Notes from the Net

by F. Pierce Pratt

Back to T.O.C

"Notes from the Net" is a column compiled from a few of the email messages posted to the Woodcarver Mailing List. There are many good messages to choose from. So many, that is hard to choose which messages to include in this column. Some editorial changes were necessary, but, for the most part, each message appears as originally posted and attributed to sender. If you have a favorite post or subject that you would like to appear in this column, please email me directly.

Pierce Pratt


Miscellaneous Quotes on a variety of subjects

Marcel Larmarch asked: If you had one thing to pass along to your fellow woodcarvers that you felt was the most important piece of advice you could give, what would it be?

Phil Wylie replied:
Always seek out new things to learn, and remember that success does not come from avoiding failure but rather it comes from taking advantage of the learning experience failure affords.

Bill Judt replied:

  • 1. Take some carving instruction. Join a club and take the classes they offer, or pay an experienced carver for private lessons. Seminars and workshops are a good way to go also.
  • 2. Use good quality hand tools.
  • 3. Start small and keep it simple.
  • 4. Learn to sharpen.
  • 5. Subscribe to Chip Chats
  • 6. Become a member of the WoodCarver listserver.
  • 7. Don't give up.
  • Dana Roberts wrote in response to "Carving in the House":
    A month or so ago when Target was clearancing their garden things I picked up an apron for picking apples, (Harvest Apron I think it was called). It has a huge pocket that can be unsnapped. It was made of a pretty durable fabric. I ended up buying a few extra for members of our club and everyone seems to like them. It won't catch every chip but it sure helps a lot.

    Murray Lincoln wrote in response to "Thumb Guards":
    Another idea that came our way regarding the thumb tape business; use the tape that they sell in western equipment stores. This is the same tape sold at wood carving venues only wider. It is called Vetwrap and is used to wrap horse's legs. It can be cut in half to make smaller width roles.

    Chip Carving

    Duane MacEwen asked:
    I would like to try my hand at chip carving, but before I do, I would like to know what BASIC knives I need to get started. Plus, any good basic instruction books that anybody can suggest? What I have seen so far show you some nice chip carvings but not the technique necessary to create them!

    Ainslie L. Pyne replied:
    Dennis Moor sent his four videos to me a few weeks back and I am MOST IMPRESSED. I think these to be the best course I have seen on video. It is clearly presented and the process outlined so that every viewer could make the most of the instructions regardless carving skill. His knives look and feel good too. The close up shots on the video make one feel as if they are actually sitting along side Dennis and Todd Moor as they carve.

    Marty Epping also replied:
    You ask about chip carving knives. There are many on the market but I suggest Wayne Barton set. Several supply catalogs carry them. One has a blade that points down at a 15-18 degree angle. This puts it at a position so that it does not put so much strain on the wrist.

    James E. McLeod also replied:
    You thought you were asking a simple question and ended up with the wisdom of the ages. In this corner we have Wayne Barton, and in the other we have Dennis Moore. My comment, for what it is worth...they are both very good and I think that it might be a draw.
    I also notice that our friend Barry McKenzie from Missouri also has a good following.
    Oh, excuse my oversight, Pam Gresham should also be included (I started with one of her books). You might be lucky to have someone at a local club, like I did as a good teacher. I guess any of their starting books are excellent.
    Pick a #1 knife (not the stab knife) and get some practice boards. The rest of the tools you probably have around the house, like a compass, pencil, eraser,etc. Make some chips. What a cheap hobby.

    Carving Eyes

    Mike Wells wrote in response to a question about carving eyes:
    I use my own version of the John Burke method for carving eyes. First, you have to use a u gouge to make the socket, and then shape in the round eyeball, then cut the top lid, carve up to it from the bottom. Then cut the lower lid, and cut in and down to form the eyeball inside the lids.
    Also, something that adds a lot of "movement" to the carving is to never cut perfectly arched lines for the lids, but rather put a bit of a curve to them. Also, try to avoid making the eyes look like football shapes. Real eyes aren't really like that. The lids have a long side and short side. Sort of hard to explain without a pen in my hand to demonstrate, but if you study your own and others' eyes enough I think you will see what I mean.

    BONNIE GRASER wrote:
    I just saw something new to me, to help make eye's and/or buttons. This fella used an empty shell casings and drilled a hole in the bottom and put a stove bolt through so he could use it as a bit in his Dremel or drill. He cut into the open end of the shell a few places around the edge to make teeth. He used this as a drill bit to make a nice circle for an eye. He had quite a variety of shell's for different sizes of buttons/ eyes. He said it worked really well.

    Painting Birds

    Mike Dunk wrote in response to "Painting Birds":
    I usually seal the carving with one-to-three coats of Deft spray sealer (depending on whether or not it will be floated) then paint it with at least two coats of a 50/50 mix of gesso and water. I carefully "scrub" the gesso, always in the direction of the texturing, into the carving using a stiff brush. Be sure to let the gesso dry on its own. Some people use a hair dryer to speed up drying time when painting but gesso should never be super heated this way. It causes air bubbles to form in the paint and they will be visible no matter what you do after that.

    If you have handled the carving a lot there will be several deposits of oil from your hands. Acrylic paint will not adhere to this oil and it will "bead up" in places. I use a foam-type window cleaner that contains ammonia for this purpose. The brand name is Bon Ami but I am sure that there are many others.

    I spray it on lightly and after it stops foaming (about 5 sec.) I carefully wipe it off with a paper towel. After letting dry for about five minutes I begin to paint with no beading problems. I have used the foam on gesso and on partially painted decoys with no adverse affects.

