Friday, December 25, 2015

Birdhouse Ornaments: How To

Sam Angelo, AKA Wyoming Woodturner, is a go-to source for instruction and  inspiration. His videos have given me much over time. This little video is what got me going with birdhouse ornaments.

Sam Angelo Birdhouse Ornaments

Watch his video, and then look at what I did:
There seems to be some resemblance here!

The first thing I learned is to coordinate my tools. The top and bottom halves of my birdhouses didn't match up and needed to be sanded into shape. Plus, I didn't have a chuck that would hold the size pieces I was making!

This problem was solved pretty neatly by bringing Rudy's set of Forstner bits to the lathe, and trying various bits with various chuck jaws. Turns out my smallest set of jaws (I use Nova chucks) would both grab a one inch spigot, and expand into a one inch recess. Having the toolage worked out this way saved a lot of time in the changing jaws department.

Here's MY protocol:

I've been using 2" X 2" X whatever" spindle blanks, which makes a pretty good sized ornament; in fact, some people have remarked that they were surprised at how large they are. The problem with using the same size blank for both top and bottom halves of the birdhouse is that so much of the wood for the bottom half needs to be wasted in order to make it smaller in diameter than the top half. The roof of the house needs to overhang the bottom half, otherwise your little imaginary birdies get all wet! So if wasting wood is an issue (if only because of cleaning up extra shavings, not to mention the expense of the wood) try using a smaller diameter blank for the bottom half of the house. Just be sure to coordinate with your Forstner bits.

Cut the blanks into 2"ish long chunks. This does not need to be an exact measurement. You can eyeball them, work around any flaws in the wood, and have them all come out different. Or you can measure the length of your blank, divide by two inches, allow for the kerf (the amount of wood lost to the blade doing the cutting) and make them exact.Suit yourself. But whatever you do, make these cuts as perpendicular to the length of the wood as possible. I have had no luck with my band saw, and with the miter saw the bits of wood are too small for me to safely hold. I've been using the table saw, Very Carefully.

Take the chunks for the house half to the drill press and decide what size hole you want for the entrance of your birdhouse. It is way easier to drill this hole into a square blank than it is to try to hold a rounded one. Find the center, vertical-wise, of your blank. Drill the hole deep enough so that it goes about halfway through the blank.

This brings us to the third bit of wood involved in this endeavor. The perch. Real birdhouses should not have perches. Birdies don't need them, and perches give aid to potential predators. But they are so dang cute! And nothing says "birdhouse" quite like that little stick. So figure out what you want to poke out. I use a 1/8" dowel, and played around until I found a drill bit to make a hole that would hold that dowel securely. 

Change bits and drill the perch hole below the house hole. Get them on center; it looks better. Mass produce them. Do all the house holes, then change bits and come back to do the perch holes. Don't have a drill press? Use whatever you have for hole-drilling, you poor sod. One note: place the house hole not too close to the end of your blank. There must be room for the roof blank tenon to nest into the house blank mortise. And now your house blank has a top and a bottom.

Find and mark the center of each end of your little blanks. Yes, both ends. Do this with the house blanks with their house- and perch- holes, as well as with the roof blanks. You'll thank me later.

To the lathe!

Mount some jaws into a chuck that will hold whatever size blank you are using. With my Nova chuck, this means the step jaws. Into the tail stock, mount your Jacob's chuck. This is a deal breaker - you need that Jacob's chuck. Here's where you use the size Forstner bit you determined would work with what jaws you have. When mounting the house blank into the jaws, make sure the top end of the house is facing the tailstock-Jacob's chuck-Forstner bit assembly. Use the tip of the Forstner bit to help you in centering the blank in the chuck. 

(If you have two chucks, here's where you put your step jaws on one chuck for hollowing, mortising and rounding; and the tiny jaws onto the other chuck for the rest of the carving and finishing.)

With the house blank mounted and centered between the step jaws and the Forstner bit, advance the Forstner bit  to hollow out the house. Hollow down past the house hole. Hollowing past the perch hole is optional. But leave yourself enough blank at the head stock end so that you can carve whatever shapes you are planning for the bottom of your house. 

Then with the Forstner bit INSIDE the mortise, near the top to steady the blank, round off the blank. Keep in mind that the roof needs to overhang the house, so round this blank thinner if needed. Before taking the blank off the lathe, true up the top of the house, or the end of the mortise. This is easier after the blank is rounded and drilled. Remove the blank/house from the lathe and set aside. It will be only halfway rounded. You'll come back to that with a different set of jaws.

Now mount the roof blank the same way as you did the house blank, except that the end facing the head stock is now the top of the house. Once again, bring up the tail stock with that same Forstner bit, use it to center the blank in the chuck, and advance it enough that the tip is seated into the blank, and the drilling portion of the bit is just beginning to touch the end of the blank. With this in place, round as much of the roof blank as you can easily get to. Give a thought to how you want the eaves to look like. 

Make the tenon, using the Forstner bit as a guide. You just drilled a mortise using this exact bit, so carve the tenon to match. I like to get close, then use a scraper for the final touch. Advance the scraper until it touches the (non spinning!) Forstner bit. Stop the lathe, move the tool rest and try on the mortise until the fit is where you want it. Take note of whether the tenon shows through the house hole, and shorten the tenon, if possible. There still needs to be enough meat and potatoes to the tenon that it can be held in your tiny jaws.

Set aside this half rounded piece of wood. Change to your tiny jaws that will both expand into the mortise and hold the tenon.

Let's go back to the house blank. If you trued up the mortise end, it will be pretty easy to seat it onto the tiny jaws. For clarity's sake: the jaws go inside the mortise, in expansion mode. Once again, use the Forstner bit tip to help in centering and steadying. This is why I had you mark the center of both ends of the blank. You may thank me now.

Any time you reverse a piece of wood on the lathe, you find out how well you did at finding the center. Chances are, the blank will need some truing up. True up and move on. Round the rest of the blank and shape it however you like. Some folks like spindles; just take note of how far down the hollowing goes. Others like a flat bottomed approach, so the ornament can stand on a table. Burn lines or whatever embellishment you like, such as color.

Sand it and finish it! Or set it aside for buffing, like I do.

So much for the house end. Now mount the roof end into the jaws, with the jaws in compression mode this time. Use the Forstner bit to guide the centering process. Making a little hole in the center of the roof gives you a starter hole for mounting and hanging hardware later on. Carve your roof into shape, sand, finish, embellish. 

Glue the two halves together. Clamp them if you have clamps that will fit. I like those quick release kind. Buff now if you are buffing. Cut the dowel for the perch. Sturdy scissors will work. Sand both ends of the dowel, jam one end into the perch hole. Mount the hanging hardware (eye screws work nicely) and you are done! Prepare yourself for applause!

No comments: