Carving Wood

I think I’ve taken up a new hobby (like I needed one!).  I’ve promised a wooden sign to John’s daughter and her partner, an outdoor sign to hang on the fence at the entrance of the new house they built themselves a couple of years ago.  It’s actually the height of cheekiness, to offer a hand-carved sign to a couple who are far more capable in the realm of wood than I’ll ever be.  But it’s cheaper than buying one, and they don’t have the time to do it themselves. When we were last in Australia, a carving friend in Merimbula encouraged me to try it myself. He said it would be easy and fun.

So, I have to figure out how to carve it.  It will be what is called a “relief carving”: you pare down the background to “reveal” what you want to stand out.  It took me a while to even figure out that was what it was called! There are lots of different kinds of carving: a lot of decoys, 3-D figures, furniture.  I thought relief carvings were how you felt after they were complete!

I think wood carvers are a secretive bunch, actually – far moreso than quilters.  Knowing you want to carve something doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be able to access the knowledge.  Try to find a wood carver in Victoria who can teach you.  There are LOTS of carvers around, I know.  But they don’t always do QUITE what I want to learn. And I couldn’t find a class being offered in anything close to what I wanted to learn.  I called a gal someone at a Christmas party recommended — a carving teacher, I was told.  We spoke for about 15 minutes, most of which time she told me how HARD it was to carve a sign!!! (it’s not what she specializes in)  At the very end, she said – I hope I haven’t dissuaded you. She obviously doesn’t know me.

Undaunted, I took her advice to contact Lee Valley Tools for perhaps a book on relief carving, and I got the perfect book.  It’s called “Relief Carving in Wood – A Practical Introduction” by Chris Pye. It tells you what tools you need, how to sharpen the tools (vital, if you’re going to carve), even how to hold them as you use them. It talks about wood, and takes you step by step through the carving of two fish: one low-relief, and one high-relief.  Great!

Of course, I’m going to work on a brown bear, since that will be the main motif on the final sign.  That’s the name of their property. So no fish for me.

So: now to find the wood.  For my practice carving, I’m working on a piece of basswood, which I’m told is easy to carve.  I called or visited about 10 stores that carry lumber before I found a great shop up near Sidney on Vancouver Island that will also supply the yellow cedar I propose to use for the final sign. I’m told it’s very good for use out of doors, and easy enough to carve. 

Okay, I’ve got the wood. I’ve got the instructions.  For my birthday, John bought me an inexpensive set of carving tools for practice.  Alas, they were not at all sharp.  So I have to figure out how to sharpen them.  Aha! A local garage sale had a few sharpening stones.  Between them and the stone John uses to sharpen our knives at home, I figured I was in business.  But I still need a strop for the final stage… a piece of leather which is coated with “strop dressing”.  I’m learning a whole new language here! I’ve ordered it from Lee Valley. It’ll come next week, I hope.

Sharpening carving tools is an art, I think, and now I hear that beginner carvers are best using pre-sharpened tools. The tools I have tried to sharpen were tearing the wood, rather than cutting. I gave up and  finally bought a very sharp flat gouge from Lee Valley (they were sold out of everything else last weekend, thanks to Father’s Day), and, in a couple of days, this is where I’ve got to on the project.

My first carving - not finished yet.

My first carving - not finished yet.

I love this!  I’ve been having a great time, making little curls of wood as I work away at the background.  My compost is going to love it too. It’s very satisfying to see the figure emerge from the background. It’s taken me over six months from my first idea to do this myself, to be able to find everything I needed to make it happen.

Next? I’m awaiting my shipment from Lee Valley of another (deeper gouge) for the next stage – the high relief project – as well as the sharpening kit which includes stropping equipment. Hopefully I can get my little set of tools sharp enough so they’ll cut the wood without tearing it.

Was quilting like this for me at the beginning?  I don’t think so.  My recollection is that I just KNEW how to do things, knew all the terminology, knew where to get the stuff I needed, and knew who to ask for help.  Of course, it was a few years ago, and perhaps my memory isn’t what it used to be…

I’m glad that I’ve finally started on this, and I’m looking forward to doing the real sign.  Maybe another hobby is evolving?   Hey, I like to be useful…. and it beats SAWING wood! lol

Still awake in Victoria.

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5 Responses to “Carving Wood”

  1. Jasmine Says:

    Isn’t that what Michaelangelo was all about – finding the figure hidden in the marble. So you just have to find that bear in that wood…
    Looks lovely already.

  2. ozjane Says:

    I thought it was the men who did the woodwork… I have been looking for a guitar/piano playing woodworking man with space on his land for my Yurt studio……goodle “Golburn Yurts” if you wish to dream with me.
    She whom you stayed with some years ago in Hoppers Crossing in the other Vic.

  3. gjamesi Says:

    Sharpening need not be as difficult as it seems,go slow and use a fairly good stone.For basic touch-ups I use 1000 grit wet and dry from Canadian Tire.Remember Haste makes waste, and enjoy.Any questions?

  4. johnklompmaker Says:

    Singing Quilter, did you ever get the sign finished? A picture of the completed sign? Are you still carving? More than relief? There are a few reliefs on one of my posts at John.

    • singingquilter Says:

      Thanks for sending your website so I could look at your wonderful carvings! Yes, I did complete the carving in time for last Christmas (2009), and it was received very well. I did post a picture of the carving completed. I will soon post a picture of the final piece, which was stained by the recipients of the gift (who know far more than I do about such things). Thanks for asking about it! Someday I shall attempt another carving, but for now, I’m back to quilting and singing again.

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