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Hello World!

My first blog post.
This blog will be a story about me and my woodworking journey.

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My name is Nico Botes and this is my very first blog post.

This blog will be a story about me and my woodworking journey. I will start by telling the tale of how it was that I came upon this hobby and with time my projects as they came to be. So please enjoy my tale.

It all started when the Universe spoke to my Aunt who then convinced my Father to do that one impulsive thing in his life. Back in 2011 my Aunt saw an article about the Camino (Camino de Santiago)

The Camino is pilgrimage that originally treks from the French border to a Cathedral in the town of Santiago in Spain. So as my Aunt convinced my father to join her on this journey I found myself being pulled along with them against my will. I was still studying at this point but this was by far the biggest challenge I have ever faced.

Being limited by time, due to my studies, we decided to hike a part of the Camino route traveling a total of 160km from O’Cebreiro to the Cathedral in Santiago over a period 9 days. This proved quite an arduous adventure, walking 20-30km each day. But we made it. Got the stamp and got the t-shirt to prove it as well.

This adventure of ours sparked a new interest of hiking in our family. As is with the Universe it made another visit to my Aunt and told her about a hiking trail. Now this was a trail with quite the reputation. THE OTTER. (Otter Trail)

The Otter hiking trail is a very beautiful and difficult hiking trail that is situated on the coast of South Africa near the Knysna forest. Having heard of the difficulty of The Otter we started training. We went hiking in the streets, hiking in parks and nature reserves. But this wasn’t enough. We then decided to go on a proper hiking trip in preparation for The Otter.

In September 2014 we went to Mpumalanga, a province in South Africa, to a hiking trail called Suiker-Bosch-Fontein. This was a short 2 day hiking trip over beautiful, yet difficult terrain.

This is where my woodworking story begins.

On this hike, my brother-in-law sparked an idea in my mind. He mentioned it could be cool to write the names of all the trails he has hiked onto a walking stick to remember them. On these hikes we use walking sticks. Usually just normal sticks, sometimes just a broomstick without the broom. So I got the idea here to engrave onto the walking stick all the places that I have hiked using that hiking stick and give it some personality.

At this point I was on a break from my studies and was done with all external exams for the year. So I was bored. But I remembered the idea of engraving the walking stick.

Early in October 2014 I drove to nearby mall, went to the art/hobby shop and bought myself a cheap, small set of woodcarving chisels. And that is where it all began…

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Enjoy this little teaser of what is to come.

That is all for now.

Crazy Oak out.

Project 1: The 3 Minute Owl

Project 0 was done. Or at least by this time the first inscription on it of the first hike I did was done.

My tastebuds were teased and so I toiled with the idea of “what next” as I was not yet satisfied. I had the the hiking stick but the next entry onto it would only be after the next hike which was still far into the future.

This was when I discovered Pinterest. And oh and what a wonderful discovery it was. Since that first day and throughout the development of my woodworking journey Pinterest has become a part of me!

I did what any other normal person would do and I went to Mr. G. Oogle. So naturally I searched for “Beginner woodcarving” and stumbled on what was called a “3 minute owl”. Now this I thought can’t be difficult. 3 minutes, like really? Easy pickings man.

The link I found was one that took me to Pinterest. This pin is what I found. Sure it said it will only take 3 minutes, but once I saw the picture I was still confused. I did not know where to start. First of all I needed a piece of wood, so I went about the yard and found a small piece of wood that was lying around. In hindsight that probably wasn’t the best idea as you will see in the photos to follow. Yet I marched on with this little piece.

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I had a piece of wood. I had a small carving knife. But I didn’t know where to start cutting and in which order. Luckily the pin I found had a link to a website that helped to explain it a bit better. Whittling with Will on this website they explained in a detailed little drawing exactly how you should cut and when. Detailed steps as to how to go about. Now this was amazing for someone like me at this point with absolutely no knowledge of how to whittle/carve.

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Step by step I followed this diagram. The title said that this was a 3 minute job? Pfff what a lie. It took me close to 3 hours to finish! But I was proud. My first attempt with the object actually being recognisable. I immediatly went to show everyone who was in the house at the time, and luckily they were all pleased. The only problem here was that the piece of wood was of really bad quality because it was lying outside for who knows how long, and it was quite small.

