re-using, recycling, and redeeming old wood

Archive for October, 2010

#24 Wood carving: Bones, MD. A Bishop roughout

Wood carving is one of my hobbies. Did you notice the word “one.” That means, beside teaching,

Bishop rough out, partly skinned

leading in my church, living in a family – wife and three adult children, and a host of other things I have chosen to do, I have several hobbies. Carving happens to be near or at the top of the list of hobbies. So what does that mean?

It means that not all the carvings I begin will be completed any time soon. It also means that some commissions I have taken are standing in my basement at various stages of completion. I think you will understand in the

Bishop rough out, side view

next few posts I make.

The one commission which has been on my mind a lot lately, and on the minds of several others, is “Bones, MD.” This is a Phil Bishop rough out which I promised to a friend many months ago. Dare I say that I have the check in my wallet just waiting to be banked. (At least I have not lived with the money in my account for these past four months, then I would be even harder on my self.) I have tried to use the pressure of the un-cashed check to drive me to finish the carving.

While the bad news is that the carving awaits completion, the good news is that with ten more minutes of

Commission, nearly carved.

carving (and for those of you who do not know the carving world, for a fussy carver that is an easy half hour) the piece will be ready for painting.

I have included in this post pictures of rough outs a various stages of completion. The first are of a rough out that has some of the surface

Commission, side view

skinned. Skinning is taking off the duplication machine fuzzy fibers. Any of those fibers are left on the carving will immediately be seen in the final step of painting. They will take the paint so differently that all who look at the carving, from non-carvers to expert carvers, will notice.

The second piece, nearly completed carving, which will receive paint in the next two weeks, is the piece promised. You will notice that it needs hair lines. Also, it needs buttons and a few more wrinkles and creases. These will add shadows and highlights to the piece

Bishop class, nearly completed

which the untrained eye will miss without knowing what is wrong with the piece if they are not added.

Close up of “Bones, MD”

The final carving is a study done under Phil Bishop’s direction. It also is incomplete – did you notice? The paint job is nearly finished. There are a few highlights to add and the last stage of the eye needs to be put in. Then the piece will be dipped in linseed oil sealing the carving. Hope I will have a few finished pieces to show you soon.

“It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night.”  Psalm 92:1,2

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#23 Reason to love wood carving and wood working people.

I love wood carving/wood working folks. There are so many reasons to love them. They are so often down to earth people: potlucks, sharing, helping, caring, talking, common sense, willingness to work, working hard, working with your hands, helping others work, basic decency, values and a heavy dose of humor.

Perhaps I am projecting on to wood carvers and wood workers an image that doesn’t fit.  I know we can find wood carvers who are not polite or caring or selfless. There are plenty who are in it only for themselves. But I have met many carvers, beginners/newbies no one knew and world famous carvers. Most were “salt of the earth” type people. (Harold Enlow and Peter Ortel to name only two you might recognize ) And that is part of what attracts me to wood carving. It is the people with whom you get to hang out.

Board Stretcher, Alger Park Hardware

So what is the picture all about. Just to show you the sense of humor you will find among wood carving folks. I wonder how many have been taken in by the “board stretcher.” Let me know if you find a working model. I think this one is only a prototype.

Have you got any pictures of wood carved or wood working humor.  Would you share with us?  Thanks.


#22 Carving in Maquoketa, IA in June.

Iowa in June?  Really?  And was it wet!  But the carving and competition were indoors, so we weren’t bothered too much, except for those who had to run between the buildings or who sat under the few leaks.

Carvings from the show

Now what is that all about?  One of the places I like to go for inspiration, education, and carving competition is to the Affiliated Wood Carvers show in Maquoketa, IA.   The AWC says of itself, “Affiliated Wood Carvers, Limited, (AWC) is a non-profit corporation

Mountain man

which publicly promotes the fine art of woodcarving through the sponsorship of the International Woodcarvers Congress.”

The AWC continues, “To the best of our knowledge, the International Woodcarvers Congress is the longest running, c

Human bust

ompetitively judged, woodcarving art show in the United States. It is truly the most prestigious show of its kind. Artists from all over the United States, Canada and overseas have competed for cash and awards at the ‘Congress.’”

As you can see by the small sample of pictures provided, the Congress is a great place to learn more

One of the best in the show

about the art of wood carving.  At the Congress, great teachers provide superior instruction in many carving styles and techniques.  Quality

Deep relief

competition allows carvers to display their work against other high ranking national and international carvers.  And you get to hang around with lots of great people who love the art of woodcarving.

Anyone interested in wood carving needs to make the International Woodcarvers Congress at Maquoketa, IA a must see.  Check out the AWC website for the dates of the next Congress.


