Friday, December 21, 2012

Rhino horns, real and false

A television series made in 1967 and 68 called Cowboy in Africa was shot in Kenya. It led to a Hollywood movie, starring Chuck Connors playing world champion cowboy Jim Sinclair. You can see a YouTube clip for the opening scenes here. (WARNING The scenes are not exactly animal welfare friendly). In my rating system the movie would not score many stars, if any. There used to be "B" movies that were shown before the main event. This one might not have even qualified for such a position.

Tony (blue shirt) and I prepare darts in Rwanda for an elephant translocsion
My friend Tony Parkinson, with whom I worked on several projects through the late 60s and early 70s was not only the animal advisor but also the film double for several scenes that involved animal capture.

Below left Tony appears in an old Candanian Club whisky advert shot in the days before drugs were used to capture rhino. I began workingwith him a few months after the scene was shot.

In almost all of the roping scenes in the movie it is Tony, not Connors, who is on the horse and twirling the lariat. He learned to use one from the real cowboys who also came on the set and worked in several scenes.

One of the animal stars was a rhino that Tony had captured earlier and held in a pen for the movie scenes. Unfortunately, before the filming was over, the rhino broke his horn off very near the base and so there was a bit of a crisis. He could no longer perform and be accepted by the audience. Solution? Well, Tony had a second skill. He was a boat builder and skilled craftsman. Building a fiberglass replacement horn, and gluing it on with a 5-minute epoxy resin (a version called Araldite was the only one available in Kenya at the time) was no problem.

Fast-forward 45 years and we have more dummy rhino horns being built, but for an entirely different reason. Nowadays museums are having to resort to subterfuge in an effort to deal with theft. In another case in South Africa a would-be thief was fooled by more fiberglass, in this case it was an entire synthetic head, which is now hornless. 
There have been recent convictions (and some jail sentences) for other would-be and successful museum thieves in England, Spain, and Germany but in these and no doubt other cases the horns were real.

The most impressive sentence was handed down in South Africa, when a Thai man named Chumlong Lemtongthai was convicted of rhino poaching linked to prostitution and sentenced to 40 years.

The material is so valuable (double the price of gold) that the temptation is obviously severe.

Next week I will take a close look at the new(ish) efforts at prevention, including reports from Swara the magazine arm of the East AfricanWildlife Society, which arrived in the post yesterday.  I need time to organize my thoughts on these issues and of course to prepare the goose for Tuesday’s lunch time bash with family.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A woodwork project with scraps

Any woodworker will accumulate scraps.  It's unavoidable.
It is what happens next that I’m interested in here.

Smaller bits, pieces with blemishes like knots, cracks and old screw holes can go into the bin. From there they can become kindling or simply go to the dump. In my case I try to keep what remains in more-or-less organized piles, according to the wood type. 
What next? Well, one solution I have developed is the making of trays, cheese boards and similar pieces. One can even make them in sets, which saves a lot of re-setting of equipment. Here, step-by-step is the process for a set of trays, each unique in terms of wood types, laminating pattern and size.

Even the least promisiing pieces have potential. Both of these ended up as parts of a tray.

Laying out the lengths in a rough pattern is a good place to start. It can be fun to choose attractive colours and wood textures.

Once that has been done it is essential to makes sure that each piece is squared up, which is done on a jointer. Two sides are set first. The other two can be matched in a planer.

 Safety first is the cry here. No fingers, sleeves or other bits anywhere near these fast-spinning blades.

Now the gluing can begin. I like to use newspaper between the work, the clamps and the cauls. It makes things much easier later on.

The cauls are essential. Without them the laminated wood strips will buckle. For those who have not met this word before in the context of woodwork, you are like me, until about two years ago. Before that the only meaning for caul that I knew of was the membrane that sometimes lies over the head of newborn babies and is supposed to bring good luck. Of course I checked the dictionary and there is another meaning. My Concise OED has this: “ a woman’s close-fitting indoor head-dress.” How these two definitions have been adopted into the woodwork lexicon is beyond me. 

While the tray base is drying the handles are jointered, measured, cut and glued. The wood vise is an ideal place to glue them, but here it is really important to use newspaper. Without it the handles could become part of the vise. Tricky!

After the glue has set the excess glue needs to be removed.
--> I sometimes do this with a paint scraper, sometimes with a sanding tool. The yellow random orbital sander will be in use again as the work progresses.

Now one can make things really smooth with a thickness planer.

After that the orbital goes to work, taking the board through 80, 120, 150 and eventually 220 grit smoothmess. 

After the base planing the sides, which had also been made earlier, are glued in place.  


When  all that is dry the shooter board comes up from its hiding place under the saw and is used to cut everything at right angles.
The handles provide some more opportunity for creativity. There is also one practical element. By laminating two different woods one prevents the handle from splitting.

I use the router table to make the holes in the handles and then to shape their edges and the base of the tray.


One also can make different shapes. I like to do this with a scroll saw. With the first end shaped, it is easy to make the other three and then sand them all to accurate matches.
Then comes sanding. The drum sander on the drill is a  new acquistion. I like it, but of course hand sanding gives the final touches.

Contoured edges give the handles a nice feel. This is done with the router and again smoothed off by hand.

With several trays nearly ready it is time for some gluing and scraping, more sanding and finally staining.

Gifts for friends, charity raffles, retail sales. There are lots of possibilities, and all from scraps.

walnut, birch, maple, mahogany, purple heart, paduque, fir, hickory.