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Notes from the Net

by F. Pierce Pratt <fppratt@ppco.com>

"Notes from the Net" is a column compiled from a few of the email messages posted to the WoodCarver listserver. In these messages are the tips, hints and other tidbits traded each day between WoodCarver participants. There are so many messages to choose from that it is difficult to select only a few to include in this column. Some editorial changes were necessary, but, for the most part, each message appears as originally posted and attributed to the sender. If you have a favorite post or subject that you would like to appear in this column, please email me directly <fppratt@ppco.com>.



From: T. Norman <tnorman@lightspeed.bc.ca>

I like to make my own mini foam padded sanding discs. I use blue 1/2" foam (like the type used for a camping mattress) or the black foam (like the type used in some mouse pads). I put double-sided tape on the back of sand paper after a spraying of 3M permanent contact glue. When the glue gets tacky, stick the tape on the glued foam. Press the foam sanding pad long enough for the glue to set. Next day, I punch out mini foam sanding pads with different sizes leather punches. Punch them out against a piece of hard wood such as oak. Just peel off the backing of the double-sided tape glued to the pad and stick it on a mandrel. A mandrel can be made from a small nail. I use my little round cutoff saw. The trick to using the pads is to keep them moving, not so fast as to build up heat which can weaken the bond and cause separation.


From: William Aker <mawpaw@citlink.net>

If you have cypress knees that still have the bark on them, they need to be boiled until the bark breaks off easily. You want to avoid stripping a green knee with a knife or sanding it as that will ruin all those beautiful contours, and rambling flowing lines that suggest so many things. Boiled and dry, you should have a piece that is golden brown. Cut into it and you should have golden brown highlighted by a glorious cream color. This needs no stain other than a light protective sealer (perhaps a little walnut stain for depth and detail). Wizards, gnomes, wood spirits/sprites, dragons, trolls, fantasy flowers ... look with your heart and imagination and you will see wondrous things to bring forth for all to see!


From: Rick Jensen <jrjensen@means.net>

Get a small spray bottle and fill it halfway with rubbing alcohol and the rest with good Minnesota lake water (any water will do). When working on a piece of wood that is difficult to carve because of the end grain or hardness of the wood, spray a little of the alcohol and water mix on the wood and let it sit for a minute and then carve away. It works extremely well. The results will surprise you. I've been doing this for several months and have had no ill effects. It may raise the grain a tiny bit but that shouldn't be too much of a problem if your tools are sharp. The only problem I have is that it smells like the doctor's office. Give it a try.


From: Thierry Varem-Sanders <TVarem@NRCan.gc.ca>

Some trees put on very thick bark as they get old. Cottonwood bark in particular can be as much as four inches thick. Removed from an old dead tree, cottonwood bark can be carved easily. It is a great material for beginners because it carves so easily. Usually a bark carving is done as a deep relief, but I have seen in-the-round bark carvings as well. When finished with a varnish, the final bark carving looks a bit like dark walnut with some lighter streaks.


From: Scott Slayden <sslayden@hotmail.com>

I read a tip for transferring patterns in Wood Magazine that works fairly well for me. First photocopy your pattern using a good copier. Then apply lacquer thinner liberally onto the wood surface you are transferring the pattern to. Then place the copy of the pattern face down into the thinner. The lacquer thinner needs to be wet enough to soak the copy. Be sure not to move the pattern around once it is in contact with the thinner, or it will smear. The thinner dissolves the pigment from the copy and transfers it to the wood. Once you have soaked the copy, pull it straight away from the surface. You should have a fairly good pattern to work with. This method works great, is fast, and eliminates the problem of deviations from piece to piece when tracing by hand. The only problem I have with this method is that it makes a mirror image of the pattern because you place the front of the copy face down onto the wood. This hasn't ever been a problem for me, but if it is for you, most copying places have machines that can do a mirror-image copies.


From: Peeter Villoman <VilloArts@aol.com>

I have a variety or scalpels and scrapers which can be finely honed. These seem to do the trick for clean up in all those difficult places. I follow with a brushing using either a soft brass bristle brush or specialty dental abrader. The abrader is sold as a flossing substitute. It consists of bristles set in a conical rubber cup on a handle. These items are available as dental hygienist's cleaning tips. They can be mounted on a small rotary power tool like a Dremel. The rubber tips are hollow and you can glue a small 3M Scotchbrite scruffer into them.


