Sunday, November 29, 2009

WIP: A Thanksgiving Woodspirit Marathon (Part 2-conclusion)

Thanksgiving has afforded me with the addition of four new members to my woodspirit family. They are now finished and ready for duty in the hands of new owners as they will surely explore many new trails. Two of the sticks have some really nice swirls at the top near the handle on the woodspirit beards which make them quite unique and that also makes them feel good in the palm of the gripping hand.

The animal tracks also turned out nice and bold which compliments the woodspirits just right. Over the years I have developed several sets of animal tracks for placing on my walking sticks since most folks request them. I developed their designs from several sources including a large track collection that I have casted over many years in the field. I've also studied numerous tracking books where I've gleaned many other variations of how a particular animal leaves his print in the sand, mud, dirt, and sometimes the track is left wet as the animal steps from the edge of a stream to a rock surface. Animal tracking has been one of my fondest hobbies since I was a child so I am always learning more about what the trails of a wild animal can teach me.

Friday, November 27, 2009

WIP: A Thanksgiving Woodspirit Marathon (Part 1)

 WIP= "Work in progress"

Thanksgiving was a little different this year as I have been engaged in a planned carving marathon to produce 4 premium sourwood woodspirit walking sticks. I chose the wood from my best drying stock and these four sticks were cut last March giving them an approximate drying time of about 8 months.

The pictures on the left show the sticks just after the initial roughing-out phase which is my method for starting all of my walking sticks. During this phase I first cut the stick to 58" long then lightly sand the bark then seal everything with as thin a layer of polyurethane that  I can possibly rub on.

Next the stick goes in the vise where I use my larger carving tools and mallet to rough-out the basic face features and hair. As the photos to the left indicate this leaves nothing much more than eye wells, a square nose & forehead but you get the point.

From this point forward I can then manage the remainder of the carving with the stick in my hands while using my smaller palm carving tools to develop and to refine the details. Some folks seem to be quite successful carving the entire stick while held in the vise but after the roughing out I like to carve them in my hands where I do a considerable bit of flipping, turning, and other acrobatic-like maneuvers to get the effect that I like. I suppose that the correct method of carving is doing whatever works best for you.

The picture to the right is the progress made up to this point and the woodspirit faces are now ready for a finish. As you can see I am also putting on a strip of five animal tracks just below the faces which has become the norm for my spirit sticks during the last 5 or 6 years. At this point I only have them sketched out on a portion of the stick that I cleared of bark using the shaving horse, then sanding to a fine finish. The tracks on this series of sticks include bobcat, raccoon, opossum, skunk, mink, beaver, muskrat, coyote, red & grey fox, whitetail deer, and black bear. It takes a lot of focus to paint the tracks onto the stick with black acrylic paint but the end result after a polyurethane glossing is a stunning compliment to the woodspirit face.

I will post the completed sticks just as soon as they're finished. Meantime, have a great Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

How To Carve "Simple Simon" The Penguin- Part 3 (of 3)

Part 3 (of 3) Final

How To Carve "Simple Simon" The Penguin- Part 2 (of 3)

Part 2 (of 3)

How To Carve "Simple Simon" The Penguin- Part 1 (of 3)

This is part 1 (of 3) of "How To Carve Simple Simon The Penguin" video. This is a great project for the aspiring woodcarver who would like to try their hand at an entry-level "in-the-round" carving. Here you will be able to improve your hand/eye coordination with a 3-D project but not so complicated that you have to be trained as an architectural engineer to understand.

In the video I'm using a piece of southern basswood that measures approximately 1" X 1" and the penguin portion of my block is 2-3/4" long. I'm carving with the "Carvin' Jack" made by Flexcut because it's a complete carving set that I could conveniently attach to my belt as I enjoyed walking deep into the woods where I filmed the video. This simple carving project was the subject of a wonderful thread on the Woodcarving Illustrated Message Board where folks generously offered their own versions of the penguin. This video is the final result of how I carve this project in my own personal style. If you carve this project several times I guarantee you that you too will begin to develop your own unique style in creating a penguin that you will be proud of. They make great gifts too so that is only another reason (or excuse) to carve several of them and you'll be gaining more valuable carving skills while also producing some gifts that folks will love.

Antarctic: Signy Island - Adelie penguinsImage by mark van de wouw via Flickr

I've been using the step-by-step carving models for this little penguin in my woodshop carving program with great success. I've discovered that my 14-16 year old students find the visual steps easy to follow and they really like the bright black & white finishing colors with the red bowtie. This penguin is a real cutie and has been kid tested to be sure!

