2017 Summer Update – I know I haven’t posted in a while!

The summer of 2017 is flying by! Pun intended. I’ve been busy building free-flight rubber powered Peanut Scale airplanes (and some other styles as well). Sadly I haven’t been spending much time flying them – it’s either windy or dark outside when I find time for actually flying! For relaxation and inspiration I took a long weekend road trip to the AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics) Museum in Muncie, Indiana, the National Museum of the USAF as well as the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park in Dayton, Ohio. I highly recommend all of these destinations!

The Labor Day 2017 weekend bring the Long’s Park Art Festival  in Lancaster, PA. I don’t present any of my work at the festival, but I always look forward to seeing the various crafts on display. My favorite, without a doubt, is the great stuff Lohr Woodworking Studio showcases! For the past few years they’ve been kind enough to allow me to help pack up their trailer at the end of the show. It’s my once-a-year workout.

Speaking of the awesome folks at Lohr Woodworking, I’ve been invited (okay, I invited myself) to be a teacher’s assistant during the Sold Out Sept 18-23, 2017 Practical Woodworking Course. The kind hearts of Jeff, Larissa, Rob and Eoin provide me a relaxing getaway, to be surrounded by big power tools and reeling minds excited about learning the craft of furniture making. For the most part I catch up on my woodcarving projects quietly in the corner.

The plan was to attend the Barron Field Air Races in Wawayanda, NY Oct 22-23. I was going to try my hand at entering a few of my peanut planes into some friendly Flying Aces Club contests for the very first time. However, on one recent evening as I nodded off to sleep I was thinking “October. October… When is the…?” Instead of racing planes I’ll in Wayne, NJ at the North Jersey Woodcarvers Woodcarving & Art Show Oct 22-23 2017. It’s been a few years since I’ve had a table at the show – and I really miss the gang from the club and the American Woodcarving School.

Attending the show will give me an excuse to complete some of the carvings I started with enthusiasm several years ago. I guess I’ll be putting the planes on hold until November. I have a lot of carving to do if I stand a chance at finishing two or three of those carving projects!

Sorry it’s been a while since I posted on the blog. I have been keeping my status up to date on Instagram if you’re interested. Until next time!

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.

Tramp Art / Folk Art Ball In Cage Woodcarving

Whittling Woodcarving Carving

Life has been busy lately but I’ve managed to knock out a quick folk art ‘ball in cage’ whittling. This piece started as a young sassafras tree I found uprooted by a storm.  I collected up all the usable sections and took them home for safe storage.

As seen in the photo, I used a pencil to draw the spiral on the wood. Using only my folding pocket knife I whittled away the waste wood, leaving a section in the center to become the trapped ball. With the three spiral supports roughed out I used my pocket knife and a small rasp to shape the ball.

Happy with the form I separated the ball from the supports. The final clean up was performed with the rasp and a drug store emery board. When I find time I’ll add some oil to pretty it up.

Merry Cemetery : Sapanta Romania

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While visiting friends in Romania we had the awesome opportunity to visit Cimitirul Vesel, better known as the Merry Cemetery in Sapanta, Maramures. This has been on my list of places to visit for quite some time. The cemetery is filled with hundreds of colorful woodcarved grave markers. Each tombstone includes a carved scene which represents the deceased with a carved narrative about the person beneath.

Exploring this wonderful place is fascinating! I was thankful our hosts were patient with me as I examined the craftsmanship and creativity surrounding me. The slideshow above is a fraction of the images I captured during my stay. I departed the Merry Cemetery inspired with many new and creative ideas. I hope to find the time to tackle a few of the many ideas which resulted from the tour.

Keeping busy

Sorry I haven’t posted in the past few weeks. I’ve been busy working on a new woodcarving titled Magic Mirror. You can check out the progress of the project on my new jchismar Instagram feed. When the project is complete I’ll post the details here on my blog.

I have continued to forage for wild edibles including red mulberries, Japanese knotweed, lamb’s quarters and wild strawberries. Red mulberries are my favorite pickings around the neighborhood while walking Fleur. There are many red mulberry trees in the public parks and streets in my vicinity. Many people dislike these trees because the berries drop from the trees, making a mess. Not many people are aware that these berries are edible and delicious. The berries can be found on the trees until autumn – providing a free and delicious warm weather snack.

A Toy Jumping Jack and Eight-blade Windmill

“If at first you don’t succeed, that’s normal” Colbert – Live Free Or Die

jchismar jumping jack whirligig

The Toy Jumping Jack is yet another project I’m building for my Home-Made Toys exhibit for the 2016 Newark Maker Faire. The arms and legs of this toy are pivoted on brads placed through the front and back of the torso. According to the instructions a heavy linen thread is tied at the pivot of each extremity, the opposite ends of the thread are tied to a ring below the torso. Pull the ring downward and “Jack jumps comically” says Mr. Hall, author of the instructions. Why isn’t life that simple?

jchismar wooden jumping jack toyFor me, this project started right as rain. I collected a handful of thin pieces of poplar I saved from various projects and transferred the pattern for the torso, arms and legs. The pivot holes were drilled and the bandsaw was used to cut each part out. The tops of the arms and legs were painted and a strand of thick string was tied to each extremity. Four brads hold the front and back of the torso together and act as pivots for the extremities.

Drum roll please? I pulled the strings down and the arms and legs rotated skyward. Upon slackening the tension, only the legs returned down. The thick string jammed in the narrow shoulder clearance inside the torso. The thin wooden arms didn’t have weight necessary to enable gravity to do its job.

jchismar a toy jumping jack
The tangle of the dangle

The first attempt to resolve the problem was to replace the thick thread with nylon coated stainless steel thread. The new thread was better but the arms were remained too light to function properly. All the original parts were discarded and I found thicker wood to cut new heavier parts. Initially these parts worked well with the steel thread but an unsightly tangle was created when I tried to neatly tie the four lines together.

