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Notes From the Net

By Loren K. Woodard
Email Loren at wdcarver@lakeozarks.net or visit his web site at www.naturesnaturals.net

It is once again time to expand on and reintroduce tips that were shared on several wood carving listserves that are located on the Internet. As is the case every month, the tips are varied and many. The tips presented here are just a few of the many submitted to the Internet over the last couple of months.

As in the past, the Woodcarver's List presented some might good tips recently. One of carvings most difficult problems to deal with, for most of us doing realistic human forms, concerns carving a female face.

The Female Face

Ivan Whillock came to our rescue with some mighty interesting thoughts concerning this. Ivan indicated that the very first thing to do is to get a good set of photographs. It is best to have a "front on" view and "3/4 views" from both sides. Ivan wrote: ". . . '3/4 shots from both sides will help you determine the cheek profile and the plane changes from front to side. "

The very first step of carving the female face is to understand it completely. Take your dividers and take some relative measurements of the features of the face. Per Ivan, the key things to look at include:

Front View:

1) Take the distance from the eyes to the bottom of the chin. Compare that to the distance from the top of the head to the eyes. With most adults the eyes are the center. With children the eyebrows are the center. What about your model? Set your dividers at the distance between the centers of the eyes. Compare that measurement with the bottom of the nose to the chin, the bottom of the nose to the eyebrows, and the eyebrows to the hair line. If the ears show, compare that measurement to the length of the ears. For most adults, those measurements are about the same. Note where your model differs: is the nose a little shorter, a little longer? The ears?

2) Set you dividers at the distance between the eyes, tear duct to tear duct. Compare that distance to the width of the eyes, the distance from the outside corner of the eyes to the side of the face, and the width of the nose at the nostrils. For most adults those measurements are about the same. Note where your model differs--or is the same--and remember that as you carve.

3) Set your dividers at the outside corners of the eyes. Now compare that to the distance from the corners of the eyes to the bottom edge of the lower lip. Are they the same, or is the mouth higher or lower?

4) Drop lines straight down from the centers of the eyes. Where are the corners of the mouth in relation to those lines? Where does the chin curve in relationship to those lines?

5) Look at the bottom edge of the eye masses--the entire mass, not merely the eyeball. How far down the face does it go? About halfway between the eye brow and the bottom of the nose?

6) Draw a straight line across the eyebrow ridge. Do the eyebrows go straight or do they curve along that ridge? Look at the distance between that ridge and the highest crease of the upper eye lid. Note the concave and the convex forms of the masses above the eyelid crease.

7) Draw a straight line halfway between the bottom of the nose and the bottom of the chin. Note where the bottom edge of the lower lip lies on that line. Take a special look at the shape of the mouth in relation to that line. Straight mouth? Cupid's bow?


1) Set your dividers at the corner of the eye to the bottom of the chin. Rotate it to the back of the ear, and the top of the head. How do these measurements compare with each other?

2) Draw a line from the tip of the nose to the tip of the chin. Compare the relationships of the lips to this line.

3) Draw a line from the upper lip to the forehead. Where does the nose stand on this line? How
much of the nose is in back of this line and how much is in front?

4) Measure the bottom of the chin to the pit of the neck. How does that measurement compare to the length of the face over-all?

5) Draw a line halfway between the tip of the nose and the back of the head. Where is the ear in relation to that line? What is the hair profile in back and in front of that line?

Ivan suggests there are many more observations you could make, but this should get you started in the right direction. When you are doing the actual carving, use your dividers to check the proportion of your carving in the same way you analyzed the photos. Since the measurements are comparative, not converted to inches, you can work in a different size in the carving than in the photos, though it can be helpful to have the photos enlarged.

When you work, put off the detail until you have the blocking and shaping done. Work from large masses to small. In other words, carve the entire mouth mass before you carve the lips. Carve the entire eye mass before you cut in the lids, etc. In your mind "erase" the details and look at just the geometric forms. Carve those first.

For a young person, avoid sharp stop cuts. Use #11 sweeps rather than V tools to block out the smile lines, the eye masses, the shape alongside the nose, etc. Also, U cuts are easier to change than V cuts.

Finally, Ivan states that you can obtain a clean, smooth surface by "planing" with a skew gouge. Use a light skewing action and let it skim off the sharp ridges on the soft forms of the female face.


Reference Materials

Also, when talking about carving human forms, there is the question of reference materials. Carole obtained a copy of Legends of the Wild West, by James A. Crutchfirel, Bill O'Neal and Dale L. Walker, published in 1997 by Publications International, LTD. ISBN: 0-7853-1183-1. She indicated that the book had many excellent photographs of Native Americans, especially famous folks like Cochise, Geronimo, etc. She also said that the pictures are photographs of good quality. It sounds like like this book may be good reference materials for some of us.

Along these same lines, Regi Martin suggested looking for books by Edward S. Curtis. The following is an excerpt from a review of Curtis and his photography; "Edward S. Curtis was obsessed with recording information about Native Americans: he believed their culture might simply disappear without a trace. More than 100 years ago, he took his first photographs of Native Americans, and for decades he traveled extensively, snapping pictures and taking copious notes on their ways of life. "
Regi indicated that he had a couple of Edward Curtis' books in his library and even though the photography was from the last century the quality of the photographs and the contents of the books were incredible.


V-Tool Sharpening

One of the more helpful hints to hit the Woodcarvers list in a while was a discussion on sharpening V tools. One carver stated that this tool is one of the worst to sharpen and when you get it mastered you could hang up a sign saying that you can sharpen anything!. :o) I know that I sure burned up a couple of tools learning.

