Friday, July 19, 2024

Plaque in Progress


Etching today.

I'm using Lascaux acrylic stop-out varnish as a resist to deep-etch a piece of approx. 2mm copper that will eventually be a plaque inset in a box top. The Lascaux is easily cleaned up with water while it's wet, and later on it can be removed with meths.

The mordant is "Edinburgh Etch", which is a combination of ferric chloride and citric acid. It's a lot safer on skin than nitric or hydrochloric, and it also bites fast and clean. Note: "safer" is a relative term; I still wouldn't go bathing in it.

It's a relatively warm day today, so I shouldn't have to go to all the faff of warming the bath. I'll probably have to etch for four to six hours to get the depth I want.

The tape is so that the back of the plate doesn't etch, and the chopstick rests on the lip of the mug to hold the plate vertical in the bath and to allow me to lift it out without touching it.

And now, six hours or so later, it's done.

The size is about 75 x 100 mm.

The etching really reveals the grain of the metal — not a grain in the way that wood has a grain, but gravity acting on the tiny granules of copper separated by the acid makes them slide down the face of the metal so the bite becomes uneven. There's also an element of uneven density within the metal itself, a relict of the way the sheets are produced in rolling presses.

Monday, July 15, 2024


 What have I been up to? I've been filing and sanding and polishing a teaspoon.

This is not because I'm awfully anally particular about the implements I use to stir my coffee. It's because a stainless steel teaspoon, all nicely rounded off and polished, is a very useful tool for hand-printing relief prints.

The bowl of the spoon is used for rubbing down larger areas, and the rounded end of the handle is useful for picking out detail areas.

I've slightly re-curved the handle to make it more useful in this respect, and I've also engraved my name on to it so that no bugger can accidentally claim it as theirs.

Saturday, July 13, 2024

Bird Woodcut


Here's a quickie woodcut I did this afternoon on a bit of 3mm marine ply I had lying around.

It's about 120 x 155mm, printed on 45gsm layout paper — not quite tracing paper, but nearly.

The texture of the wood grain shows quite nicely I think.

Friday, June 28, 2024

Pencil cup


I found some bits of timber in our firewood that I thought, due to the colour, might be something a bit more interesting than pine, so I put one of them on the lathe and made it round. It was not more interesting than pine, in fact it's just pine. All the colour was on the outside.

When you're TTRPGing, one thing you need ready access to is a plenitude of pencils. So I finished the boring bit of pine into a pencil cup and stained and waxed it. It's a quicky job, and the finishing is pretty crappy, but it will serve for this job.

Being a thin-walled end-grain turning, it naturally split, so it'd be no good for holding liquid. And besides, all that stain and stuff would taste pretty awful.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

iPad drawing -- now a go


Last year, when I was up visiting her, my lovely mother bought me a second-hand iPad Pro with a 13" screen. It's an old model, but still very good at what it does, within the limits of Apple's obsessive desire to not give their users any choices at all if they can possibly avoid it.

I thought it would be an excellent mobile digital art platform, and so it has proven to be... eventually. I installed Procreate, a very nice iPad art app, and set about learning how to use it. However, being an old model iPad, none of the newer affordable third-party iPad styluses would work with it. And in fact I wasted about a hunnerd-twenny bucks on what turned out to be a useless Logitech Crayon finding that out. In the end I just bought a cheap passive stylus, basically little more than a pointier artificial finger, and it served for very basic work.

At long last I girded my loins, gritted my teeth, and spent the money to get myself a 1st-generation Apple Pencil, and now all my digital drawing dreams are fulfilled.

The two coloured critters in this picture I drew, in Procreate, with my passive stylus. The two on the left in black & white I sketched using the Apple Pencil. The difference in drawing ease and fluidity is like night and day. The Apple Pencil is both tilt and pressure sensitive, and combined with Procreate's textural drawing algorithms, it's very much like drawing with pencil and paper.

There is a lot more of Procreate that I have to learn, but even with the little that I do know, all of a sudden this iPad has become a useful art-making device. I suspect I'll get a lot of use out of it.

Next day...

I've started playing (not very well) with layers and colour and some more of the brush types.

It's not a great picture, but it's been fun to mess around with.

Next Next Day....

