Live Edge Sycamore Slab Office Desk

jchismar sycamore slab live edge furnature

Exciting times are upon the Chismar family. My wife Amy is branching out and starting her own massage business full-time. A stickler for decor, Amy requested my woodworking skills to build her a live edge desk for her new office. Of course I jumped on the opportunity for such an impressive project! The two of us made the short journey to Boards and Beams in Fairfield, NJ to shop some slabs.  We spent about an hour examining what was available and selected an eight foot long sycamore slab, three feet wide at one end and about a foot and a half at the other.

jchismar sycamore slab live edge deskWe loaded the slab into my vehicle and brought it home. We didn’t have a place to put it, so we left it in the car for a for a few days (not a great idea) until I built a pair of sawhorses to support the slab while I worked on it outdoors. The weekend arrived, sawhorses built and the slab was  placed on the sawhorses.  Reluctantly I inspected the slab for likely warping from sitting in the car unsupported. To my surprise the slab was perfect. Whew!

I went to work creating two grooves on the underside of the slab at each end to attach lumber to prevent the slab from cupping. Over the next week or two the slab remained outside while I shaped and prepared the surface for finishing. The autumn weather finally turned and brought rain and cold, the slab needed to be moved into the house. With little room to place the slab in our home I decided the kitchen was most suitable as a temporary workshop.

jchismar live edge slab deskA day or two passed and something didn’t look right. I grabbed a straight board and placed it on the slab. Yup, the thing started to cup. At the time I didn’t have the supports attached because the slab was so stable. The change of environment didn’t agree with the slab. In a hurry I purchased several one inch steel square tubes to create extra supports to halt the cupping. On the underside of the slab I cut a one inch wide dado across the grain every sixteen inches down the length of the slab. The square steel tubes were placed in the dados and fastened with lag bolts through elongated holes in the steel to allow the natural movement of the slab. The photo reveals the closest steel tube with elongated holes, the photo was taken before the holes were lengthened on the other.

jchismar inlay live edge furnature

I also inlaid the stem and leaf Innerstasis logo to the top surface of the desk. Two bow-ties were added to the slab as well to hold together a thin weak spot near the front edge.  To accomplish this, both the inlay and bow-ties were traced on the surface and a router was used to remove the inside material. The inlay and bow-ties were then glued into place. The leg of the desk is a section of a cedar tree trunk a friend gave me from his yard. The cedar bark was removed and the surface was sanded before applying finish. 

This was a fun project that required a few weekends of work to complete correctly. A bonus is the cupping of the slab has reduced to almost flat, thanks to the steel braces hidden underneath. One of the amazing things about woodworking is most of the labor occurs in the unseen areas of the finished piece. And this desk was not an exception to this rule.

 

My Four Best Woodcarving / Whittling Knives

jchismar woodcarving knife

As you probably know, I do a lot of woodcarving and whittling. It’s my experience that woodcarvers are always searching for the best knife, whatever that might be. Am I still searching for the best carving knife? You betcha! However, the more I carve the more I realize, with few exceptions, the best knife is the sharpest one in reaching distance. In the coming months I will share my sharpening and honing journey with you. Today I will share a few stories about my favorite knives.

Knife #1: During my first class at American Woodcarving School the super talented carver and instructor Jerry Cetrulo handed me this knife with a dull edge. Patiently Jerry taught me how to sharpen a carving knife on an oil stone and hone with a leather strop. I surprised myself when I found that I was able to give this knife a razor sharp edge. It’s a great knife. It feels comfortable in my hand and it holds a sharp edge for a fair amount of time.


Knife #2: Excited about woodcarving I wanted to be a dude and purchase a good carving knife. This knife was the logical choice. I’m unsure who makes this knife, but it’s branded with American Woodcarving on the opposite side. The carving school sells this knife as an upgrade to people that want to be dudes. The steel is harder than the first knife, making it a tad tougher to sharpen – but it stays sharp longer. The handle is a little too fat for my preference. This knife is so good I only use it on special projects.


