Craftsman / Artist
Returning to Jim Sudal‘s pottery gallery in Old Town Scottsdale, we find a fresh line of creation. Pine trees in his signature style, his mastery of line and movement, across bowls. And vases. Candle holders and more! We immediately recall parking the RV beneath towering pines of The Arboretum at Flagstaff. The sight and sound of these towering creatures. As Jim intended. (See The American Road Trip) Thanks for bringing it back, Jim!
His new design was created to adorn a wedding gift to friends marrying in Flagstaff. So, the very pines I imagined were the inspiration for the new motif? Yes! Naturally, everyone wanted a copy. The agaves are not gone, nor pushed aside. Complemented? Naturally!
Micro Woodcarving Tools
Since 1937 U.J. Ramelson of Newark, New Jersey, has been satisfying a niche unassaulted by cheap copies. They make perfectly engineered micro-chisels at a reasonable price. Good steel, reliable handles. East to sharpen, easy to customize.
The prize-winning carved mallard decoy? That amazing dollhouse display in the church basement? Lifelike figurines for your nieces and nephews? Ramelson likely had a hand ~ in giving you a hand.
While most instrument makers may consider a ½” or possibly a ⅜” chisel as small as they’d require, these Ramelsons are made far smaller. My 2.0mm and 3.0mm sets have proven themselves, scraping and shaving me out of a jam, adding just the bit of grace for which customers look.
Romance, Arkansas From the beginning Man has used animal hides to improve his life. The Art of Tanning is developed. Jerkins, leggings, boots, gloves, satchels, and iPhone cases quickly follow. The best of crafters are elusive. These crafters bridge income disparities, turn trade to hobby and back again, set down needle and thread when returning to a previous career or duty. Full-time production shops? Not the same as a one- or two- person operation. When you find a stand-out product, stock up for a lifetime of gift-giving!
A year back we covered the work of Michael Hicks Design, when they created the perfect minimalist wallet. A business card case which accommodates my DL & CC, CIA ident’, and all-hours White House Pass. Very handy bit of stitching, thin as a whisker. Now a year old, hardly broken in at all!
With growing nephews sprouting like summer corn, I figure to start them out right in their early teens, and present another favorite after college. Stack’o’leather, please, Mike!
Ro-Ark Leather obliged and made me eleven different bifold card cases. I chose seven. The fun is just beginning. I’ll get the two boys to choose their favorites in turn. Years down the roads, these adolescent decisions will come back to them as milestone gifts.
More information please. From cross country, a clear polite request. Her gentle Oklahoma accent could not mask underlying confusion. Even Aunt Flo knew I was using my chisel the wrong way. Time to change the conversation!
For several years violins have been coming across the table. In common with many? A misfitted fingerboard. Askew, misshapen, wrongly sized, they were permitted a challenged existence because I lacked tools and knowledge. One day I scraped away a blemish upon the ebony and discovered . . .
Ebony shaves nicely. It scrapes even better. With some lost cause violins on hand, I experimented with the sharpest edge I had, the side of my freshly honed Buck Bros. chisel. After a month of chisel abuse, the tool-sharpening guy was incredulous, cursing in his native manner. I knew it was bad from his furrowed brow, disrespect for his sharpened edges. Enough of my luthiery antics! Doing the unthinkable, I consult an expert. And found the right scraping tool was only a few dollars away.
Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event folks were in town, had the scrapers, allowed me hands-on examination, and provided sacrificial hardwoods – which I reduced to scrapings. They demonstrated sharpening and honing. For less than a Jackson, a pair of Lie-Nielsen scrapers in two gauges, delivered to my door.
We now achieve Top Hat performances, thinning new fingerboards by plane and scraping a smooth correct radius. The fun part? A final scraping of the neck / fingerboard seam. Two woods meeting so closely together, they feel like one. After a bit of love and caressing. From Lie-Nielsen.
When it was time to shave boxwood bushings whisker-close on an 1880s pegbox, advice was sought. Spending other people’s money has never been a problem for my circle of advisors. All manner of chisel manufacturers were recommended. I settled for a couple of used Buck Bros. chisels brought back to lovely health by a pro.
Months later, I learn craftsperson Jayne Henderson had visited a Maine manufacturer recommended by my acquaintances. Even better, a hand tool demonstration at Independence Seaport Museum, Penn’s Landing, will feature these Lie-Nielsen tools. Perfect timing, as we want additional guidance on wood planes and sharpening techniques.
Lie-Nielsen sent their crack team of cabinet makers / salesmen to Philadelphia. Examples, answers, explanations, it flowed with an easy pace. Two items of immediate interest: use of a scraper, and sharpening a hand plane blade.
A scraper is a thin flat piece of steel with a sharply squared edge. One can scrape the thinnest shavings of wood with such a tool. The answer to my use question moved to sharpening the scraper, truing its edge. A crowd quickly gathered as the representative covered the simple technique of producing the correct scraper edge. Guess it was not only me wanting help!
In covering planes I might purchase for general use repairing instruments, it also came back to care of the blade. The Lie-Nielsen honing guide is the nicest piece of sharpening equipment in the business. After the demonstration plane had its blade sharpened, staff was removing hair-thin wisps of ribbon from a block of maple. The wood was left mirror-smooth. Amazing!
Their chisels? $55 buys you the nicest wood chisel in the world. The feel is heavenly, the machining impeccable, and the quality of the metal, unbeatable.
Luxury items or wood shop essentials? Maybe both, but it’s a tool you’ll have the rest of your life. I bought the scrapers. Next big job, a Lie-Nielsen hand plane, a chisel, and sharpening tools are joining the bench!
The ideal violin neck is subjective. It changes as you grow, develop, and mature. Perfect today is old hat tomorrow. The neck itself moves, as does the fingerboard. Not as quickly as our tastes but more like a painting of a slow tortoise.
The fingerboard is shaped with a radius across it’s width. The other direction, parallel with the strings, looks flat. But it is actually curved. String height is so low on a violin that without longitudinal concavity – the fingerboard’s scoop – vibrating strings would buzz against the fingerboard.
When a favored fiddler’s favorite fingerboard appeared beyond flat, clearly convex along its length, it was time to learn the art of the scoop. After chipping up a few natty practice fingerboards, I tried a good one. It was easier. Quality wood shaves more cleanly. “Scraping” of the fingerboard was performed. Seemingly random, together the strokes produced a concave surface to the fingerboard. Nearly flat along the high E edge. Visually pronounced along the low G. Gradations in between. Finally, comparison of the newly scooped violin fingerboard with my Products Engineering Corporation straight edge. Convex no more. Just the right amount of concavity.
After the scraping comes the sanding. Dusty thirsty work with multiple grits of scratch cloth. 220, 320, 400, 600, 800, 1,000. The glossy finish I want? The easy way is to dump sealer over it, a thick polymer coating. But tradition prefers bare wood. We scraped and sanded the old sealer off the fingerboard during the scooping. The reshaped wood now prefers special attention. The musician wants skin-smooth wood under their fingertips. A natural shine is wanted.
Micro Mesh makes it easy. With products developed for fine art restoration, our slat of century-old ebony is no challenge. Working up through the colored grits, the wood begins gleaming at about 6,000 grit. But do we stop? No! All the way to 12,000 grit, buffing like the best Park Avenue manicurist. The wood shines!
We started using Micro Mesh Buffing Sticks a few years back, touching up a bit of mandolin here and there. Then discovered an ebony violin nut can be made to shine. After a few more fingerboard refurbishments, we’re sold on Micro Mesh. Fingerboard sealers we’ll save for fretted instruments. All of our fine stringed instrument fingerboards are going out the door bare wood shining. Sparkling like Eve’s smile ≈≈≈
When it’s time to booze up, we have many choices. Clyde stocks gallons of generic hooch. With adult-proof lid, can rust, and drippy spout, we may buy in desperation or ignorance but regret our choice. Acquire in haste, repent in leisure.
We’re dabbling into the arcane world of spirit varnishes and stains. After the tool sharpening guy from Southern Italy insulted me, it’s likely I’ve transcended the hobbyist. Genuine need for solvent worthy of a professional spurs investigation.
Internet research brings to mind Fido chasing his tail. More opinions than the autumn leaves we crunch across during an evening stroll. To filter flow & clarify consumption, we contact National Finishes Expert Phillip Pritchard and confirm what we suspect. Hunches are backed with facts. Myths dispelled. When it is time to get our Varnish On, there is only one choice. The professional choice. Behkol.
We ask Phillip the advantages of Behlen spirit solvent over 190 proof hooch or hardware store quality denatured alcohol, when working with spirit varnishes. We cannot possibly paraphrase Phillip’s wisdom; an excellent quote you will have! – ATB
190 PROOF HOOCH IS 95% ethanol and 5% water. It is designed for drinking purposes, best enjoyed after applying your finish. Off the shelf denatured alcohol, sold primarily as a cleaning solvent, is a high concentration of ethanol and enough denaturant to prevent human consumption. Alcohol is hydroscopic and naturally draws water from the environment; in a general purpose cleaning solvent it should pose no harm but there’s no telling how much water it contains.
Behlen Behkol Solvent also contains a high concentration of ethanol, but it’s carefully sourced and controlled for minimal water content. The denaturant used is less toxic than other common choices. We add a stabilizing solvent to provide a greater shelf life for your dissolved shellac. All solvents used in Behkol are alcohols and are carefully selected for better shellac compatibility. This does add cost to Behkol Solvent, but it is purposely formulated for use as a shellac solvent, eliminates solvent related issues and provides higher performance when finishing with shellac. – Phillip Pritchard