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Nora Hall Videos

a review by Marcia Bileau

Editor's Note:
Marcia has kindly reviewed these videos for the E-zine. If you have some questions, please contact her, or visit the Nora HAll website at:


Summary of Video One


This is a very basic but informative video. As you can see above, a project sheet comes with the video showing what will be carved and which tools will be used. Nora begins the video showing how to hold the tools and the proper way to use them. You are shown hand position, tool position and arm and wrist position. Nora then stresses the need to carve both left handed and right handed, rather than moving your piece of wood, and she shows you practice projects to accomplish being proficient at this. She never moved her piece of wood to accomplish any cut, but rather switches tools from hand to hand and moves quickly around the carving. She makes this look so easy, but I for one will require lots of practice.

The second factor she covers is cutting with the grain. This is not something she covers lightly, but repeats often. She shows how to cut with the grain, how you will know if you are going with the grain, what will happen if you don't and what results you can expect when it is done properly.

When a new tool is introduced, you are told what it is and what it will be used for. No surprises, no questions left unanswered.

All the tips she is stating are given while she is cutting away which makes it very instructional. She does stop carving to show the things she feels are important and need to be stressed. The view from the camera is right on her hands, tools and the carving, which really lets you see what's going on while she is talking to you.

The second half of the video is on sharpening the tools. For me, this was great. Nora shows her three step solution using an Arkansas stone to sharpen, another she called a "honing stone" and then a leather belt to finish and polish. The oil she used on the stones was your regular run of the mill household 3 in 1 oil that comes in a little can that you squeeze to get just the amount you want. I must admit, sharpening tool is not my forte. I've been told before and I've been shown before, but having this tape at home now, I can get an instant replay whenever I need a refresher!

This is truly a "basic carving 101" course and would be a great benefit to anyone who has never done relief carving or has never taken a class.

Summary of Video Two



Again, you have a project sheet to show the tools to be used and the project to be carved. A new tool or two were introduced in this session, but the start of the video is repeating what Nora considers skills to be learned. That is, holding the tools correctly, positioning of your wrist and arm and following the grain. Because this project is a little more involved, you get a good perspective on what was taught in the first video and why she repeats it at the beginning of this one.

More emphasis is place smoothing the wood with your tools and the mark of the tool that is left in the wood. She states she never sands her carvings, using the tool to get the smoothness she wants, and believe me she can get things pretty smooth. Here you get very good instruction on kind of stroke required to achieve such smoothness. Her strokes are short, smooth and shallow, but she does remove plenty of wood.

Another task taught on this video is using the "inside" of the gouge for rounding, shaping and making push-cuts. All this seems so basic, but to see her doing this and listening to her explain as she carves along makes it very clear and understandable, as well as enjoyable to watch.

At the end of this video, Nora stops carving, takes a piece of paper to illustrate how the grain changes in the wood and how you should be carving and switching hands to go with the grain. She also illustrated what happens when you go "the wrong way".

Then, Nora makes you really jealous by holding up some of her other finished pieces. They are all very related to the instructional piece she just carved and you can certainly see where what you have just learned would "one day" come into play.

Summary of Video Three



Inserted with the video, is a project sheet to show the tools to be used and the project to be carved. This video is much more a carving lesson, putting to use the techniques and skill learned in the first two videos. There is less instructional conversation, however references are made to what has previously been covered in the earlier tapes. This is an exercise you can sit back and enjoy watching, and you will clearly see the skills taught earlier being put to use.

Those cumulating skills and techniques are:

  • The V-tool to outline the drawing and get started.
  • The venire to take away wood and achieve depth.
  • Gauges to round using inside and outside edges.
  • Gouges to acquire high and low areas.
  • The positions of the wrist, arm and tools in hand.
  • The short smooth strokes to achieve the smoothness in the wood.
  • The use of both hands to carve in any given direction, always going with the grain.
  • And above all, the sharpness of the tools.

    Personal Notation

    I found all three videos to be very informative. The entire second half of the first video is dedicated to tool sharpening. Nora gives a painstaking illustration of wood grain, taking to pencil and paper to illustrate this. There is no mistaking what Nora finds important before you go on. The succession of the project techniques and skills taught from video to video were orderly, culminating into the final video where I was able to actually sit and enjoy watching, knowing and understanding why she was doing what she was doing.

    I know and have watched a master carver, originally from Romania, who carves very much in this European style. In watching them both, they appear to have a very orderly way of placing each tool to the side when not using it any longer. When they need that certain tool again, they hardly look for it. They simply put their hand out and grab it as if they place that tool in the same spot almost each and every time. Maybe I'm wrong, but they have this way of putting a tool down with the right hand as they grab a new one with the left. There's no wasted motion, no wasted time, and the carving hardly stops.


    The Home page for the Nora Hall Videos is at: