Wednesday, June 24, 2009

WIP: Part 3- Carving a crazy nature theme back scratcher!

I have finally finished by backscratcher and what a wonderful journey in carving it has been. I did decide that a video was the best way to present this project since there was so much relief carving so welcome yourself to the YouTube link above. I'm not too good at the video game yet but I think that you'll get a pretty good idea of how it turned out. I was very pleased about how the highlighting with the woodburner turned out in combination with the watered down acrylic paints.

Now I've got something to look forward to when that next itch starts pestering my back!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

WIP: Part 2- Carving a crazy nature theme back scratcher!

WIP= "Work in progress"

I just finished all of the initial carving this afternoon, then I lightly touched it up with 220 grit sandpaper and steel wool. I didn't sand it to death but just enough to give it a slightly worn look when finished. The sanding phase was also needed this time to remove all of the body "gunk" that three weeks of carrying it around the campus tucked in my belt like a policeman's billy club and you know that the kids have enjoyed trying it out by scratching every body part known to man! :)

After the carving and sanding I got to looking at it and was thinking about how Lynn Doughty on the Woodcarving Illustrated message board highlights most of his caricature carvings with his woodburning pen before applying paint. With that in mind I decided to take the plunge and experiment with highlighting the raised relief carving on my backscratcher with some woodburning of my own and hope that I didn't make a big mistake. So far I really like the look but I haven't even added any color yet so if distractions are kept to a minimum I will discover the final result tomorrow when I begin applying my color washes. Sometimes you've just gotta try new stuff even if it means putting 3 weeks of carving work at risk. May the games begin!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

WIP: Part 1- Carving a crazy nature theme back scratcher!

Although I've been working on it off and on for the last several weeks I thought that I'd post the first pictures of my new super-dooper, crazy back scratcher. I cut the 16" long rough-out from a very dry tulip poplar limb that fell in a recent wind storm. I curved the handle outwards to capture the beautiful natural scar left from what was once a branch protruding out from the limb.

I ended up developing a nature theme for the scratcher which has two flowers on the top connected in the middle by a vibrant vine. Coming directly out of the vine in the middle and onto the back side is a lizard and a snake. The head of the scratcher will have a rising sun on the front and the planet earth on the back. Oh yeah, there is a butterfly just above the snake and after I was too far along with the carving to start over, I wish that I had carved the butterfly coming out of the snakes mouth. Oh, well.

I'm just about to begin the sanding phase and that will probably take the most of a full day to complete, then I'll add the final colors and finish. I'm thinking that I'll have to make a video for the final showing which I think might be the best way to make sense of this one crazy project! Back scratchers are currently one of the most popular projects with the kids in my afternoon carving classes and I had to cut out six more rough-out blanks this afternoon for tomorrows session. This has turned out to be a very fun project and my back will soon be reaping the full benefit!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Making a trombone whistle

I just uploaded a new video on my YouTube site on how I make a trombone whistle. I've been teaching the kids in woodshop class how to make a regular whistle for many years and when we've been on those three or four hundred mile canoe trips it's been the slip bark whistle. Either way a whistle is one of the most popular projects that kids want to learn how to make so I decided to take the whistle to the next level.

One day I finally found the time to explore my idea for a trombone like whistle where I could slide a rod, like those on a real trombone horn, thus being able to control the tones in the sound. I couldn't find any information on how to do it in books or on the internet so I was solely on my own. It took a bit of trial and error but I finally came up with something that works quite well.

This is a neat little woodshop project that only requires a drill press and a few simple hand tools and can be assembled in one afternoon but your wood limbs will need to be well seasoned and bone dry before assembling. I always have a good stash of seasoned red maple limbs and twigs on hand that I gather then bundle up with wire and hang them from the ceiling of my shop for several months until dry. I suppose that other types of wood will work but so far I've only used red maple.

Have some fun with it and as always, never ever compromise safety rules when using your power tools or carving knives!

Friday, June 12, 2009

A quick black locust woodspirit

My latest carving project is a very simple and basic woodspirit. So basic it is that I put in squinting eyes. The challenge of this particular project was that the wood was a small 8" piece of very dry and rock hard black locust root wood AND that I carved the entire piece using only a Swiss Army knife. One of the most common statements that I hear from the kids in my carving classes each day is that, "If only I had the blade you're using" so I decided to tackle this little woodspirit project to show what could be achieved with only a basic pocket knife and no specialty tools. It ended up being a lesson that sunk in pretty good with my students teaching them to improve their skills at being more resourseful.

Black locust is a very common tree here in the southern Appalachians and the local farmers actually refer to it as "honey locust" becasue of the beautiful honey colored grain of the wood. Along with eastern red cedar the locals also use split black locust for their fence posts because it has such good weather resistance qualities. Personally I like to use it for firewood because it's so hard and can smolder in the wood heater so well on a cold winters night. I also built a sturdy shaving horse from black locust several years ago and I expect that it will last for my life time and probably a little more.

Carving the black locust was quite the challenge and I spent the last two days working on it here and there. The dry wood was so hard I had to be careful not to break my knife blade, patiently removing one thin sliver of wood at a time until I had a face. It ended up having a nice contrast against the weather ridden wood root which had been blackened from a past forest fire. To finish I only applied one light coat of polyurethane.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

WIP Part 3-Ladybug walking stick

The ladybug gets a couple of green leaves

I finally managed to get a couple of green oak leaves carved just below the ladybug and I think that the greenery compliments the orange well and she now feels a little more at home perching there on top of the stick. The pictures are quite explanatory but I first made a rough sketch of the leaves, one on the front and one on the back, then went on to create a raised relief carving. Instead of just laying them straight on the wood I decided that they would be more interesting if I sketched them in a slightly arched manner and sort of like the McDonald's golden arches. I think that they look a little more humble and have a more 'floating in air' look to them like this.

