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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.


Roughing Out

There has been a considerable discussion lately on the Knotholes list concerning the removal of wood during the roughing out stage of the carving process. We had a lively discussion on the Internet, which I wanted to present within this article. In my opinion, Joe Dillett from The Woodcarving Shop in Somonauk, IL, described his feelings concerning the process very well:

When it comes to removing wood and finishing techniques there are no rules. When a carver has opinions on certain methods being more traditional or faster, that only applies to that carver and doesn't necessarily apply to anyone else. I encourage my students to become familiar with as many techniques as possible. To be creative and always try to "discover" new methods, that's how we grow. I teach the "No Rules" approach

However, there really is a rule. That rule is the carver should enjoy the journey. The main reason we carve is because we enjoy the act of creating, we enjoy watching our creation come to life, we enjoy feeling the wood being removed, we enjoy the smell of the wood, we enjoy finding the hidden grain as we unveil each layer, we enjoy the fact the our talent is valued so much that people will treasure it for years to come and we enjoy documenting our message with the hope that it will be remembered. Enjoying the act of carving, that is our journey, that is our therapy.

No one can tell us how to best travel our journey. Some of us may use hand tools, some power, some use a combination of both, some use heat, some use paint, some use varnish or oil. What ever methods you choose, remember it's your journey to enjoy. It does us good to examine our journey and see if there are ways we can enjoy it more. Try experimenting with different methods, location, lighting, music, and time. Experimentation leads to change. Change leads to growth.

The journey, and our thoughts we have along that journey, is what makes us grow. As we grow the methods we use may change, but it is still our unique journey. It is the journey that changes us much more than the final result. Our final result is insignificant compared to our growth from the journey.

Monty Montgomery from Montana added that he uses any thing that moves wood - from a chain saw to a Kutzall on a grinder to several hanging-type Foredom. Monty added that he does do most of his finish work with a gouge or knife.

"Ol' Don" Burgdorf, the creator of many fine carving patterns, many of which are available free of charge in here in WOM and at the Woodcarvers Porch web site, offered these thoughts concerning the removal of wood:

I'm with Monty - unless you're a purist or a romantic (and there's nothing wrong with being either one) remove as much wood as quick as possible to get to the fun part (and for a lot of us, productivity is the name of the game). For the type carvings I believe you do, I think you'd find the Arbortech Mini-grinder to be a worthwhile consideration. It will remove waste wood a lot faster than a Foredom with a Kutzall but I would also recommend having both if possible, as I do, so that when you go as far as you can with the Mini-grinder, you can use the Foredom with a Kutzall or Typhoon burr to bring you even closer to the detailing stage.

Re: The Dremel tools - I have several but seldom use them since they are primarily a hobbyist tool and not well suited for hard or continuous use, in my opinion.

As far as finishing, I prefer the appearance of the blade facets on a carving so blades are my choice for finishing. Depending on the wood and/or subject, I sometimes paint, sometimes not, sometimes a little color for accent. Create your carvings to please yourself, no one else. When other folk appreciate your efforts, that's just frosting on the cake.

While you are on the Internet why not take a look at Ol' Don's web pages at http://artofdon.com. It will be well worth your time. Also, Ol' Don can also be reached at P.O. Box 110123, Nashville, TN 37222-0123.

The final comments to be included were made by Clark Maddox. Clark said that he felt like it all boiled down to personal preference. For his realistic birds and fish he uses whatever combination of hand tools and power he can to get the job done. He stated that for caricatures he uses hand tools 100% of the time; however, he knows a good caricature carver who uses all power (Foredom). He has another carving friend that uses hand tools for his caricatures and then cleans the fuzzies out of the nooks and crannies with a Dremel.

Finally, Clark added, experiment freely and you will find the tools and methods that work best for you.


Honing Oils

Another interesting topic was discussed over the last several weeks on the Internet. The topic dealt with honing oils. Joe Dillett explained that there are several oils that can be substituted for commercial honing oils. Some of the oils that he mentioned include mineral oil, sweet oil, and cutting oil (plumbers use it for cutting threads on pipe).

