The Woodwork Geek

Programmer by day, at night I become…The Woodwork Geek!

How to clean up the wood pile

I’d imagine it’s the same for most if not all woodworkers. You buy wood, are given wood or the wood you already had somehow breeds and you end up with piles of it in every corner of the workshop. You cut it up and use it and all that seems to do is create more of it until it eventually takes over every surface and stops you working.

I’ve been trying to get my wood pile under control these past few weeks, and have been doing pretty well. Here’s a few bits of advice I’ve come up with as I worked through it.

1) Stop bringing in new wood immediately. The only way to start to get it under control is to stop the problem getting any worse

2) Discard anything that is beyond your power to use – anything too thick to cut or hard to work with the tools you have access to. If it’s good, try and sell it online but if it’s still there in a week or two get rid of it anyway. There’s often web sites where you can list it for free if all else fails, or if it’s good quality contact your local wood group and see if they want it.

3) Allocate wood to a specific project and cut parts. This helps you work out what you are going to use everything for and makes storage a lot easier. For example, I had a lot of short thin stock, so I cut out 30 spoon blanks out of scrap.


Then I went through and cut a pile of parts for ‘easy’ projects – Breadboards, Guitar picks, Drawer parts, Tool racks & Bowls. Masking tape and a permanent marker make it easy to label things and helps remind you what you’d planned for each piece of wood you’re keeping. It also impressed any visitors who happen to see it as they think you’re far more organised than you really are!


4) Sort small scraps

Start by putting everything out onto a flat surface. It will look like a huge mess but this way you can see everything you have


Sort it into types of wood. if you dont know or only have small amounts, into size will do


If you’ve found anything that can be bundled do so and put into the project area. Anything you can’t immediately allocate to a project should be bundled with the other piees of the same species or size. This keeps them from falling over on the shelf and lets you label them neatly for later use.



This is what this corner looked like when finished. Any semi finished projects are on the top shelf, parts labelled with species and planned use on the rest. It means that I can walk in, pick up parts for a project and make progress on them without wasting time thinking about what to do while in the workshop. It also helps when you only have a few minutes of time spare – I’ve finished 4 spoons just potting for 10 minutes at a time because once cut out I can just pick up a carving knife and shape a blank. If I’d had to get out the jigsaw and cut each blank every time I wouldn’t have even started on one of them.


The shelving unit holds the majority of what remains of my wood stock, there’s still a little bit of big stuff in the other corner to be dealt with – sheet goods and longer stock that I haven’t cut down yet, but it’s stacked neatly and the longer stock is in a bucket to keep it neat. It’s had the same process applied – labelled with the intended use and species, and so I know exactly what is available when needed.



I hope these tips give you some inspiration for dealing with your own wood pile.

Making small carving tools from scrap

I’ve been working on a relief carving of a freehand Tudor rose in Jelutong in recent weeks after going to a local woodcarvers meeting and being guided towards it as a practice piece.

I used their tools for the initial stages and planned to finish it with my own but when I got home I found I didn’t have anything small enough for the detail work inside the petals.

I’d read a couple of carving books where they talked about making your own small tools so decided to have a go. I’d read Mike Burton’s “Make Your Own Woodwork Tools” a number of times and he’d mentioned that street sweep bristles make good small tools. I work near a street that happens to be cleaned by a street sweeper so have picked up a decent collection of bristles over time but up until now haven’t had a use for them. I took one from my pile, gave it a quick going over with sandpaper to clean the rust off it and snapped it in half by bending it back on itself and then straightening it again until it broke.


I decided it would be easiest to shape the profile before I put them into handles so did that with a small file. The one on the right already had the shape of a skew so all I did was sharpen it a bit. The other had a small gouge shape filed into it and the outside shaped to match.



The next step was to make handles and as I had some dowel kicking around in a corner of the workshop that I’d salvaged from a wooden clothes airer it seemed fitting that I should use recycled wood to go with the recycled blades. I cut them to 11cm long which seemed about right for the blade after acouting for the bit that would be in the handle, and drilled them with my hand drill. If you want to mark the center of a dowel you can either use one of those plastic center finders, eyeball it and fix it when shaping or use a combination square and draw two lines at right angles to each other. I used the center finder since I had one handy.


