Archive for November, 2010

Woodcarving 101 & Scouting

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

Hmmm? Do those two things go together? You betcha!

I’ve had two particular videos (well 3 actually) in mind as a good way to introduce woodcarving basics, and also as a good way to recognize scouting as a character building activity.

Today is the day to get these posted. My email just brought me pictures of one of our grandchildren in a Cub Scout group. I have great memories (over 5 decades old) of some wonderful time spent in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. Our scouting organizations, both boys and girls, are dedicated to teaching wide varieties of skills and solid social values. Want a good character building experience for your children? Try scouting.

Lynn Doughty from Out West Woodcarving also has a grandson in scouting. Seeing the need to provide some instruction material for boys wanting to pursue the Woodcarving Merit Badge, Lynn put together two videos about making a neckerchief slide. Neckerchiefs are a standard part of scouting uniforms and every scout I’ve known likes to have distinctive slides for their neckerchiefs. The great thing about these two videos is that they form a very good introduction to carving. Lynn starts with safety, showing how to protect yourself from the inevitable small accidents that happen with all sharp tools. He then demonstrates the concepts of cutting with and against grain. These are basics that all new carvers need to understand and Lynn does them with ample detail and patience.

Clicking the image will take you to the video on Lynn’s Vimeo channel. The first video is about 15 minutes. You will find near it a link to part 2, about 27 minutes. Come back for a special treat when you’re done.
Link to Lynn Doughty's Arrowhead video

This next video turned out far better than I expected. I discovered that Bill Burch has carved 50,000 slides for Bolo ties, an alternative to the scouting neckerchief. I went to this video expecting to see some of those slides and maybe learn how they are made.

Didn’t happen. Instead, I heard a very special story. Enjoy.

Woodcarving – a fun slippery slope – part 3 of 3

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010


The first post of this series showed off a few 2 dimensional types of woodcarving. The second  part moved to 3 dimensions, and some of the things featured there looked like people. This post moves on to “characters.”

photo of a woodspiritWhat the heck. I’m old enough to be your crazy uncle. Life has been pretty serious til now. So, I’m going to enjoy some whimsy.

On the rather serious side of whimsy, we find woodspirits and greenmen. Woodspirit carvings try to capture the fleeting image of the rarely seen character that guards the forests. These guys are very often carved on trees or branches, right through the bark of the tree. Many, like Shawn Ciba’s wonderful example here, are used to adorn walking sticks. As a genre, woodspirits have long beards and often have flying hair.

Similar in mythology are greenmen. However, instead of hair they have leaves. Leaves for eyebrows. Leaves for beards. Leaves for top of the head hair. Leaves growing from their orifices. A carver mentioned in an earlier post, Chris Pye has quite a gallery of greenmen, all foliate, none hairy.

More whimsy! More whimsy! photo of small flat plane carvingOK. There are a lot of woodcarvers doing caricature carving, and there are as many styles as there are carvers. A style with a minimalist approach began somewhere in Scandinavia and is popular because of the ability to represent a lot of character with relatively few cuts. This “flat plane” style has quite a following, and one of the carvers who loves it is Gene Messer. Not only does Gene love flat plane carving, he does a lot of other caricature carving and delights in making videos to invite and instruct new carvers. At the time I write this, Gene has created 889 YouTube videos. That’s one very impressive collection.

Gene is not alone on YouTube. There are quite a few other carvers publishing videos, far too many to list here. You can easily find them if you’re interested. Hint: start with the subscribers to Gene’s channel.

photo of a western woodcarvingOne more excellent example, caricatures in the western style. Lynn Doughty is an award winning carver who lives out in the middle of the old west and creates characters from the age of the wild wild west. Each character tells a story, and each is done with painstaking faithfulness to the era. Lynn is yet another carver who shares his knowledge via videos. Lynn carves while his wife, Judy, films. The result is another very rich collection of how-to videos at Out West Woodcarving. (Click on that photo to see Crusty in all his glory.)

Thanks Gene. Thanks Lynn. Thanks Allen, and Gary, and Jim, and Mark, and …. all the people who make woodcarving videos.

Lastly, if you want a taste more variety in caricature carving, take a look at the 2010 award winners for Caricature Carvers of America. This one is my favorite.

photo credits:


Woodcarving – a fun slippery slope – part 2 of 3

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Continuing a very brief survey of woodcarving variants, we move from 2 dimensions to 3. As before, I’ll be skipping over the huge array of choices and mentioning only a few, some of my favorites.

Classic sculpture

photo of crucifix

I have been incredibly fortunate. I’ve seen every one of Michelangelo’s sculptures except for three that somehow escaped Italy. Oh wait, those are stone, not wood. Ah well, almost. One was wood, a crucifix that is now located in the Basilica of Santa Maria del Santo Spirito in Florence Italy. Woodcarving is ancient, going back centuries before Christ. We know of a great rise in woodcarving about the time of the surge in liturgical art in the 13th and 14th centuries. A lot of it has been preserved, but for liturgical sculpture, actually all classical sculpture, I still prefer Michelangelo’s stone.

