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Temporary Grave Marker #2: The challenges of a commissioned work...

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Blog entry by Ethan Sincox posted 11-12-2007 07:54 PM 6454 reads 0 times favorited 18 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: He works in mysterious ways... Part 2 of Temporary Grave Marker series no next part

Wait a second… Is it really a commissioned work? Maybe not. I agreed to make the cross, but I decided to not charge them for it (ehhh… it isn’t something I really want to put in my Gallery of Finished Pieces, you know? It’s more like a favor than anything. Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that I would feel weird about charging a friend for this piece. Hey, when its a hobby, you can afford to do that.)

In any case, I got hit square in the face with one of the challenges of doing a commissioned work.

To recap the events that have transpired so far, a friend of mine needed a temporary cross for his father’s grave site. He and his mom were given a small plastic temporary marker to use until the ground settles and they can set up the granite headstone (six to nine months). But they were less than happy with the temporary marker they were given, so he asked my wife if I’d be able to make them a better temporary marker.

I agreed to do so and then set about trying to figure out the best dimensions and methods, etc. I decided upon a cross shape, with a total height of 36” and a total width of 24”. My first major concern was that Frank wanted me to put his dad’s name and dates on the cross. I’ve yet to carve numbers and letters by hand and didn’t think someone’s cross would be the first time to attempt it. I don’t own any sign making router jigs and wasn’t sure I could get letters small enough to fit on a cross bar that is only 4” wide (high) and still have it look good. And to be honest with you, I don’t know how often I would route out letters and numbers into a piece in the future. It isn’t something I envision myself doing, so I don’t think it would be money well-spent. I thought woodburning the information wouldn’t look proper for such a project and wasn’t really sure where to go from there when the solution hit me. I needed to figure out a way to get the name and date information onto the cross using a method I knew and was comfortable with, so I suggest that Frank get a 3”x5” brass plaque made up with whatever information he wanted on it and I would then inlay the plaque into the cross! He thought that was a brilliant idea (as did I) and called his mom to order the plaque.

The next step was to figure out what kind of wood I wanted to use. I recently picked up some pieces of Santos Mahogany (which isn’t really a mahogany, if you didn’t know…) that was already dimensioned to 5/8” thick and had rough widths of 3 1/2” to 4 1/2” with plenty of length. This wood has a Janka hardness of 2200 and is insect and rot resistant, so I thought it would be a good place to start with a piece that was going to be exposed to six months of Missouri elements, starting in November.

I selected the two boards I wanted to use and trimmed them to final dimensions. I then laid them out for half-lap joinery (err… sorry, no pictures). I cut the half-lap joints on the table saw and glued the pieces up with some exterior-rated PVA glue.

“The Challenge”
At that point, I was waiting on the plaque before I could continue. My wife delivered it the next day when she returned from her work (Frank is her co-worker). I opened the box to find… a ceramic plaque – green, with gold lettering. Man, oh, man, that’s not what I was expecting. With the prominent reddish-tint of the Santos Mahogany, this thing was going to look like a Christmas cross! I asked Dana to confirm with Frank that he wanted to use a green and gold plaque with the reddish wood before I inlaid it into the cross. She checked with him the next day and said they were happy with that arrangement.

Not my first choice, let me tell you, but… that’s what they wanted, so I agreed to do it. On Saturday I measured and laid out the inlay area, marked it with a marking knife, and routed out the majority of the waste with my palm router and a 1/4” straight bit. I set the depth to about half the thickness of the plaque, so it would sit proud by 1/8” or so. Then I came back in with a 1 1/2” chisel and one of my lignum mallets (dang, that collection has actually grown a bit!) and cleaned up the edges. When I was done, I held my breath and set the plaque into the recess. It fit like a glove! I was very happy. I did notice one small issue; the plaque had a bit of a bow to it, so when I set it into the recess, it rocked from end to end. I sliced off two super-thin shims of santos and set them at either end of the recess and tried it again and the plaque was rock-solid.

I wanted to put the finish on before I epoxy’d the plaque in, so I had to figure out the best solution for that… I decided on Thompson’s water sealant for wood, actually. It is a deck sealer, and I figured it would be the best solution for a piece made to be out in the elements. I’ve already applied one coat; I’m debating as to whether or not I should apply a second. It says one coat is sufficient, but I’m thinking about applying a second coat just to be extra careful. I figure two coats of water sealant plus the natural resistance of the wood should be adequate enough to keep the cross well-protected.

Now my only problem is in how to place the cross at the site. I’ve pondered that issue for several weeks now and haven’t really come up with a good solution. The requirements are only that it be easily removed for mowing.

When I get home this evening, I’ll take some pictures of the cross and the plaque together (but not quite glued up).

-- Ethan, http://thekiltedwoodworker.com



18 comments so far

View Zuki's profile

Zuki

1404 posts in 2773 days


#1 posted 11-12-2007 10:51 PM

How about making a small form and pouring a concrete base. Nothing big . . .say . . . 12” x 10” x 6”H. Set the cross in the center of the form and pour in the concrete and let set. I believe that you can also get pigments to colour the concrete.

Just a thought.