Tinkering with a kind of scraperboard effect.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024



My friend Nick gave me a couple of old saws that he'd picked up somewhere. These saws with a pistol grip and long, narrow blades are collectively known as compass saws, and are used for making curving cuts that would be impossible with a broad-bladed panel saw. The very narrow bladed ones are generally called keyhole saws. They're seldom used any more, since just about everybody has an electric jigsaw to do the job, but they are still seen in use by guys putting up plasterboard.

The top one I've cleaned up and reshaped the grip very slightly, given it a few coats of shellac, and replaced the old bent and wobbly blade with a 300mm one from a modern plastic-handled Bahco saw. The new blade has seven teeth per inch while the old one has ten or eleven; I'll see how it goes, and if need be I can always recut the teeth finer. It's a tedious job, but not that difficult.

The bottom one's blade is in much better condition, and it just needs to be given a bit of a polish and sharpen. I'll probably clean up the grip as well, though it doesn't really need much.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

A Time to Rest


I got myself a new tool rest for my lathe, on the cheap thanks to AliExpress. It cost about 22 yankeebucks, it's 230mm long, and is chrome-plated steel.

How the plating will survive I've yet to see. I may end up having to get rid of it and just polish the steel underneath, but we shall see — no need to borrow trouble.

The rod spot-welded along the top of the new rest is much smoother than my crappy old soft cast 150mm rest, and it doesn't grab at the tool the way the old one tends to. Plus, it's longer, so I have to re-situate it a lot less often. I've ordered a 300mm version as well; that one hasn't arrived yet.

Next task is to turn a collar for it so that it rests at about the right height for my lathe.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Swatch Book


A few years ago I took a couple of sheets of Fabriano Artistico watercolour paper and broke them down to make this little book. It gives me a page size of 190 x 170 mm, and about 24 leaves (48 pages, front and back)

The paper is pretty heavy, about 380gsm I think, and has a pronounced tooth. That makes it a bit problematic for the sort of drawing I do, but it is excellent for watercolour wash.

I'm using it primarily as a swatch book, with examples on each page of various watercolours that I've acquired, so that I can see at a glance how they behave, while keeping the resulting swatches protected from the light.

The examples shown here are Schminke 787 Payne's Grey, and Winsor & Newton Cotman Sepia.

This is a pretty crude and amateurish binding, but I've learned a lot since then. I'd do better next time.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Hand Rails


I've been making some verandah hand rails for some friends, so that their Aged P can get up and down the steps without toppling over into the garden.

They're made from treated pine, so they should last a good while.

Working treated timber is not all that pleasant, and when the timber is also soaking wet it becomes a real trial.

They've been primed in this photo, but not yet had a finish coat of paint applied. They'll eventually be grey, I assume, to match the steps and the rest of the verandah decking.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Book-cloth (again)


I've made book-cloth before using fusible web to back the cloth with paper. This is a different method.

The cloth is a light cotton fabric that I found in a rack of swatches at Spotlight — probably intended for quilting or something. They're 600 x 450 mm, sufficient to cover a couple of A5-ish books, or one A4-ish.

I lay it out flat on a polypropylene sheet, and then use a spatula to drive a 50/50 mix of acrylic medium and 4% methyl cellulose paste through the weave, right across the whole surface of the piece. 

Then I turn the fabric over, smooth it out again on the polyprop sheet, and with a wide, flat brush I brush more of the paste/medium mix across the whole surface. You can see the brush marks reflecting in this photo.

The paste mix glues it to the backing sheet, but it won't stick to the polypropylene and can be peeled away after it's dried.

When it has dried thoroughly, I'll peel it off the poly backing sheet, roll it up loosely, and put it away ready for later use. The paste mix forms an impermeable barrier so the cloth can be glued to boards without the glue striking through the weave of the fabric. It also provides a measure of protection for the cloth from dirt and grease, and makes it easier to clean.

This process can alter the tone of the colours of the printed cloth, usually darkening them somewhat. That's something to be aware of, and if it is crucial that the colours be maintained, it would probably be better to use the fusible web and paper method.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

New Sketch Book


Because I don't already have too many empty sketchbooks, I felt that I really should buy this one.

It's soft-bound, stitched 16-leaf signatures of 90gsm laid paper, with the signatures alternating between bright white and ivory (cream) coloured paper. It has 192 leaves, 155 x 205 mm.

The cream-coloured sheets are dark enough that three-tone drawing would work well, but not dark enough to be overwhelming.

The paper is fine for drawing on, being fairly smooth but with an adequate tooth, but it is really too light for wet media. Its surface is okay, but it does cockle quite a bit with moisture.