As always, never-ever compromise your safety. When carving always wear a glove on the non-carving hand and be sure that it's made from a high quality cut resistant material such as Kevlar. If your project isnt clamped or held secure on a table with a vise then be sure to use a lap board to protect your legs. (A piece of 1/2" ply board will work.) Above all be patient and never-ever force your knife. Learn to be safe and carve your project one thin slice at a time until you achieve the correct depth. If you've never had any carving experience then I would strongly suggest that you seek personal instruction from a professional carver and/or study carving manuals such as the Boy Scout Woodcarving merit badge booklet.

Be safe and have fun!

(Parts 2 and 3 will follow shortly.)

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pirates Have Taken Over Woodshop!

Pirates and piracy have been our campwide theme this session and that is what our teachers base the educational curriculum around in all subject areas. In woodshop class I had two students who I thought blew the theme out of the water (excuse the pun) with their projects and both Darian and Alex received advanced project design awards for their great creations.

As you can see from the pictures to the right Darian decided to extend his studies to modern day piracy by making a United States Navy battle ship that was designed to battle pirates off the coast of Somalia. To bring his idea to life we first found him a 2' block of pine that measured about 6" X 6" then cut some basic bow lines to the forward portion of the block. From here Darians brain went into overdrive and it was a great moment for the woodshop teacher to stand back and observe. This 14 year old boy was doing some major heavy-duty thinking about how he wanted to pull it off. Occasionally Darian would ask me a question or what I would suggest to solve a particular problem but he was clearly the Captain in charge of his ship. Even after the main body of the ship was complete I was really proud of how Darian then went on for several woodshop classes to extend his idea by adding a railing around the deck, a radio communications antenna, and a helicopter. Just great!

On the other hand I had Alex in another class and he had a vision to make a pirate. While I have a lot of woodcarving experience I thought that this particular carving in-the-round might be a little too much for a beginner carver so I suggested that he do a "flat" relief carving which I felt would produce a more successful pirate that Alex would appreciate. Using a 1" thick piece of pine Alex started out doing some basic cuts on the face that I helped him sketch out but during his second woodshop class he decided to work on his pirate with the woodburning pens. By this time he was well on the way with his creation and didn't need much help or guidance after he had a good grasp on how he was going to bring his pirate to life. As you can see from the top picture Alex added a hilarious hairy chest using some felt that he pulled apart, then "fluffed" up, glued and painted it on the chest area. He also added a red beard with the same red felt that he didn't paint. Absolutely a wonderful project!

These were only two projects that came out of the woodshop this session and there were many others. Woodshop class is a great opportunity that our students are fortunate to have and this experience greatly compliments their other studies while at the same time it allows them to let their minds wander into the world of creation. While our school greatly values and understands how powerful a hands-on woodshop program can be to a students overall complete education, it's sad to see a trend in today's schools that doesn't seem to comprehend this need in kids to build things with their hands. Personally I can't imagine an education being complete where their is no opportunity to see, design, to hammer & saw, and build things by hand. Woodshop builds more than boxes, birdhouses, and cabinets... it builds character. And that is what will count in the long run.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sleeping Well & Teaching 120 Students Each Week

These days a good nights sleep doesn't come as easy as it used to when I was a teen or even twenty-something. Don't get me wrong because I believe that I sleep pretty good considering my aging body because for the most part I eat whole grains, plenty of veggies, and I've been consistenly getting plenty of aerobic exercise since before Dr. Cooper coined the "aerobics" word about 30-something years ago. In addition to these good life practices the last piece to the puzzle of getting a good nights sleep lies in setting high expectations for my students.

As a woodshop teacher I have approximately 60 students each week pass through my woodshop and I also have another 60 students attend my Boy Scout classes in the same week where I teach anything Scout related from tying knots, survival skills, merit badge classes, woodcarving, you-name-it. And with 120 students in my classes each week I don't have time to feel bad, even when I do. My goal each day lies solely with providing each individual student with an above average educational opportunity.

In 1986 I learned first hand about setting high expectations in the classroom. I was participating in a 28 day course with a particular school to learn some new skills for which I paid a tuition of about $1,500.00. One of my instructors was only hitting on about 4 out of 6 cylinders and obviously wasn't giving his teaching opportunity a hundred percent. This was his last course with this particular school so he was on cruise control. Fortunately his younger and more vibrant co-instructor also sensed the situation and she really worked hard to be sure that all of us students got the quality high-level educational experience that we expected.