Knife #3: Like every ambitious novice woodcarver I headed to the internet to research the very best woodcarving knives. I learned of Dave Lyons woodcarving knives. If my memory serves me right Dave Lyons is a rocket scientist, or something, who makes carving knives in his spare time with quality steel. I had to have one! It arrived super sharp, is relatively easy to sharpen and holds an edge well. For a while it was the only knife I used. Over time I’ve found the blade too long, the handle too light and uncomfortable to carve with. I keep it around the woodworking shop to use as a marking knife and a multi-purpose cutting tool.

I also purchased a few of the fancy Lyons knives with curved blades and such. I’ve never found a use for them but I’ll keep them just the same.


Knife #4: The Flexcut Whittlin’ Jack. Lots of things are said about Flexcut tools, some good some bad. When I started to carve I was hardcore purchasing gouges by Stubai, Two Cherries, Dastra and other quality foreign makers. However a diverse palm tool selection was hard to find. Enter Flexcut. Flexcut is an american made tool company that uses spring steel for their tools. I have a pile of fixed handle palm tools and an even larger pile of interchangeable palm sized tools. I use them all the time. They’re easy to sharpen and hold a sharp edge for a long time and they are cheap enough that you don’t mind beating them up.

I wanted a folding knife that I could keep in my pocket at all times, everyday carry.  The Whittlin’ Jack was an economical choice. At first I didn’t like this knife – the blades are hard to open and they do not lock. It quickly became a beater knife, used as a marking tool and all around workshop blade. However over time I found it always in use. The handle is heavy by comparison, but I find this gives me more control. My nine year old nephew preferred the heaviness of this tool over the lightness of the Lyons knife. My use contradicts the naming of the blades: I use the 1 1/2″ detail knife mostly for roughing out and the 2″ roughing knife for detail work because it gets into tighter spaces.


So, what’s a good carving knife? I suppose it’s like a camera, whatever one you’re willing to carry around. I always have my Whittlin’ Jack nearby. If I want to bring along another non-folding knife I wrap the blade a few times with blue masking tape so I can keep it in a jacket pocket or bag. Wondering about the yellow paint? I mark most of my carving tools with yellow paint. When you’re in a class or carving with friends it’s very easy to get mixed up about what tool belongs to who. A yellow mark removes any confusion. Feel free to mark your own tools, but please don’t use yellow paint.

Square Dance Butternut Wood Carving Whittling Puzzle

whittling woodcarving

A few months ago I picked up a copy of a book authored by Bjarne Jespersen titled Woodcarving Magic.  The book is put together wonderfully and is chock full of mindbogglingly intricate wood creations and boasts it teaches “How to Transform A Single Block of Wood Into Impossible Shapes.” The book is well worth twenty bucks, especially for novice wood carvers. The introductory chapters share useful information about wood carving, tools and techniques. The first few projects are relatively simple with clear diagrams and explanations.

Then we take a turn onto an unfamiliar, yet fascinating, winding road.  For a laymen the clarity is replaced with math formulas and nicely rendered 2d illustrations unable to clearly translate what we’re supposed to visualize in three dimensions. However, to the credit of the author, I believe this is intentional. The projects are not something to follow one after another to instant mastery.  Instead this book is something you refer to over a lifetime to study and consider as your skills grow in the craft.

One of the projects in the book is the Square Dance, which I completed in the image above. The result of the finished project is six separate interlocked square rings. This was an incredibly fun and rewarding project!

While working on this project I recalled the days when I started to carve wood; I was focused on purchasing all kinds of knives, gouges and whatever else I could find to help me carve better. I completed this project with a block of butternut wood, a pocket knife, a section of jigsaw blade and a drug store emery board.  I’ve learned to enjoy sitting with a knife and patiently carving out geometric forms. There is something therapeutic about the process. The more I carve the less interested I am in pulling out all the tools and racking my brain with ambitious projects.

One day, probably soon, I’ll try to tackle another Woodcarving Magic project.