More attempts to maximize the predictable animation of the jumping jack followed .  The original thread performed best after fiddling around with how it attached to the limb and the location of the knot. Sometimes the task requires a touch more patience and attention than the originally put forth.

Jack’s head was carved from a scrap of basswood; the instructions suggest a wooden spool. This is mostly due to my abundant inventory of basswood scraps and the limited quantity of spools. The completed Jack was installed on the eight-blade windmill I constructed in an earlier post. Jack is so happy to be alive his limbs flail in the blowing wind like the excited customers in 1980’s Toyota commercials.

Clog-dancer Jig Doll Limberjack

“In these days when everybody is talking about doing his thing, here’s the story of a boy that not only talks about it, but does it.”
~My Side of the Mountain movie trailer

jchismar clog dancer jig doll limberjack

I’m learning, as I continue to build A. Neely Hall toys for the Newark Maker Faire, I grossly underestimate the time required to produce each project. Some blame can be placed on keeping true to the 1915 materials and instructions. For instance, the instructions describe the arms and legs as whittled sticks, so the extremities are whittled wood instead of pre-made wooden dowels. The body was cut from a discarded broom-handle found in a storm drain while walking Fleur. The head, hat and shoulders are made from wooden spools; the hands and feet are carved from basswood.

Tacks are inserted at each joint to attach the limbs with heavy linen thread. Tying tiny knots closely together onto mini metal tacks proved more challenging than anticipated. Smaller and more plentiful hands would accomplish the task more quickly. Even the not-so-professional paint job required a surprising amount of patience and time. Does the finished project reflect the work behind its folksy finish?

Tapping the “stage” reproduces a perfect Michael Flatley so, heck yeah the payoff is worth the effort. I can entertain myself for a long spell while simultaneously irritating everyone within earshot of the tapping and clacking. Win. Win.

The Spool Hub Eight-blade Windmill

jchismar.com eight blade windmill

Windmills and whirligigs are fascinating and inspiring. I enjoy researching and tinkering with whirligig designs and materials.  My researching efforts led me to discover A. Neely Hall, the craftsman who authored the projects which my 2016 Newark Maker Faire exhibit is based  on. His Eight-blade Windmill, utilizing a thread spool as a hub, is one of the projects I’ve been excited to try.

The illustration above, drafted excellently by Tom P. Hall, clearly describes the construction of the windmill. This windmill  design is perfect for a beginner with limited tools because it eliminates sawing a precisely angled slot to hold the propeller in the hub. Here the hub is a wooden spool with holes drilled in even intervals around the circumference. Each propeller is attached to a spoke via clinched nails. A wood carving knife is used to whittle a point at one end of the spoke to fit into the hub.

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Because I am building this project as part of my Maker Faire exhibit I am observing the original instructions as literally as possible. I whittled twenty four spokes to be used on the three windmills I am constructing. Poplar wood was used for the spokes. Most of the spokes had intentionally straight wood grain which aids in easy whittling. The propellers are 3/16″ plywood I had stored in the workshop. Generally I avoid using plywood because I find it doesn’t hold up to the elements, but it was on hand. Each propeller is clinched to the spokes by first driving the nail straight through the work, bending the shank with needle-nose pliers then flattening with a hammer.

jchismar.com eight blade windmillUnfortunately a few spokes with less than ideal grain made their way into the project. I should have discarded the poorly grained spokes immediately, but I proceeded. While tapping the imperfect spokes into the hub a telltale cracking sound verified the mistake. The pointed ends snapped off before the spoke was completely seated. To repair the broken spoke I drilled the broken spoke wood from the spool, starting with a narrow drill bit and increasing width until the desired size hole returned.  Then I drilled a one inch deep hole in the spoke where the whittled points broke off. I glued a hardwood dowel into the spoke to serve as a prosthesis which worked nicely.

jchismar.com eight blade windmillI re-purposed the Unknot Shelf prototype (from a few weeks ago) into a stand to hold the assembled windmill propellers for brushing on paint. Each propeller will receive two coats of white paint followed by a coat or two of colorful details.  These propellers will be used in a larger project in my Maker Faire exhibit, so you’ll be seeing more on these soon.

Constructing a Vintage Cricket-Rattle : 2016 Greater Newark Maker Faire

A Neely Hall Cricket Rattle

I submitted my application to the 2016 Greater Newark, NJ Maker Faire a few days go for my exhibit titled Home-Made Toys for Girls and Boys. This year I am constructing many of the projects described in A. Neely Hall’s 1915 book Home-Made Toys for Girls and Boys. Anticipating the acceptance of my application I began building several of the toys. In the book Mr. Hall explains, “A Cricket-rattle is about the liveliest form of rattle ever devised. After constructing one for your sister or brother, you probably will decide to make one for yourself.”

john p chismar cricket rattleBecause of his bold statement I decided to make three cricket-rattles to sell or share. The first time I tried the rattle I expected a chirping sound, instead loud cracks shot straight into my ears leaving them ringing. More awesome than I anticipated! Before painting the rattles red or blue, as the instructions asserted, I decided to add tramp art carved embellishment around the fringe which I painted yellow.

I have a few other projects already completed for the faire and many more on the drawing board. With any luck my application will be accepted permitting me to proceed full speed into the past opening doorways to forgotten pastimes. I hope to see you there.