As a teacher I have often reflected back on that experience when I'm in the classroom trying to figure out how to deliver a lesson in a way that will impact young lives in a positive way. My students don't have to care if I feel bad or if I might be experiencing some emotional challenge in my own life on any certain day, although it's nice when they do offer a kind comment of concern to me. No matter what the situation I feel a strong sense of delivering the educational experience that they deserve no matter what's going on with my own life. Yes, I'm only human and once in a while I'm gonna have a bad day no matter what but reflecting back on my own experience more than 20-something years ago usually makes my day a little better when I remind myself about how important each of my students are.

Yeah, any way that you look at it teaching is plain hard work and especially so when 120 students are depending on you to deliver every week. So how can all this help me to get a sound sleep every single night when it seems like I should be worrying? Good question. My answer lies solely in knowing that I did all that I could to provide my students with the rich and dynamic hands-on learning experience that they deserve... something that perhaps one day they can reflect back upon in a positive way. Today was one of those good days and after a 13 mile bicycle workout, yes... I will sleep well tonight!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

WIP: Part 2 (of 2): Carving a Tinny-Tiny Gnome From A Poplar Limb

Some time ago, August 18th to be exact, I began carving a gnome along with one of my woodshop students and that original post is here. Alex had come to me asking if he could carve a gnome for his sister so I cut us both a rough-out with the bandsaw from a nice sized and well seasoned tulip poplar limb that I had found in the area. Well, Alex finished his gnome before me and I even picked up a few tips from his effort that I ended up incorporating into my own gnome.This ended up being a wonderful carving project and it came right from the mind of one of my students. All that I did was find the wood, sketched out the pattern, then cut it out for him and he took off from there. During our afternoon carving period I enjoyed him asking various questions about what I thought that he should do in a certain situation. Alex stuck with the project for more than a month until he got it finished and the final gnome looked really good I thought. That's Alex (to the right) showing it off just after the paint job.

Sometimes I'm amazed at what some of my students can accomplish when they have their minds set on a specific goal and there is a vision in their head. Carving a caricature in-the-round gnome is a tough project at any age but Alex hung in there and kept plugging away at it whenever I brought out the carving knives. I think that Alex is going to be one of those kids who will be successful with whatever goals that he sets in life as he's already shown that he has the ability to set a tough goal then carry it through to completion. Carving can be very frustration to a young beginner but Alex never gave up and kept that vision of completion in the forefront of his head.  By the way, that's my gnome carving to the left and it wouldn't be here but one day a kid named Alex inspired me to also carve my own first gnome.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Executive Chef Robert Hesse And Carving A Hell's Kitchen Spoon

Last week we were privileged to have a real celebrity, an accomplished executive chef, and a graduate of our program many years ago visit our camp to share his story when he was a 15 year old troubled young man.

Just who is Robert Hesse you ask? Just enter his name and Hell's Kitchen into any search engine and you will find plenty because he was a star contestant on Fox's reality TV show in 2009. Yes, today he owns several prominent New York restaurants, caters regularly to the likes of Mariah Carey and Sting, is a multi-millionaire, and continues to appear on various VH1 and HBO shows but this week he wanted to give back to a program where he spent 3 years as a boy during a very troubled time in his life. During the last week he has traveled around to several of our camps for at-risk kids telling his compelling story and signing autographs. It isn't often that I ever see our 60 boys tuned in with total silence but it was just that way when Robert revealed  one of the roughest childhood testimonies that I've ever heard and how he overcame those overwhelming odds to the success he is today.

At the end of his talk I presented Robert with his very own "Hell's Kitchen" spoon that I carved the week before from a tulip poplar tree limb that I found on the mountain. He was very honored and accepted it with great appreciation and said that he looked forward to displaying it in his Brooklyn, New York office.

As you can see from the IMDB (Internet Movie Database) biography below, Robert also contributes his initial interest in cooking to a day when his counselor put a potato piller in his hands and said, "Do you know what to do with that?"

