Introduction: Bottle-brush Burl Wooden Earrings
After making my Elven Keyboard I began really getting into making things with wood (and metal for that matter). I had a small piece of red oak laying around from a jewelry box I was making for my girlfriend and thought "That would make a nice ring". Who knew it would get me making so much stuff. I primarily make rings but often I have some scrap left over. Actually truth be told even most of my rings come from scrap. I get the bulk of my wood from the luthiers at Damcaster by Georgia Quarter which is scrap from their guitar making process which would normally have gone in the wood burning stove or dumpster. I will include the story of how that came to pass in a step at the end to keep from boring anyone uninterested.
These earrings are very easy to make and anyone can do it. Lets get started.
Step 1: The Wood
Of course you could use any kind of wood you like. This section isn't a necessary read for the process but I thought I would add it if you were interested in the wood. If that doesn't interest you by all means skip this section.
I am using some burl from a bottle-brush tree. I harvested this myself and it did not hurt the tree at all. This is not the case with most burl so don't go poaching trees and damaging them to get burl. My girlfriend and I were at the Pixies show last week and left our daughter with grandma. When we went to pick her up while standing in the front yard I noticed that there were big balls like the one pictured above in the tree. I wasn't sure but suspected these were some kind of burl and asked if I could take a couple. She agreed so I took them home and sure enough they were.
"What is burl?" you may ask. Good question. Burl is kind of like scar tissue or cancer in a tree. Typically what happens is there is some injury or malformed growth which occurs in the tree and a wart like "tumor" grows on or in it. More generally where the wood is harvested may be called burl though strictly speaking it isn't (such as crotch or root cuts) as far as I am aware (I am not however an expert). This is different than "spalting" which is generally rot by fungus which alters coloration in the grain or dead areas.
Why is burl special. Well burl is some of the most beautiful wood you are typically going to get your hands on. The irregular patterns in the wood create dramatic effect with figure and coloration that most people find gorgeous (myself included). I included a couple pictures of some rings I did in burl and pictures of the cuts I made showing the wood to give you an idea.
Now you may notice that the earrings aren't so much burl like the other rings which have a lot of figure "swirl" in them. I sanded into the bark this same effect could be done on edge cuts of other wood but likely wouldn't be as dramatic and probably would not have the fractal like quality these earrings do. That has to do with the irregular shape of the ball and the bark on it.
Step 2: Tools and Materials
These are the tools and materials I used you could obviously use different tools and some different material depending on availability and preference.
- Small rotary disk sander. I use this for rough shaping. You could use something else of course.
- Dremel with a flex shaft. I love my Dremel and couldn't get by without it. The flex shaft makes life much easier for me with all the detail work I do.
- Miter saw box. I would much prefer to use a band saw but this is what I have so elbow grease if you are tool deprived like me.
- Sandpaper for hand sanding I get these Testor flexible hobby packs with 150-600 grit sheets. I typically only use the 320, 400, and 600 for light shaping and finishing.
- Small wooden stick. This is a manicure stick that I use to help with seating inlay so that I don't cloud super glue when inserting. You could use a number of other things but I find this helpful for inlay work.
- Dremel bits I use are Buffing pad, Sanding drum, and a small engraving/cutting bit
- A foam pad. This is a piece of firm foam from my daughters LaLaloopsy set you can get similar in sheets at a craft store. This is not strictly needed.
- Wood of course
- Earring posts and backs. I am using brass you may want to use something else depending on hypo sensitivity color preference etc.
- Super glue aka CA glue. This is used for seating inlay (the posts) and for the finish.
- Stain. In this case the wood is gorgeous I am using natural and letting the wood itself do all the talking.
Step 3: Cutting and Shaping the Wood
As mentioned I don't let any wood go to waste. As you can see in the pics above this is wood from a small piece of scrap from the ring making process. Throw that beautiful wood away? NEVER! time to make earrings.
As mentioned earlier the burl is actually in the grain (or really lack thereof) of the wood but if you start sanding down into the wood you can see that the bark is uneven and exposes different colors and shapes which really resemble a fractal in my mind.
This is all down to personal choices and preference. I decided to go with some rounded squares to maximize the amount of the pattern visible and to use the bark. You might want to go deeper and get down to only the core wood. There is no "right" way and let the wood tell you what to do not the other way around.
So pick a shape, cut the material (in my case square cuts in the miter box).
Now that you have your rough shape pull out the rotary tool and begin sanding and paying attention to whats revealed as you remove material. You may find (as I often do) that you may adjust the shape, angle etc because you exposed something you really found outstanding and you don't want to remove anymore there and ruin the pattern that emerged.
Rough sand it into shape and then move to hand when you have pretty much what you want. I use the foam mentioned in materials and lay it on the desk, lay my paper on that, then sand with the object in my hand pushing into the foam. This gives me a much more hands on "feel" than clamping it in a vise and sanding onto the item. This is personal preference but I really find this is the better approach for me.