From: Joe Dillett <jdillett@thecarvingshop.com>

Pack the hole or crack with dry saw dust and apply the low viscosity instant glue over the top. Capillary action draws the glue down into the saw dust. The saw dust is enough filler and soft enough to give with the wood through expansion and contraction. I seal around the filled area first because I don't want the instant glue to give a different look to the finish.

A second method is to put yellow glue (Elmer's carpenters wood glue for dark wood) directly into the crack without mixing. Take saw dust from the same wood and sprinkle it over the crack. Then mix the sawdust "putty" in the crack, forcing it in all the voids. Scrape the surface flush with a knife to remove the excess glue so it will not load up sand paper. Sand while the glue is still wet. The loose saw dust from sanding helps blend the patch. Before using this method, I seal or stain the area first so the glue will not seal the area around the crack making the finish look different.


From: Anthony Last <alast@globalserve.net>

There are three types of bleach used with wood.

1) A two-part bleach consisting of sodium hydroxide and hydrogen peroxide. These can be mixed together just before applying to the wood or can be painted on separately.

2) Chlorine (such as household bleach) which removes the dye from the wood, but usually leaves it a yellowish colour.

3) Oxalic acid which removes water stains and rust stains from the wood.


From: Paul Ward <mwardwood@worldnet.att.net>

Using white glue sizing is something I learned from Fred Brunner. It is the first step in finishing a piece that would not need a deep stain or paint. Usually, it's done where you want the wood (mostly basswood) to have the same tone throughout (meaning you don't want the end grain darker than the face grain). The glue is thinned slightly with water to help it brush on easily.

The second step is to varnish. I use a totally flat varnish, with absolutely no shine no matter how many coats are applied.

Third step is to use a glaze that is brushed on and wiped off. The effect is an almost clear finish. It gives a good skin appearance when the sizing is applied once. Two or three coats of sizing, with sanding in between, will whiten the wood a bit more.


From: Ivan Whillock <whillstu@means.net>

To use hide glue as a sealer, mix the hide glue according to package directions, usually a tablespoon and a half to a cup of water. Before using it, heat it to about 140 degrees. Brush it on full strength. If it clots up on the wood, thin it with water. This seals the wood so the colors don't soak in at the end grain. When you paint with water color, avoid scrubbing it after you have laid the color on. Water color does not have a binder as acrylic does so you can move it around and rub it off. Another sealer that works well for water color is thinned shellac, 50-50 with alcohol. It takes water color without beading up. Some European carvers like to stain their linden carvings before adding the water color to avoid that "raw wood" look through the colors. Just a tinting makes a difference. That is usually done with a dye, not a pigment.

For the oil paint/lacquer technique, thin the lacquer about 50. Apply it with a brush, especially soaking the end grain. When dry, apply oil paints like a stain, thinly over the surface. The point is to let the wood show through. Use a bit of paint thinner and/or paint medium to make the paint workable. Some oil paint colors are slow to dry. You can accelerate their drying by spraying a coat of lacquer over the oil paint. I learned this technique years ago and have had no peeling or bubbling in anything I've painted this way. I saw this technique used in Italy, so I'm pretty confident that it lasts.


From: Jo Craemer <JO_CRAEMER@prodigy.net>

What I do is to buy a can of lacquer (sometimes hard to find). Mix the lacquer with lacquer thinner (which everyone carries, go figure!). You want about 2/3 lacquer to 1/3 lacquer thinner.

I try to find a container big enough to completely submerge my carving, or if necessary, at least half of it.

First brush off any dirt or sawdust. I use a blast of compressed air. Then submerge the carving in the thinned lacquer. Hold it under for 30 or 40 seconds, or until the bubbles stop or slow down. You want the wood to absorb as much as it can. Tupelo and basswood suck it up like a sponge.

When you remove the carving from the lacquer, be ready to quickly and gently BLOT the surface with some WHITE paper towels (not colored ones, the dye will bleed). Bounty's the most absorbent brand. Don't rub or you'll get paper fibers stuck to the piece. What you want to do is blot up any excess lacquer from the surface. When you first remove the carving from the lacquer, it'll look like it's got a thick shiny coating. But if you watch, it will continue to soak in. It works quickly and dries fast.

