Bandsaw tricks

I picked up a piece of Bethlehem Olive last year before Christmas, with the intention of carving a bird or two from it. I’d already finished the 100 Birds Project, so there was no big rush. Yesterday (yes, about 10 months later) I was making a few birds and thought I’d see what I could do with the olive.

The piece of wood wasn’t quite 2″ thick, so I had to use a smaller bird pattern: 1-1/2 inches wide and 3-3/8 inches long. The piece of wood, though, was slightly less than 6 inches long. How to get two birds out of that piece of wood?

It was easy enough to lay out the two birds so that they fit on the piece of wood:

olive1The problem is making the top cutout. It’s real important to have a flat surface contacting the bandsaw table. Here’s what I need to cut out.

olive2Were I to try cutting this out, I would have to be very careful when working on the tail. The saw would be pushing down on that tail end, and if I let that happen then I’d lose control of the piece. Very bad things can happen then. And whereas it’s fun to say, “don’t do that,” I already know that I’m no match for a 3/4 HP electric motor.

I could turn the block over and glue the top pattern to the curved part, but that distorts it. The tail would be shorter because it would be going down at an angle. I made that mistake early in my time working with a bandsaw.

My solution was to trace the curve on another piece of wood, cut it out on the bandsaw, and use it as the base, like this.

olive3I taped those together and had a good solid flat base. Then I cut the top outline. The result, after removing the base and turning the thing over:

olive4I then turned the piece on its side and cut out the other view.

Doing this made me realize that I don’t have to cut out the entire top view, which saves me having to tape the sides back on before cutting out the side view. I had a few other birds to cut out (this time from full-sized blocks), so I gave it a try.

I cut the top view on one side from beak to tail. Then turn off the saw, leaving me with this:

plum1Note that I’ve lifted the guides so that you can see the work more clearly. When sawing, the guides are adjusted so that they are 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch above the work piece as shown in the next picture.

The reason I stop the saw is because I back the blade out of the cut. I can tell you from experience that backing a blade out of a cut while the saw is running is a dangerous thing to do. It’s one thing to back it out of a short, straight cut. It’s something else entirely to try backing out of a long, curved cut. The blade has a tendency to bind, which will pull it forward out from between the upper and lower guides. Then it catches the work piece and tears it out of my hand.

I was lucky the one time it happened to me; the blade was kinked beyond repair. It could have destroyed the work piece, or the blade could have cut me very badly. It’s never a good idea to lose control of the work piece. Even a small 3/4 horsepower saw like mine can do some serious damage.

That’s one reason for putting the guides close to the work. The less blade exposed, the less damage it can do.

If you want to back out of a cut, turn off the saw. Then hold a small scrap of wood or a pencil against the front of the blade to keep it in place, and gently work the piece back along the cut.

plum2After cutting both sides this way, I turned the piece on its side and cut out the other profile. I had to apply a little pressure when cutting out the beak, because the top side wanted to chatter a bit. But this was easier and faster than cutting the top profiles completely and then taping the sides back on like I used to.

Now I just have to finish those birds . . .

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