The next step was fitting the blades to the handles. I used a glue called weldbond to do this and just put some in the hole and some on the blade before fitting them together. I’ve found it bonds wood and metal pretty well which is good because that’s what it claims to do!. Then I clamped the blade into the vice and tapped the handle a few times with a hammer to set the blade properly.



The next step was to shape the handle. My wife gave me a Pfeil carving knife last birthday and I’ve found that it really opened up my ability to shape wood. A few quick strokes and the handle had started to take shape



A few more strokes and a little sandpaper and it had really taken shape


All that was left was to give it a coat of beeswax to seal it and keep my hands from making it dirty and I had a finished carving tool. I did the other one the same way.



I put it to the test on the tudor rose carving with great results. It has a bit of flex in it but that can be an advantage when trying to make certain cuts and the recycled steel takes and holds a very good edge. I’m just glad I have a stockpile of it now in case anyone else decides to have a go making some tools of their own and it gets harder to find!

One final picture shows it in use, and you can see the find clean shavings it takes. I’m very happy with the result for both this gouge and the skew and may make more if I find a need for different shapes later on.



A visit to Timbertown

My wife and I recently spent a few days away in Port Macquarie on the northern coast of NSW. Most of the holiday was spent relaxing but we couldn’t be in the area and not take a trip to Timbertown, a recreation sawmill town in Wachope about 30m drive from where we were staying.


The first thing you see when you walk in is a huge wooden water wheel, restored by the Hastings woodworkers guild who have their clubhouse in the village.


There’s a few little galleries and recreations of things like a school, fire station and barber but the main attraction is the steam powered sawmill.


It’s amazing to me how they managed to move and cut such huge trees down to size. Here you can see them cutting a log into slices


The sign below reads “(2) Frame Saw. This vertical Frame Saw, carrying four blades, is used for breaking down the log into flitches. The frame is driven off the main shaft by a flat belt running on the drive pulley. The saw is disengaged by lowering the belt onto the loose pulley. The saw does 90-100 strokes per minute and the log moves through at a rate of 8-23 inches per minute, depending on the logs size”. For those like me who hadn’t heard the term ‘flitches’ before a quick google search describes them as “slabs of wood cut from a tree”.


That’s pretty amazing. That is a massive log and I haven’t seen too much electrical equipment that could handle that sort of workload. As a guide to size, that log was about a metre across.

There’s also the equivalent of a table saw, with a very large spinning blade that is used to break the flitches into boards. It’s all driven off the same engine from what I can see and is controlled by belts and levels. This blade would have been 60+ cm across.


There’s also a cutoff saw set in a bench where the boards are cut to length after being ripped to size. The blade is again huge and there’s nothing like a guard on it, just a handle to pull it across the wood being cut.


This is one of the blades from the table saw, and the machine used to sharpen it. It’s way too large to do by hand so the tool holds it and the spinning disc is moved onto the blade


There’s a little workshop downstairs, with a hand cranked drill press


and a large grinding wheel


The entire mill was great to see, it’s both very similar and very different to how we do things on a small scale in our own shops. Just make sure you don’t get chased by the bullocks on the way there!

Carving a Shallow Bowl (Part 3)

I haven’t had time to post this until now, but here’s a couple of shots of the bowl I carved last post after it’s had 3-4 coats of beeswax and been polished up.

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Carving a shallow bowl (Part 2)

When I last had time to post, we were looking at how I’d carved a shallow dish. I’d roughed out the shape and sanded, but decided to make the bowl a bit deeper before continuing. Sometimes I like to work on something, put it away and let time guide me on how it should look and time was telling me to make the bowl deeper!



Then I smoothed the bowl using a card scraper, then sanded to 1200 grit with wet and dry sandpaper.


and the back was done the same way. The original wood used had a bad stain on it and I didn’t sand deep enough to remove it totally but it adds character so I left it this way.


