Friday, February 20, 2009

Wood Is Art - Part II

In my first post I stated the purpose of this blog is to discuss the process of creating art that is about wood. To clarify further, I see my artistic mission being to show that wood doesn't need a "function" to justify its existence. I often get comments about how I should make tables, doors, or other functional objects (one woman actually thought my work would make nice trivets but I don't know if that counts because she is/was drunk and crazy) but I believe that making "things" devalues the wood. Wood is art and should be accepted for its own beauty, not for what it "does."

More New Work

While waiting for my new LEDs and my alcohol permit I decided to work on some older pieces that I had put to the side, waiting for inspiration. This new work is the other half of the board I used to make the piece below, "X," that I completed over the summer. The images aren't very good (I could sure a Nikon D90) so you will have to take my word for it that this is a spectacular piece of curly maple. As a result, I wanted to be careful that I had a good idea of what I was doing before ruining the remaining section.
As it turned out, I didn't have a very good idea what to do with it. I started shaping it in a way to emphasize the grain pattern, forming a point at the top, but then I realized I didn't know how to finish the ends so I put it down.

In starting over, I decided to add some cherry stripes, so I cut it into 10 sections
(I decided I like the random width design better than the regular widths) and glued it back up, slowly in section because 19 pieces, over 4 feet long, are too many to glue up at once. Unfortunately, the glue up was even more difficult because I had already started shaping the wood, making it harder to align each section. In doing this, however, I decided that I should accentuate the circular grain pattern in the bottom half by carving it out, but then I realized it would work better as two separate pieces.

I'm still shaping the section above but it is starting to look pretty good. I'm trying to slowly flatten out the top relative to the bottom. I think it will look good with painted stripes, although I think I'll leave a couple (a few?) of the stripes clear. In the piece below, I'll paint it according the the grain pattern, rather than the stripes, slowly changing the color as it moves to the center.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

LED Research and Experimentation - Part I

In recent days I've been designing the light boxes and researching LEDs for the pieces with colored/clear epoxy. Since my first sculpture with epoxy (below), I have always thought about possibly backlighting the sculptures but was happy to avoid it by pulling them off the wall and using just a little dye. With these new pieces, however, the wood is too thick and the slots too narrow for enough light to get through naturally. As a result, I'm forced to engineer a backlighting system.

Now, after a fair amount of experimenting and research, I now have the knowledge for why this should be avoided. As expected, it isn't very easy to both generate enough light and make it battery powered with a reasonable amount of run time. To make it battery powered, LEDs are really the only solution but they still require a fair amount of electricity. It will definitely take a good amount of experimentation to find the right combination of LEDs, wiring configurations, and batteries. My first few attempts were a total bust. Below is my test wiring with four 5mm, 3.6 volt, 1100mcd (a measure of brightness), 20 milliamp, and 30 degree viewing angle LEDs. When I put it behind a mock-up light box I had virtually no light come through the epoxy.

Luckily, I found this website, Quickar, in researching how to wire LEDs. I ordered some 10 mm lamps from them a couple of days ago because they were said to produce a lot of light and have a 180 degree viewing angle, but when I got a note back saying they were out of them, I called and talked to Mark for about 45 minutes on how to proceed. He was very helpful and suggested a couple of other lamps to experiment with. It turns out that I was lucky the 10 mm LEDs weren't available because the leads on them couldn't be bent or cut and they also generated too much heat. It sounds like the "superflux" LEDs are the way to go. I couldn't find them on the website but he is sending what he thinks would be best.

A few years ago when I first considered doing something like this, I thought lighting technology would be the limiting factor, and maybe it was, but now it is definately battery technology. From a technical standpoint, the best thing to do would be to uses florescent bulbs and tell the buyers to higher an electrician to put an outlet behind the piece -- a possibility when my works is going for many thousands of dollars, but not really realistic now. Instead, I'll have to experiment with a few configurations and hope to get a fair amount of run time out of the batteries.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Happy Day - Woodwork (magazine) Is Back!

It was a sad day in November when I received my issue Woodwork came with a notice that their publisher had dropped them and they didn't have plans for a future. It was a sadder day in January when I checked into their status and all indication seemed to be that they were gone for good.

Thus, today is a very happy day having just checked my mail and finding a new issue in the box! On first glance, there appear to be some changes but it looks like it is still the same great format they have always had.

What makes them great? Here is my list:

- They cover wood art, not just furniture and furnishings!
- It is written for professionals
and they don't talk down to their readers.
- They have great profiles of great woodworkers/artists.
- It isn't Americo-centric, international coverage too.
- Great pictures.

The first time I saw it I dismissed it as a Fine Woodworking knock-off, but I ran across it again about three years ago and took a closer look. I found that it provides much more about what I am interested in than FW. So, go to (the magazine says this is their site but it doesn't work yet) and get a subscription if you don't already have one.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Three Ready To Finish?