-- BLOG - http://www.colorfulcanary.com/search/label/Zuki

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

18615 posts in 2856 days


#2 posted 11-12-2007 11:36 PM

perhaps Christmas is the best sentiment …. things sometimes happen for a reason.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (https://www.facebook.com/DebbiePribeleENJOConsultant)

View Karson's profile

Karson

34891 posts in 3096 days


#3 posted 11-13-2007 12:08 AM

Great Ethan. Will be nice to see it.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware karson_morrison@bigfoot.com †

View RobS's profile

RobS

1334 posts in 3002 days


#4 posted 11-13-2007 12:59 AM

Hi Ethan,
Very nice of you to do and I can’t wait to see it.

I don’t know if you want to drill into the bottom edge, if you can, then how about two holes to except two pieces of 3/8 inch rebar, maybe epoxy them into the holes and then the other ends could just poke into the ground.. Depending on the weight of the cross, I would think 12 to 18 inch pieces of rebar would be suffice. And I say two to keep it from spinnng, if you don’t think that will not be a concern, then use just one piece of rebar. Just an idea..
Good luck, I’m sure whatever you decide will be just fine.

-- Rob (A) Waxahachie,TX

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8791 posts in 2795 days


#5 posted 11-13-2007 02:48 AM

I was going to say pretty much what RobS did, so I second the motion.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana, http://americancraftsmanworkshop.com

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

765 posts in 2870 days


#6 posted 11-13-2007 07:01 AM

Rob,

Good suggestion. I might be able to take it one better; I actually have, from a different purchase a year or two ago, about nine blocks of Santos Mahogany that are something like 2”x2”x9”. I’m not really sure what I was planning on doing with them; maybe ikebana or tea light holders?

In any case, I wonder if I can either glue or otherwise attach (screw) one of those blocks to the back of the cross at the base after boring two holes in it for rebar or some such thing. Maybe I could get two long landscaping spikes, attach them to either side of the block, and then attach the block to the back of the cross?

Both are viable options.

In any case, I took some pictures of the cross as it currently stands (or lays?). The plaque is sitting in the routed recess, but I haven’t yet epoxy’d it in… I’m VERY pleased with how tight my inlay looks. That is one skill which keeps improving every time I use it.

Full Cross Image

Plaque Detail

Inlay Edge Detail

-- Ethan, http://thekiltedwoodworker.com

View Jeff's profile

Jeff

1011 posts in 2790 days


#7 posted 11-13-2007 07:20 AM

Nice chisel work, Ethan. Also, I don’t get a Christmas feel at all. Seems quite tasteful and not garish.

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

765 posts in 2870 days


#8 posted 11-13-2007 07:31 AM

Thanks, Jeff. It doesn’t look quite as bad as I’d first envisioned when I opened the box. I guess it just took me by surprise, because I was totally expecting a brass plaque.

-- Ethan, http://thekiltedwoodworker.com

View Russel's profile

Russel

2199 posts in 2635 days


#9 posted 11-13-2007 01:25 PM

Certainly not a Christmas feel. Very classy. I like the way the colors look together.

-- Working at Woodworking http://www.VillageLaneFurniture.com

View RobS's profile

RobS

1334 posts in 3002 days


#10 posted 11-13-2007 05:33 PM

Looks Great!

The block solution should work as long as it soundly attached to the cross. At 36 inches tall, I’d stick with the rebar, I think landscaping spikes only come in 12 inch lengths. You can get rebar in a variety of lengths at the big box stores. Of course, who knows how hard the ground is at the cemetary, so you can’t go to long. I’m sure you’ll come up with the best solution..

Like Russel said it’s very classy….beautiful work.

-- Rob (A) Waxahachie,TX

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

18615 posts in 2856 days


#11 posted 11-13-2007 05:42 PM

how you attach it could also consider where this will go after its temporary stay in the ground….

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (https://www.facebook.com/DebbiePribeleENJOConsultant)

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

765 posts in 2870 days


#12 posted 11-13-2007 06:00 PM

Yeah, that’s why I wanted to screw the block to the back of the cross; that would make it easier to remove for when the cross is brought back inside. At that point, I thought I could add a picture hanging bracket to the back for a wall hang, if they wanted. I could also clean it up after being outside and maybe apply a better indoor solution, like a wipe-on poly.

-- Ethan, http://thekiltedwoodworker.com

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

18615 posts in 2856 days


#13 posted 11-13-2007 06:05 PM

the wall bracket is a great idea

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (https://www.facebook.com/DebbiePribeleENJOConsultant)

View Russel's profile

Russel

2199 posts in 2635 days


#14 posted 11-13-2007 08:42 PM

Would a block give it the stability it would need out in the weather? Have you considered making an unobtrusive tripod type stand/cradle that it could lean against or into? I think you’ll get both the stability and mobility you require and in the process provide a way to permanently stand it later.

-- Working at Woodworking http://www.VillageLaneFurniture.com

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

765 posts in 2870 days


#15 posted 11-14-2007 12:03 AM

The block wouldn’t give it stability; the 18” of rebar sticking in the ground would, though.

While I do like the idea of a tripod type stand, I’m not sure how that would work if the wind picks up (which it can definitely do in the winter in St. Louis). Unless… maybe I could figure out a way to have a 4” spike sticking out of all three ends of the tripod?

Of course, I could also do a modified version of Zuki’s idea and pour a small circular concrete base and plant two pieces of rebar into the concrete, spraypaint the concrete and rebar black, then attach the block higher up on the cross and drill two partial holes into the block to accept the tips of the rebar. That would give it the strength it needs while still being mobile.

-- Ethan, http://thekiltedwoodworker.com

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