#21 Wood Carving: The process – raw wood to Father Christmas/Santa gifts

I want to show you the process of carving from raw wood block to a carving ready for painting. In another blog we will talk about finishing and painting a piece. The carving I am working on is an Old World Father Christmas or Santa. The design is not original, but the carving is mine.

The first step in carving is to find a “blank.” As you see in the picture, it is a simple basswood block. It comes from the lumberyard cut in perfectly straight lines which makes the next stage of carving easier to carry out.

Carving process, basswood blank

The block still has the lumber yard saw cuts on it.

The next stage is cutting out the “rough out.”  The second picture shows this carvings rough out.  The one is very, very simple.  Some

Carving process, rough out

rough outs are cut to a general shape which can look like a duck or a person without any detail.  Other rough outs are done on duplicators which take wood off to about 1/4 to 1/2 an inch of the whole carving.    In this rough out I have left a lot of extra wood because this is the first one of these I have tried.  Leaving extra wood allows me to play with the process as the carving progresses.

The next step is clean the rough out.  As you see in the second picture, the rough out is covered with saw marks.   Every saw mark which

Carving process, rough outs awaiting cleaning.

is not remove will show up in the painting and finishing stages.  Those marks left on the carving will accept or take paint differently than the rest of the carving.

They will show up in a most obvious and unwanted way.

Carving process, clean rough out

So, cleaning off the rough out is an important step in carving.  Some preliminary carving could be done here, but the temptation to dig into the carving itself might cause you to miss some of the marks.  On a simple rough out like this one it would be pretty hard to miss such marks.  However, on more complex carvings, under noses, on checks, elbows, backs of heads or large flat surfaces are all prime places to leave marks.  So, in the third picture you see a “cleaned” rough out.  If you look closely at the left side of the carving you will see a pencil mark, the remnant of an “F.”  While cleaning the rough out I decided which side of the carving would be the front, since I still have a choice on this carving – a more complex carving would require such a decision earlier.

Note on the rough out in picture two the straight pencil lines.  These are maintain on the cleaned rough out as you can see on the right side of the carving.  They will need to be taken off soon and they need to be replaced after the rough out is completely cleaned.  They will help keep the carving in balance.  Now that cleanup is completed the “setting in” stage begins.

“Setting in”  or “blocking in” is the process of locating major masses of the carving.  Since this carving is going

Carving process, setting in

to be an Old World Father Christmas or Santa, I have head, arms, body, robe masses to consider.  All these were drawn on in pencil first.  Then a “v-gouge” (a tool shaped like a “v”) was used to outline the masses named above.

In picture four you see some of the lines which have been cut into the cleaning rough out.  At the bottom of the carving you can see the trim of the robe.  Moving upward you have arms and then beard and

Carving process, another view

face masses.  While I can change the sizes of these masses, once I have begun to set them in reality says that I can only make them smaller rather than larger.

This stage of carving is critical.  I must make decisions which will affect the entire outcome of the carving.  As you can see, once I have determined how high on the carving the arms should go I can not move the wood and lover the arms.  Having decided where to “set in” the underside of the arms I am committed to the arm mass being there.  I can thin the mass, shape it a little differently or add beautiful details, but I can not move it.

Once the masses have been set in I can begin to work on the details of the carving.  As you can see in the final two picture,  all the surfaces of the carving must be dealt with.  When I say “dealt with” I mean I must make a decision about them.

carving process,  detailing

How deep shall I go, what kind of surface treatment should I give, where within the mass should the minor details go.

Carving process, begin detailing 2

This stage can be a lot of fun for the carver.

You see the progress made so far.  There are a few stage left before we have a completed carving.  The mustache and beard need greater detail.  Eye brows need to be added.  The robe’s trim at arms and bottom need to have their surfaces gouged so they look a little more “furry.”  I need to make a few more marks on the robe’s surface to make it “move” for the human eye.

Carving process, Two Father Christmas/Santas awaiting details

The final stage is painting.  I will take pictures of the final detailing and painting for another blog in the near future.  Happy carving.

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.


#20 Carving in the sunshine


Carving a cypress knee in the sunshine

There is no better place to carve than outside in the sunshine, especially with friends.  Two friends, Ed and Jeff, and I spent last Saturday carving in my back yard.  Jeff worked on a cypress knee while Ed and I worked on some bark houses.

Ed carving a cotton wood bark house

Jeff has received  lessons for the cypress knee from another carver so we left him on his own.   He was working on a few of the extra details for the piece.

Ed was making his first attempts at carving houses out of cotton wood bark.  We talked about setting up the piece first.  We looked the bark over for defects, taking off the lose or weak pieces.  Then we drew on the back of the bark to get an idea of how we wanted the house to stand on a hill, the angles of the roof line, walls and hill.  Next we began to rough in the roof, the walls and hill lines.