One of the novice carvers ask about the diamond shape he had saw on the bottom side of a V tool. The answer was that the area being described as the diamond shape is where the two sides of the "V" come together - this is thicker than the thickness of steel of the two sides on each side of the V you need to reduce this to produce a minute gouge shape at the cutting edge of the bottom of the V. The carver indicated that you could picture each side of your V tool as if it is two separate flat chisels to be sharpened - and where these two meet you have a very tiny gouge, also to be sharpened.

Make sure that both the flat sides have the same length bevels - so grind and strop the same number of times on each side.
Then, for the middle of the V treat this as if it was a tiny gouge and rock back and forth on your oil stone, ceramic stone, or leather strop with Yellowstone compound, or whatever other flat system you use for your sharpening process.
With the light behind you and the gouge held so you look directly at the cutting edge check to see that you see a straight line along the cutting edge - if you see any - even faint - line of light along this edge it means that point is still far from being a razor edge for carving.
Hone inside the V tool with a slip stone or the edge of one of the new leather slips and a touch of Yellowstone - so that you remove any fine wire edge - leaving a burr on the inside of the blade will prevent a clean cut - instead this will simply crush and/or tear the wood fibers as you push the gouge through the timber.
Be careful with the V tool - over sharpening of the junction at the bottom of the V can lead to a hollow in the blade at that point - and that is as hard to carve with as having left your diamond shape there!

Joe Dillett indicated that V tools are one of the most difficult to sharpen. Joe said that we need to remember that the inside of the V tool is the cutting edge. He said "If you look closely at the inside shape, just at the bottom of the V, you will find a slight radius and not a sharp inside corner. (If the tool had a sharp inside corner it would fracture.) The outside of the V tool must be ground tapering into the inside cutting edge. That means that the center of the inside radius, the cutting edge, should also be the center of the outside radius where you now have that diamond shaped. The outside bevel follows the inside cutting edge. The two straight side bevels are blending into the radius at the bottom. So the V tool is not actually a sharp V, but rather a small gouge that has straight sides."

Ivan Whillock is instrumental in bring Stubai carving tools to America. He designed many of the tools and had a world of knowledge concerning carving tools. Ivan talks more about the diamond shape in the bottom of the V tool. Ivan states;

I have nothing to add to the excellent advice given you on sharpening the V tool. I can, however, clarify the "diamond shape" that you see at the bottom of the V tool. Many carvers--and some manufacturers-put a flat bevel onto the very bottom of the V tool to lower the cutting angle of the tool.
This flat bevel comes to a peak at the cutting edge. Because this shallower bevel extends back beyond the side bevels, the effect is that of a diamond shape at the very bottom of the V tool. You can see a drawing of it on page 50 of Dick Claire's book, Time to Sharpen. I find it is very useful to get rid of excess steel by simply laying the V tool flat on the stone (or cutting wheel), carefully making sure that the peak of the diamond ends right at the front edge of the blade. That sweetens the cutting angle of the tool substantially. You may or may not choose then to round off the corners of the diamond, since those don't affect the action of the tool.

I sincerely hope that the above discussion of V tool sharpening will be of help to those of us who have problems along these lines. I for one wished that I had this information available to me nine years ago when I first started carving. However, the tool companies might have been disappointed. :o)


Stick Carving

Here's a tip for all of you stick carvers out there. Dan Townsend tells us that he cuts and drys a couple of hundred walking sticks every year. He always cuts them longer than what he needs for his final stick length. That way when they split he just cuts off the bad area and still has the length he needs for his walking sticks.

Dan also stated the he likes to "peel" the green sticks, rather than wait until they are dry and have to scrape the bark off. However, he normally scrapes 'em down, after they have dried in a dry place for about three months. If you peel them, ya' never know where they will split. He has left the dense "cork" over the diamonds and peeled the bark off the rest of the stick, thinking the cork over the diamond would keep the stick from drying out too fast, and ruined quite a few.

Dan informs us that it takes typical Diamond Willow about 60 days to dry in a nice dry spot. He drys his sticks vertically and as erect as possible. He says that they will sage if they are placed at much of an angle.

Mik Stevens sends in a weekly tip to the Stickmakers List. Here's a tip that Mik sent in on protecting the bark on your walking sticks. "A simple way to hold your shank in the vice and work it, without damaging the bark, is to split a 4 inch length of hose and put around your stick. When the vice tightens up on the hose it grips better, so less pressure is needed and you don't damage your bark.

Dealing with Soft Wood

The final tip to be passed along from the Woodcarver List for this issue is as follows:

How many of you on the list have been carving away happily and suddenly run into punky or very soft wood. Those who carve butternut know exactly what I'm talking about! This tip came from Phil Orchard in London, Ontario while I attended a show at which he was demonstrating to the public. We were talking about soft and punky wood and how difficult it is to carve, even with super sharp chisels, without those tears that often appear and are so difficult to get rid of. His trick is to spray WD-40 oil on the offending part and then to carve it normally. I tried it this afternoon and, lo and behold, it works. The oil eventually evaporates and leaves a clean surface.

That wraps up my article for this edition of the E-zine. I certainly hope that you have found something in this article that will be of use to you in your carving endeavors. Take time to drop me a note and let me know what you would like to see in future articles. Remember, my article consists of threads that are sent in to the different carving lists. Therefore, if you want an early preview of an upcoming article consider joining the Woodcarver's List, the Woodcarver's Porch, the Stickmaker's list and the Fishcarver's list. Until the next issue, take care and enjoy your carving. -Loren Woodard


For information regarding the various email lists for woodcarvers, visit The Carvers' Companion Links Page, or click the links below.

Woodcarver's List - Woodcarvers' Porch - American Stickmaker's - Knotholes List - Fishcarver's List