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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Negotiating the Curves

Morning folks!

First I want to acknowledge and welcome my first follower, Ray!  Thank You, and I am excited to have you!

This post is going to enlarge slightly upon the last two posts, because I wanted to share an additional  technique that someone may need to know about if they love curves as much as I do.  I have always been drawn to graceful, flowing curves.  In art, architecture, and nature, curves are the first thing I notice and appreciate.  They lend a beauty to just about anything that takes something simple and elevates it to grand.

The simple beauty of curves

But when building, whether with wood or with Foam Core, those same graceful curves can become a nightmare.  Getting them drawn, getting them to appear graceful, and getting them cut can be a true pain.

So today, I wanted to spend a few minutes showing you the tools and one of the main techniques I use to negotiate those curves when creating a three dimensional piece, like a dollhouse or three dimensional model.

First, some of the tools that can make drawing those curves so much easier!

  • Common Everyday Household Items - You may laugh at the first one....but don't!  I use this more often than any other tool!  It works!  The common, everyday bowl! 

Using a common everyday bowl to guide a curve

This is the tool I used to create this curve.

Graceful curves  from common everyday items

Sure, it is a  humble tool, but think about it.  There are more beautiful curves in the common everyday items sitting around your home than you might realize!  Cups, glasses, bases of statues, lamps, you name it, it probably has a curve in it somewhere.  And what comes in more shapes and sizes than common dinnerware! 

Of course, there is always the practicality factor!  That gorgeous curve on the dining room table won't help you here much. (Although someone has tried it!  We won't talk about that.) 

  • The French Curve - The Architects Tool  - a great tool for smaller or compound curves
The French Curve

These are the tools I used to create the profile you see in the base of the stairs below:

An Early Version of the Grand Staircase

  • The Compass - The old standby for simple circles 
The Compass

I used this tool to create the pattern for my circular staircase (to be shown in a later post!) in combination with the French Curves pictured above.

Pattern for the Spiral Staircases in Steampunk Manor

OK, so now we have the curves drawn.  Now how do we turn them into three dimensional curves?

I won't insult your intelligence by creating photos of cutting the curves out of wood...I'll just give you a couple of important pointers when cutting miniature curves out of wood.  They are a different animal than large, life sized curves!

  1. Use a scroll saw or Dremel tool to cut the basic shapes.  I don't worry about following the lines too closely on the first cut IF the item I am cutting is big enough to shape with a sander or Dremel after the basic shape has been cut.  
  2. Paradox here!  If your shapes are very small, as in the circular staircase above, DO NOT cut the shapes away from the board first....cut them as close to the lines as you can manage but do so while they are still attached to the larger board.  The reason for this is that once you reach a certain point of "mini", most tools will not allow you to do precise cutting.  For example, in the curved shapes on my circular staircase, I made the mistake of cutting each basic shape out (not worrying about the lines) and then tried to cut the curves on those teeny tiny pieces.  Trust me, it does not work!  My scroll saw was too wide and the Dremel, while it would eventually have worked, would take much longer to shape the curves.  So for those smaller pieces, cut them out of the original board one at a time...this gives you the room to make those precise cuts while the piece is attached to something you can hold on to..which gives you greater maneuverability.  
  3. All curves will still need sanding into shape. It is nearly impossible (for a novice anyway!) to cut a precise curve with one pass of the saw.  I use my Dremel tool to get into the tiny curves that grace most miniature items.   Here is a tip.  Everyone hates sanding.  Another tip.  Sanding well separates the men from the boys!  Good work REQUIRES good sanding.  Nothing you will do will turn out well if you do not sand and finish the pieces well. 

Now for the major technique I wanted to demonstrate.  This is an important technique when creating curves in miniature, especially those tight curves.

This technique is called "kerfing".  It is used by woodworkers and crafters to shape wood into curves the world over, but if you are not familiar with woodworking, you would never think of using this technique.  So I wanted to post about it.

I used kerfing to create the curve in my Entry door opening.

The Entry Door with a curve (kerfed!) arch in wood

I also used it in my original version of the second floor stairwell.  (Yes there was an original version that got tossed...shhhh!  Don't tell!)

The original stairwell, using kerfed corners in Foam Core Board

You can see in the second photo what kerfing is.  It amounts to making small cuts in one side of the board, whether wood or Foam Core.  For the Foam Core piece above, I cut slits approximately 1/4 inch apart all along the outside each curve.  

When kerfing wood, you will need to follow up with a second step, to soften the wood and coax it into shape.  I put my wood strips into a large mixing bowl...and soaked them overnight.  This softens the wood and makes it much more pliable.  Even then, you will need to use some care, as wood really does not LIKE to bend.  It will fight you all the way.  The best solution to this is to bend slightly, then relax the wood, then bend slightly more, then relax the wood, and repeat until you have the shape you desire.  Even with that careful approach, your wood stick may break.  Wood is like people, some are strong, some are weak! Each piece of wood will bend differently, depending upon the wood grain, strength of the wood fibers, and the variety of wood.  Be prepared for the possiblity, (aka have more materials at hand!) and just start over again with a new can be done!

Once the curve has been created, the side that is slit, if it is to show, can be covered with wood strip to create a clean, simple, and graceful curve. 

I hope the above will help some of you achieve those elegant curves you desire!  The process is easy, if sometimes a bit frustrating...but one thing I am learning...there is no such thing as an "impatient miniaturist"!  Take your time, move slow, and this will allow you to create sumptuous curves that beautify the simplest pieces. 

Until next time!

Doug S

P.S.  I promise I will start posting my current progress soon!

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