My Journey As A Creative Designer - Woodworking and Beyond #489: Using Mistakes as Tools for Learning

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by Sheila Landry (scrollgirl) posted 10-12-2011 12:34 PM 5523 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 488: A Very Full Day Part 489 of My Journey As A Creative Designer - Woodworking and Beyond series Part 490: My Calendar Topper »

I never said I was the brightest bulb in the box. I do however find it sometimes amazing how I can find new and exciting ways to make mistakes. I can be pretty innovative at that. That should count for something, shouldn’t it?

Yesterday I did get to cut out all the pieces for my new calendar project. I really think it is going to be cool. This project is going to be one that will be sent to the magazine for publication and I really wanted to do a good job on it. In fact, I am going to make two versions of the overlay characters – one that will be left natural in color and the other set will be stained (much like the bird ornaments that I posted last time.) I like doing this because it offers more versatility to people. There are definitely two types of people when it comes to making scrollsawing projects – those who add stain or paint and those who don’t. This way I have the base covered and hopefully will broaden the overall appeal of the project. By at least offering the instructions to add color, whether people choose to stain the pieces or not is completely up to them. It gives them a choice.

When doing this type of project, it is very easy for me to make several sets of the overlay pieces at once by what is called ‘stack cutting’. Since the material that I am using for the overlays is only about 1/8” thick, stack cutting is definitely the way to go. You can stack cut anywhere from two to four (or even more if you are brave!) layers of wood at once and it really takes no more time than if you are cutting through a single piece. In fact, I like to stack cut most of the 1/8” pieces that I make because having an extra layer or two helps offer a bit more resistance and it is easier to control the piece. Sometimes when cutting a single layer of thin stock, no matter how slow you set your saw or how small the blade is it goes through the wood like a hot knife through butter and it is very difficult to cut accurately. This helps a lot.

So I had the idea that while I was cutting the pieces this way that maybe there are readers that haven’t really heard of stack cutting or have heard of it but never really tried it. My editor was saying the other day that she would be interested in me writing some more articles for the magazine to go along with some of the projects I presented and I felt that this was the perfect opportunity for me to write a companion article on stack cutting to go with this project.

As with many things, there are several different methods that you can use to efficiently hold the layers of wood together while stack cutting. My usual method is to use double sided tape and tape waste areas to make a stack. Another way is to have several pieces of wood that is the same size held together by wrapping the pieces together with packaging tape. I have also used spray adhesive and paper to stick the layers together. Some people use small finishing nails and actually nail the boards together. And finally, I had heard of many who have had a great deal of success using a hot melt glue gun.

Since there were many pieces that I wanted to stack cut for this project (just about all of them!) I thought that I would demonstrate several of these methods of holding the pieces together and try them out first hand. I had tried most of them, but this way I could kill two birds with one stone and get pictures for my article as well as set up my own work for cutting. I thought I was pretty slick.

Since I needed twelve ovals for bases for the names of the months, I decided to demonstrate three different methods on these pieces. I successfully put together the wood, one set using double-sided tape, one set using spray glue and the final set by wrapping the pieces in clear tape. Good. All was well.

Since the wood was only 1/8” thick, I didn’t want to use the nailing method on this part of the project. I would think that going through the 1/8” thick material would make it difficult to hold the bottom layer in place without going through to the bottom and having the tips of the nails stick out a bit, which would disturb your cutting and scratch your table. I need to do a bit more research on that method using thicker stock.

The only other method that I wanted to show was that of using the hot melt glue. I had all the delicate overlay pieces left to do and they fit on a board approximately 8” x 10”. That would be perfect for trying it out, as it was a larger area to hold together and the glue method seemed as if it would be the quickest way to do so. So I borrowed my partners’ glue gun and heated it up.

On the first piece, I more or less applied glue into the corners and waste areas. But then I thought I really didn’t want the pieces to shift or come apart so I was more liberal in my application over the entire piece. It worked like a charm and when I stuck it together it really held well. It was much easier than cutting little pieces of double sided tape and peeling off the paper (which was kind of tedious.) I happily glued away.

When I went to the saw and cut, I was thrilled at the stability of the stack. It didn’t seem that it wanted to come apart at all or shift, which would have distorted or broken the delicate pieces underneath. I cut the main snowflake piece first, which was probably the most intricate of all. So far I was happy.

Then, when I was finished, I was eager to see how it would look. I took my small paring knife and gently put it between the layers to pry them apart. I didn’t want to apply too much pressure because it would certainly break the pieces. I said something to Keith who was sitting at his computer drawing and he said to me “you didn’t use the glue that was in there, did you?”

I answered, “Sure I did, why?”

He said “That was extra strength glue that I was using for turning. You aren’t going to get that apart.”


Well who ever heard of that?! I haven’t used a glue gun in years and when I did use one, there was only one kind of glue. Never this ‘extra strength’ stuff.

So now what??

As I picked at the piece and tried to gently get it apart, I knew that if I pushed any more it would surely break. I looked at the remaining pieces, all cemented together in the same manner and my heart sank. What a dummy!!!

I was heading to get a cup of coffee and ponder the situation and while going to heat it up the little light bulb in my head lit up and I had an idea. What if I microwave the piece to soften the glue? Would microwaving work on glue sticks?