Liquid lacquer is best. But if you're unable to find lacquer by the can, you can also use spray Deft Lacquer (preferably the matte finish, not gloss finish). The principle of soaking the wood deeply still applies. Hold the carving over a big garbage can and spray continuously, letting the excess drip off. You want to saturate the surface until it's absorbed a lot of the lacquer. A quick mist followed by second and third coats will not work (the first coat, if it dries, will keep subsequent coats from sinking in). Saturate that hummer! Then blot with paper towels.

Let it dry at LEAST overnight. It should feel room temperature to the touch. If it feels cool, it's still evaporating solvent. Try this on some scrap wood before you commit a finished carving to the depths.


From: Trevor Halford <920823@ican.net>

I use the Aztek double action airbrush. This tool has one major advantage over all other double action airbrushes in that the needle and nozzle are a one piece assembly ( stainless needle and injection molded nozzle). When you clean it, you don't have to take it apart. Just blow solvent through and you re done. The Aztek comes with three nozzle assemblies, one being a spatter nozzle ( very useful for painting fish carvings ), and they are inexpensive.

A further note: Windex will clean acrylic paint out of your airbrush. It's the ammonia that does the job.

From: Jerry Polan <JRPolan@aol.com>

When mixing acrylics to the right consistency for an air brush, use airbrush medium to thin your paints. Using water breaks down the binders in the paint and they may rub off when dry. Airbrush medium is a pure polymer emulsion that creates the binders yet allows the necessary consistency to flow evenly from your airbrush.


From: Laurie Lundell Gmyrek <artistry@rea-alp.com>

Les writes: Ever mixed too much paint and hated to throw it away? The glass tubes that cigars come in make great storage containers, they're transparent and allow you to see what color is inside. Really great for those of us who use airbrushes.

That is a good idea! I use the sample bottles from the hotels that originally contained things like shampoo, lotion, and hair conditioner.

I don't smoke cigars, but test tubes would also be a good substitute as they have rubber stoppers.

When I am hand painting with acrylics, I use white plastic plates. Not Styrofoam, which are bad for the environment. If I haven't finished my work, but want to save the paint, so I won't have to try and match then next day, I will put some water in the plate and set another plate on top with a weight to seal. This works great too!

When I am hand painting in oils, I have found that a clear pie plate works great. I just cover the plate with Saran Wrap. It remains clean and ready for use even months down the line. I have even packed my palette in my suitcase this way so that I could bring it with me for demos or painting on the road.

From: Authur Harpool <HARPOOLPDX@aol.com>

I use clear test tubes with rubber stoppers to store extra paint. I also use them to store small parts and extra Exacto knife blades. I keep the test tubes in blocks of wood with holes drilled for them to fit in.

From: Tom Norman <tnorman@lightspeed.bc.ca>

For a pallet, I use the caps from plastic milk jugs and make up a holder simply by drilling holes in a piece of wood to pop them in and out. Styrofoam egg cartons also make good paint pallets. I also use the clear plastic film containers for storing special mixes/blends of paint for airbrush work.


From: Robin Edward Trudel <rtrudel@yahoo.com>

When I started carving I finished everything in polyurethane and subsequently had trouble removing the poly splashed onto my skin. I found that Avon's Skin so Soft (SSS) product will remove all traces of polyurethane. In fact it worked so well that I usually finished carvings by DIPPING MY HANDS INTO the polyurethane and RUBBING IT right into the wood. My hands would be covered with poly and with a liberal application of SSS and some paper towels I could remove the poly from my skin. If you use poly, stock up on SSS.


From: Joe Dillett <jdillett@thecarvingshop.com>

At one art show I didn't have enough inventory to fill my space so I varnished some leaves and put them all around the few carvings I did have. It made my booth seem full. I lucked out because it was fall and the colors were brilliant.

I dipped the leaves in urethane varnish and hung them to dry. They curled, so I uncurled them and dipped them again. After the third dipping they maintained their natural shape.

Throughout the show people wanted to buy the leaves and use them for center pieces on their Thanksgiving table. I finally broke down on the last show day and sold then for a nickel a piece. I also told them that the color wouldn't last much past Thanksgiving.

The leaves helped me sell the carvings. The blend was great and people were drawn into the booth.

Thank you, Pierce Pratt

email: fppratt@ppco.com,
(918) 661-9703,
fax (918) 661-0243

slowmail: F.P. Pratt,
1290G Plaza Office Bldg.,
Bartlesville, OK 74004