Piercing a Maple Leaf

Piercing a Maple Leaf

by Brian McEvoy

Piercing a Maple Leaf

Over the years I've had many requests for information regarding the creation of my Maple Leaf bowls.  The process can be rather involved and time consuming, so a simple solution to get you started is to just create one simple pierced leaf.  Once you have this down pat you can let your imagination take over and expand to bigger, more complicated projects.
This idea formed from a number of broken or not quite up to par thin walled pieces that were sitting on my shelves collecting dust.  Many of my customers admired my leaf pieces but were not in a position to spend thousands on one turning.  I thought why not utilize some of these dust collectors and create single leaves that will be beautiful yet affordable.  They turned out to be a huge hit and over the years I've produced many dozens.  I'm almost always out of inventory!


These leaves require some sort of power carver and if you want to add colour, an airbrush.  Though I must have every power carver known to man, my personal choice is the dental tool kit that I build and market through my website.  Now with the advertisement out of the way I should explain that for small projects such as this leaf, even a Dremel will suffice providing you use a 1/16" shaft bur similar to the one I use.  For delicate piercing, small bur size is the key.  If you are going to be using a slow speed electric carver, expect to spend more time piercing.  Most electric carvers range in top speeds of 15 - 50,000 rpm whereas the air powered dental drill runs at 420,000 rpm.   None of the pneumatic units that I have,  including the NSK, the Turbo Carver and the dental drill have the amount of torque as the electric units do, so don't expect to be hogging great amounts of timber with them, though they are perfect for delicate work.  You won't require a huge compressor to operate the air units but you might be surprised at the air requirements of these tiny carvers.  The dental drill, for example, requires approximately 3 cfm at the recommended 38 psi operating pressure.  Tank size isn't as important as the recovery rate of the compressor you use.  I'd recommend a recovery rate of at least 5 cfm.


There are great images available if you Google Maple Leaf; size the image to suit your purpose.  I find about 4 1/2" at the widest point works well.  Lay the image over carbon paper and trace the outline on a stiff lightweight cardboard.  You want to be able to lay the cardboard over compound curves and be able to trace around the edges.


Cut out the leaf form using a sharp pointed knife.


This unfortunate piece was in perfect condition until it fell off the shelf and cracked beyond repair.  The trick to quality piercing is to start with material that is not too thick or too thin.  I shoot for 3/32" thick birch wood.  Thicker material slows down the piercing considerably and thinner becomes very delicate and easy to break. With some of the harder timbers you could get away with 1/16" and will still have pretty good integrity. 


Lay out your template and trace around with a fine pencil.


Draw a border on the inside, about 1/8".


Draw the veins; each leaf is a bit different so a little variation is fine.  The veins can be a little narrower than the outside border.


Piercing is very easy but it does require good tool control and focus.  I find that random shapes and sizes of the holes make a much more interesting and delicate pattern.  On the other hand, a consistent size of wood left between each hole is much more aesthetically pleasing.  Good tool control is vital to achieve this consistency.  This is where I find the angled handpiece works best for maintaining this control as well as visibility.  Note that my thumb is resting on the work piece which gives me the precise control I find necessary.  Much the same as when cutting timber with a bandsaw, you don`t want to force the cut: in other words, let the bur do the cutting at its own rate.  However having some extra burs available is handy. 


Extra burs are available from our web-site


For this delicate work I like to use 3x magnifiers to enhance the fine cuts.  These magnifiers are about 30 years old and are no longer available but a good alternative can be found at www.telesightmagnifiers.com . The ones I'd recommend are called Lite-Site Magnifying Visor 2.75X.


Continue piercing until you've finished the inside pattern.


Carefully cut the outside shape but leave little tabs of wood holding the leaf intact.


Sand both sides down to about 500 grit. 


Gently cut away the tabs.


The finished leaf can be quite beautiful even without the autumn colours; a half dozen good coats of lacquer will protect them quite nicely.


I realize many of you won't have an airbrush but if you do (or maybe you could borrow one), this airbrush project is as simple as it gets.  I recently had a 12 year old young man in for lessons and even though he had never touched an airbrush, he completed a much more complicated project with no trouble at all.


Though I use a compressor specifically designed for airbrushing, it's not necessary.  Any shop compressor with the pressure turned down to about 20 psi will suffice.  The portable one is nice when I'm demoing on the road. 


For this simple project any airbrush will work.  I'm a fan of Iwata airbrushes and if I was going to by just one I'd probably choose the Custom Micron B.  It is not designed for large coverage but works very well for most of my projects.


For this and much of my work I prefer TRANSPARENT Golden Airbrush Colours.


A little artistic licence is all that is necessary here.  The beauty of using transparent colours is that you can change the colour just by spraying a light dusting of a different one.   Be sure to paint both sides.


You'll soon discover that even with just yellow and red you'll be able to achieve many of the fall colours in different shades, tones and colours just by adjusting the quantity of dustings of paint you apply.


I like to display and market my individual leaves in these tin shadow/window boxes.  I buy them from Mayers, a local Canadian based manufacturing company.  You may have to source them from your local area.  Besides the fact that they look good, they also offer good protection.  I line the bottom of the box with 1" foam and then cover that with felt.
To see the piercing processes in "live" detail, check out our Embellishment DVD.  In this 4+ hour 2 DVD set, Brian shows four  different projects from start to finish. This DVD features piercing, woodburning, airbrushing and texturing techniques. 
Title Sub Text (Appears under title on page): 
by Brian McEvoy