I have now begun carving a slightly textured handle area just below the leaves in a swirled fashion resembling a Christmas candy cane. Not sure how I will color this area just yet but most likely it'll be an earth tone. I have also begun carving a woodspirt just under the handle and that's probably where I'll end this project. More later and thanks for looking.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

My feature woodcarving article!

Wood Carving Illustrated, Summer 2009 issue

I still have to pinch myself when I open up the summer issue of Wood Carving Illustrated magazine. It's hard to believe that I was published in a magazine that I've been a loyal subscriber to since issue #2 and most of all I was proud to appear in the same magazine that has showcased such pros over the years as Tom Wolfe, Ian Norbury, E.J. Tangerman, Mike Shipley, Lora Irish, and so many other accomplished carvers that would take a small booklet to mention them all. While I don't acclaim to have achieved a level of carving perfection as those mentioned, I have developed my own level of expertise which mainly has it's foundation laid in a love for teaching kids how to discover the joys of carving.

I sure hope that you enjoy the article which centers around the teaching methods that I've used over the last nearly 30 years helping at-risk kids learn to carve. You can get a glimpse of the article here: but they've been available at the newsstand since May 26th.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

WIP: Part 2-Ladybug walking stick

She's a pretty little bug

I've finally completed this cute little ladybug and for such a small carving she really does stand out atop the stick boasting that coat of orange and black! This is a walking stick that I've had on my mind for a very long time and I'm pleased with how it came out. It's actually a fairly simple thing to carve and I would have to put it in the fairly easy category if teaching a new student to carve one.

If you don't have much carving experience my tips for this project would be to first study as many pictures of the ladybug as you can AND study the real bug in the wild too if you can. As you can see from the pictures that I added to the last posting, sketch out the general rounded body shape on the top of the stick before any carving begins. Most of my new carving students biggest mistake is picking up their piece of wood then they will begin cutting it with their knife with absolutely no sketching, or outline of their project on the wood and then they will wonder why they can't get it right. All good carvers will do at least a rough sketching of their project on the wood first. The next tip that I will recommend is to scribble a general center line if you are carving a 3-D project such as the ladybug. I find that having a center line is essential as a reference point for keeping both sides of the carving in their proper perspective.

For the paint job I used water based acrylics and thinned them down a good bit then, as usual, applied several layers until I reached the tone I wanted. For the base coat I mixed a bright red with a pumpkin orange that seemed to make up the real ladybug color. After painting the legs and spots with black I quickly dried it with my hair dryer then very lightly sanded the finish which I feel highlights the hand carved markings just beautifully. Gosh, I do want it to look like a wood carving and not like the smooth painted finish of a new car.

The next step now will be to carve those green leaves under the ladybug which I believe will contrast well with the bright orange and bring my bug to life. I'll try and get those pictures posted by the weekend. Hope that you like my new little buggy friend!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

WIP: Part 1-Ladybug walking stick

Last weekend I pulled down a fine red maple stick that's been curing in the shed for more than 5 years so it was well seasoned and begging to be carved. It was one of my smaller sticks measuring 56" tall but only 1" diameter at the top. As more carving years roll off behind me I seem to be carving small things more and more. Perhaps it's an effort to perfect my micro carving skills or since I'm getting older perhaps it's just my attempt to better understand the intricacies of my own life and how I fit into it. Whatever the reason this project is going to be another one of my efforts to better understand carving in the small.

For beginners I knew that I wanted to perch a brightly colored ladybug on the top of my stick and at some point I'd like to do one with a frog ready to jump, but today it will be the sweet little ladybug and I'll have to save the frog for a rainy day. Gosh, who can deny the intrinsic beauty of that rounded coat of orange and black spots? Ladybugs have always captivated my imagination and scientists also say that they are very beneficial to agriculture but they also have a dark side. Each spring they find their way into my old house by the hundreds (possibly thousands?) thus a battle of the bugs begin. I swat them from the ceiling with my broom, spray them in the windows in a desperate effort to control the madness, and occasionally I spit them from my mouth while eating my cereal... but I always get through it and survive another day. Yes, they can be darn pests' also!

If you enlarge the picture above by clicking on it you will better see how I first sketched an outline of the ladybug on the top of my stick with a pencil, then began removing the waste wood with my jack knife using a repeated stop cut and push cut. Right from the beginning there was no doubt that this piece of well seasoned red maple was some kind of hard. Sometimes I love carving into the harder woods because it slows down my cuts to a crawl forcing me to just enjoy the carving process on a higher level and the slower cuts slow down my mistakes giving me more time to contemplate each cut. For some reason I find a deep satisfaction from this kind of carving.

After rounding the body and adding the legs I just lightly sanded the rough carving with a piece of fine grit 220 sandpaper but not too much as I want the beauty of the cut wood to show. Next I will add the finer details of the ladybug and that's where all of the pictures of this beautiful little insect come in handy. I've been collecting pictures of ladybugs for many years and have a nice collection to study so I'll now try and get those wings, eyes, and spots embedded just right. So far I like how it's turning out and I'll post the next update soon which will include the paint work and perhaps I'll add something else to the stick. Maybe a few green leaves would be nice underneath this ladybug? We'll see.