52 Candles Project

Nothing motivates you like telling the world that you are going to do something.

I have started a new Instagram project called @52candlesproject where I plan on creating and publishing a new candle every week in 2016.

The original idea came from Matt Cator who created his @52tables Instagram account as a personal challenge.  Matt was interviewed on CBC Radio and The Windsor Star.

I have a few candles already underway, and I may have to pad the project with a few that have already been completed, but I hope to make it through 2016 with 52 new candles.

Wish me luck.

Wally.

Our new name is what we do

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Our new name – Whistler Woodcraft – reflects our focus on the craft of working with wood.

When I started this business, I wanted a name that reflected the wide range of genres in which I worked. As my wife will attest, I have a touch of ADHD, which is reflected in the many media in which I create using a combination of artistic flair and technical expertise.

I started early in life as a photographer, where I developed my eye for composition and deep technical knowledge of the technology of cameras and the chemistry of printing.

Later I started working with wood, designing and creating furniture for our house. My career has been in the dynamic business of high tech, and every time I changed jobs I channeled my stress into a new piece of furniture.

I then became interested in stained glass, and once again designed and created a wide range of pieces for our house and as gifts.

I probably would have gotten into fused glass and pottery as well if I could have afforded the kilns.

When I decided to evolve from a hobbyist to a craftsperson, I focused on what I did – which is pretty much anything that caught my interest – and Whistler Fine Arts was born. I quickly learned that both photography and stained glass are not very profitable.

Modern cameras and smart phones are so capable that pretty much anyone can take a good picture now. Very few people are willing to pay for a photograph.

Stained glass is so time-consuming that few people are willing to pay what it really costs to produce a Tiffany-style glass panel. By the time I add up my material costs and the number of hours in a piece, I barely make minimum wage at the price at which people are willing to pay.

Cheap foreign knock-offs have also flooded the craft market and driven price expectations into the ground.

But hand-made wood pieces are still appreciated by some, especially when they are built from unique wood sourced locally. So we are going to focus on wood for the next while, and I wanted our name to reflect that.

My medium is wood and my differentiating factor is my craft, so “Whistler Woodcraft” was born.

Join me in my journey as I explore unique sources of wood and build interesting, beautiful and functional items for your home.

Wally.

Nothing like a deadline to focus your efforts …

It’s all too easy to putter around the shop, trying this and testing that, and generally wasting a lot of time.  Sign up for a show, however, and the approaching deadline motivates you to get things done.

On Saturday, June 13th from 11 am to 6 pm, we’re going to be at the Toronto Art Crawl in Liberty Village.  I’m pretty impressed with the organizers who are promoting the event and have scored a major sponsor with Varekai, Cirque du Soleil.

The issue is that I have sold out a few key products, and I have had a few more “cooking” in the kiln, so it’s suddenly time to get cracking!

A while back I scored a few barrels and a pile of interesting wood and had all sorts of ideas dancing around my head.  Now I need to get the tools out, fire up the old creativity, and start making stuff.

The first batch of wood has exited the kiln and is dry enough to work. A few pieces “exploded” in the kiln – heavily twisted wood is the most visually interesting, but it also has a bad habit of cracking when drying because of the tension in the wood fibres.  I managed to salvage most of it and I am busy making one-of-a-kind candles.

One of the barrels had a surprise inside (no, not wine!). The inside surface of the barrel, rather than the smooth curved surface you normally see, was heavily grooved.  I found out this was an experiment by the winemaker who wanted a barrel with an “extra heavy toast” for a robust red wine he was working on.  “Toast” is the charring  on the inside of the barrel created when the cooper “fires” the barrel and turns the inside surface from nice clear oak into oak charcoal.  This charcoal adds extra character to the wine aging inside the barrel.

The theory was that if you rout a series of grooves on the inside surface of the barrel before firing it, you get more surface area for the wine to meet.  In theory this should should magnify the effect, but I learned from the winemaker that it didn’t really work and they will no longer use that type of barrel.

Interesting lesson, but it means that I have a few dozen staves that I cannot easily work into the products that I usually make.  I don’t really mind because I have some ideas for really unique products that will be enhanced by these unusual barrel staves.

All I have to do is get back into the shop and get to work.

We will also be at the Entertainment District Art Crawls on Friday, July 10th and Friday, August 14th at David Pecaut Square.

Damn. I better get to work …

Wally.

What’s cooking?

Wood; that’s what’s cooking.

Well, it’s actually drying at a low heat in my new kiln.