    Preparing Small Figures for Painting

    Robert White asked:
    Are there any good references out there on how to prep and paint small basswood figures (santas)?

    Rick Jensen replied:
    To start with, the carving must be clean. If it has oily marks on it, I wash it in the sink with dishsoap that doesn't contain any hand lotion and my wife's toothbrush. Don't ever use your own!

    Just wet the carving. Squirt some soap on it and scrub with toothbrush and rinse under cold running water and set aside to dry for 24 hours. I have never had one split or crack on me yet.

    Now for the painting. I paint with acrylics. I use a medium flesh tone for the face and hands with a darker flesh tone for some blush and highlighted areas. Following that, I use an off white for the beard, eyes, and fur trim on my Santas. Then for the coat or cape, I use watered down acrylics. When I say watered down, it looks like kool-aid. I like the wood grain to show through. Then I go back and paint the eyes with blue or brown and a spot of white to highlight.

    After the paint is thoroughly dry, I apply three coats of Deft semi-gloss lacquer. Then I take a brown paper bag and buff out the carving. When that's done, I apply liquid Watco dark wax. I use the wax straight, I don't cut it with anything. Upon applying the wax, I immediately wipe off the excess. Then I let it dry overnight and buff it with a shoe brush. It makes for a beautiful finish.

    Pierce Pratt also replied:
    First, I like to clean my carving (santa) with a clean dishwater damp rag. Too much water will raise the wood's grain. I paint the carving with acrylic paint (the same stuff you find in hobby stores in little 2 oz. bottles). I don't blend the that I mean I paint belts/shoes - a black, robes - a red, fur/hair - a white, flesh - flesh, etc. Only on the face do I blend in a little red with the flesh color paint to define rosy cheeks. I do prefer muted reds.

    Some acrylic colors, like black, take much longer to dry than others. Now, don't be surprised when the paint dries that the figure is rather garish (bright). The shoe wax will correct that. On occasion, I will use a wet sponge to go over a figure after the paint dries to just bring out the wood along edges. If done right, this can later give the appearance that the figure has been handled a lot - OLD! It is also easy to ruin the figure (you can repaint but not after applying the wax), so I don't recommend you try this until you have some experience with the method.

    Now for the will need both a light brown and neutral shoe polish wax. My light brown is a 50/50 combination Bark Brown and Neutral. Also, don't use too dark a wax. That's why I go with a blend.

    When you are ready to apply the wax be sure you're in a place that can stand to get dirty (like not over your white carpet). I apply the brown wax with an old tooth brush. Get the wax all over the figure and into all those little crannies. After applying the brown wax, I immediately follow with the neutral wax (same toothbrush OK) to those areas that I want to lighten - face, hands, fur, hair. I then buff the figure lightly with a shoe brush. I may apply more brown or neutral wax to those areas that I want to darken or lighten, respectively. A final buff with the shoe brush and there you have it. The wax dulls the paint and the brown pigment fills in all those crooks, crannies, and mistakes (adds character).

    Dennis Didio also replied:
    Instead of shoe polish, why not get try Briwax. I have used it on several of my carvings and really like the results. It comes in 5 or 6 colors, but I bought the lightest (clear) and the darkest so that I blend them together. It is not cheap (about $12 /can 16oz.) but is well worth it. It contains a lot of bees wax and is easy to apply and wiping with a dry cloth restores it's luster.

    Best Sharpening Methods

    Steve J. Clark wrote on "The best way to sharpen in my opinion":
    I am not an expert on carving but some how I have mastered the art of sharpening. It was a passion of mine from childhood. If you pick up a knife or meat cleaver in my house you must sign a waver before I let you use it. I used to use only Arkansas stones. But, when I started taking a class on chip carving everyone used water stones. The instructor insisted that you use water stones.

    So, being a tool collector I spent the money to make the change from oil to water. It was the best thing I ever did, and, in my opinion, is easier, faster and cheaper. If you break or gouge an Arkansas stone, all you can do is cry. If you break a water stone, you have a lot more stones to shape into prefect shapes for all of your carving tools. We call these smaller stones slip stones. I keep all my stones in Tupperware submerged in water.

    First, I lay a 12" x 12" sheet of wet sandpaper on a flat piece of granite. I take the stones from the water and flatten them on the sandpaper. I have a nagura stone that I rub on top of each stone to make it slippery. I start with the 180 grit, and then 400, 800, 1200, 4000, 6000, and last the 8000. After using the 8000 grit you do not need a leather strap. I often hone my knife with an 8000 grit when I am using it instead of a leather strap. I feel you must first learn to sharpen carving tools before you use them.

    Joseph Aimetti also wrote:
    If you take a scrap block of wood, use the gouge you wish to hone (hopefully before it gets too dull) to cut a channel the same shape as the profile of the gouge. Rub in some sharpening compound and strop the gouge in that channel. The channel is custom made for that gouge, takes second's to make, and the wood block is fairly durable. A really simple, no frills way of putting a polished edge on your gouges. (Even my "micro" ones).

    Last, this un-attributable post on sharpening:
    To test a knife, use your fingernail rather then shaving your arm. Push the edge across your thumb nail as if it was the sharpening stone (not a slice or saw motion). Don't push down on the knife, let the weight of the knife provide the pressure. When it starts to get sharp, it will "grab" the nail rather then slide over it. This is rather dramatic, and you will know it when it happens. Also slide the edge of the nail along the knife edge feeling for smoothness. You can feel the slightest micro-nicks this way.