"Celebrity Chef Robert Hesse first got his love for cooking by watching his grandmother and mother in the kitchen as a boy growing up in Long Island, NY. While shuffling back and forth between New York and Florida, That love for cooking laid dormant as an emotionally challenging upbringing caused him to make some poor life choices, often seeing him in the presence of a judge. During one of these judicial experiences, a 15 year old Robert was sent to Eckerd Academy in Brooksville, Florida to spend six months and hopefully, put his life back on track and to provide him with the positive male role models that his life was thus far lacking Eckerd Academy is an outdoor program for troubled youth. The kids live out in the woods, receive alternative schooling, therapy and learn life skills. Once a week, the kids are responsible for all the cooking for the day, which teaches them math and writing skills, responsibility and planning. For Hesse, those meals changed his life. A camp councilor handed Robert a potato and a peeler and asked, "Do you know what to do with that?" Hesse was blown away by the responsibility of cooking for the camp, but by the end of it, he realized this is what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. After his Eckerd Academy experience, Robert had some struggles with readjustment back into everyday life. Reflecting upon what he learned at Eckerd, combined with some "tough love" from his mother, Robert picked himself up by his bootstraps and took his new found passion for cooking into a career by getting kitchen jobs at area restaurants. One day, a twenty year old Robert heard a radio ad for a culinary school in Lakeland, Florida. He quickly signed up, obtained financial aid, hopped a bus and off he went to take his dream to the next level. After receiving his degree in Culinary Arts, Robert toured the country, working at various hotels and resorts under some well known chefs, sharpening his kitchen skills in the process. In 2005, Robert returned home to New York as the Executive Chef of Q Restaurant in Quogue. Robert then brought his "Strong Island" street-honed personality to the hit FOX reality show, "Hell's Kitchen" and into the hearts of America as Season Five's overwhelming fan favorite. A health issue forced an early exit for Robert from the show, as most, including host, Chef Gordon Ramsey, thought that Hesse would easily glide into the finals. After the completion of Season Five, FOX was flooded with mail in support of Robert, urging the network to bring him back. That remains to be seen as Season Six is set to premiere on July 21, 2009. Currently, Robert Hesse is the Executive Chef of Georgica Restaurant in The Hamptons, partnering up with Hell's Kitchen mate, Seth Levine and continues to do personal appearances, cooking demonstrations and autograph shows."
IMDb Mini Biography By: Pat Tortorello

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Paint & Finish The Simple Woodspirit Face

Part 1

Part 2

This video will complete the simple woodspirit face that we carved in the previous videos by applying an acrylic finish. Although it appears quite simple, this finishing method took me many years to develop into something that consistently and effectively works for me. Nothing about finishing a carving (or even the carving itself) is in black or white so even with these instructions, set yourself "free" to experiment with different ideas that you might glean from me, someone else, and especially the ideas that will most certainly begin to pop into your own head as you build up more experience. Before long you will most certainly begin to develop your own unique methods of carving, painting, and finishing a carving that work effectively for you.

As always, be safe and have fun!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cliff's Totem

As promised I am posting a few pictures from the "totem angel" that I carved for Cliff earlier in the year when so many of us wanted to do something for him. Cliff so enjoyed sharing the stories of checking his mailbox each day and that not even a Canadian snowstorm could hold him at bay to retrieve his mail. This is the totem that I mailed to Cliff and I also included the following description of all the characters on the pole for as you know, every totem has a special story:

Just to let you know that I have finally finished your "angel" but I had to apply a lot of spin to make that work because my heart led me to carve a totem pole. This totem is an almost exact replica of a 14 foot totem pole that I carved for the wilderness camp where I work... sorry that I couldn't afford the freight charges for the bigger one all the way to Canada.

It sits about 8 1/4" on the red oak stand and I carved it from local poplar that I milled down to 7/8" square. I then finished it with some woodburning accent, acrylic paints, and a final polyurethane seal. My goal is to have it in the mail late tomorrow afternoon after work if all goes as planned and hope that it makes it through customs OK. I thought that I'd go ahead and post a few pictures of it here so that you could have something to look forward to and also to share with others on the board.