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It wasn’t exactly a masterpiece and didn’t look as nice as the image I was working from but it was my masterpiece, and with that I was happy. You can see from the first image that the quality of the wood was not good as it was already splintering and wasn’t very strong. This did however make for easy cutting. It was only later on that I found out how hard some woods can be.

A while after carving this little 3 Minute(“Hour”) Owl I found a local art shop. They sold small pieces of better quality wood than what I had used. I duly bought a few pieces in anticipation of more projects.

The first project I did with one of these new pieces of wood was to redeem little Mr. Owl up top. I took my father’s iron saw and started cutting a piece off of the block of wood. This was in the first place a bigger piece than my original owl so there was more space to work with.

So with the better quality, slight bit of experience I gained from the first owl, and bigger size I was able to redeem little Mr. Owl. This one atleast came out quite nice in my opinion. It was easier to work with wood that was of better quality as the wood would not break and splinter without notice. You want to cut there, then you can cut there. And the wood obliged.

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In terms of the actual carving of these owls, I do not really remember what I struggled with as it was quite some time from the time of writing this. I just followed the instructions on the website linked above, cutting away little bit by little bit until the owl shows itself.

This project has been one of the defining projects for my journey and still sits on my desk to this day.

Crazy Oak out.

Project 0: The Stick

My first woodworking project, engraving my hiking stick

My First official woodworking project

The hike in preparation for The Otter came and went and after this was when the ideas started. So my first pictures formed in my head of what I wanted to do.

Engraving the hike that we did along with the date when it happened.

So I set out and bought my first set of woodcarving chisels. Since this was completely new to me I could just go out and carve into my actual walking stick and risk messing it up, so I took a random piece of wood and started carving. Carving the alphabet. And numbers. Just some basic alphanumeric characters. I used the skew edged chisel from my first set to to carve out a small ‘V’ out of the wood.

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This was surprisingly not too difficult. It took me a few tries to become comfortable to carve out round letters but I used “B” as a practice tool for this. The problem with the curvature is that the direction of the grain differs as you go around so the way the chisel cuts into the wood requires a bit more control. When carving with the grain the blade naturally follows the direction of the grain and that can cause your idea of what an “O” looks like to change into a “U”. Given some practice I was able to create a consistent level of depth for the letters while staying within the lines as I was taught in primary school.

As I got the hang of it I decided to go over to my walking stick. First of all my walking stick needed some personality, so it needed something to make it different (besides the planned carving) and it also needed a name.

The Stick. Sure it sounds lame but it is more than just that. It is also a word play on The Stig from Top Gear. I took some insulation tape and some green coloured duct tape and fashoined a grip at the top of the stick. After this I engraved the name “The Stick” as well as a little picture of my version of The Stig.

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I was very happy with how this came out so I went on to engrave the first hike that The Stick has helped me complete. Suiker Bosch Fontein. Still using the skew chisel, taking my time so as not to mess it up as there is no “undo” button for woodworking. Well there is to an extent, but you have to sand off all your hard work and that isn’t always a viable option.

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It is not too clear on the photos, but it is there. I am considering burning it in, but I don’t wan to lose the distinct look of the carving. This a decision I will still have to make someday, but for now I am procrastinating this choice.

So as I go on more hikes I add then on the next level on The Stick, marking the name as well as the date. This is an ongoing project and it will only stop when either The Stick breaks or when it is full. So here is to many more years of hiking.

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Hikes so far:

  • SuikerBoschFontein
  • The Otter
  • Kingdom Trails

I will update this as time goes on and more hikes are hiked. In the mean time, there will be many other projects to make and older projects to blog about.

There is still a long way to go to catch this blog up with all the projects I have completed to date but with time…

Crazy Oak out.

My Arsenal

All my tools that I use for my woodworking

It is always interesting to see how one develops when commiting to something new.

When I first started doing my woodwork I had close to no tools at all. Sure there was a few general tools that my father had that I could use but none that I could call my own. Here I will share the tools that I have and that I use for my woodworking and as I get additions to my arsenal I will update it here.

