Tag Archives: woodworking

Homemade Christmas

In recent years, my wife and I have tried to reduce the commercial aspect of the holidays by making at least some of the gifts for family ourselves. Given that I’ve been trying to get into woodworking a little bit, much of what we’ve made has been made from wood.

This year, our gifts for our siblings and parents were a family effort. Inspired by a coat rack that Lisa’s grandfather had made, we made hat racks (the hooks aren’t maybe as strong as on the original model). I borrowed a router from a friend and got the wood from another friend who had some scrap pieces just the right size lying around. This was the first time I’d used a router. I did it free-hand, which made it just a little more difficult to keep everything level and straight, but I think in the end they turned out well.  I used a different routing bit and/or different routing depths for each of the pieces.

We then had our daughter write out everyone’s names in her unique 3-year-old script and I then wood-burned everyone’s names into the wood. For each family, we gave each family member a different hook, with their name burned above their hook.  For the grandparents, we put each grandparent’s name and then the names of all of their grandchildren (fortunately, our parents didn’t have as many kids as our grandparents, as we would have needed literally 6 foot long hat racks).  Lisa finished them by varnishing them. We got the hooks at the local hardware store, going for a rustic look. The final products were not the most sophisticated things in the world, but I think they turned out nice. When we were at my parents’ house for Christmas, I hung up their rack, which fit perfectly behind their door.  Now all of the grandkids have a place to hang their stuff when they visit amuma and txitxi!

For all of the cousins and friends, we made more marker holders. A year or so ago, inspired by an image I’d seen on some blog, I made a marker holder that Lisa then painted to look like a ladybug. This year, we made 6 more, a camel, a snail, a bee, a spider, a turtle, and a bug. Lisa did a great job taking almost abstract lines cut into the wood with a Dremel tool and making them marvelous little creatures. The spider, in particular, I really liked, with all of it’s eyes doing all different things (this spider only has 6 eyes; while more than 97% of spiders have 8 eyes, there are a few that have 6). Our daughter uses her ladybug all the time, as it makes it super-convenient for her to have her markers out in a way where she can easily grab the color she wants. I hope the other kids get as much use out of theirs.

For Lisa, I made a trivet. This was a bit trickier than the hat racks, as I made a relatively complex shape that incorporates our names.  I used a sort of square font that I’ve played with since I was in grade school, using it in the past for various doodles and such. This seemed a perfect project to use it as I wanted a shape that was pretty solid and interconnected so that it would support a pot or pan. The lines between the letters were Dremeled out while the lines defining the interior of each letter were first Dremeled and then wood burned.  The outside was routed. In the end, while it jumps out at me, I’m not sure the letters are very clear to someone who didn’t actually make the thing. I guess my initial piece of wood was not very flat as it doesn’t sit completely flat on the table. And the wood varnish I used maybe isn’t the best for very hot things (some pots have stuck to the varnish). Some things to think about next time.

The last project was for our daughter. A couple of years back, while visiting Lisa’s parents, Lisa’s dad showed me how to use his lathe. Just playing around, I’d made a few little figures representing Lisa, me, and our daughter. This year, we expanded her little wooden family, with figures of grandparents, all of the cousins, and even a snow man and Santa Claus!  There is still more family to do — we are debating whether to continue the expansion to her aunts and uncles — but I think at the very least I have to do a little wooden frog at some point. Lisa did a wonderful job painting these, giving them character and making the resemblance to their real-life counterpart very close. On the back of each one is that person’s name, so our daughter also has a way of learning how to spell everyone’s name.

We’ve been sort of waiting until the last minute to get these done. The hat racks were literally finished just days before the last shipping day. But, it is nice to make something, rather than buy some piece of plastic. Maybe we aren’t doing our part to support the economy (though the wood and other supplies do add up). But, I also think our economy needs a new basis besides just buying things.

Not sure what we will do next year. I slowly keep expanding our shop, which gives me more flexibility in what to try to make. But my skills are still pretty novice and time is a factor. However, we’ve also turned to wood crafts for the party favors for our daughter’s upcoming birthday. More on that later.

More tops

100103_7882TopsOver Christmas break, Lisa’s dad let me use his lathe again, and I made a few more tops.  I made 4 in all, but two of them we gave to friends before we snapped a picture.  In any case, here are two of the new ones with the old ones.  One of them, the one on the right in the first picture,100103_7887Tops I also gave to a friend, Bob.

The handles aren’t quite as polished as I would like and the tips that they spin on aren’t as smooth as I would like to give the whole top a nice smooth look, but overall they turned out alright and do a decent enough job of spinning.  I was maybe a little aggressive trying to by fancy by carving out towards the inside of the volume, which made it a bit difficult to sand them properly, so that is why in the second photo the third top has a bit of a rough edge.  I started to lose a little patience with the sanding.  But, still, they look good, were relatively easy to make, and were fun to make too.


A couple of comments on toys…

My wife’s dad has a nice woodworking shop, which he uses to make great bowls and boxes.  He let me play with the lathe a little bit.  I thought tops would be a relatively easy thing to make so I took a stab.  I had a basic idea in mind when I started, but as I turned the wood, something else developed.  The one on the left was my first attempt.  It was sort of what I had in mind as a more traditional top, but then I put different grooves and such as I went along.  I wasn’t really thinking well, though, and separated it from the lathe before sanding it.  It turns out it is a lot easier to sand something like this if you keep it on the lathe and let it spin as you sand it.  Same with finishing.  My father-in-law had a finish that you apply as the lathe is spinning.  It heats up a wax that is part of the finish that makes the finish deeper and more even.  With those things in mind, I made the second top, which is somewhat simpler in overall design, except for the depression at the top.  It is also wider, with more mass distributed further from the top axis, which I think is why it likely spins a lot longer than the first one.

I made these for my daughter, who I think is a little bit too young to really care.  Her cousin, though, who is 3 and a half, really enjoyed watching them, even if she couldn’t get them to spin.  It makes me want to get a lathe.  It seems there are lots of cool things you can do with just that one tool.
At left are are a couple of finger puppets I got from my godmother when I was a kid.  I don’t remember playing with them, but I remember them being around when I was older.  Some of them, especially the alligator, are a little worse for wear, but overall they’ve held up very well, considering they are maybe 35 years old or so and have not been treated in the most kind manner (after all, I was a kid!).  I just find them great.  The expressions are awesome (a buck-tooth lion?!?) and while the coloring is simple — all solid for each one — the shapes are very nicely designed.

I don’t know much about these.  All they say on the bottom are “Made in Japan,” something you don’t see on toys very often any more.  I don’t know if Japan used to be a bit like China is now, the maker of all things like this.  I’m really curious to know more about them.  Were they part of some bigger set?  Were they some sort of promotional item?  Anyone know?

They just seem so great in their simplicity, the kind of thing that we just don’t see much of any more.  Sure, they are plastic, but they don’t make any noises, they don’t take any batteries (my daughter was trying to squeeze them, either trying to get them to squirt like her bath toys or make noises like some of her stuff animals).  I just really like what they represent to me of a somewhat simpler time when toys left something to the imagination.  I hope that my daughter enjoys them when she is a little bit older (those are her feet in the background, next to my wife’s).