Starting at the bottom of the pole:

* Bear: This bear is at the bottom of the totem because it represents the tremendous strength to hold up and support all that is above him... just like the amazing strength of your own attitude when faced with the challenge of your life. I could only hope that I would be able to share my feelings and to talk with others if/when I will face such a challenge. The "bear" thus reflects the great admiration that I'm sure many of us here share about your real strength.
* Beaver: The beaver represents your skill as a woodcarver and your willingness to share your thoughts, your projects, and your ability to respond to so many posts here on the board. You obviously have moved up through the ranks in life through the "College of Hard Knocks" where a persons true knowledge is judged more upon their ability to apply common sense instead of their ability to explain the theory of relativity. Personally I find more in common with someone like you who knows how to use their hands than I ever would hanging out with John Smith Phd.
* Frog: The frog is a symbol of your ability to "leap" from one level of life to another, despite the obstacle, with amazing ease. Although apparently a simple thing for you, THAT is a life lesson that we can all benefit from.
* Raven: The raven represents the truth and wisdom that you have shared with us (and I'm sure your own family and friends) during this ordeal and I'm sure others throughout your long life. No matter how long that we are walking on this planet it is a high honor to achieve the wisdom of the raven!
* Thunderbird: The thunderbird on this totem represents what I refer to as the Native American angel that brings everything "full-circle" in your life. Your strength in faith, your love of family, and the protector of all that you do while on earth. It perches tall atop the pole watching over all that is below him so that you know all is well and everything is in order during this life and the next. No matter what, you and your family will be OK.

As I continue to write a small chuckle cracks out on my face because I know what you just said, "Is that all there is"? Well, "No" is my answer because I still believe that even during times of great challenge the best is always yet to come... if only we look for it in the small, mostly unseen cracks and crannies where such hope tends to hide from us. Don't stop looking!


Dave, I'm absolutely blown away, man oh man, for once in my 78 years I'm at a total loss for words. Sure, the totem is beautiful, no question, but the thought you have put into the written word is so heart warming. You can rest assured that totem will live in this family (along with the written word) long after I'm gone. Thank you so very very much for being so thoughtful, it's friends like you and the rest of the carving community that make me want to hang on forever. Thank you my dear friend, so very much.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Profile: Remembering Cliff

At first glance I didn't believe that it was possible to gain a meaningful relationship with someone whom I'd never met nor would ever meet in a world where we were connected only by computers. But by chance that is exactly what happened via the cyber technology of the Woodcarving Illustrated Message Board when one of our most prolific woodcarving posters from Ontario, Canada known by the name of "tucker1931" decided to go public with his battle with cancer. (That's a picture of Cliff and his wife Vikky to the left)

Cliff was one of those amazing posters who somehow found the time to compliment just about every carving that was posted. Most folks can't find that kind of time or are only there to elaborate on their own niche branch of carving, like myself, but Cliff was all over the place. Some of my fondest memories were in the "Off Topic" room where I enjoyed seeing the pictures of some monster carp that he enjoyed catching and sharing the stories with all of us across the continent and the globe. You could just feel that this was the kind of man that you'd want for a grandfather if you were a kid. He always shared such a zeal for living that was contagious... even at the age of 78!

Cliff also posted some of the most beautifully carved spoons that I've ever seen right up to the time of his passing and it was obvious that he wasn't going to let no dreaded disease get the best of his living life to it's fullest. I was amazed at how an impending death didn't seem to phase him and that he was only interested in what he could do "today". That concept about how to face life's ultimate challenge so courageously and honestly really touched me in a powerful way. To the right is a picture of just a few of the magnificent spoons that Cliff carved and shared with our community. His drive to produce such wonderful spoons greatly inspired me and many others to go on a spoon carving frenzy ourselves. I now think of Cliff every day when I use the cherry wood coffee scooper that he inspired me to carve.

Most people would have a hard time just facing their impending death much less talking openly and honestly about it. Cliff and I had several very "wordy" public conversations on his situation since my own father had died from cancer years earlier. These conversations weren't easy for me but they made me a stronger person as Cliff's amazing courage was a lesson in life that I will never forget. Cliff openly discussed his situation because it was his hope that other men would be screened for prostate cancer and a lot of men went in for a first-time screening because of his words. Cliff also continued posting threads on the amazing carvings that he was producing until his lack of energy finally confined him to a bed. For me, therein lies the real story of Cliff's character and the legacy that he leaves behind for his wife, children, and friends.

Cliff's last post on the message board was in mid-July but his daughter Janis continued to keep us informed with regular updates until early in September when Cliff slipped away from us. I will miss looking for his words and his carvings on the message board but he will not be forgotten... even by those of us who never personally met him. That cherry coffee scooper that he inspired me to carve will let his memory live on in my heart forever.

(I will shortly be posting pictures of a totem pole "angel" that I carved and mailed to Cliff right after I learned of his illness back in the springtime. I would have added it here but thought that Cliff deserved his own space.)