It's a very convenient size to slip into a bag, or even a (fairly large) pocket.

I quite like it, though I'd like it better if the paper was heavier — say 110 to 150 gsm.

I like the format of this book. It feels a bit more spacious than an A5 book (though in fact it's pretty similar in size), but is more compact and convenient to carry around than an A4. I could wish the paper was a bit heavier, but at least it's of good quality.


Copic Multiliner 0.3mm and watercolour wash.

The paper accepts watercolour well enough, but it is really too light for liquid media, and it cockles quite a bit.

Faber-Castel 14B pencil.

I'm not enthralled with it as a graphite support. It's not terrible.

The light weight of the paper means quite a bit of show-through from the page below.

Copic fibre-tip pen and Faber-Castel coloured pencil.

It's okay for this sort of thing. Nothing special.

Dip pen and indian ink.

The paper really excels for this medium. The paper surface is quite hard, and doesn't grab at the croquil nib the way that softer papers can, and the pen leaves a very clean, controllable line. 

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Dip Pens


I really like the line created by a dip pen.

My favourite of these four is the second from the right; my least favourite is the right-most one.

The one on the right is made from stainless steel I think, and it's quite stiff and unresponsive. The other three are made from very thin, springy carbon steel, and they'll give me a beautifully fluid and variable line.

They take a bit of getting used to for anyone used to drawing with, say, modern fibre-tipped pens or the like. The croquil nibs are very sharp, and will dig into the paper at the least excuse. If the tip catches, the springy steel releases very suddenly and can spatter ink a surprisingly long way. They require a very sensitive and delicate hand, and unlike a ball-point pen, they can't just be scrubbed around in any old direction.

I've had these pens for years, and I love them, but the nibs aren't immortal. They do wear out. And I know remarkably little about them as a class of tool, so if I have to replace them I'd really be flailing in the dark a bit.

I think the one on the left is a Speedball Hunt nib, but I couldn't swear to it. The second one to the right has 66 (or maybe 99, but I'm pretty sure it's 66) engraved on its barrel. What that means, I have no real idea.

Next day...

I had a go at making a holder for my favourite croquil nib from a fragment of oak. It works well and feels good in the hand, though I think I was a bit timid about thinning down the tail — that could go a little further.

The nib is held in place in its 6mm hole by a short oak plug. It's pretty firm. I bored the hole a bit too deep, which made getting the nib in the right place more troublesome than it needed to be; in future I'll measure the length of the nib's barrel before I bore the hole.

Buying a commercial version of this thing would be about ten bucks, which means that making my own isn't exactly fiscally viable if I was charging minimum wage for my own time. However, it is satisfying.

Horses For Courses

Output —
my hands aren't as steady as they once were

Right to left:
Hunt 101
Speedball 99
Speedball C-5
Speedball D-5

It goes without saying that different nibs give you very different results. The two croquil nibs (the 101 and 99) are very similar, with just a difference in average line weight. The C-5 provides much less line weight variation, though there is a little. And the D-5, with its disc-end, gives a very heavy and consistent line, varying only because the disc on the end of the nib is oval, not round. 

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Hand Rails


I made this pair of hand rails for the steps up on to some friends' verandah, so that their 90-some year old Dad can get up and down without toppling into the garden.

They're just treated pine, and they'll be painted. Eventually.

The one on the left will also have a grab-rail mounted on it; I haven't yet fully decided how that will be achieved. A few galvanised plumbing fittings and a length of threaded pipe will probably do the trick, though it wouldn't be all that difficult to do in wood either.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Cutting Corners


When covering the boards for a case-bound book, whether using book-cloth or paper, one needs to mitre the corners to minimize the overlap bulk when it's all folded over and glued down. That mitre needs to be offset from the corner of the boards a bit so that the folds overlap and the boards don't show, and in theory that distance out from the corner is supposed to be 1½ times the thickness of the boards.

I generally use 2mm or 3mm grey board for this purpose.

I designed these cutting templates in Blender and printed them on my Ender 3 in PLA+, and they not only ensure that I'm cutting the right distance away, but also that I'm getting a perfect 45ยบ mitre.

In truth, the tolerances required aren't all that fine, and I could easily get away with just using the 4.5mm offset template (for 3mm board) for both board thicknesses, but it's not really any more trouble to make a separate template for each. So that's what I did.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Gate Post


This post used to hold our letter box, but it was too close to the driveway, and the box got clipped by incoming vehicles. So I shifted the letter box over to the other side of the tree a few years ago, but left the white post standing there since it's a useful visible indicator of when you're about to drive into a big tree.