Then I finished it with stain mixed into linseed oil


Here’s the finished result. I gave it three coats of beeswax later on but I’ll have to find the picture of that for a later post



Carving a shallow bowl (part 1)

I’ve had some meranti sitting in a corner of my garage for about 3 years, since I pulled apart my original plane till. This particular wood has a lot of meaning for me, it was originally part of a set of bunk beds my Dad made for me when I was a kid so I’d been saving it for something special.

I decided I wanted to make a shallow bowl and it would be perfect for it so selected a length that had good grain. It had been badly stained when it was part of the plane till but that could be fixed.


I worked out the size I wanted and used a small plate to mark rounded ends


Using a coping saw, I cut one end to shape


then the other. Not the neatest cut in the world so I went back and fixed it


Then it was time to start hollowing out the bowl. I’d been given a carver’s spoon for my recent birthday, which is a concave plane, so used it to start removing the middle out of the bowl shape


After I’d done that half, I turned it around and did the rest. The carver’s spoon makes very quick work of this process, and once you’ve used it for a while you learn how to take either deep or shallow cuts to get just the shape you want.


The next step was to start shaping the outside, so I turned it over and have a look at it to get a feel for what I wanted to do


Using the same tool, I started shaping the outside. You wouldn’t think a tool designed for the inside of a bowl would work so well on the outside but it does. I could have used a plane here but since I already had this tool in my hand I used it and was very pleased with the results. First one side was shaped


Then the other side.


Then I started shaping the ends


Then it was time to start refining the shape now that I had it sort of where I wanted it, so I started taking less aggressive cuts with the carver’s spoon to to get the bowl to a smoother shape.


Then I started smoothing it out with rasps, card scrapers and gave it a light sand, top


and bottom


To give you an idea of how long this was taking, I was at this point in around an hour from the time I picked up the original bit of timber to use. By this point it was late on a Sunday evening and the light was getting low, so I stopped for the day with plans to finish it the next weekend.

I did take the time to admire the pile of shavings on the workbench though, for some reason they always make me smile!


Tool Review : Faithful Gouges

I’ve been getting into carving in recent months, as you can see from my recent posts on spoon and guitar pick making, so I asked my wife for a few extra tools for my birthday to help me with my future projects.

First up on my wish list was a gouge for roughing out a bowl shape, and one for cleaning up the insides of spoon bowls. I have a few smaller gouges already but nothing that would take the abuse of turning a chunk of hardwood into something resembling a bowl, and no specialised gouges at all.

I did my research and basically it came down to either a few cheap gouges so I could see if I liked them or one expensive Pfeil one. I wasn’t convinced I’d use them enough to justify $70 on a single tool and I’d had a really great experience with a faithful brand skew chisel, which is much better that it’s price would indicate so that along with a recommendation from another blog set me in that direction.

My lovely wife ended up suprising me with three gouges. A 1″ straight, a 1/4″ spoon bent and a 1/4 Bowl gouge.





For the price, which is about $14 each, these are pretty well made. The handles are walnut, turned consistently and finished quite well, though there’s a little runoff into the grooves and they could do with the finish being rubbed out to be really good.


The steel ferrule isn’t overly heavy duty but it’s no worse than that on some vintage gouges. It looks like brass here but it isn’t.


The actual blade, which is the part that matters, is actually really good. I know from the skew chisel that it holds an edge well, and these three seem no different. The tool shape is good and it’s like someone who actually carves may have been involved in the design rather than them just working off a picture.

Being a cheap tool there’s no effort to polish the machine marks off the steel, even on the bevel, but it wasn’t much work to do so myself. The factory edge wasn’t great but again, it wasn’t hard to get it the way I wanted it. It’s a little too steep for my liking but works.


I’ve had them since August and held off on writing about them until now to make sure first impressions were correct and they were.

I’ve only been touching up the edge with a strop even after quite a lot of use. So far what I’m finding is that they are comfortable to use, hold an edge well and the handles will stand up to being hit with a carving mallet without issue – even though my carving mallet happens to be made of spotted gum. I’d happily buy more of these if needed.


Making Guitar Picks

One of my other hobbies is playing guitar. I’ve actually done a few restorations over the years and quite enjoyed it.

