Article: Dixie Biggs Demonstration For CMW, April 12, 2014

April 17, 2014 17:17, submitted by Tina Collison (author: Bob Gunter, Photos by Tina Collison)

Dixie Biggs Demonstration for CMW, April 12, 2014


Dixie’s interest in woodturning began in 1979 when she taught herself to use a wood lathe so that she could duplicate a chess set her grandfather had made. She is primarily self-taught but she has had some great advice and inspiration from many other woodturners and artists along the way.

Dixie has been a full-time woodturner/artist since 1989. She has had an extensive show career and has exhibited her work in such premier venues as the Smithsonian Craft Show, Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show and del Mano Gallery. She has shared her techniques and knowledge at various woodturning clubs, symposiums, and craft schools around the country.

Much of her work incorporates botanical themes. These are enhanced by her having a degree in agriculture. Each of her pieces begins on the lathe. She sees this as a starting point for further development. The surface of her work is created using various carving tools both hand-held and power-driven. Many times the wood itself will dictate what the surface texture or treatment will be.

In addition to today’s demo, Dixie taught two all-day classes at Ox Creek Community Center on April 13 and 14, 2014.

Morning Session:

Dixie began her demo with a slide presentation showing the path that her turning and carving has followed. She began doing bird carving. The first thing she turned was a chess set as mentioned in the overview. That was in 1979. Since then she has taught herself to turn. She took a class with Rude Osolnik which provided a good beginning. She turned hollow forms with three legs. She then began carving details on her work and using sandblasting. A leaf motif was and is used frequently. Some leaves were carved in relief and others carved so that they appeared to be lifting off the surface of the vessel. Dixie took a course with Jack Vesery in 2004 in an effort to add color to her work. She also did some sculptured work. Nesting pieces were created consisting of leaves with egg forms resting on them. She also did a series of tea pots.

The hands-on portion of the demo began with embellishing. A small ash hollow form was used. Dixie rests her work on a sandbag with a mesh surface. This not only supports the piece but also permits her to support it in any position she wishes. A small round diamond burr was used to burn the pattern in the surface. The pattern was formed around the opening of the hollow form. Then an oil based grain filler was used (walnut) that was in contrast to the color of the ash. The filler was purchased from Constantine. Behlens also makes a paste filler that can be used. The filler was wiped on into the grain and then rubbed off. This accentuated the grain pattern. Before texturing and applying the filler one needs to sand the pieces so that all scratches and sanding marks are eliminated. If not, the contrasting filler will show all the defects. After applying the filler one must let it dry overnight and then the piece can be lacquered. A contrasting lid can be used. In spite of the open grain of the ash one will get a smooth surface after the lacquer because the grain filler fills all the open grain pores.

Next Dixie textured a small cherry hollow form using a Dremel engraver. A scribble pattern was formed. A water based fabric dye (others can be used but they need to be thin bodied). This was followed by several coats of lacquer. This had been done prior to the demo. Then a colored wax was applied (Liberon black in this case). The wax filled the scribble pattern. One can make his or her own colored wax using furniture wax and coloring. The wax is applied in a circular motion to fill all the voids. It is left to dry for a short period and then wiped off. If one doesn’t let it dry it will be wiped away when the wax if buffed.

Dixie then placed a previously turned 5/4 inch, 8” diameter domed cherry disc on the carving bag. A woodburner was used to create divisions on the dome’s surface. The woodburning lines prevent dyes from crossing from one area to the next thus give crisp delineation between sections of the piece. In one section of the disc a pattern was engraved using the Dremel engraver. A second section was textured with a micro carver. Dots were made in a square grid pattern and the engraver used to connect the dots. The underside of one dot was connected to the upper side of the next dot. This formed a basket weave pattern. In the third section straight parallel lines were formed. Other parallel lines were formed at angles to the first set. The lines were made to appear to go over or under intersecting lines. Then an engraved pattern was made to fill the voids between the lines. The piece was then dyed and lacquered. Black wax was applied, let dry and then wiped off as done above with the hollow form.

Dixie then turned to the carving portion of her demo. She prefers a micro-motor carver (40,000-50,000 rpm top speed) The Mastercarver Micro Motor is a good, reasonably priced one. This ended the morning session.

Afternoon Session:

Dixie continued her work on the cherry domed disc. A fern pattern was made using a tapered diamond bit. It is used more as a burnisher than a carver. The main fern stem was made first and then a high speed ball bit was used to carve the fern details. A small tapered diamond bit was used to form the veins in each part of the fern. A 3M radial bristle brush was used to burnish the high spots and remove fuzz.