Today I sawed the top off one of the fence posts I put in a little while ago, and turned the off-cut into a finial for our gate post. And here it is.

Friday, March 8, 2024

Etching Press Lockdowns


Until now, I've just secured my little etching press to its trolley with a pair of G-clamps. They worked fine, but they were ugly and intrusive.

I'd always intended to replace those with something a bit less ad-hoc, and today I finally got around to that. I turned a couple of knobs from a scrap of pink birch, set a nut in each, and put a couple of M8 bolts up through the trolley top and press carriage to secure everything.

The new shiny knobs are indicated in the photo by the big red arrows.

I'm pretty sure that just the two bolts will be quite adequate to keep everything in place, but I can always add more if need be.

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Stretcher Bars


I made a set of stretcher bars out of some scrap 40x40 pine for a canvas 500x500mm, not because I have any particular painting in mind, but just to see how easy or hard it would be to make them. They're not hard.

They're not enormously expensive to buy, but they're far from free, and this gives me ultimate flexibility when it comes to size and profile.

I've learned one or two things in the process:

  • It would be a good idea to leave a bit of a horn on the tenon, to be sawn off after assembly.
  • Also, if I put a mortice at one end of each bar and a tenon at the other, they should (I think) be interchangeable. Though that's probably only worth while if I was making a whole bunch to be assembled later. For this one I did each bar with either mortices or tenons, to minimise the chances of getting myself lost.
The bars need to incline down on the front face towards the inner edge to keep them free of the canvas, and to help with that they have a thin raised bead running along the outer edge. That was easily made in one step on the table saw.

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Sanding on the lathe


I made this sanding bed to go with the wheel I re-did yesterday for my lathe. It seats pretty firmly against the ways of the lathe for the moment, but if it gets looser with wear I can easily hold it in place with a little g-clamp.

It's all perfectly square, both horizontally and vertically, which will be a boon when it comes to truing up frame mitres and what-not. Also, with the Jacobs chuck on a #2 morse, I could use it as a horizontal borer, with a bit of faffing about and packing and stuff.

Something I discovered in the making of this is that the ways of my lathe are not symmetrical — the near side splays out to its feet at 10 degrees, while the far side is only eight degrees. That was unexpected. That means that the sanding bed can only go on one way, though that's not really much of an issue.

The wheel was one I made a while ago to go on one of my faceplates. But bolting it and unbolting it again when I wanted the faceplate for something else got to be a bit of a pain.

So I bought a M30x3.5 nut and epoxied it into an inset on the back.

Inevitably it wasn't absolutely 100% square and true, so I had to strip off the old sanding surface, re-true the face, and then put some more sanding belt strips on.

I think it took me about an hour and a half to get a successful emplacement of the nut, and it's a little bit frustrating to think that it's a job that could have been done — and probably done better — in five minutes with a welder and a bit of steel plate. However, I don't own any welding equipment, nor do I have anywhere to store it if I did.

Friday, March 1, 2024

Turning Tool Rack


This morning I whipped up a little rack for my carbide turning tools, plus the centring drill I made the other day, and a couple of skews.

It's just 12mm plywood, but it will do the job and should last longer than I will.

The carbide scrapers are very easy to use, but they are not the greatest of tools for leaving a fine surface, and I pretty much use them only for rough shaping.

The majority of my tools — the ones I use, anyway — are hanging up beside the lathe.

They're very convenient there, but I've run out of hook space.

I've got a bunch of miscellaneous others stored in a drawer, but they are pretty junky and I seldom use them.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Front Porch Knob


I'm stuck at home waiting for firewood to arrive (some time between 0930 and 1530, they say). So I'm pottering about filling my time by building firewood-stacking things to make my eventual firewood-stacking more stable.

I whipped up that little railing extension beside the porch upright, to support the firewood stack so it doesn't all tumble out into the driveway. The decorative knob was something I did ages ago when I was just screwing around on the lathe.

I still haven't built my side-of-the-house firewood shelter, because I keep putting it off due to the cost of materials, and by the time I'm in a position to make a start on it, the materials are even more expensive. Doh!

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Depth Drill


In keeping with my tradition of spending more time making thing for making things than actually making things, today I made a hand-held depth drill, using a 12mm twist bit I had lying about, some oak, and a bit of copper tube for the ferrule.