I’ve been experimenting with my tone and decided to try making a some picks out of different materials to see how they turned out. I had a bunch of different bits of hardwood around that I thought would make good picks so cut different width slices off a few to try out.

The top left piece I think is Karri, the bits on the right are some form of maple and the bottom left piece is some sort of Aussie hardwood that I know is as hard as a rock. You’ll notice everything is cut off engrain, it was the only way I could easily get the slices the size I wanted. I also thought that the endgrain edge hitting the strings might be stronger and hold up better and so far it’s proving to be the case.



I decided to try the unknown hardwood first as it’s the nicer wood and it’s also heavy as anything.



I used an existing pick to mark up the shape I wanted, using a white pencil. It’s a very handy thing to have around the workshop for marking dark wood.


I put it into a vice and clamped it lightly, then started using a coping saw to cut out the shape. It turns out that the wood was incredibly brittle and basically shattered. I thought maybe it was just too thin so I cut a thicker piece and tried again with the same result.



I gave up on this wood and tried a bit of the maple. I decided to cut it differently, using a tenon saw to cut the basic shape instead of using the coping saw and risking breaking these too




I used a combination of rasps and sandpaper to get it to the right basic shape.



I then shaped the curves until I was happy with the result and it felt right in my hands.


Once it was done I was really happy with the result so made a couple more, one more in maple in a different shape and one out of the redgum. I also branches out a bit into metalwork and made one out of copper and one out of aluminium.


In use, the middle one of maple feels great and brings out a really big, beefy tone. You can get really good attack on the note. The thickness tapers down to a fairly thin point though so you can also do fine work.

The far right one out of maple is a little too thick, it works fine but it’s also a little short to grip well. It does however work well on Bass guitar strings.

The one second from left is decent, but it doesn’t flex enough and so doesn’t have quite the attack or feel of the middle one.

The aluminium one is odd. It feels fine, but it basically deadens the strings. You get a very flat attack and no resonance, which is very odd. It does work well with certain effects though. The biggest problem is that it is very soft and leaves a residue on the strings.

The copper one on the left was the real surprise. It was hammered out of a smaller piece of copper and so is thicker at the grip end than the tip, and the hammer marks add terrific grip. The tone it brings out is bright and clean, but because of the thickness tape it’s also possible to really dig into the strings


Making a Jarrah Breadboard

Earlier in the year I had the chance to use a powered jointer at the local woodwork club so I cut up a bunch of hardwood stock I had sitting around into breadboard sized lengths and used the machine to get the edges ready. The one shown in this post is Jarrah and was originally a decking board.

I used biscuits to join them, and this is where I have photos from. In the first image the board has been glued up but not sanded and is very rough. You can also see the glue spillout in the joints.



I cleaned up the joints with a card scraper, then I used a combination of my scrub plane, jointer plane and a belt sander to make sure everything was nice and flat. I then sanded it to 1200 grit manually. I also rounded the edges with a block plane at this point.


I gave it three coats of canola oil, which is food safe since it’s a cooking oil, buffing each coat in with a cloth.


Finally, here it is with the first loaf of bread on it ready to be cut. It’s been in use nearly 6 months now and is holding up really well. Jarrah is a tough wood so barely scratches when the knife touches it, and it’s held up nice and flat even without breadboard ends being used.


A shelf for parts bins

I’ve been making a concerted effort to make my workshop as tidy as possible and to keep it that way. A huge part of that has focused on getting rid of tools and wood that I have no use for, but I’ve also been trying to add storage where possible.

I already had a shelf under the saw till, but it was too narrow for the parts bins I wanted to put there, so I edge glued another scrap to the front, rounded the corners to make it look neat and added a couple of support pieces underneath for added support.


Once the clamps came off I gave it a light sanding. It will need a coat of linseed oil to match the old part, but that can come later. I tend to build first, finish later!


Here you can see the parts bins in place. I originally had about 40 of these full of ju…tool related items, but I’ve managed to clean those out. I did need a few though for thinks that wouldn’t store nicely elsewhere like sanding blocks.

Total project cost was three bits of scrap, some glue and about 20 minutes work.


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