Saturday, February 26, 2011

"Thunderbolt" completed

All the kids knew the stories about the horse called Thunderbolt. He was big and strong, with a unique style of bucking, and a strong dislike of humans. Thunderbolt was a mechanical horse that sat in front of the dime store, beautiful and shiny, like a magnet for cowboys and cowgirls! But something in his eye, something you felt when you touched him, gave you pause….made you shiver, even on a warm day. Babies and little kids would sense danger almost immediately, when their parents would plop them in the saddle, and they would cry loudly until removed to safety! One day he lurched to life and kicked a second-grader into a shopping cart, spraining the boy’s wrist and causing him to speak about himself in the third person for nearly a week! The grown-ups said it was probably an electrical short that made it start like that….but we knew better! Some kids said the stains on the base were from spilled kool aid or a cherry Icee….others said it was the blood of those kids thrown from the saddle and trampled under his hooves! Only the best dared to climb in this saddle, those heroes blessed with a combination of bravery and foolishness, those cowpokes who would challenge the horse called Thunderbolt!
Play can be pretty serious, when you‘re a kid! Your imagination breathes life and nobility and heroics into all kinds of things and your world has many adventures. This carving, this toy, is an attempt to capture that spirit, that joy, that realistic thrill that we experienced while playing. I grew up in the country, with woods and creeks and pastures, and herds of kids who galloped and fought and built forts and hideouts and played pretty much full-time until we were forced to come inside! A stick was a horse, a spear, a rifle, or a pistol, depending on how you held it, and our heroes were Roy Rogers and the Lone Ranger. The good guys always won, but it always seemed like both sides were the “good guys”. I hope looking at this piece, watching it move, or playing with it, will make you smile; will remind you of adventures that you once had. I hope you will remember the time when you rode “Thunderbolt”.

This piece is approximately 20”tall and 12” wide, and is made from basswood, pine, and birch plywood. It is finished with acrylic paint, gold leaf, satin polyurethane, and has some leather and metal accents

Here is a video of it in action and a link to more pictures. Thanks for looking!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Carving "Thunderbolt" -Almost ready for paint!

I’m starting to get close to completion. I got the base finished and made a few adjustments to the mechanism. I got the hat on the cowboy, which is an interesting little process. You basically take your beautifully carved little head and slice the top off with a bandsaw! A disc sander then helps you get it nice and flat to fit in a recess carved in the bottom of the brim, which is separate from the crown of the hat. You might be able to make out the buttons and end of the belt that have been added. The buttons are small wire brads inserted into the burned button-holes on the shirt and the end of the belt is a piece of copper that was bent and sanded to shape to give the impression of the end of the belt flopping out (they will all be painted).

Here are some views of how it will look over all, finally giving you some idea of the size and such. I decided to try and keep the colors of the top similar to the base and ended up using the piece I cut out of the bottom. I wanted it to be shaped similar to a base used with the mechanical horses and I wanted to expose the gears and cams as part of the visual effect. This seems to be sort of a Japanese Moon bridge type effect…with kind of a mirrored image thing. I am able at this point to do some motion testing and I ended up adding a piece of leather to dampen some of the sound and vibration when the dowel the horse rides on returns to the rear down position. Since nothing is glued on the figure at this point, I have to be very careful when operating it, so that little cowboy body parts are not flung across the shop!
I have sealed the horse, applied a coat of gesso, and sanded it a bit before starting the woodburning of details. I use a pyrograpic pen for several purposes… adds shadows and details and it also prevents paint in one area from bleeding to others. I use a very light touch for some areas, like the face and clothing, and different types of hair. But I also use it like a hot carving knife, to define certain shadows and depths on the mane and tail. I will put another coat of gesso on the horse and over the elements burned on the mane and tail, but will probably over-burn those details again to add realism.

Thanks for looking!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Carving Thunderbolt......Mechanicals finished!

Thanks to unusual snow-fall amounts in Arkansas, I’ve had a few days off and have been able to get the mechanics and a good portion of the base completed. I am a better wood-carver than I am a wood-worker, but I keep trying, thanks to all the inspiring projects people post on Lumberjocks! The construction and design are pretty simple, which is about all I can handle. I wanted a base that would be steady, when the toy is cranked, and I wanted it to be a little tall, to attract attention and to allow the mechanics to be viewed.

The gears, bushings, and cam are all from birch plywood, with few miscellaneous pieces of maple and pear. The stand itself is yellow pine and the legs are basswood. I wanted the gears to draw attention, but the main focal point will be the horse and rider, so I wanted to use a natural finish that let the colors and grain of the wood show through. I liked the contrast of the grain in the pine, but I wanted to make it a little more fun, a little more exotic in appearance. So I decided to play a little bit with some red dye. It ranges from pinkish-brown on the face of the pine to a reddish-purple on the end grain. I like the faded look it has in some areas and the rich red around the gears and cam. The basswood has very subtle graining that compliments and contrasts, I think, with the other wood. The mechanics are very simple, but they operate smoothly and will give the motion that I am looking for to the horse, which will be mounted on the rod that will be operated by the cam. I am thinking about either using basswood for the top of this stand, in order to give it a better flow. Any advice on this? Should I use something else with more color on the top ( lacewood, walnut, paduak, cherry are what I have) ? Or would it be too much… too many different things… too distracting? Thanks for looking!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Carving "Thunderbolt" - Tail finished

We got a little snow in Arkansas last Friday, so I finally had an opportunity to get a bit more done. He does look better with a tail, just like a few of you suggested! I was able to use an 1/8” dowel for joining it to the body and I feel better about it being more solid. Rather than just butting it together with the dowel as a tenon of sorts, I outlined the base of the tail on the rump and then carved a hole for it to fit into. A little carving and sanding after the glue dried made this joint look very nice and smooth.

I turned the tail slightly to the side to give it more the appearance of a bucking horse, trying to unseat the unfortunate fool on his back. I’ll seal it and put a couple of coats of gesso on it in a few days. Just as I enjoy different styles and forms of wood carving, I also like to use different styles of painting. I do a lot of carvings by dipping them in water and then using acrylic paints directly on the damp wood, for a more washed out effect that lets the wood grain show through. On other things, I use gesso as an undercoat to make the colors brighter and truer, by having the white as the base, rather than the color of the wood. It also can help joint lines completely disappear. Some bird carvers use a similar process.

I have did a few sketches and I did a little test run with the design of the mechanisms that will move the horse and rider. I am thinking about leaving them exposed since kids of all ages seem to be fascinated but how they move. I am planning on using a cou
ple of wooden gears in an appropriate ratio to give several turns of the crankshaft to one rotation of the handle. The gears were from Matthias Wandel’s template generator. The smaller gear will be the driving gear for the crankshaft, but I will make the crankshaft wheels a little bigger than shown to get a wider range of motion from the shaft. The shaft will go through a base and will probably be guled directly to the belly of the horse. I may use some other idea though, that will make it more servicable, in case probelms arise or something wears out.