Monday, January 1, 2018

Making a Toy Grasshopper from a Sycamore (Log to Toy)

Forget about Farm to Table. I've finally entered the world of Log to Toy. These grasshoppers were the first toys I've made where the main parts of the toy were from a log as opposed to some finished piece of lumber I had acquired.

Here's how it happened...
About a year and a half ago I was walking to my car and passed a public park. There on the sidewalk was a big pile of rather substantial Sycamore logs. They had just been cut that day and were piled up to be turned into mulch or some such inglorious fate.

I pondered a few moments about what I would actually do with one of those logs. A quick interwebs search on my phone (crazy world huh?) said that Sycamore are pretty much impossible to split but good for carving spoons out of. Ummm..okay. I am sorta interested in learning to carve and spoons are a pretty practical thing to have around. So next thing I know I'm hauling a 20"x 14" log that must have weighted 85 gazillion pounds into my car.

When I carried it into my house and announced I was going to make a spoon out out it, Mrs Toy Making Dad gave me the "his descent into madness is accelerating" look. I painted the ends with latex paint and set it aside. I dreamt of spoons and ladels that night.

As to those know-it-alls who say that Sycamore can't be split I say... you guys are absolutely right!

The crime scene photo
It was an exercise in brute force and pure stupidity to eventually get it in half. It took the better part of a weekend using a chain saw, a maul, iron wedges, hand saws and wooden blocks. I'm not kidding, nothing like using the wrong tool for the wrong job. It was a mess but it gave me something to work with. It is the nature of the grain that prevents it from splitting. It also makes it warp like crazy when drying unless the pieces have been quartersawn.

The only thing better than having a high quality bandsaw is having a friend with a high quality bandsaw. So I dropped Crawfish a line. I whipped up a simple sled to fit his amazing Rikon bandsaw and then he and I spent a few hours in his dungeon cutting the log into boards. It was a ridiculously good time.

Somehow we managed to quarter saw some of the sycamore and my jaw, and his claws, just about hit the floor. Wow. The grain was like nothing we had ever seen. (Well, at least not on this planet.) So that got me thinking. (Which is usually pretty dangerous.) Yes, I can experiment with spoons but the pattern on some of the 1 1/2" thick board was pretty amazing. Seemed a waste not to show it off.

When I got the wood home, I sealed the ends with some Anchorseal that Crawfish generously shared with me. When it was one big log, I had just used some leftover latex paint. It is super important to seal the end grain of green wood with SOMETHING otherwise you will get end grain checking/splits. Don't believe me? Check (hehehe see what I did there?) out these two sides of the same piece of wood. The splits showed after just a couple of weeks.


Not Sealed

So I stacked and "stickered" (put spacer sticks to allow airflow around the wood) the sycamore boards and put them on a shelf out of the way to dry over the next few months.

Fall rolled around and my neighbor sold me his Jet Joiner/Planner combo machine and one of the first things I tackled was the sycamore boards. I decided to make some grasshopper toys out of them since Christmas was coming up. (Here is a post on how I make those toys.)

According to my moisture meter the boards were ready. The Jet was super easy to use and in no time I had some sycamore boards that were exactly 1 1/4" thick and had a side that really showed off the quartersawn grain pattern. The wood cut and sanded fine. I had one piece that showed a little tear out on the grain but I'm not ready to give up on that piece quite yet. 

I experimented a bit with finishes again. From bottom to top these are unfinished, beeswax and mineral oil and then Danish Oil "Natural" along with some beeswax and mineral oil. Beeswax and mineral oil is non-toxic and easy to work with.

They toys went together super easily. The legs ended up being red oak left over from my neighbor's shed. He got an amazing deal on 1x6 boards from a family run sawmill on MD's Eastern Shore. Whole 8' boards were just a few dollars each and it really goes to show the price difference between buying finished lumber and "making your own." Yes it has to be dried and surfaced, but still, this is a hobby and I've got time. I don't always have money. Just saying.

I've gone on several times about how much I like using the beeswax and mineral oil finish for toys. I believe these wheels are birch (I get them from Woodworks Ltd.) Look at the difference it makes and all without any fumes or added stains.

So not 100% Log to Toy but I don't see myself turning pegs that I can buy for 5 cents each or making dowels anytime soon. Maybe I should raise my own bees though to get that beeswax...

As always, my quality control supervisor assisted with this project. Here he is performing a cat-scan on the log and trimming a superfluous branch.

Not sure it would have been possible to make these without his help.


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Just Saying...

While we don’t necessarily need more objects, we just might benefit from more making.
- John Dunnigan


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Regular guy who likes to make stuff who lives with a very patient wife, three daughters and three cats.