Bill Sharp's
Nuts and Bolts of Wood Carving

Nuts and Bolts Day #13

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A Bad Hair Day


Have you ever had one of those days?

You know the ones I mean.
It's those days when you have fretted over a face and/or head all day and you have finally given birth to the very best face on the planet and are ready to finish and hair is all that is left.

What do we do or, for that matter, what have we done? We start doing the fine hair lines with the most delicate "v" tool in our tool box or (because we don't like to do hair, yuk!) we cover the head with a hat. The face and features are the best and the message we wanted to project is perfect, but the final carving is, to say the very least, uninteresting and unattractive, even to you. Most of us don't know why a specific carving fails. We are left with a piece of wood that has our heart in it, but suffers from lack of interest. Not only by the would-be buyer or observer, but by you, the carver.

We all have those things in carving we do no like to do. Eyes are a big one, but one that can become fun and exciting when we learn. Hair is very uninteresting to carve and, like clothing to some of us, not something we should take any great pains to do. WRONG! I submit that hair is one of the most rewarding and interesting parts of the human head to carve, and, I promise, not a time consuming task you fear. I will teach you how to do interesting hair in just a very few minutes.

The method I describe is used by many carvers and IS successful. Before we get into the method, you should know a little about hair (what a dumb statement).

Hair, as you must know, grows from a point at the top, center, rear of your head. From that point it grows in a never ending spiral (clockwise) until the head is covered (most of us, with a few exceptions). If you do not cut or wash your hair it will slowly fall towards earth in a tangled and clumped mess. You will notice, however, that the hair falls over the ears, over the eyes and over the neck. In short, as your hair grows, it will cascade towards the ground. It will naturally fall from a point where it comes out of your skull, towards the ground. Hair does not stay single stranded.

It clumps!

Natural, unwashed, un-permed, and uncombed hair, performs as described. Now when we look at the real world, we see form and function. Our hair follows our will. We comb or fret it to do what we feel is the style or the "thing". But, and I mean a big BUT, hair still has a mind of its own and will not stay as we desire. We end up with an end here, a clump there, a flip here and a wave or curl there, if we want them or not. Hair becomes an interesting ebb and flow of small bundles. Look in the mirror, you will see what I mean (no grease here please). What I am trying to say is that hair and the way it looks makes us individual, different, and interesting. Let's make our carvings the same way.


I use, what I term to call, the method of diminishing gauges. Here is the way it works.

Assume a head of about 3 inches. Before you start making hair, let us assume you have made the hair/head mass interesting to begin with. By this I mean that you left lumps and bumps on the head to give your hair mass an interesting foundation i.e., if long hair, then have a "flip up" wood clump in the back. When you have an interesting foundation, we can then cut our interesting hair. Start with a #9, 8 or 10 mm gauge and follow the contours of the head down to where the hair will end. Go all around the head. Now take a #9, 3 or 5 mm gauge and go inside your larger cuts. Finish up by taking a few cuts with a 2 to 6 mm "v" gauge along and inside the preceding cuts, but not too many. Do not be delicate, go with the flow. Start with the center, top and work down from there, but don't noodle over every cut. When your done, apply your finish. You'll love your new DO!

If you are doing larger or smaller heads, just use a couple of steps up or down on your gauges.

Tip of the Day - If you are writing or drawing on wood, use a filler coat of 1 part shellac to 1 part alcohol, allow to dry. Use a pen (ball or felt) waterproof. No running or ink fuzzing. What fun!

Look for Day 14 - Wrinkles, Wrinkles, Wrinkles at a later date.

Keep Those Chips Flying!

Will Sharp

Capital Woodcarvers, Sacramento