Step 4: Inlaying the Posts
For this part I take the post and place it on the back of the earring. I push it on with my finger firmly to hold it in place and with the other hand mark the outline with a mechanical pencil. You may find that it is easier to apply a little rub on school glue, use dust to mark, or some other method but this works for me and is pretty easy.
Now using your dremel route out the hole. Patience is key here. Don't force material out, just let the tool do the work and cut out at an even depth the hole as pictured above. You don't want to go to deep and technically you could get away without this by just gluing straight on. That would be weaker and prone to break off easy so I inset mine. Take the time to try and seat the post occasionally so you don't take to much material around the sides. We want to have it nice and tight in there. You could probably do this with a drill press too I just don't have the ability to do that.
Now that we have the cuts made take the time to fully clean the piece. Take a dry brush and quickly flick it all over to get any dust particles out. Canned air can help here, blowing on it, etc. Just clean it up nice before proceeding.
Time to seat our post. Now you may have noticed that I pictured 2 types of super glue (CA glue) in the materials section. The reason is the thickness of the different glues. There are thin, medium, and thick glues available. When seating inlay I like to use the thin. It spreads better is more liquid and flows into any cavities better. So get the thin glue, place a drop or two in the hole then press in the post. BE VERY CAREFUL here not to touch the glue. Not as a safety concern so much as the fact that the moisture in your fingers will cause the glue to turn white. This is what the manicure stick is for. Use that if you need to apply pressure on the flat of the post. Also avoid heavy breath and don't blow on it to try to make it dry faster. Again the moisture will cause clouding and we don't want that.
Let the glue sit long enough to dry well.
Step 5: Finishing
To finish I am using natural stain which I apply with a small brush and then rub off after a bit with a paper towel or old rag.
Once the stain is dry you may want to sand and re-stain as is your preference personally I only do one coat and that's plenty enough.
Once the stain has dried (read your product for details) I go back to the dremel with a buff pad and gently polish it completely.
Now for a finish you could use polyurethane, lacquer or some other preference. Personally I often turn to CA glue for a finish with wood jewelry because it gives a very high gloss finish which is very durable is maintenance free and also helps to strengthen the wood.
When I am applying CA glue to an odd surface what I do is drop the glue (in slight excess) on the surface to be finished. I then take a paper towel (preferably the non dimpled kind) and very quickly and firmly wipe the surface drawing away any excess. This needs to be quick and you need to avoid the urge to go back if it is more than a few seconds. If the paper towel begins tugging or sticking stop immediately. Again don't touch with your fingers if you need to hold it in a manner that might come in contact with fingers then use a pair of pliers or tweezers or something else.
Once the glue has dried break out the 600 grit sand paper and lightly sand the surface to smoothness. If you messed up and clouded the glue you need to remove all of it and start over sorry but that's the only reliable way.
After sanding with the 600 grit you can decide if you need another coat, missed some spots etc. If completely clean the item and repeat the previous process.
Once the coat/s are on and it's sanded nice and smooth I take the dremel and the polishing pad again and slowly and gently polish it. If you push to hard you can dig into the CA and chip it or cloud it and then it is start over time. So patience is key.
That's it you have a lovely piece that was pretty easy to make, saved good wood from the scrap heap.
Step 6: Final Remarks
The story of where my wood comes from as mentioned in the intro.
So I said I wouldn't bore you with a long story but thought some people might find it of interest. A few years ago a guy who had the same name as I do hit myself and a number of other guys of the same name up on facebook. One of them I befriended and spoke to occasionally over the years. He is a luthier and makes guitars. Over time he started a great company called Damcaster by Georgia Quarter which makes guitars out of reclaimed wood from a local wooden dam which was removed. The dam was built in 1860 and the wood used in it took root before the revolutionary war. Pretty cool eh? I thought so too. When I was working on my Elven Keyboard I talked to him about it. He mentioned that his buddy and (soon to be business partner) was a luthier who had a company called Silvan Guitars. I laughed said I of course knew who the Silvan Elves were. He laughed at me, called me a nerd, said that of course I knew who they were. Later I started making the rings. I asked him what he thought of them knowing that he is very skilled with inlay work too and wanted an honest opinion of my work. He said he liked them. Later I noticed some pics and videos of the guitar making process they posted promoting their company and realized that the scrap wood they had would be big enough for me to make rings with and asked if he would set it aside for me. He agreed. Later he contacted me and said that his business partner was impressed by my rings and that if I made him one he would "give me all the wood I could ever use" lol we all know that to be a falsehood right... I mean that would be a lot of wood. Anyway remembering he liked LoTR as did I we got to talking and I made him a Silvan set of rings (Mirkwood and Lothlorien) and then not being able to stop did 5 more lol.
So most of my wood comes from wood bound for the dumpster or wood stove now and is gorgeous wood which is wood also included in some great custom guitars.