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Okay boys and girls, I am now officially an old fart, even though I still get paid for thinking about rocks all day. Why? Because I have decided to take up whittling, otherwise known as wood carving.

This past weekend I attended the annual trade show that the Northeast Oklahoma Wood Carvers Association (EOWA) sponsors. I spent 30 minutes whittling a boot out of a small piece of basswood. I paid the $25 fee to join the EOWA and I am committed to (try to) attend at least one of their weekly Thursday evening meetings per month. My wife of 42 years, who tolerates my every whim, only smiled as I spent over $200 on gear at the trade show.

Maybe I will even take Mr. Larry Green's class this October, depending on work and family commitments.

http://woodcarving.indiemade.com/content/home

And so, of course there is a problem. Stick makers prefer hard wood. Carvers prefer soft wood. Knotty woods pose problems for stick makers, but they sure look great when the stick is finished. Knots are problematic for carvers.

Of course the wood spirit that so many like to carve on a stick is a goal of mine. I met a guy who carves them, not with the traditional scary face, but with a whimsical face that has a big smile. I think I'll try to draw and then carve something more along those lines. I need to begin working on the oaken stick in the garage that my son likes. Some carving is in order.

As time goes on, we ought to report our successes and failures when we attempt carving on various kinds of wood.
 

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Now your talking about a whole nother thing :)

First rule of carving. Learn to sharpen and strop then carve
I'd suggest start out with some cheap pine boards and just carve on em, learn blade direction and hand placement (even if you bought a glove)

Most important....Have fun!
 

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I think you will enjoy learning to carve. A lot of wood is truly beatiful, and the time spent working it can be a reward in itself.

+1 As JJireh said, keep those tools sharp.

The basics of carving apply to any wood. Is your blade edge going to cut down into grain, or lift under it? Will you have to guard against tear out because the grain is longer than the detail you want to make? Can you just cut in the direction of the grain, or you need to cut across? Etc.

Bass wood is easy. Its soft, and has a short even grain that will take detail as fine as a nib pen line in most directions. Its great for wood block print carving. The woods I my teacher recommended were better for sculpure were a little harder. Walnut, cherry, rosewood, mahogany are not only beautiful, but not hard enough that the effort was exceptional. But the grain could be more uneven, making detail (much) less easy. My teacher always advised imagining how a particular piece of wood could be worked. Consider how a figure could be carved that avoided a knot, or be pleasantly shaped by the flow of the grain.

When you get into harder woods, expect to use smaller and harder tools. Cheap student tools, don't even bother. Really hard stuff like osage orange, I've never been able to manually work with anything wider than 1/4".

I spent the day feasting w. my wife. 36 years here. So no carving today, but there's enough sunlight I can do some sanding on something thats near ready for a finish.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thanks guys! At the woodcarver's show, I was fortunate to have some beginner's guidance. I worked on a cowboy boot of basswood that had already been roughed out with a scroll saw, long axis parallel to the grain. Then Larry Green said he prefers to work cross grain and he demonstrated why. He gave me one of his boots and a very different wood spirit that I liked.

Yes, I did pick up a glove, after the instructor described his visit to the ER.

I have plenty of basswood to practice on. I plan to attend an occassional Thursday evening "carve-in" to pick up pointers.

On the Janka scale, basswood is ony 410 and white oak is 1360. This suggests that I will have a difficult time caeving a wood spirit or anything into the oak stick that my son selected from the collection on the garage wall. I have plenty of oak to test that, but it will likely harden as it cures. Maybe the week of soaking in Pentacryl will help that.
 

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I have an oak owl I have been working on for years now :) Harndness to me is usualy irrelevant, you still make small chips its just sometimes you have to use a mallet :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
I have an oak owl I have been working on for years now :) Harndness to me is usualy irrelevant, you still make small chips its just sometimes you have to use a mallet :)
Oh nooooo! Not sure how many years I halve left. :D But I'll give it a try after some practice. After six months of curing, the bark I left on the grip has not separated at all. It might be interesting, if at all possible, to try to incorporate that bark into some carving, for example as a beard of sorts, or in another way. This will definitely require some practice, and since no two pieces of wood are exactly the same it won't be a controlled experiment.

In any case, I'll practice first on some basswood or other soft wood.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Now you done got me to wanting to carve something again!
Good Lewey, show us how it's done!

The EOWA holds it's weekly "carve-ins" on Thursdays, 6-9 pm, at a community center near downtown where I work. I have too much going on to attend regularly, but I plan to attend my first tonight. I'll take a couple of basswood blocks, a roughed out oak cane, and an almost finished very hard oak slingshot, and practice as well as seek advice. I'm interested to see what sort of group this is. Hopefully not too much talk about politics, religion, and all the sorts of stuff that get people upset at one another. Everyone I have met so far has had a very positive disposition.
 