I came across some awesome thick-cut cherry slabs that have been drying outdoors in a stickered pile for a few years.  I have some great ideas for this wood but before I can use it I have to dry it to a lower moisture content.

When you buy finished wood from a store it has been dried from its 50% moisture level to about 8-10% moisture.  At that level the wood has shrunk about as far as it is going to so it is safe to build with.  Building with green wood can result in cracking, twisting and cupping and could easily ruin your project.

The stickered cherry wood has air dried to about 20% moisture, so I need to get that down to 10%.  At 2 inches thick, I can leave the wood in my heated basement for another year which should get it down to 12%, which is pretty safe to work with.

But I want to get it to 10% or less, and I do not want to wait a year before I can build with it.

The problem is that you cannot just buy a kiln at Home Depot.  Very few woodworkers dry their own wood, so no one makes small kilns.  I could probably find a $100,000 commercial kiln, but I do not have the money or space for one.

So I built my own kiln.

They are really quite simple.  All you need is an insulated box, a heat source and a fan.  You have to maintain the temperature at around 100 degree F and the relative humidity at 40%.

So I made a 2’x2’x4′ plywood box and insulated it with foam.  I put in two 100 W bulbs and an old computer fan to keep the air moving.  I cut some holes in each side and covered them with sliding covers so I can regulate the temperature and humidity.  I also installed a small window so that I can see the thermometer/hygrometer inside the box.  It’s a good thing that I know how to cut glass.

So my first batch of wood went in yesterday.  I hope to have it ready in two weeks, but the frigid temperatures in my unheated garage are keeping the internal temperature a bit low.

You ‘ll know that the wood is ready when you start to see new wood products appearing on the site.

Stay tuned for updates on my adventure in kiln drying wood.

Wally.

Candles are hot!

This season I have been pleasantly surprised with how popular candles are.

As part of my “found objects” theme I have been turning found objects into candles of various sizes and shapes.  These items include bobbins, barrel staves and rescued wood.

Bobbins make wonderful candlesticks because of their graceful shape and interesting patina.  I offer bobbin candlesticks either as drilled or adapted.

Drilled bobbins are just that – the top of the bobbin is drilled to accept either a standard  candls (7/8″) or a medium candle (5/6″). This is very convenient and looks great, but unfortunately it destroys the value of the bobbin as a collector piece.  If all you want is a candlestick then that is not an issue, but if you collect bobbins or want to display the bobbin on its own without a candle, the top of the bobbin is marred by the large hole.

If you want to preserve that value of the bobbin then I also make adapters consisting of a candle cup on top of a dowel.  The dowel fits into the bobbin opening and the candles fits into the cup that stands proud of the bobbin.

My wine barrel stave candles are also quite popular this season to the point where I am heading back into the shop to make more.

The big surprise is candle centerpieces made from birch branches.  I salvaged these birch branches earlier this year when helping a friend clean up trees on his farm damaged by last winter’s ice storm.  They have been dried (easier said than done!), flattened on the bottom, and drilled along the top to accept glass tealight holders.  Ranging from 11 to 16 inches with three, four or five tealights each, they make an excellent centrepiece for your holiday table.

A final fun candle set that I made is a pair of wooden shoe lasts with candle adapters.  These are an awesome and whimsical display on your table or mantle.

So I have definitely seen the light and I will be working on a new set of candles for 2015!

Wally.

 

 

My head is full of rocks

I recently spent several weeks vacationing in Newfoundland, so I now know why it is called “the rock”; there are rocks everywhere.

All four coasts are mostly magnificent cliffs, the bottom of most “ponds” are covered in rocks, and even their highest peaks are liberally strewn with small rocks. Everywhere you go, there are rocks.

I’ve always had an affinity for rocks, so I was quite engrossed with what we came across.

Even though we were flying home, we managed to pack a few choice rocks in our checked bags.

Towards the end of our trip we visited the Johnson Geo Center in St. John’s, which is a fantastic museum that pretty clearly explains why Newfoundland has such interesting geology.  The island includes both a stub of the Appalachian mountains and beaches that were once connected to Morocco. The age of the rocks varies from recently-deposited sandstone to peridotite  from the earth’s mantle.  A coloured map of the types of geology in the island looks like a Jackson Pollock painting.

So now I am bouncing around ideas for making things out of rocks.  Possibilities include rock candles, rock table tops, and hybrid items made from combinations of my favourite materials like rock & glass and rock & wood.

Keep your eyes open for new items appearing in our store over the next few weeks.

 

Wally.

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