After a several iterations (4?) of painting, rubbing, painting, and rubbing, I think the three pieces below are ready to start "finishing" - which entails evening out the surface and polishing with shellac. In comparison to the earlier versions, you can see that the 2 red/blue pieces are less intense. In addition to taking down the colors I added a little yellow which toned them down a little and created a more "natural" color. Are they better than earlier versions? I think they are better than the previous images but not sure if simpler isn't better, perhaps leaving some rectangles clear might be better. I'll have to experiment more with the other ones and compare.

One of the struggles with these pieces is getting the shellac colors to work with the epoxy, with the piece on the left, all of the epoxy is in the red/blue continuum so I tried to do the same on the surface. The one on the right has a range of colors but no green. I like the pastel-ish colors that came out. I've also included the image below because it shows the figure in the maple. I'm not sure why I couldn't get both back lighting and figure in one image, I tried several times.

The next step is working on the light boxes because I just checked my denatured alcohol inventory and was surprised to find I was down to my last few milliliters. Hopefully my "Industrial Alcohol Users Permit" will come through quickly.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Ethanol Chronicles - Part II

Last week, as my bottle of booze ran out, I decided to commit myself to finding out exactly what was needed to get a permit for pure ethanol. The 94% grain alcohol seemed to work much better at dissolving shellac than the denatured alcohol I am using, so I figured it was worth the effort.

The first thing I did was investigate what was required from the State of Vermont. After a couple of days of internet searches and phone calls, I finally talked to the licensing technician who sent me an application and I figured I was on my way, no fees needed, all I had to do was fill out the form and promise not to drink the stuff -- SCORE!

Only there was one problem - to fill out the form I needed to find a source for ethanol. So I started another series of internet searches looking for one. I've done this before and given up because the companies that supply this stuff clearly don't want to deal with "Joe I-need-some-booze Public." After over an hour of more internet searches and scanning through dozens of pages, I found a phone number of a company to call. I don't remember the company, and it is just as well that I don't supply a link, because when I asked about purchasing pure ethanol, they asked how much and I, modestly hoped that 5 gallons would be enough. The voice on the other end said, "Oh, we only sell by the megaton." I wonder how many train cars are needed for one mega-ton? If my math is any good, a megaton is somewhere around 225,000 gallons of ethanol; so clearly, I was a few orders of magnitude off. Fortunately, the man on the other end offered me a number for someone at ADM (Archer Daniels Midland) and thus started my journey down the supply chain of ethanol production.

Unsurprisingly, ADM was also unwilling to sell me 5 gallons of ethanol but the person I talked with was kind enough to mention two companies that they supply and suggested I talk with them. One of the businesses was a German company and I couldn't find a US telephone number for, but the other one was Univar. After searching a while on their website I found a phone number, which led to conversations with people at HQ, Albany, Cleveland, and then two more people in Albany. Finally, I was getting close. He told me that they could sell me 5 gallons but that their supplier was "Farmco" in Brookfield, CT and that I should talk with them.

This lead was initially confusing because he didn't give me a phone number and I couldn't find a "Farmco" in Brookfield. After a few internet searches I talked to a couple of other Farmco's that had no idea what I was talking about. Then I looked through the business directory in Brookfield and found Pharmco - unfortunately, this is where things started getting complicated.

I am amazed that this company never came up in any of my earlier searches because this is clearly the place to go if you need a supplier of pure or denatured ethanol in the US. Unfortunately, however, there are more issues involved with getting the stuff than I imagined. Clearly, if you have access to reasonably priced grain alcohol, that is a better use of your time. After numerous iterations of talking to Pharmco and the feds at TTB - Alcohol and Tabacco Tax and Trade Bureau (formally with ATF - alcohol, tobacco, and firearms) here is what I learned about purchasing the stuff:

- It is possible to buy 5 gallons of 200 proof ethanol from Pharmco but without an excise tax exemption, the price essentially doubles (approx $127 for 5 gallons plus $108 federal tax), making it no longer cost effective to purchase.
- The excise tax rate exemption is only available for schools, hospitols, labs, and the like - I clearly wouldn't qualify.
- Pharmco supplies very high quality denatured alcohol and looking through their list of formulas, I found that they have 95% 200 proof ethanol with 5% isopropanol (rubbing alcohol). You can't drink it but it is probably the most minimally hazardous alcohol to use after pure ethanol.
- The price for 5 gallons is around $115 but the minimum sale from Pharmco is $150. However, in order to buy more than 5 gallons (to save the $35 fee) you need a federal permit, which requires tracking and yearly inventory forms.
- Not getting a federal permit would seem to be the way to go except that Pharmco's minimum charge for non-permitted customers is $250.
- The permitting process can take up to 60 days.

So now I'm in the process of filling out the forms so I can purchase 10 gallons of high quality denatured alcohol. It should be enough for a few years, maybe I can cancel the permits after making the purchase, but then, maybe the feds will come knocking if I do. We'll see.