Monday, August 04, 2008

Carving Facial Expressions Book

Carving Facial Expressions Book
Here is a short book covering the details of carving the human face, showing a range of emotions. Though only 64 pages long, it includes details on the muscles of the face and some step-by-step examples of carvings. There are also reference photographs to serve as the basis for your own carvings. The author's obvious skill is enviable.

At about $10 USD new, I think you might want to consider getting the book Carving Facial Expressions.

For those more interested in carving caricatures, check out Dave Stetson' book Caricature Carving from Head to Toe and Pete LeClair's book Carving Caricature Head & Faces.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Aging an Authentic Working Wood Catapult Kit

This is the second in a two part series reviewing the working wood catapult model made by Pathfinders. In the the first part, I reviewed the the kit and gave you some assembly tips. In this part, I'll tell you how I went about making the catapult look like it truly belongs on a medieval battlefield.

What is the Kit and Where Do You Get It?
The catapult kit is sold by by the name of "Wooden War Engine Kits". offers more than one model; this article refers to the one advertised as "Catapult Kit". It sells for $19.99.

Getting Ready to Get Old
Once the kit is assembled, you should have a bit of fun testing it out. I recommend throwing small grapes at a pyramid of empty aluminum cans. If you would like to make your catapult look old, read on. For this process, I used the following tools and materials:

* Carving knife
* Small wire brush
* Furniture finish touch-up markers
* Coarse twine
* Elmer's glue
* Sandpaper - 100 grit
* Minwax wood stain - Early American
* Round wooden disks
* Wooden wheel pegs
* Popsicle type "craft" sticks
* Soldering iron with wood-burning tip
* Gun bluing
* Portable hand drill
* Ball-peen hammer

None of these things are essential. You should feel free to use whatever tools and materials you have on hand or can obtain easily.

Making the Catapult's Wood Beams Look Old
The first thing I did was removed the string and washers from the model.

I used a carving knife to take the corners off of the straight edges of the wood. I didn't remove a lot of material because I didn't want to compromise the strength of the wood.

I just shaved off small, irregular shavings to make it look a little less perfect and perhaps as if the beams had been hand-hewn. I also rounded the spoon-shaped end of the throwing arm.

Next, I added the wood knots to the beams. I have a set of three wood finish touch up markers. I used the second darkest color. By gently resting the very tip of the marker on the unfinished wood, pigment from the marker is drawn into the wood fibers in a way that looks something like a real wood knot. Use the underside of the model to perfect your technique.

The knots may look a little too dark at this point, but don't worry. After placing knots of various sizes on the beams, I gave the entire model a coat of Minwax wood stain. I used "Early American" simply because I had some around. You can use whatever color you like, so long as it is considerably lighter than the knots you have made with the marker. This allows the knots to show through the stain. At this point, you should give your catapult some time to dry.

Later, I used a wire brush to give the catapult some scratches and wear marks to make it look like it had been used for years. I also used a wood-burning tool to add some grain lines and cracks to some of the beams. Make sure these lines follow the grain of the wood so that they appear natural.

I dipped the the string that comes with the kit in the Minwax and wiped the excess off with a rag. This makes the "rope" look old too.

Adding the Twine to the Crossbar and Throwing Arm
I am not sure if it is authentic or not, but I thought some cordage wrapped around the throwing arm and crossbar would look good. I also figured this would provide a bit of cushioning. I used a coarse three strand twine for this. I unraveled the strands so that I had a single strand. I tied one end of twine around the crossbar.

Next, I spread some Elmer's glue on the section where the twine was to be placed. I then wrapped the twine in a tight coil around the crossbar. I tied off the end and put a drop of glue on it to keep if from coming off.

This process was repeated on the throwing arm where it meets with the crossbar.

Making the Wooden Wheels for Your Siege Engine
I purchased a set of round hardwood discs that are 2 - 3/4 inches in diameter. I also purchased some wooden toy axle pegs and some craft sticks -- really they are just Popsicle sticks. All three items can be found at craft stores.

I used a soldering iron with a flat wood burning tip to create parallel lines on the wheels to make it seem as if they were constructed from individual planks. I also burned the edges of the wheels a bit to simulate wear and wood grain.

Next, I glued two short lengths of Popsicle sticks to the outside of each wheel to model the boards that would hold the wheels together.

I drilled a 1/4 inch hole in the center of each wheel and in the four corners of the catapult base. I sanded flat sides on the axle pegs and darkened them with marker.

Using the toy axle pegs, I mounted each wheel to the catapult. I glued only the holes into which the pegs go, so the wheels can move freely. Finally, I gave the wheels a coat of wood stain.

Finishing Touches to The Antiqued Catapult
The catapult was starting to look pretty old at this point, but the bright metal washers on the outside ruined the effect. I used the rounded end of a ball-peen hammer to dent one face of each washer. I then rubbed some gun bluing on the surface to give it a dark, oxidized look. DO NOT get this stuff on your tools.

In the end, I spent 30 to 40 minutes making the basic functioning catapult kit, and 4+ hours making it look old! I had a lot of fun doing it.

Where to Get the Kit and Other Supplies
Most of what you need can be found at your local hardware store, craft store, or hobby shop. If you have any difficulty finding these items locally, here are some online sources:

* Catapult kit
* Wood carving knife
* Sharpie Touch up Markers - 3 pack
* Sisal Twine
* Elmer's Glue-All
* 100 Grit Sanding Sheets
* Minwax Wood Finish - Early American
* Wood toy wheels
* Wood toy wheel axle pegs
* Cuisipro Frozen Pop Sticks
* Woodburning and soldering tool set
* Perma Blue, liquid gun blue kit
* Cordless drill
* Ball peen hammer

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Build Hidden Compartments into Wooden Drawers

How hidden wooden drawers workThis post may seem a little off-topic, but I'm going to justify it because a) it's about woodworking, b) it's mechanical in nature, and c) it's just plain cool.

Who doesn't love trap doors and hidden compartments?

This is a short, but useful article describing a few different ways to build hidden compartments into chests, bureaus, jewelry boxes, or even cabinets built into a wall.

Here's the article on Building Hidden Drawers courtesy of

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Reader Contribution: The Magician

This week's Reader Contribution comes from Tony who writes that he has just started making automata and would like some constructive criticism.

When I make an automaton with a very simple mechanism, I consider hiding it in order to showcase the figure and its action. I did this with my piece An Interesting Specimen. Tony could consider making a stage to set the scene for his magician. Then again, there is a long tradition of showing the mechanisms, no matter how simple.

It is worth noting that Tony did something that is hard to do: he got a rather complex set of motions from a simple input motion. Well done!

For a book on how to make wooden automata, see Rodney Frost's
Making Mad Toys & Mechanical Marvels in Wood. Frost is particularly good at making stages or sets to hold his mechanisms.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Quick Clamp Wrap - Clamps Odd Shapes

Developed for aerospace applications, this tape is made from an elastic silicone compound. It sticks to itself on contact and fuses permanently in a day. It grips almost anything and should not damage surfaces because it is inert.

Long used for automotive and home repairs, now woodworkers have discovered X-Treme Tape can function as an impromptu clamp for holding wood pieces during the gluing process. Even odd shaped pieces can be held because of the tacky nature of the tape.

This stuff is just plain good to have around in case of emergencies. It forms an air and water-tight seal, is heat-resistant up to 500 degrees F, and insulates up to 400 volts per mil. Wow.

Here's an article on X-Treme Tape from the Woodworker's Journal site.

Rockler Woodworking Supply sells X-Treme Tape Quick Clamp Wrap in 10 foot rolls for about $6.50. Keep this in mind as a stocking stuffer for the holidays.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

How to Sharpen or Fix Broken Drill Bits

Over time, drill bits become dull and cease to cut effectively. Sharpening dull bits can improve the quality of your work, put less strain on your tools, and generally make drilling safer (since you can let the bit do the cutting, rather than applying force that can cause the bit to break). Sometimes, drill bits do break. You don't necessarily need to throw it out!

One option is to buy a Drill Doctor. These range from $50 for your Basic Drill Doctorto their $150 Professional Drill Bit Sharpener.

Here's an article on How to Sharpen Twist Drill Bits.

The article shows you how to freehand-sharpen a twist drill bits using a grinding wheel. While it's not too difficult, there are several important things one must know and do. In addition to learning the correct angles, the article explains the three distinct motions one must use while holding the bit against the grinding wheel.

1 - Move the bit to the left (grinding on the left edge only)
2 - Rotate the bit in clockwise rotation
3 - Move the bit downward

Read the full article on Resharpening drill bits, courtesy of Woodcraft woodworking stores.

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Ingenious Mechanisms for Designers & Inventors

A Weighty Set of Books
These books are very comprehensive. There are may multi-component mechanisms described in great detail for mechanically inclined people. For automata makers, and beginners in particular, it may be a bit too much to digest, but certainly there are hundreds of mechanical elements that could be used.

The drawings are very good -- clear and well labeled line art reminiscent of patent drawings.

These books offer multiple solutions for each category of machine. The organization is a little funny -- since you will need to browse all four books to cover all the solutions. You'll learn a lot along the way.

Be Ready to Do Some Reading
These books will require some careful reading of several pages to absorb how a given device works. It's not exactly a quick reference.

If you are more of a visual-learner -- as I am -- I would suggest that you buy Mechanisms and Mechanical Devices Sourcebook, which shows an isolated mechanism and places one, short paragraph of text immediately next to it. If you are on a budget, you might consider 507 Mechanical Movements in Dynamics, Hydraulics, Hydrostatics, Pneumatics, Steam Engines, Mill and Other Gearing

The machines depicted in Ingenious Mechanisms are of an historical nature. This is not a shortcoming, however. Mechanisms of the sort found in these volumes were state-of-the-art at one time. There were no electronic sensors and computer controls at the turn of the last century. Everything had to work -- and had to work mechanically. It's a testament to a certain real-world ingenuity that most of us can't comprehend.

I feel these four volumes they have greatly improved my understanding of complex machines.

Learn more about Ingenious Mechanisms for Designers and Inventors (4-Volume Set) (Ingenious Mechanisms for Designers & Inventors)

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Woodshop Specialtes: Wood Gears & Marionettes

Here's a book that at first glance might not seem to be of much use to automata-makers, but not so!

There are three sections of this book that are of particular interest to automata makers (and woodworkers in general).

First, there is section on wooden clockworks. This section may only be 8 pages, but it is almost the only 8 pages I've found on wooden gears and their construction. This includes tips on cutting wooden circles, making pin wheels and pinions, and cutting slots for toothed gears.

Second, there are two sections on the construction of wooden marionettes/dolls. Take a good look at the work of Paul Spooner/Matt Smith or Keith Newstead. I would be willing to bet that they studied puppet-making as some point. You can see that they understand the human form, joints, and how to make them from wood.

I have only covered three sections of this book; there are two dozen more on diverse woodworking topics. At this price, Woodshop Specialtiesis a great resource.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Scroll Saw Joinery

Scroll saws are great for cutting curves and complex shapes. Did you know you can also use the scroll saw for joinery?

Here's a really interesting that article shows you how to cut a variety of interesting joints on the scroll saw.

Read the article: Scroll Saw Joinery originally published in Scroll Saw Workshop magazine

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