Producing Masterful Works of Art Using Festool.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010 | Reader Comments | Reviews

We received an article that was submitted by Rev. Fr. Menas Vlatas, a skilled artisan who creates incredible, elaborate creations for churchs. He shares his story and perspective of how Festool is incorporated into his work. We encourage you to watch the video pictorial of some of his work.

The Orthodox Christian Church (including, e.g., the Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox and others) decorates its churches with ornate, hand-carved furnishings.  This includes both the furniture and, especially, a solid-wood wall that separates the altar from the main body of the church, called an "iconostasis."  (The practice of decorating houses of worship with hand-carving is an ancient one that originated in the tabernacles erected by the Prophet Moses at God's behest  and that was continued in the Hebrew Temples of  King Solomon and Zorobabel.)  Church Wood Carvers of North America specializes in providing these hand-carved furnishings and iconostases.  As woodworking applications go, this craft is very demanding of (1) creative but still strong and reliable joinery; (2) accuracy; and (3) time-saving methods of work (ornate hand-carving is necessarily very time-consuming, so we are always looking for ways to save time in other aspects of the work while maintaining our exacting standard of quality).  Many of your tools have proven themselves to be excellent investments for us and have become integral to the way we practice this craft.

The Domino, for example, is the bedrock of most of our joinery.  It enables us to build complicated structures with very strong joints, quickly and accurately.   And, in the case of an iconostasis in particular, we must be able to build and carve the structure entirely here in our shop, then disassemble it and ship it to our customer's church and re-assemble it there quickly, strongly and permanently.  Domino joinery enables us to do that very well.  And, Domino joinery also makes dry fittings easy.  This is important for us because it lets us quickly put a piece together to view the carvings (or potential carving layouts we are drawing) as part of the piece's whole presentation, and to refine the carving (or the layout) accordingly.  Then, we can take it apart quickly and make the changes we need to.

We also find great benefit in using the 2200 router for relieving the background of our carved icons.  We carve them based on very detailed, hand-drawn renditions that we trace onto the wood.  The relief is medium-high, generally about 1/2" to 5/8".  The first step in the process, before we begin the painstaking hand-carving work, is to quickly and accurately remove the waste wood around the figures, creating the basic relief.  We have always used a router for this work, to save our customers time (=money).  However, before we bought the 2200, we were significantly more limited in the depth of passes we could make without taking too great a risk of losing control of the router, and we created vast messes of dust that took a lot of valuable time to clean up.  The 2200 is so powerful and stable that we can rout more deeply while maintaining consistent accuracy.  The accuracy has been enhanced as well by the very wide opening and extended surface area of some of the 2200's bases, which allows us to see very well the drawing on the wood and keep the router flat.  And, by running the router with the lower clear-plastic cylinder in place even without the top cylinder, we can see the drawing clearly and still achieve remarkable dust collection.  We almost don't have to clean up at all now, literally, even after routing large areas.

The Trion jig saw and your blades also have been very helpful to us.  We often decorate a relief carving by surrounding it with hand-carved foliage.  This foliage is created by "piercing" the wood with a drill and  jig saw, then shaping the leaves and flowers with our hand-carving tools. The piercing work is probably about the most intense scrolling application that a jig saw and blades could ever be put through by a woodworker.  In a large area like the arch of an iconostasis, we can easily spend 6-7 hours a day for a whole week doing nothing but scrolling through the wood with our jig saw.  The Trion jigsaw and your smallest and second-smallest scrolling blades perform this work very well.  The saw is very smooth and turns very easily, and your blades outlast all the others we have tried.  We buy them exclusively now.  We are very much anticipating the Carvex which we expect will give us all of the benefits of the Trion plus cordless which will greatly assist our scrolling work.

Finally, the TS-75 has been an enormous help for us.  It of course makes it possible to cut sheet goods accurately, but we have also had to glue up large solid wood panels to be able to create large carved areas, and these are even more cumbersome to cut on stationary saws because they are made of hardwoods heavier than most plywood.  (The arch of the iconostasis at Holy Ascension Skete in one of the photos, for example, began as a panel of solid oak about 9' by 6'.)  We also use the TS-75 to create mitres across the edges of wide panels when we want to join them to each other to create a mitred corner.  We feel this looks best on some of our carved structures.  And, we use the TS-75 when we buy hardwood "in the rough," to create a "jointed" edge that can go up against our table saw fence for ripping.  This spares the inaccuracy we sometimes have experienced putting very long boards across our jointer.

It is perhaps also worth mentioning that our limited experience with your repair department has been excellent.  We had to send our Kapex in because of a mishap in the shop and when they repaired the problem we were responsible for, they also worked over the whole saw under the warranty and it came back running even better than it had before the mishap.  We really appreciated that and it made us feel like we were definitely working with a top-class company.

Rev. Fr. Menas Vlatas
Church Wood Carvers of North America




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