The Wizard Behind the Wands

gray magic woodworking wand 161Does the wizard choose the wand? Or does the wand choose the wizard?

If there is one person who knows the answer to this intriguing question, it is Lane O’Neil, the master wandmaker behind Gray Magic Woodworking. Today, we’ll get a sneak peek at Lane’s amazing creations. Tomorrow, Lane and his wands will be at our library’s Harry Potter event!

Even though Lane has been woodworking for 25 years, he didn’t take up the wand making lathe until fairly recently. Four years ago, during a hike, he picked up an oak branch. He carved the branch into his first wand – a gift for his young daughter. 291 hand-crafted wands later, Lane is still busy carving and shipping his unique pieces around the world.

gray magic woodworking wand 155Fantastically, Lane has donated 3 of his wands to our Accio Wand blog contest! If you’d like a shot at winning a one-of-a-kind Gray Magic Woodworking wand, please see the details at the end of this post.


How did you first get interested in wandmaking?

I got interested in wandmaking slowly over time. I enjoyed the Harry Potter movies, and being an artist, I was instantly drawn to the concept of each witch or wizard having a unique wand. They were made from different woods, had different cores, and were made by different wandmakers. The idea that the wand was linked to the person was wonderful. Sometimes the style fit the personality like Hermione, Sirius, or Narcissus. And sometimes it didn’t, like Ginny, Harry, or Mad-Eye. Sometimes the wand only reflected the holders shallow exterior, like Delores Umbridge, or what beauty was hidden beneath the surface, like Luna.

I had vision upon vision in my head of new pieces to create. And I got to work. I wanted each piece to be unique. I love the idea of the wand being paired to one person. It’s less of a part time job now, more of a labor of love.

gray magic woodworking wand 232What sorts of woods do you use?

When I first started, I used what was readily available, Oak, Poplar, Ash, Maple. But as I discovered, there are hundreds of species of trees. I now use Paduak, Gaboon Ebony, Birch, Purpleheart, Cherry, Bubinga, Cocobolo, Koa, Osage Orange, Mahogany, Lacewood, you name it. The more exotic and far traveled it is the better. I love the different textures, grains, colors, and figures.

gray magic woodworking wand 050Where do you acquire the wood for your wands?

I get wood wherever I can. Found pieces, traded pieces among my woodworking group, but primarily I use exotic hardwood suppliers. I got requests to craft from Holly, Elder, and Larch. And since I just couldn’t run down to Home Depot and pick up some Bolivian Rosewood, I needed to branch out and discover new suppliers.

wood piecesMy favorite place is called Hearn, they are located in Oxford, PA.  It’s like a candy store for people who craft wood. They have everything from domestic scraps to 16′ slabs of exotic wood shipped from the hearts of far away continents.

Describe the process of carving a wand from start to finish.

I start with a dried, seasoned “blank.” It’s usually about 1″X1″x16″. I drill a small shallow hole into each end to secure it in the lathe. I remove the Morris Taper spur from the lathe, tap it onto the wood blank, insert the spur/wood onto the lathe, and lock in the tail stock. I make sure I have my safety goggles and breathing respirator on, and my sleeves rolled up.

I position the guide, turn on the lathe, and use a “roughing gouge” to take the edges off until I have a smooth, long cylinder. I can then draw lines, if needed, for length or detail locations. Then I use various skews and chisels to shape the wand.

chiselWhen it’s just about fully shaped, I use sandpaper to smooth it – working to smaller grits until I’m happy with the texture. I can also stain or paint the wand while it’s spinning. I usually use a carnauba wax/ tung oil blend to finish fully.

latheWhen I’m just about done, I “part” the wand from the lathe by cutting the material away by the tip or pommel until the wand falls off. I move the piece to the work bench, saw the remaining scrap block off, sand the two rough ends, and finish with carving, wood burning, or other decorations. I tag it, give it a name, and a number.

gray magic woodworking wandsHow long does it take to make a wand?

The time it takes to make a wand depends on the intricacy. The first wand I ever turned took an hour and half…and it was kind of rough. I spent about 80% of the time carving and shaping, and 20% sanding and finishing. Now it’s more like 40% of the time carving and shaping, and 60% finishing. I under-valued the worth of the finish when I got started, but my skill improved.

I made 22 wands for my daughter’s class for Valentine’s – real simple and basic. Those took 4 minutes each. I also made one covered in carved vines that took 8 hours. But the average time would be 45-60 minutes.

gray magic woodworking wand 234What locations have your wands shipped to?

I’ve shipped as far North as Fairbanks Alaska, as Far East as Taipei Taiwan, as far South as Singapore, and as far West as Anchorage, Alaska. All over Europe and Saudi Arabia too.

gray magic woodworking wand 251What’s the most unusual or significant wand you’ve ever made?

