficult to get them to agree in all details.  I did do a much better of getting the gauge of the tracks correct on this locomotive.  The wheel spacing was far too wide on the first locomotive, once again because I couldn't locate any really good photos or drawings to work from.  It looks great from the side but sadly way out of scale when viewed head on.

After it was all said and done, I realized that I had actually built both models "upside-down".  In real life, the locomotives of the day were built from the ground up and as I see now that methodology is preferable for building models, too.  It probably would have forced the design to be more accurate if I had started with a specified rail spacing and built the wheels, frame and body to match.  Getting the rail spacing to exactly match the wheel spacing of an already completed model was much tougher - to say nothing of less forgiving - than it would have been the other way around.

I did get a little smarter this time when it came to the finish.  In my opinion, the "Jupiter" suffered from a serious case of "Model Fuzz".  No matter how well I sanded it, the texture of the wood still showed through the paint.  This time, I used a couple of coats of sanding sealer on the boiler, stack and domes -- sanding between coats with 220-grit sandpaper - prior to painting.   Then when I applied the acrylic paint, it went onto an already smooth, hard surface.  That worked much better! 

I also spray-painted all of the brass items.  The metallic, acrylic brush-on paints (e.g., brass, gold, silver) that I have run across must use actual metal pigments mixed with a vehicle that is very transparent.  They always seem to go on "chunky" and require quite a number of coats for good coverage.  That might work on a big item or something that wasn't supposed to be made from metal but on something this small, it looks really bad.

Another gentleman produced the beautiful, slope-top Plexiglas case and cherry wood base for this train as well as John's last year - Thanks, Ken.

Harry and his Train

One bit of trivia I learned during my research on these two locomotives is that you can tell what type of fuel a steam locomotive uses by the shape of the smoke stack:

The "Funnel" or "Cabbage" stack locomotives (like the "Jupiter") burned wood and needed the huge stack so as not to set the tracks or surrounding forests ablaze as the train passed through.  Apparently, the larger stack allowed for baffles and screens that let the hot gases and smoke escape while any solids, including glowing embers, swirled around and eventually fell down into a chamber for later cleanout.

Coal-burning locomotives had straight stacks that may or may not have had any sort of "ember-trapping" screens.

One from the bench

     He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened.

"Til next time...Keep makin' chips!

Another Commemorative Plaque

Another dedicated and enthusiastic group of mission workers from Beulah Presbyterian Church in Churchill, PA is preparing for another trip to "Katrina-land" to help some of the unfortunate individuals in Mississippi try to put their houses and their lives back together.

Most of us who came through that big storm without so much as a scratch would probably shocked to realize that it has been over 5 years (!) since Katrina hit.  This occurred to me when Jeff, the trip organizer, came to see me a few weeks ago to ask if I would be willing to carve another "housewarming gift" for the group to take along.

Jeff's request was a little different this year.  Previously the gift has always been given to one of the families that they help during that trip, but this year Jeff wanted to show the team's appreciation the church that serves as their "home away from home" for the construction week.  That church is a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church and the carving is a rendering of the church's logo.

Except for the cross which is made from cherry, the plaque is done in basswood. Each piece was fashioned separately and the "let-in" to the round basswood back to give it a relief-carved look.  I turned the crown on the lathe, cut it almost in half and then veeeerrry carefully cut the points into the crown (the points were very thin and cross-grain).  It was the last thing to be "let-in" and needed be shaped to fit over base of the chalice and the pitcher (see the second photo).

The only real problem that I encountered was in the final step of the finishing process.  I sprayed the plaque with polyurethane, but I had to do it in the garage where it was pretty cold (remember, it's February in Pittsburgh!).  Immediately after spraying, I rushed the still dripping plaque into the shop and sat it under a lightbulb to keep it warm while it dried.  After a couple of hours I went to buff it with some #0000 steel wool prior to applying a coat of paste wax.  While the polyurethane felt dry and hard, under the surface it had the consistency of chewing gum.  It grabbed a hold of every single particle of steel wool "dust" and just wouldn't let go.  All I could do was repeatedly wipe down the surface with mineral spirits to remove the stickiness, sand it all smooth again and apply the wax.  As a result the finish is anywhere near as nice as I had hoped for.

Note to self: Give more thought to the idea of adding a nice warm spray booth to the shop!

One for the Bench:
    Those who criticize our generation...or the next...forget who raised it.

'Til next time...keep makin' chips!

Friday, February 4, 2011

I wasn't expecting this one at all

Some time last year I carved the "Water is Life" plaque (left) to commemorate the passing of a woman from a co-worker's church who had devoted her life to raising money to install water wells in Malawi. 
I sort of assumed that it would be hung in their church or given to the woman's family as a memorial.  But I was wrong.  Apparently, this past Lenten Season, my co-worker's church raised enough money to have another well installed in Malawi.  One of the parishioners took the money and the plaque to Malawi and this picture shows the results of their -- and I guess my -- efforts. 

All those happy people kinda made me feel good this morning.  (I'm guessing that the plaque won't stay out there on the pump.)

My co-worker  indicated that his church is planning on raising money for another well during this upcoming Lenten season.  So, if you are interested in helping in that effort, drop me an e-mail and I'll connect  you with him.

That's enough.  I probably don't really need a "One from the Bench" today:-)

'Til next time...keep makin' chips!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Snow Demon Exorcized

I carved the pictured Snowman plate last year.  Loyal readers are aware of the damage inflicted on the Northeast last February (the snowiest February in the history of Pittsburgh) that was *apparently* the result of our leaving it on the wall next to the front door past the end of the Christmas season.

I say "apparently" because when my wife and finally associated his presence with the massive accumulation of snow, we removed him from the wall and the snow stopped almost instantaneously with  very little snow accumulating after that date.....Hmmmm.

Now as an Engineer with 40 years experience I am not given to believing in hochus-pochus, but in this case I have to admit that I can't argue with the empirical data collected thus far.

We hung the rascal again before Christmas without any undue problems.  We figured that the demon probably has some sort of agreement already worked out with Santa Claus to provide snow for the recipients of skis, snowboards and sleds to try them out.  We vowed to take him down the moment the weather turned bad but Christmas came and went and despite the accumulating snow outside, my wife and I ignored his presence.

Then suddenly, late last week, after about the 20th day of snow in a row, we realized that he was still hanging on the wall.  Immediately, we snatched him off and replaced the hand-carved, wall-hanging with our initials that normally hangs there.  The snow, although still falling, has abated considerably.  In fact, the "Groundhog Day" blizzard that devastated the Midwest and Northeast just went right around Pittsburgh leaving us pretty much unscathed.

Coincidence???  Well, I don't know.  We're going to try him one more chance next year and if he isn't on his best behavior, he's staying in the box with the other Christmas decorations from then on.  Maybe they can rehabilitate him:-)

One For the Bench:

     You do not need a parachute to skydive.  But you do need a parachute to skydive twice.  OK...ok...I admit that's pretty lame, but  it makes about as much sense as this posting:-)

'Til next time...  Stay warm and keep makin' chips!