Article: Andi Wolfe Demonstrates For CMW July 20, 2013

July 26, 2013 17:40, submitted by Tina Collison (author: Bob Gunther, photos by Tina Collison)

CMW Demonstration, July 20, 2013 by Andi Wolfe


Andi lives in Upper Arlington, Ohio. She is a biology professor at Ohio State University where her title is Dr. Wolfe. She is a botanist by day and a woodturner during much of her spare time. Her work is inspired by botanical and other biological motifs, which she employs extensively. Her scientific training has served her well in her woodturning endeavors.

Andi views wood as a medium for exploration and not just a material that has a pretty grain pattern. Experimentation plays a major role in Andi’s design process. She uses woods that are fine-grained with subtle figuring so that her designs of nature become part of the whole vessel. They are a complement to the wood and not a distraction to the eye. Her goal is to enhance the surface so that the vessel becomes a three-dimensional canvas that draws the viewer to explore all aspects of the piece.

Andi favors using maple and oak leaf designs for her carved pieces. She sometimes enhances a turning by carving a textural motif inspired by the cellular structures of plants. Some of these designs are not as obvious as her leaf patterns unless the viewer is used to seeing plants at a microscopic level.

Her designs are carved using different rotary carving tools such as the Foredom SR, NSK Z-500, and NSK Presto units. The burnt relief that Andi has developed is achieved with pyrography equipment such as the Detail Master using various woodburning pens. Texturing via carving and pyrography are common elements of her work as is the use of color.

Andi is a member of the American Association of Woodturners and has demonstrated for that organization and many others, including symposia and collaborations in South Africa and Australia. She demonstrated for CMW in November, 2004 and November, 2007. She has taught at John C. Campbell Folk School and Arrowmont. Her works are well recognized and are in demand. They are present in many prestigious collections around the world.

In addition to being a very talented wood artist Andi is an accomplished hammered dulcimer and fiddle player. She is also an avid photographer.

Morning Session:

Andi began her demo with a power point presentation of her work beginning with her early woodturnings. She showed the progression of her work and techniques used for surface texturing, carving and coloring. She showed how she uses botanical motifs to create her design features. Leaves have played an important part in her designs, especially maple and oak. Simple doodle patterns are also used.

After showing the turning and texturing of her 2-dimensional pieces Andi turned to 3-dimensional carving. The electron microscope provides Andi with patterns for her texturing and carving. She discussed the tools used in the process of creating her pieces. The Detail Master Sabre IV with 10A, 6A and 7B tips is used for pyrography. For carving the Foredom SR, NSK Z-500, NSK Presto and a variety of hand tools are used. Scorching is done using a Micro Torch from Harbor Freight.

The hands-on demo began with pyrography. The Detail Master Sabre IV temperature controller was used. Heavy duty dedicated pens/tips were used – not handles with replaceable tips; 10A, 6A and 7B tips were used for design. (Detail Master will repair hand pieces with broken tips.) For texturing and stippling designs not requiring heavy-duty use, Razor Tip pens can be used. The Detail Master pens need to be conditioned when new. They are heated to cherry red for a minute, turned off and air-cooled. They need to be sharpened before use. The Razor Tips are ready to use right out of the package. Resin build up on tips can be cleaned with a wire brush.

First Andi showed how to draw (burn) a straight line. Andi places a mesh sleeve over the pen handle to help insulate from heat buildup. Different heat settings should be tried when burning lines. Andi first burned across the grain. Because the wood varies in hardness when burning one must adjust the rate of pen travel to get an evenly burned line. Next, lines were drawn with the grain. Here burning was easier but the grain may try to control the direction of the pen. Then curved lines were shown. One needs a sharp pen and needs to rotate it while burning the curve. At the same time, one needs to rotate the surface being burned. Pre-winding the pen in the opposite direction of the curve will help to turn the corner more smoothly.

A sampler board can be made to show examples of various patterns created by different tips. Tree Line (Utah) might be a source for Sue Walters’ article on pyrography – “Woodburning Magazine,” Summer 2005. This article is an excellent source to see just what a sampler board might look like. (Sue Walters also has a book available.) When making a sampler board, various tips can be used at different heat settings to give different surface textures. Each tip can be held in various presentations to the wood to further alter designs. Also, when making the sampler, each square on the board should be completed to really appreciate what the pattern looks like. Each wood burns differently so before using pyrography on a turned piece one should try techniques on a waste sample of the same wood. Tips such as the 6A can be honed to a sharp point, sharp enough to sign your name.

