Thursday, August 9, 2012

Celtic Knots

So what's the most difficult design to make? So far the Celtic knot is by far the most frustrating design to bring to fruition. They're very beautiful, so they can be worth the effort. You just have to keep reminding yourself of that every time the blank explodes or you realize you made a wrong cut – always two or three weeks into the project!

My pen mentor, Adam, showed me the basics. I also downloaded some instructions. Using this as a base, I tried my hand at it with a blank of tambotti wood and pine inlay. Of course, this was a disaster and had to be put down like a rabid dog. Lots of learning took place, though. And I eventually produced "Celtic Haven" in tambotti and pine. It's not perfect, but it taught me the steps and foibles to get there. 

John at the woodshop got his hands on some holly, which is creamy white and easy to work with. Using holly and some padauk strips, the result of my next attempt at the knot was "Pure Celtic." This is one of my all-time favorites for its beauty, and subsequently one of my first sales. 

Bloom's taxonomy of learning tells us that adaptation and improvisation are high on the learning scale. It occurred to me that a six-ringed Celtic knot was possible with a little modification to the process. Lots of experimentation led to "Pathways", which features two 6-ringed Celtic knots of padauk and pine (quickly snatched up by Fran K., thanks!). I've even made an 8-ringed Celtic knot to make its debut in the near future. Note that each ring of a Celtic knot requires a cut, then 24 hours of glue drying before more work can be done.

My nemesis was "Northern Fury." There's a picture of it in the first blog post (and a close-up here: This pen took about 6 months to produce, mostly because I gave up and started over several times, procrastinating each time. After several exploded and broken blanks, I finally got this puppy on the lathe, only to realize that during the sanding process (close to the last step), there was no way to get ebony dust out of the porous pine grain of the knot. I finished and stripped this pen a half dozen times trying to make the white pine look clean. I even white-washed it with thinned paint at one point, then went over each ring with a fine file. In the end, the rings have a battle-hardened antiqued look, which I now actually prefer (but am NOT ready to duplicate...).

Northern Fury was a custom-job for a Marine here in Iwakuni. Because the antiqued look wasn't what he asked for, I started over, this time using a harder, less-porous maple inlay. After 6 months making Northern Fury, the re-make, "Caer Arianrhod" (Welsh for the borealis), took only a week to assemble and turn. I took both pens to him to choose the one he wanted. The funny part? He chose Northern Fury! But he told a friend about Caer Arianrhod, and it sold in a matter of minutes when shown.

So have I given up on Celtic knots? No way! I've got the process down now. Several modifications to the instructions have me producing non-exploding (for the most part) blanks. And let's face it, the knots are beautiful. So you can expect to see a few more in the future ... periodically as the frustration from the last one wears off!

I want to know! Tell me about your most difficult challenge. Comment below!
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