These things are used to bore a hole to a given depth for lathe work. This both makes it easier to hollow out the form with gouges, and also gives a visual indication when you've reached the chosen depth for the bowl or whatever.

This particular one will go to a depth of about 105mm, which will probably be fine for most of the work I ever do on the lathe.

Bowl of Mystery


I don't know what timber this bowl is made from. Beech, maybe. It's small, only 160mm in diameter. I've polished it with beeswax.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Piercing Cradle


Made another job-doing tool — this time a piercing cradle for accurately stabbing the stitching holes in signatures for bookbinding. It's just MDF and hardboard, so nothing pretty, but it does the job well and makes the task 100% easier and better.

I've made it large enough to cope with A4 page signatures, though since I only have an A4 printer (and thus can only make A5 or smaller folded signatures) 99% of my work will be A5.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Little Rimu Goblet


For no particular reason today I whipped out this little goblet made from a chunk of a reclaimed rimu joist.

It's not very big, only 90mm tall and 65mm in diameter, so not much bigger than an egg-cup. You'd need a fairly big egg though.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Another Oak Platter


This is about as big a disc as I can manage on my little lathe, and it's only about 225mm. It absolutely maxes out at 250mm, and its motor is so gutless that it tends to stop a lot when I'm working out towards the perimeter. If I ever come into a massive bunch of moneys, I'd like to buy a bigger, fancier lathe. 

I normally try to aim to turn things pretty thin, but this time I wanted to go a bit chunky.  It's 35mm thick, and I've only gone down 12mm or so in the middle, so there's still a decent mass of oak left there in spite of the big knotty chunk out of the rim.

Friday, February 9, 2024

Kwila Thing


My latest attempt at turning some wood is a chunk of kwila, a very hard, brittle timber much used these days for decking. It's quite tricky to turn, and I found I eventually got the best results with scrapers rather than gouges.

I'm not sure what it would be; a vase maybe? Or a cup? It will probably just end up having knick-knacks kept in it. It's just under 115mm in diameter.

I didn't hollow it out right to the bottom, because the piece of wood had some pretty bad checking, and I think it would probably just have flown to pieces if I'd tried to cut it around the cracked area.

A profile view
The nasty and dangerous cracks

I like the waisted shape of it, and I think I might try it again in some timber that's a bit easier to work.

I find kwila a very attractive timber, but it's not the most amenable.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Another Oak Platter


Sometimes things don't fly apart, and sometimes the centre can hold.

The bigger platter is still small, only 200mm in diameter. Like the earlier, smaller one, this one is also not suitable for oozy foods due to a dirty great crack. Also, I'm pretty sure the wax finish I used on it is not food-safe, so there's that too.

The one I did yesterday definitely did not hold.

It also had a large crack in it, and when my gouge caught as I was attempting to under-cut the rim, it flew into two parts. One of the parts stayed in the lathe, the other ended up down the other end of my workshop.

The catch would have ruined the rim in any case, but if it had stayed in one piece I could have trimmed it down and salvaged something of it.

And another...

This will be the last of them for the moment, until I can prepare some more blanks. This one actually has no cracks in it, so it could conceivably be used to eat from, so I just finished it with beeswax. The other two are done with a tinted Liberon wax finish, called Black Bison I think.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Oak Dish


On a whim this afternoon I turned a simple little oak dish from a piece out of the scrap pile. It's not very big, only 170mm in diameter, and definitely not watertight due to the knotty bits leaving holes through it. I haven't thought what I might use it for, probably nothing much.

Sunday, January 21, 2024



This weekend, on January 20th, we had a memorial gathering for my mother, Hilary, near Kawerau in the bay of Plenty. She'd stated that she didn't want a funeral, but she did want a good party.

Lots and lots of people obliged.

I made this casket for her ashes out of reclaimed rimu, and engraved the brass plaque with the aid of my friend Ozy's computer-controlled router thingummy.

My sister Leah, and Mum's oldest and best friend Colleen, gave beautiful and moving eulogies, and several other people spoke as well. The weather behaved, the food was plentiful and good, and the day went off very well indeed, not least thanks to the good offices of Ren & Maria who provided the wonderful venue as well as the lion's share of the organizational labour. Excellent people.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Trophy Chalice


Annette wanted a trophy cup for her work quiz champions, so I made her this chalice.

The timber is pink birch, and the cup stands about 200mm tall.