The most unusual wand I ever made was a hand carved series of twisted “vines.” It appears to be woven, but is actually sculpted out of a block of wood.

gray magic woodworking wand 256The most significant wand I’ve ever made is a tie. I made a Beech wand that was chosen by a young girl from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. There wasn’t anything too special about it other than the leather wrapped handle, but she chose it.

gray magic woodworking wand 055The other one was purchased by a mother in London, England. She bought a Japanese Maple for her son Harry for his 10th birthday…that was pretty cool. His mother sent me a photo.

harry and his gray magic woodworking wand


ACCIO WAND CONTEST

Thanks to Lane’s generous donation, we are delighted to offer an exclusive blog contest! E-mail us an original Harry Potter spell, be it serious or silly. Tell us the title of your spell and exactly what it does. 3 lucky winners will receive a Gray Magic Woodworking wand! Winners will be announced on the blog on Friday, March 10th.

Rules & Regulations

  • 1 spell per person, please
  • Open to readers of all ages – be you 9 or 99
  • Entries should be e-mailed to: danas@princeton.edu
  • Entries must arrive Thursday, March 9th, by 5:00pm
  • The 3 winners will be announced on the blog Friday, March 10th
  • Contest is limited to residents of the United States and Canada
  • Use of Felix Felicis potion is strictly prohibited.

Photos courtesy of Gray Magic Woodworking.

 

Mandrake Made Easy

mandrake made easy

Behold! An easy – but totally awesome – mandrake that even the littlest wizard or witch can repot. Katie and I created this project while planning a Harry Potter event. We were looking for something creative, simple, low mess, and appropriate for a wide age range. Ultimately, we decided to not do this mandrake craft at our event, but we definitely wanted to share it with you!

You’ll need:

  • Crayola Model Magic (we used the color terra cotta)
  • 1 small plastic cup (we used 1.25oz Solo cups)
  • Green construction paper
  • Clay sculpting tools (chopstick, paperclip, X-acto knife, pencil, etc.)
  • Scissors

Since this craft was going to take place in our carpeted gallery, we wanted zero mess. Model Magic is perfect for this purpose. It’s light, soft, spongy, non toxic, leaves no residue on the hands, and air dries beautifully. A 4oz package made 4 mandrakes.

First, take a chunk of Model Magic and form a root plug at the bottom, 2 arms, and a head. Gently twist the arms and head to make them appear gnarled and root-like.

twisting the arms and headUse sculpting tools and smaller bits of Model Magic to create the face. Then push the mandrake’s plug into a small clear plastic cup. Cut leaves from green construction paper, and gently pinch the Model Magic around the leaves to hold them in place. I love the expression and leaf placement on Katie’s mandrake:

mandrake with leavesYou can add a label to your pot if you’d like. Ours was a bit of manila paper adhered to the plastic cup with a glue stick. We went with the plant’s Latin genus name, Mandragora.

Also optional for this project: a pair earmuffs, charmed with extra soundproofing.

A Real Howler

a real howlerMessed up on a test at school? Misplaced your toad? Stole your father’s flying car? Brace yourself – you might be getting a Howler in the mail.

You’ll need:

  • An 8.5″ x 11″ piece of red poster board (or red card stock)
  • Extra red poster board (or red card stock) for pop-up elements
  • A few pieces of white card stock
  • Markers, pens, and/or color pencils for writing and decorating
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Optional (but fun!): sparkle stems, foil star stickers, and bits of red mirror board

While there are templates and patterns for the Howlers you see in the Harry Potter movies, some of them can get a little complicated. The folks who staffed the Howler table at our Harry Potter event wanted something kids could do with minimal instruction and assistance. As it turned out, kids of all ages loved making these simple pop-up cards. The table was hopping for 5 hours!

Our Howler is an 8.5″ x 11″ piece of red poster board (or card stock) folded in half. We offered 4 pop-up elements for the interior of the card: 1) Basic accordion fold; 2) Clustered accordion fold; 3) Spiral; and 4) Zigzag accordion fold.

four pop-up elementsTo make the basic accordion fold, take a strip of paper and fold it back and forth until it resembles a stair case. Attach one end to the card with tape. We cut a number of different size strips and let kids pick and fold the ones they wanted. We also had rectangular pieces available in case kids wanted to cut and fold a cluster of accordion folds.

To make a spiral, cut into a circle of poster board (or card stock), circling inwards until you reach the center. Attach one end to the card with tape. We prepared large and small circles in advance, and let kids pick and cut their own spirals.

To make a zigzag accordion fold, cut a zigzag into a strip of paper, and then fold along the straight points of the zigzag, like so:

zigzag foldWe had sparkle stems, foil star stickers, and little bits of red mirror board available to decorate the cards (the idea was to make it look as explosive as possible, so lots of red and gold)!  Finally, write magical crimes and consequences on pieces of white card stock and attach them to the card or pop-up elements. Feel free to add illustrations as well (like Marissa’s fantastic broomstick in the image below? And did you notice the little exclamation marks popping up on accordion folds?).

a real howlerTsk tsk tsk Beatrix. You really should be more responsible with your broom.