Nautical figures

I’m landlocked, but have always had an interest in boats, ships, and many things nautical. Some of the best of nautical woodcarvings are figureheads, and most of those are wood. Many are female figures and range from majestic to ribald (nsfw). One of the more majestic is the fully clothed female on the reconstructed HMS Bounty. What a fabulous carving! Not all figureheads depict people. There are animals and birds galore. The schooner Amistad, at Mystic Seaport, sports a beautifully gilded eagle in full flight. Moving to a very much smaller boat, I’m taken by the nicely detailed eagle someone added to their stem.

photo of HMS Bounty figurehead photo of schooner Amistad's figurehead photo of eagle head

Nautical practical pieces

photo of many forcoleLet’s move now to another type of nautical woodcarving, one of a very specific and practical nature. The boats of the Venetian lagoon have long been powered by men who row while standing. They use very long oars called remo (singular) or remi (plural). The oars work against very special oarlocks called forcola (singular) or forcole (plural). A forcula is a carved piece that has several twists and curves. Every surface and notch can be used to lever a remo for a different movement. While most work is done with the remo in the very top notch, popping the remo up out of the small notch and dropping it down into the broad bend lets it work against that spot for reversing the direction of rowing. Watch a gondolier for a while and you’ll see many changes of position that help them maneuver their long boats in narrow canals.

Remi and forcole are carved by highly skilled artisans. I don’t know how many of these people still exist, but two well known remers in Venice are Saverio Pastor and Paolo Brandolisio. Neither is bold enough to advertise the title, but those who examine the work of both men can easily call either of them Maestro Remer.

Here is a woodworking treat, a short clip of Paolo shaping a forcola for a gondola. Note also the wonderful vise. It stands all by itself, supported by a well in the shop floor.

More videos at Paolo’s YouTube channel. If these beautiful shapes have caught your interest, go see more at Saverio Pastor and Paolo Brandolisio web sites. Both have photo collections that show not only the objects but more of the process in making them, and photos of the workshops too.

Next, we’ll look at one more round of woodcarving examples, some real characters.

photo credits:







Woodcarving – a “fun slippery slope” – part 1 of 3

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

Woodworking is full of variety, as I mentioned a few days ago. It is also full of “slippery slopes.” A lot of us slid down the Neanderthal slope (handtool users) and sold off our tailed tools. Kari Hultman welcomed me to another slope, the woodcarving slope with that “fun slippery slope” phrase.

If you think woodworking has many different avenues, just wait until you turn off onto the long and winding road named woodcarving.  Woodcarving has countless offshoots, sidestreets and byways.

I thought about doing a brief survey of the variety of woodcarving forms. Bzzzt! One can’t do a brief survey. There are too many choices. So, I’ll just mention a few of my favorites, a few (only a few) of the impressive woodcarving woodworkers I’ve “met” on the wondrous woodworking world wide web.

Let’s start in 2 dimensions.

Have you ever visited Plimoth Plantation? It is very well worth the time to learn more about some of the country’s early settlers, why they came here, how they lived, and of course how they celebrated the first Thanksgiving.

photo of two ornate boxes

photo by Peter Follansbee - used with permission

While working at Plimoth, Peter Follansbee has become an indispensable expert on 17th century New England furniture. He researches and practices furniture making as done by the early settlers. That particular style of woodcarving is very distinctive. These little boxes are small samples of the kind of work applied to furniture panels, chairs, doors, and almost any flat surface that could benefit from adornment. One of the fascinating aspects of the work is that many of the shapes are layed out and executed directly from the tools. One can clearly see how chisels of different sweeps and sizes were used to form many of the curves and swirls. Peter not only works at the Plantation, but teaches classes, publishes a blog of his “joiners notes,” and has recently issued a new DVD “17th Century New England Carving” that is already getting great reviews. To gain a better perspective on this form of carving see one of Peter’s most recent blog entries which shows many examples of this work. Examine the photos very carefully, especially the last one where the tool marks are obvious. You will end up wondering how many chisels Peter must have.

photo of box with carvings on all surfaces

photo by Karu Hultman - used with permission

Staying in two dimensions, and showing another decorated box, we turn to a different sort of carving. Chip carving is done with knives, usually only two. Wayne Barton tells us it is derived from a Swiss style of woodworking, and we most often see it executed as beautiful decorations using heavily repeated patterns. While I’ve seen this form over the years, it was Kari Hultman, The Village Carpenter, who wrote about the technique some time ago. Being a design oriented person, she uses chip carving not as an end to itself, but as a method of adorning other things she creates. The box illustrated at the left uses a traditional geometric pattern on the top and wonderful flowering panels (perhaps Pennsylvania Dutch?) on the other surfaces. For more delight, see what she did to her coffin smoother plane. We can also see that lettercarving is a near cousin of chip carving. Oh, so many beautiful things, such a slippery slope, and so little time.

Before we jump to 3 dimensional objects, let’s look at a couple of architectural carvings.

photo of a carved carbel

photo by Chris Pye - used with permission

photo of decorations for stairs

photo by Chris Pye - used with permission

This is a category built upon classic motifs and patterns. We’ve all seen them frequently. Many today are machine made, but the hand carved versions are breathtaking in comparison. Again, these are only a small sample of of the category that includes everything from shell panel decorations, egg and dart mouldings, flame finials, ball and claw feet, and all sorts of things too numerous to mention. Chris Pye’s exquisite acanthus spirals (left) will decorate the ends of stair steps. (Rotate them 180 in your mind.) Imagine knocking out an order for 15 of those this week. Or, maybe making a couple of corbels (right) to hold the roof over the  back door. Chris Pye is a British woodcarver whose scope covers a broad range of carving categories. He teaches classes, (recently in the U.S.), publishes books and DVDs, and maintains a web site where he offers “Slipstones” which are e-books about woodcarving techniques. You might want to subscribe to his newsletter to learn about where and what Chris will be teaching next.

We’re still not at 3 dimensions yet. Next time…

Oh yeah, that beautiful home at the end of the long and winding road. That’s not mine!