Ed and Jeff carving 10 9 10

Cotton wood always forces you to deal with weak spots, pieces that fall off or break off in the process of carving.  Ed’s piece had two wings, but one broke off while the piece was being handled.  In the end the carving


Carving cotton wood bark in the sunshine

will actually be stronger as a result of have less wood.  Ed had to figure out how to make the house fit on the rearranged piece.

After roughing in the house and spotting it correctly on the hill the next work was to begin adding windows and doors.  On bark house I tend to make the doors and


Tools of the craft

windows oversized so they are easier to set in and carve.

The tedious work began here.  Roof lines had to  be finally set in and shingles drawn out and carved.  Doors and windows had to be pierced to let light through.  Exterior siding were sketched on and carved in.  Details for the hill, rocks, benches were added at this point in the carving.

Stop cutting Santa's gift bag.

While we did not get the project completed the final steps after details are fixed in place will be to spray the piece with sealer bringing out and preserving  the rich colors of the bark.  And then the piece is ready for signing and dating.  And, as Jeff keeps reminding us, once the piece is signed no more carving on it.

Psalm 19:1
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.


#19 Carving at Holy Name Cathedral

I did not expect to get back to the topic of inspiration so soon. However, today I was again able to visit Holy Name Cathedral of Chicago. There is a carving to be seen which should inspire every carver.

Resurrection Crucifix 1a

As you can see in the pictures, it is a beautiful piece.
The “Resurrection Crucifix” was carved by Ivo Demetz.  Demetz used one solid log of Balsam wood. He has left the natural color of the wood show through. He has also left knife and gouge marks visible to the viewer.

Traditional crucifixes show Jesus Christ nailed to the cross, crowned with thorns, pierced and bleeding.

Resurrection Crucifix, Holy Name, 1b

The sight, grim in its purpose, reminds the viewer of the sacrifice Jesus made. The crucifix shows Jesus at the point of death.

Demetz has given this traditional depiction of Christ a twist. At first glance one sees a crucifix. Closer inspection reveals that this view of the cross is different. It is a cross. Jesus is present “in” the cross. But, there the similarity ends. Christ is not pinned to the cross by nails. There is no crown of thorns nor is he pierced. Instead, Jesus is shown whole, healthy, resurrected. Demetz has carved Jesus in such a way that he seems to float inside the cross – although he is in fact attached at several points in the carving. One last grand detail is the cross itself. The artist has carved a cross which gives the feeling of rays of power and light. It is the resurrected Christ we see.

Of interest to a carver are the bold carving strokes Demetz uses on the figure of Christ. Also the unique way of

Resurrection Crucifix, Holy Name, rear view 2 a

making the viewer feel as if the carving floats free of the surrounding cross. One more point of interest for the carver is the effect the surface treatment gives. New carvers would benefit from noticing the impact surface treatment gives to a carving.
The “Resurrection Crucifix carving always inspires me to sit at my carving bench and carve. Hope it does the same for you.

Psalm 22:1  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?   Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?


# 18 A cool place for inspiration: Leanin’ Tree

Wood carvers are always looking for ideas.  They are also looking for help in how to carve something in an interesting way.

Donkey eye detail, Leanin' Tree collection

Wolf, Leanin' Tree collectionI always enjoy.

Where to go?  We will have many more entires on sources for ideas.  We plan to discuss books, pictures, photos, calendars, other artist’s work.   One of my sources of inspiration is Leanin’ Tree .

I have enjoyed Leanin’ Tree.   Leanin’ Tree is part of  Trumble Greetings, a greeting card company.

What interests me for this blog, and there are many aspects of Leanin’ Tree which do interest me – not least the cards and

Eagle detail, Leanin' Tree collection

books I have purchased from them,  is the Western art which Mr. Ed Trumble has gathered.  This collection is now on display in Leanin’ Tree’s museum at the main office in Boulder,  Colorado.

As you can tell from the pictures included in this entry, what is of interest here is not necessarily the entire piece of art.  The close up shots of carvings allows me to see how a particular artist dealt with a

Bear detail, Leanin' Tree collection

particular challenge in representing real life in an artistic way.  The animals here are not real, they are art.  What liberties did the artist take with reality?  How did he or she capture the “wolf-ness”  or “eagle-ness” in bronze or stone?  Was there exaggeration in the eye details or in the length of the face?  What kinds of cuts would I have to make in order catch the same movement in wood?  Could I use a similar movement in a piece to give my work flow or interest for the viewer?

A visit to Leanin’ Tree in Boulder would be a worthwhile stop.  If that is not possible, an online bookmark for the museum or a purchase of one of the museum’s books would be a valuable addition to any carver’s collection.  They would provide hours of enjoyment and inspiration.