Next Dixie made a step pattern on a cherry disc. An altered stump cutter was used. The tip of the cutter was ground flat on the grinder. It was rotated during the grinding process to assure a flat surface.

For making patterns Dixie uses Borco. Its real use is to cover drawing boards. It comes in rolls and is sold by the foot. Maple leaf patterns were cut. Dixie fits the pattern to the form so leaves need to be made in several sizes. The leaf patterns were laid out on the surface of the piece. Wall thickness of Dixie’s hollow form pieces are about 3/8 inch thick. This thickness permits relief carving. Of the 3/8 inch, 1/8” is final wall thickness and ¼ inch is for the carving.

When laying out the leaves do not overlap them in ways that will create problems when carving such as stems or small voids between leaf details. Once the leaf pattern is laid out the background has to be removed. This is done with small stump cutters. The actual outline shape of the leaf pattern is made with a midsize straight burr. This first cut is about 1/8 inch deep. This goes around the outer boarder of the patterns and not where there is any overlapping of the leaves. A Kutzall or Typhoon burr is used to remove the background. Then a straight bit that has the end flattened off on the grinder is used. This establishes the final depth of the leaves at 3/16 inch and with clean perpendicular edges. This is important for appearance and also later on when undercutting the leaf edges. A stump cutter was used to further remove wood outside the leaf areas.

Next the two leaf patterns were visually separated. The small straight bit was used to outline the overlapping leaf. When one leaf is overlapping another one can only go to half the final relief depth at the outer areas. Centrally one can go to the full 3/16 inch depth. This is important when shaping the leaf surface. Then one cleans up the edges of the leaf. The leaf surface is then shaped. Once shaped and only when shaped undercutting of the leaf edges can be done. Undercutting is done with a tapered bit – midsize. The undercut is done where the 90 degree leaf edge meets the vessel surface. The tapered bit is dragged along this intersection.

To create a thinner look to the leaf edge, one can use a little larger tapered bit to cut an angle from edge of leaf to undercut. Undercutting can also be done with reverse cone cutters. Small cone shaped sanding bits can be used to clean up the undercut surfaces. A Dremel mandrel bit can also be used for sanding. The screw is removed from the mandrel leaving a flat surface with a small hole in the center. Double stick tape that has had sandpaper applied to one side can be punched out in small circles with a paper hole punch or one can get a leather punch and put it in the drill press and punch out the circles. Then the circular sandpaper/double stick tape can be applied to the mandrel’s flat surface. Motor speed needs to be cut way down (¼ speed) and sanding needs to be done gently. If not the little discs will be all over one’s shop. A roofing nail can be used instead of the mandrel. It will fit a 1/8 inch collet.

At this point the leaf veins can be formed. Use a tree identification book or obtain real leaves as a guide. Cutting out the leaf patterns using Borco was mentioned earlier in the demo. Veins can be either cut into the leaf or left proud. A small tapered diamond bit is used to incise the veins. These can be sanded lightly with the 3M bristle sander to knock off any fuzz. To make the veins proud one must cut along each side of the vein. A small ball bit can be used for this. One also has to be careful that each side vein comes into the center vein and that the center vein lines stop where each side vein comes in and then continues on above it. The areas between the veins and right up to the veins can be textured with a small ball cutter. A 220 grit radial 3M Bristle Sander can then be used to remove any fuzz and to burnish all the high spots.

Dixie then designed a clover leaf pattern. She first drew her signature solitary 4-leaf clover. Then randomly 3 leaf clovers were drawn. Relief cuts around each clover were done with the small ball bit. Then a tapered bit was used to remove wood around each clover. The clovers that appear under the above ones were drawn and the relief done and further wood removed. The burner was then used to outline the clovers like using a hot knife. Then a smaller bit was used to surface texture the leaves so that they were no longer flat. Then each leaf was textured with the burner. The entire surfaces were textured and then brushed with soft brass brush or the 220 grit Radial Bristle Sander to remove any char or fuzz.

Dixie continued the completion of the clover design using a short slide show. The clover design done above including the burnt texturing was completely painted black (Burnt Sienna & black ink). Then the darkest green was applied over the black. Then a lighter green was dry brushed on. This was followed by an even lighter color which was also dry brushed on.

Dixie completed her demo showing a 10 inch diameter cherry log about 24 inches long that had been hollowed and a morning glory relief pattern carved to cover the outside of the log from top to bottom. Should someone be interested, this piece is available. The price will be a secret between Dixie and the buyer.

Submitted by Bob Gunther

A DVD of this demonstration will be available soon in the Library.

Photos submitted by Don McClure from Dixie's Monday Class: