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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.


Many a new carver has trouble with wood crushing under their tools, carving with the grain, etc. Ivan Whillock posted the following information on the List in order to give some guidance to several carvers that were posting questions concerning the crushing of wood when carving. He offered some techniques that could be helpful for new carvers having this problem. The following dialog is taken directly from Ivan's thread:

1. Sharpen your tools appropriately. Remember, a carving tool is essentially a wedge. The blunter the wedge, the more likely the wood will split. Some carvers have two sets of tools (a great concept for tool venders), one with about a 15-20 degree angle for softer woods, the other with a blunder angle for hardwoods. I don't (keep two sets of tools), though I do have a few doubles that have special grinding.
2. Avoid the "rounded" bevel. The edge can be sharp, but if the bevel is rounded, that essentially blunts the tool--widens the wedge, in other words. Carvers who over-hone their tools on a soft wheel often have rounded bevels.
3. Never bury the tool. Always use it less than its full capacity. Remember the wedge concept. The deeper you plunge a tool into the wood, the greater the wedge. Make a shallow cut, relieve it to give room for the thickness of the tool, and then deepen the cut in stages. If you use a mallet, use it as a control tool rather than a power tool.
4. Use a skewing action with the tool. Instead of plunging the tool straight into the wood, push a corner in first and then rock the rest of the tool into the wood. When planing the wood away, carve in the direction of the grain but skew the tool ACROSS the fibers.
5. On any given pass with the tool, take away less wood than you leave. For example, if you are trimming the stem of a flower, always make sure the mass of wood you are removing is smaller than the mass you are leaving. (Most broken eyelids are caused by ignoring this concept.)
6. Precut the fragile edges. Make a channel in front of the delicate edge you want to keep before you cut the edge. That way you don't have a mass of waste wood resisting your cut.
7. If you are removing wood by cutting towards a stopcut, always work from the stopcut backwards, first making a small V in front of the stop cut and then gradually expanding that V into the waste wood.

In order to clarify statement #7, Ivan sent an additional post to the list: "It is common for beginners, whether carving relief or in the round, to make big uncontrolled cuts that go into the stopcut edge, thus scarring or chipping it. To protect the edge, first make a small, controlled V cut in front of the stop cut to create a space between the edge you want to keep and the material you want to remove. I call it a protective "moat" around the castle. For example, say you are carving eyelids. After making the stopcut around the eyelid, make a small V cut in front of the stopcut before you lower the eyeball. That way the tool will not be colliding with the lid as you lower the inside eye mass."

9. Undercutting weakens an edge. Avoid undercutting when you can. If your design calls for undercutting, do that as a last step.
10. Never twist or pry with a carving tool. It tears rather than cuts the fibers, and it stresses the cutting edge at its weakest point, the very tip. Many carvers pry and twist their tools without realizing it, a kind of final scoop at the end of each cut.
11. If you get an impossible, punky chunk of wood, remember of wood carver's motto: "You can always burn the damn thing."

Creating a Bandsawn blank: Now that Ivan has us set up and working our tools in a good workmanlike manner, we'll let Ainslie Pyne tell us about creating a bandsawn blank.

Ainslie started by telling us that transferring patterns to a square or rectangular block of wood is easily done but first you need to draw up a side view of the pattern to the same scale as the front view. She suggested leaving the grid lines over the face of each drawing. Photocopy the originals if you don't want to have the grid showing on your pattern and use the photocopies.

Draw a reference line around two adjoining sides where the top of the carving will be and then use a glue stick to apply adhesive on the back of your pattern. Paste this to the wood so that the top of the drawing is on the line that you drew at the top of the wood.
Then cut around one shape with a bandsaw. If the pattern is a complex shape make several straight cuts down to the line from the outer edge. Ainslie stated that you need to be careful how you back out of the cut (she usually turns the bandsaw off and eases the work away from the blade so that she doesn't pull the blade off the wheels if the cut is more than a couple of inches in from the edge.
Then when you run around the shape the pieces will fall away without the blade binding as you go around tight corners.
Once one profile has been cut hot melt glue the pieces back in place so that your pattern will still be on the other side even if it has some small bits missing. Next, run around this outline to give yourself a squarish looking shape which will only need some "knocking off of the corners" to complete.

Ainslie indicated there are several excellent books on using a bandsaw which illustrate the process very well. For those doing my seminars this year I will be going through the process and will have hand out notes available.

How about some information on carving woods? Some new carvers were asking about different types of carving woods. Mick King of Rochester, Minnesota, wrote the following:

Some of the wood that is considered softwood is no good for carving - not for a beginner, anyway. Example: Southern yellow pine, and Douglas fir. Some of the softwoods are great: eastern white pine, sugar pine.
Lots of hardwoods (deciduous trees) are great for carving.
Basswood is the standard favorite for whittlers and caricature carvers.
Tupelo and jelutong (both of which are woods with less character and personality than basswood, although more expensive) are popular with power carvers.
Butternut is very nice to carve and considered soft enough for a beginner.
Walnut, cherry, aspen are also good, although harder.
Stuff like oak, locust, mesquite, can look very nice when done, although sort of frustrating because of the splintering that can occur.
Woods like birch, soft maple (including box elder and hackberry) are nice, have good character and are readily available.