When doing a random textured pattern on a bowl, or a large area, one should execute the pattern in one area then change to other areas and eventually blend them together. If one simply goes from right to left or left to right, one will discover that the pattern has changed when getting back to the starting point. After burning an area 91% isopropyl alcohol can be used to clean up the resin. This gives a clean surface that can be colored. The 7B tip was then used to create a hammered pattern or a basket weave. Each design depends on the tip presentation to the wood. To make the Detail Master and Razor Tip tools interchangeable one needs to have adapters. These can be purchased from pyrography suppliers or made from Radio Shack components. Razor Tips make specialty tips such as circles, fish scales, etc. that can be adapted to the Detail Master.

Next Andi turned to texturing and carving. An NSK Z-500 unit was used (max. speed – 50,000 rpm). Various burs were shown, and an overview about safe speeds for various burs was given. In general, the larger the size of the bur, the slower the rpms should be. A Presto air tool (400,000 rpm) would be used with 1/16 inch burs. The use of specific burs was discussed. Kutzall burs can be cleaned with a micro torch. J. Paul Fennel is a good source of quality burs ( When using burs, it is important to achieve a smooth surface and to not leave a frayed edge that would need to be sanded. Sanding will decrease the effectiveness of the texturing. Several burs were used with the NSK to make lines and stippling. If frayed edges do occur, a 3M sanding bristle can be used in the NSK (<10,000 rpm) to remove them. Various textures were created that would be scorched in the afternoon session. This completed the morning session.

Afternoon Session:

Andi began by scorching the areas stippled during the morning session. She used a micro torch by Benzomatic. By holding the torch at an angle one can burn only the top surface of the design. Once torched, the surface can be finished with several coats of 50:50 mineral spirits/varnishing oil (such as Watco Danish Oil) and a final coat of varnishing oil only.

Andi then carved the surface on a vessel that already had the surface design broken into the surface. The carved areas were more defined and deepened. Then a titanium oxide bur was used to give the final surface to the carved area. A 3M bristle could be used for a cleanup.

Next Andi presented a slide show of her 3-dimensional carved pieces. The layout of a piece using leaf patterns was illustrated. Numerous examples were shown. She showed her workshop where she does her carvings. At her work station everything she needs is within reach from her carving bench. Next, the turning and design of a piece was shown with a leaf motif. The negative areas had to be carved away. The wall thickness was left thick (about ¾ inch) so that the motion or shape of the leaves could be achieved. Then each leaf was carved on one side (outside) and then the other. Once the rough-out carving was completed the details of each leaf were cared. What are the front surface and the back surface of each leaf need to be determined and detailed accordingly. First the outside details are done and then the inside.

Some of Andi’s microscopic botanical details that were laid out on a piece were carved. Spherical pieces with wavy details were shown. Some pieces, due to their design, had limited access to the interior and thus carving was somewhat more difficult. Details on a piece can take much more time to achieve than turning and carving.

A piece of redwood was used that had been turned with a ¾ inch wall thickness. The design (cells in wood anatomy) had been drawn on the surface so that the individual plant cells could be cut away using a saw drill ( Some had been previously cut away. Andi continued the carving of this piece and several others. Various details were shown including leaf shaping. A universal cutter was shown removing some wood but producing a smooth surface. The saw drill was used to evacuate the redwood cells. They were then cleared out using a double cut diamond pattern bur that leaves a smooth surface. This completed the carving portion of the demo.

Andi then turned to coloring. A pyrography design was cleaned with 91% isopropyl alcohol. Prisma Color markers were used for coloring. When dry, a 50:50 mix of mineral spirits and varnishing oil was used. Two or three coats are applied followed by a coat of full-strength varnishing oil. Let each coat dry completely before applying the next one. When dry, Krylon UV resistant spray would be applied for protection. (Prisma Color pens are available at a reasonable price from When using the Prisma Colors Andi begins with the lightest shade and works in layers to the darkest hue. The leaf was entirely colored with light yellow and then canary yellow was applied in several areas. The color was transferred from the marker via a white nylon brush to the piece and dabbed on. Light orange was applied followed by a darker orange. Then light green and crimson were applied. Then the initial light yellow was applied over the entire leaf.

Next, acrylic paints were used on a small bowl. It was first painted entirely with black gesso (Golden). This paint serves as a primer and seals the wood. A #14 white nylon bristle brush was used. When the black gesso was dry a greenish/brown coat of acrylic paint was applied in a random manner. When this was dry, copper paint was placed on the palate and then dabbed on the piece, again in a random fashion. This was followed by bronze. Then metallic olive green was applied with a smaller #8 brush followed by metallic blue and purple. Next Interference color was applied (green – blue – violet). The metallic paints were Lumiere brand. The Interference colors were by Liquitex. Small amounts of each were applied. It is important to not overload the brush. Use sparingly for best results. This completed the very attractive bowl and a very interesting and informative demo.

A DVD will be available in the club library in August 2013. Submitted by Bob Gunther

Additional Photos from Andi Wolfe's TLC Class on July 21, 2013