Joe Dillett cautions not to use a lubricating oil because it is designed to reduce friction and eliminate scratching by forming a protective layer. That protective layer will try to protect the metal from being scratched and slow the sharpening process. Also, do not use oils that have protein (vegetable oil), because they will turn your stone rancid.

Ken Haas indicated that he wanted to keep his oil stones immersed because he feels that they work much better that way. So, he was delighted when he read a tip on transmission oil awhile back. He also noticed that on a can of honing oil it gave an ingredient of white mineral oil. You can buy a 1/2 quart of that in the drug store fairly cheap. So, he mixes the white mineral oil with a quart of transmission oil and keeps it in a plastic shoe sized box. (The kind sold for storage in discount stores.) It keeps his stones immersed and ready to go and the combination works very well for him.


Finishing Exterior Signs

If you have been wondering about finishing your exterior signs, the following data was posted in response to a question from a novice carver regarding the finishing of experior signs.

Bill Mallery writes that this question has been plaguing sign makers from Day One, but he would offer his suggestions. First, he stated that the wood needed protection from the weather. He uses two coats of Sikkens Cetol 1 to protect against moisture. He then adds two coats of Sikkens Cetol 23 for UV protection. These products are widely used by contractors, painters and/or log cabin people. Follow directions...if applied right, it will work well.

Bill further stated that he preps the sign surface by sanding. He primes the surface with a good oil based product and then applies a good exterior paint. This can be either latex or oil based paint. He applies a minimum of two light coats.

Mike stated that the most important thing about finishing something to be hung outdoors isn't moisture protection; any number of finishes will do that. The thing that really takes its toll on wood in the outdoors is UV damage from the sun. That combined with the expansion cycle of the wood as it reacts to moisture in the ambient air, makes finishing wood a challenge.

He recommended painting/staining to the color you want then finishing with very high quality marine spar varnish as a topcoat. Three to four coats would be best. He recommends putting on an additional coat or 2 every couple of years.


Signing Your Carvings

Finally, I would like to end this article with a couple of suggestions concerning the signing of your carvings. First of all, I would suggest that if your project was worth carving it is definitely worth signing.

Robin Edward Trudel writes that regardless of the quality of the carving, you are creating an archeological artifact. If you've seen some of the items in the Smithsonian's collection, it isn't the most well executed carvings that are collected but the ones that last which appear to hold the interest of the historians.

Ink or marker is a bad idea. Both will fade over extended periods. Pencil never will fade, but needs a finish to protect it from smearing. Carved letters are fine, but I suspect wood burning (unless it's also burning the letters into the wood rather than just coloring the surface) will fade also.

The more clearly you identify yourself, the date, and perhaps the location of the carving, the more valuable it will become over time.

Wil Curtis indicated that he signs or initials, dates and numbers each of his carvings and keeps a journal describing each piece, who it was made for, how it was finished, etc.

If your work is small or to be displayed privately, Wil states the he would sign, date and number it in an out of the way place. If your work is large or to be displayed for the public, I think a small plaque is appropriate.

There are two sides to the question of dating a carving and I would like to present the other side for your consideration. I sell many of my carvings through a couple of different wood carving shops here in Missouri and I would caution carvers that if you are working on small pieces that are to be sold in shops you may want to think about dating them. I have seen people pick up well executed carvings and see a date that may be a couple of years old and put the carving back down wondering why it hadn't sold yet. In fact one of the carvings was mine and I had kept it in my own personal collection until jest a couple of weeks before the incident. Needless to say, I used to date all of my carvings but no longer do so. Also, I have had conversations with several of the carvers at Valley Road Woodcarving at Silver Dollar City and most advise against dating your carvings if is to be placed in a shop for sale.

While I certainly don't want to tell any reader how to treat their carvings, I presented the other side of the question for your consideration and thoughts.

Until the next issue, keep your tools sharp and the chips flying.

Loren Woodard

Well folks, that wraps up this edition 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.

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