Thierry Sanders added to the above thread with the following statements:
"Good carving wood isn't soft. It merely has a short grain. I suggest that you try to get a piece of basswood or butternut. Neither of these are soft, but they are relatively easy to carve for a beginner. There is one other material that carves extremely well for beginners. That is Cottonwood Bark. This may be a little harder to find, but ask around the list and I'm sure that someone can probably get you some."

Carol Robertson added the following bit of information to the wood thread:
"I think what needs to be addressed here is the difference between 'soft' and 'hard' woods. Softwoods come from trees that do not lose their leaves, i.e., evergreens. Hardwoods come from trees that do lose their leaves. When someone tells you that you need to use soft wood for carving they are not usually using the term 'softwood' as it applies above. They mean that the wood is easy to carve. Basswood is easy to carve but is considered a 'hard' wood."

Fishy Paint Problems: There was a thread going on the Fish Carver's List concerning problems with an airbrushed fish. It seems that a fish that had recently been painted with an airbrush developed problems after the painting process was completed. Ed Walicki, owner of the Fish Carvers List, shared the following information concerning mixing paint and sealers:

More than likely the silver base coat you used was lacquer, a good choice for a sealer/base coat over wood. The problem came into play when you trapped several layers of water based acrylic paint in between two layers of lacquer. When painting with all lacquer colors from base to topcoat each layer melts into the previous coat to form a chemical bond. Lacquer bonds to lacquer great because the solvents used to thin the paint actually dissolve the layers into each other. Water-based acrylics do not bond like that between layers. WB acrylics are actually adhesive-based with color pigment suspended (in the mixture). The adhesive dries clear, leaving the color of the pigment remaining in view (that's why many WB colors dry a different color than they look in the bottle; the carrier tends to tint the color slightly until it dries clear.). Each WB layer is actually glued to the previous layer of color. They do not melt into each other forming one layer like lacquers do.

To prove this point, take a can of lacquer paint that has been sitting around for years with the lid off; it's all hard and cracked. Pour in a little lacquer thinner and an hour later you have paint ready to use, no matter how old it was before. WB acrylic paints, once dry will never re-dissolve with water. A brick of color in the bottom of the can will always be a brick once that happens.

Now to get back to what happened, the WB Polytranspar colors "stuck" to the surface of the lacquer base color of silver. As they cured they shrunk a little, but since they glued themselves to the silver when they shrunk it didn't matter, the bond was good. Now came along the "wet look gloss" which is lacquer. A few wet coats over the WB and things begin to go south. The lacquer thinner in the clear soaks into the paint and hits the silver and begins to dissolve the silver a bit for a few seconds. Now the WB has nothing solid to bond to and it begins to slip under the clear and tears, leaving cracks. This can happen in minutes, hours or even days later. The reason for the delay is as the top layer of clear flashes off and begins to dry, it seals in the solvents that made it to the silver. It traps them deep in the finish until they can gas off through the clear coat over the next 3 or 4 days, or longer, depending on how crazy we got with applying clear coat. The longer that solvent is trapped below with WB colors in between, the more damage you will see as a result.

How to avoid it.... I add a little Elmer's glue (NOT WOOD GLUE) to my first WB base color (a puddle about the size of a quarter for 2oz of paint, it mixes in easy). This helps seal out the lacquer thinner from the top coat (to be applied) later in the process and helps the first color bond to the slippery lacquer wood sealer surface. Since Elmer's is water-based itself the clean up of the airbrush is as easy as a color change cleaning.

I allow this to dry 1 full day. Then I spray off the fish with WB Polytranspar and allow the fish to dry AND "cure" for a few days in a warm place. Then for the gloss I spray several very light mist coats of clear to build up a lacquer surface prior to my final wet coat of gloss. If the fish has a lot of WB paint on it I may spray 10 light mistings of clear before a wet final coat the next morning. The key is to seal it well enough so the lacquer solvent is blocked from reaching down into your sealer/base coats before it dries. You want it to "run out of gas" before it reaches the WB. And by applying mist coats you don't build up and trap a large amount of lacquer under the final gloss coat.

It may take a little longer than most people like to get involved with when painting a fish, but it's not as much time as stripping it and starting over. A fast fix would be to use a water -based clear and then you don't have to wait as long, as it has no solvents to worry about; however it is just not as clear or glossy. And if sprayed on a damp day will look cloudy for a long time.

As for salvaging the last one...outside of a full stripping there is no way of hiding the cracks easy. I have tried in the past and never pulled it off. An overnight soaking in lacquer thinner gave me a fresh start."

Well folks, that just about does it for this article of Notes From the Net. Please take some time and check out the wood carving lists on the Internet. There is a lot of knowledge free for the asking on all of the list serves.

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


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