That first faithfull day that I started my journey I went to a local mall to go visit a hobby shop. It was there that I bought my first set of tools I could call mine. It was simple, and cheap but it has not let me down as of yet.

Wood Carving Chisel set

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This is the first toolset that I bought. I use it when carving. It is usefull when working with smaller, finer pieces. The skew chisel is my favourite one out of the bunch, it is basically the main chisel I used throughout the beginning of my hobby.

Pottery tools

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Now these are usually used while doing pottery to engrave all sorts of patterns but I found another use for them. Using the ball points of these tools I use them when I want to “round out” something in wood. Say I engraved a name on a piece of wood using one of my chisels, I will then use these tools to help soften the look.

Thumb guards

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I learnt early on while on my journey that woodworking tools are sharp. And sharp tools cut. And I learnt on the hard way that my flesh is quite susceptible to sharp objects. I went and bought myself some thumb guards that seemstresses use and reinforced them with some band aids. This makes for a renewable guard because once the band aid on the outside is worn/cut to shreds, just replace that and you’re good to go.

Soldering iron

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My fathers old soldering iron. This works quite well when doing pyrography. I am still lacking a proper pyrography pen so this will have to do for now.

Hand scroll saw

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The hand scroll saw. When I bought this it was like entering into a new world! All of a sudden there was so much more that I could do. The best things about this saw is that

1. it has a narrow blade, which means you can turn the saw while cutting

2. it has a wide frame, so you can cut deeper than your average small hack saws

3. you can adjust the blade’s angle!

This really comes in hande when cutting out your initial piece that you want to work from. It helps shape your workpiece closer to what you want and thus saves a lot of time compared to just roughing it out by hand with a small chisel (as I did in the beginning :P)

It was after I bought this that I was able to progress into bigger and better projects.

Some general tools

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Just some general tools that come in handy from time to time, power drill, hammer, tongs, screw drivers, screws and nails, dust masks and gloves.

Finishes

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Woodoc is the type of finish I prefer to apply onto my projects. It was recommended to my by my uncle and it feels to me like it gives a softer, more natural look to the wood as compared to using traditional varnish. I sometimes use wood dye to add some colour or personality to a project. And lastly mineral turpentine to clean off my brushes after I have used them.

Planer/graters/files

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Hand planer to prepare a piece of wood and plane the surface. Graters to rough out a project and then files for the finer work where sand paper cannot get into.

I have added an electrical planer to my christmas list but no-one seems to want to buy me one. But one of these days, one can hope…

Clamps

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Some big 600mm clamps and some 100mm smaller clamps. Handy when building a projects that consists of many different pieces of wood that needs to be glued together. I am also told that you can never enough clamps, and so far I agree with that statement.

Dremel Scroll saw

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The Dremel Moto-saw

I would say that when I got this saw it marked a turning point in my woodworking journey. This was the first expensive piece of equipment that I got. My parents bought it for me as a combined birthday and christmas present while I was still a student at university. It was a big decision because this meant, for myself, that there was no turning back and that I would go all-in into this thing called woodworking. I have not regretted the decision so far and I doubt that I ever will.

This is a very handy tool, it has been my bread and butter since I got it. It works similar to the hand scroll saw except that it is electrically powered. This means more control and precision when cutting a piece of wood. The only problem is that you are limited in your depth. One day my future band saw will make up for this shortcoming.

Orbital sander

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I got this sander as payment for a restoration project I did for my mother. It has made life a hell of a lot easier because sanding any big object by hand is not fun.

Rotary tool

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I got this Ryobi rotary tool as a present from my uncle. It has an extension for the tip with many different tool tips. There is many different things that you can do with this and I have probably only scratched the surface so far. I use this for any engraving I do in my woodwork and also for some sanding in odd places. It also has cutting discs, polishing, grinding stones etc. I have not delved as deep into the possiblities of this toolas I would have liked, but with time I am sure I will learn.

Woodturing Lathe

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The newest edition to my arsenal. A 1m wood lathe from Adendorff (Adendorff). I am still very new at turning work but I am eager to see what I can do with this new beast.

That concludes all the main tools that I am using at the moment.

Crazy Oak out.