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CAS, you mentioned carving wood spirit walking staffs; I have carved literally thousands of these within the past 20 years. Although I have carved several different species for this subject matter, I have found the maple is one of the best and easiest to carve. The trick is that you must carve it green. Find yourself a nice straight maple sapling, about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Do not let it sit fro more than a couple of days before starting. If you think it will take you several days to complete, then start immediately after cutting. Assuming your tools are nice and sharp, you will be pleasantly surprised - the green maple will carve like soap. After you are done, slather the stick with a 50/50 mixture of mineral spirits and boiled linseed oil. This will slow drying, and will increase the visual contrast between the bark and the exposed wood. It will also make the carved details pop. Maple bark has a sort of ashy grey look to it, but once you add the oil, it will turn dark brown. Once the oil has absorbed after a few days, apply a sparing coat of either satin poly or satin tung oil for a seal coat. It is my desire to make sure the final finish is not glossy and plastic looking, but a dull sheen instead.

Do not be concerned about splitting and checking - it will not. I have never had one in twenty years do this. Also, once it dries, it will get much lighter and will be rock hard. I carve these things in about 3 hours with a few half round gouges, a v-tool, and a long thin knife. Here is a sample (from my website):
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
I carve these things in about 3 hours with a few half round gouges, a v-tool, and a long thin knife. Here is a sample (from my website):
Holy cow! I won't live long enough to do something like that. Those are incredible!

Thank you very much for the tips. Right now, I'm practicing on basswood. I will follow your advice when my skill level has improved 1000%, and attack a stick.

Regards
 

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It certainly does not have to be that detailed to be nice - that is just something I've developed along the way. I don't think you should wait to try it. I think if you go get a maple stick, clamp it down on that table contraption you have and go nuts on it with your gouges, you will be delighted! Just practice all over it - you be surprised at how easy it is green. You will need a mallet, of course. Just my opinion - why wait?
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Have mallet, will carve! Thanks Shawn!
 

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CAS, you mentioned carving wood spirit walking staffs; I have carved literally thousands of these within the past 20 years. Although I have carved several different species for this subject matter, I have found the maple is one of the best and easiest to carve. The trick is that you must carve it green. Find yourself a nice straight maple sapling, about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Do not let it sit fro more than a couple of days before starting. If you think it will take you several days to complete, then start immediately after cutting. Assuming your tools are nice and sharp, you will be pleasantly surprised - the green maple will carve like soap. After you are done, slather the stick with a 50/50 mixture of mineral spirits and boiled linseed oil. This will slow drying, and will increase the visual contrast between the bark and the exposed wood. It will also make the carved details pop. Maple bark has a sort of ashy grey look to it, but once you add the oil, it will turn dark brown. Once the oil has absorbed after a few days, apply a sparing coat of either satin poly or satin tung oil for a seal coat. It is my desire to make sure the final finish is not glossy and plastic looking, but a dull sheen instead.

Do not be concerned about splitting and checking - it will not. I have never had one in twenty years do this. Also, once it dries, it will get much lighter and will be rock hard. I carve these things in about 3 hours with a few half round gouges, a v-tool, and a long thin knife. Here is a sample (from my website):
Thanks for the the details on how to work and coat the green maple carving. Almost all of my previous carving was in seasoned wood. And the unseasoned wood I used was very hard, so I can't imagine doing that in 3 hours. Actually, even in soft wood, not in less than 3 days. Your quickness is exemplary.

With the large number of wood spirits you have carved, do you need to draw out the figure, or can you just dive into the wood.? If you can, how long did it take before you didn't need to lay down a design?
 

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Thanks! You know, wood spirit sticks were the first thing I ever carved, so repetition is the keyword. I have done so many, that it is the easiest thing for me to carve. After a while you develop a "formula", and then you alter the formula in order to keep each one unique. Even then, they all look the same to me ; ) At this point point, I just dive into the wood. I do draw a few guidelines here and there occasionally if the wood has an unusual shape, or if I want the face pulled in a certain way. I probably have been doing that after the first twenty or so.

Years ago, when I did craft festivals (lots of sticks and folk santas), I used to attend the annual Irish festivals in Pittsburgh. All I did on those days was offer wood spirit sticks, and I would also demonstrate all day. The promoter would always set me up near the beer lines, so I had throngs of drunken Irish around me all day watching me work, buying my sticks, hanging on me and buying me Guinness drafts. I learned to carve fast and under pressure ( and drunk).

Good times.
 

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I started carving with knives about 5 years ago and took to it quite naturally. I then started carving walking sticks and had the same problem, hard wood is better for sticks but not better on knives. I would suggest keeping the knives for other carvings and use power tools for walking sticks. I know it is not as romantic but it saves a lot of time sharpening and sharpening and sharpening while carving an ozark mountain hickory.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
I started carving with knives about 5 years ago and took to it quite naturally. I then started carving walking sticks and had the same problem, hard wood is better for sticks but not better on knives. I would suggest keeping the knives for other carvings and use power tools for walking sticks. I know it is not as romantic but it saves a lot of time sharpening and sharpening and sharpening while carving an ozark mountain hickory.
Thanks for the timely response. I just bought a Dremel with a detail attachment, but I bought it to cut some stone to embed. I will try to learn how to use it to carve on the very hard woods, expecially since my stock is not green.
 
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