I have just returned from a trip to Savannah, GA where I finished working on a project for a new altar table for Christ Church in Savannah, GA. I have been working with Greg Guenther (www.guentherwoodgroup.com) – take a look at some of his work – it is really top quality custom furniture.
The past 2 weeks have been a real push, and this is the first time I have had a relaxing moment to write a blog post about this work. 2-1/2 weeks ago I went down to Savannah to study the church where we are duplicating some of the designs for an altar table. I got the design down, and took the wood back home with me to work on. Well, another project I was working on (the celtic design in oak) took about twice the time I had expected – simply because it was oak, and I needed to go slow. There was no getting to that point where you could get into production mode – it was just a slow methodical process – making sure the oak does not splinter or run on me. I enjoyed the process, and didn’t really push it, but it started to eat into the time I set aside to do the Savannah job. And in addition to this, I taught at Roy Underhill’s 2 weekends ago.
So, the last week has been non-stop carving – at my shop in Charleston, and then at Greg Guenther’s shop in Savannah. Long days and sore backs… But a real sense of accomplishment. I was able to video the process of the leaf molding, egg and dart (which I only have on video and forgot to take still shots of this), and the corinthian capital process.
The egg and dart, leaf molding and 2 sides of the capital was in poplar. Poplar has just dropped several notches down on my recommended carving woods. I was able to compare both woods – poplar and basswood – and wow what a difference! Poplar is so stringy, spongy, and it is so critical to make sure all tools are razor sharp, or it will just rip the wood apart.
One very interesting thing I adjusted on the carvings is that poplar works much better with vertical stop cuts (where I would normally make a v-cut first). The poplar did not take kindly to v-cuts across the grain. Any issues that came from making stop cuts (such as parts of the wood breaking off – which did not happen because of the sponginess of the wood) were much less than the issues that were created by making a v-cut. Very interesting – I learn something new every day in this job! I think in the history of my carving, I probably have only carved in poplar half a dozen times, and they have always been relatively small jobs.
Now, as for the 2 corinthian capitals, I carved the 4 sides of each capital separately. Then they were glued together. There were 2 short sides, and 2 long sides – with similar leaf work. 2 of these short sides were in poplar and the rest of the 6 sides were in basswood (Greg’s shop was gracious enough to use what basswood they had to glue up a thick carving surface). These were carved in very deep relief. So, yet again, I had to set the v-chisel aside and just make stop cuts around the edges of the leaf. I could have taken a v-chisel and gone around the edges, but it was so deep, and such a tight area, that it would have gotten very awkward to fit the v-chisel in these areas, and I probably would have done more damage trying to fit the chisel in than what the stop cuts did.
There were places where I carved the background down as much as 3/4″. So I just had to be very careful to make those stop cuts along the edge of the leaf only a certain depth (maybe 1/8 to 3/16″), lower the background down, then make the stop cuts again, and lower the background down – until I reached the desired depth. Both the poplar and basswood were pretty forgiving to me in this process. Only a few instances of needing the instant glue. But… working on the poplar, vs the basswood – really made me appreciate basswood so much more. The poplar sides took me twice as long because of the fussing and cleaning and just plain ick that I had to do. I have to say in the history of my carving career I have never been so annoyed with a particular wood (probably why it took so long – it sensed my frustration and was laughing at me). The time pressure probably added to my irritation with the wood.
My husband, Stephen, came with me this time. I recruited him to help me sand the final pieces (yes, I am ashamed to say – sandpaper was required – especially the poplar pieces). Even though I worked every day except last Sunday, while we were in Savannah, I still felt like I had a vacation. We stayed at Greg’s cottage that was built in 1800 (I got the date wrong before) that he rents out to tourists. What a great place to stay. It’s called Laura’s Cottage and I would really recommend trying to stay there if you are in Savannah. We spent the evenings walking around Savannah’s historical district and the waterfront and eating lots of nice meals. So even though I worked sometimes 10 or 11 hours in a day, I still feel as if I had a break.
Now that I have had a day of resting my hands and back and getting caught up on the beurocratic side of my business (taxes, bills, etc), I’m going to get back into the carving slowly, but mainly focus on the school web site.