I had no idea if it would or not, but I had nothing to lose so I popped the piece(s) into the microwave and started off at 10 seconds. When it came out, it was warm and gooey. It appeared that it was working. I put it back in for another five seconds and when it came out YES, indeed it came apart!

I was excited now and had to move quickly. I used my little paring knife to gently scrape the soft glue from the piece. As it got harder, I had to stop and place it in the over again, this time for only five seconds at a time, and eventually I was able to remove all the glue without breaking anything.

The rest of the day was happy. I continued to cut the little pieces out and they stayed together beautifully. When I was all done, I simply placed each piece in the microwave for a couple of seconds at a time to loosen the glue and clean them off.

So all is well and everything is cut and ready to be finished and stained. I am happy to say that by making this mistake, I not only learned a valuable lesson and a new way to stack cut, but I found a method that I hadn’t used before that will be very useful for me in the future. I think instead of calling it a “mistake” I will label it “research”. It won’t make me look as stupid.

To me, writing articles is a wonderful opportunity to expand my own knowledge and learn new ways to do things. Much like earlier this year when I did the lectures and learned of placing blue masking tape under my pattern, I feel as if I have learned an entirely new (to me) method to do something that I frequently do anyway, only easier.

I am excited about this new way of stack cutting and today I will be heading out to the store to get my own glue gun and some low temp glue that will come apart without too much of a problem. I am also excited about the article and being able to share both my successes and failures with these methods (and I will be able to offer a solution to those who perhaps made the same mistake that I made!) I think it will be a valuable article for many.

I was going to share some pictures of the project with you today, but I decided to wait until tomorrow. Now that it is so close to being done, I would rather you see it finished than half done as it is now. You will just have to wait and come back tomorrow. :)

Another full day is ahead of me. I am excited to see the project finally come to life. I was just sitting here wondering what I was going to put here for a picture for you all this morning and I looked up and saw pink clouds out the window. I grabbed my camera and got a picture of the most beautiful sunrise in a while. My decision was made:

How can it NOT be a wonderful day when it starts like that?

I hope you all have a great one!

The road to wisdom?
- Well, it’s plain and simple to express:
and err
and err again
but less
and less
and less.
~Piet Hein, “The Road to Wisdom,” Grooks, 1966

-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

4 comments so far

View William's profile


9950 posts in 2895 days

#1 posted 10-12-2011 02:15 PM

I understand we all make mistakes. It sounds to me though that since Keith input on this one, you have the option of just blaming it on him.
I am one of those that pins my work together for stack cutting with a brad nail gun. I use as many nails as I can, depending on what I’m cutting, in the waste areas.
I think the worst mistake I ever done was when cutting a large detailed portrait once. I pinned it in about fifteen different places on a four high stack. It was very early one morning, so I went and drank another cups of coffee before I started cutting. After cutting on it for about three hours, I noticed something funny about all the scrap pieces that were coming out as I cut. None of them were stick together in chunks like they normally do. I catch these chunks sometimes to throw in a bucket (they make good fire starter).
in case you haven’t already figured it out, I had been cutting for a out three hours on a stack of four portraits that were pinned together, in the NON-waste area.
Oh well. Back to the drawing board.


View Leldon's profile


67 posts in 2925 days

#2 posted 10-12-2011 07:08 PM

I’ve had those days! I have used alot of different methods, and now I’m using the packaging tape method. I just wrap it around the sides and I’m done. I use to use hot glue method. But I would but it on the sides of the stack and then when i was done I didn’t have to pry anything apart!

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3168 days

#3 posted 10-13-2011 12:32 AM

have you hear they say …. if you don´t make mistakes you don´t work and if you make mistakes you learn
so you most be working hard and be very clever …. :-)

I see william did mention bradnailer … I have a small one thats always trick me badly …. countersink
and make marks in the wood :-( but that make me think a little ….. countersink the nails from the backside
use a flushcuting nipper on them at the topside … a piece of blue tape on each on the top … to protect your fingers :-) your pattern cuold maybee bee enoff .

good to see you are back on the pink clouds …. lol

take care


View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9231 posts in 2972 days

#4 posted 10-13-2011 02:22 PM

Hi, Guys! I am sorry that I didn’t get back to you sooner, but I was actually away from the computer most of the day yesterday.

Thank you for the support and comments and suggestions. I think that I am going to go out and get my own glue gun and use the low temp glue. I really liked the method of using the glue gun because I used to use the double sided tape and it is a pain in the butt to peel off the little pieces of backing to get them to stick. The glue gun was fast and easy – just apply and press – and if I hadn’t put it all over and used the strong glue, it would have been a breeze.

I don’t always like the tape only method because I find that sometimes on intricate stuff, the pieces can shift just a little and screw up the design on the lower layers. It probably is because I don’t tape it tight enough and I need to work on that better. I think for larger pieces like the ovals in the calendar design it will work fine though and I will probably use that method again.

I don’t have air compression tools so nailing is a bit of a pain. Not to mention the problems listed above. For me that will probably be a technique that I will not be using. If I had a full shop to work in maybe, but for me I just don’t think it would be worth the set up time. I am going to include it in my article though because I think for others it will be a great way to do things.

The important thing is that I did learn from doing this and I feel that I will be able to give better advice to both my customers and also my readers in my article that I am writing. Thank you all so much for your input. It helps me a lot and hopefully you all learned a little too. :)


-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics