Woodcarver Ezine
Back Issues
Carvers' Companion Gateway

Notes From the Net

By Loren K. Woodard
Email Loren at woodcarver@socket.net or visit his web site at www.natures naturals.net

Welcome once again to Notes From The Net, a compilation of tips and techniques that were shared on the several wood carving Listserves on the Internet. As is the case every month, the topics are varied and many.


Digital Cameras

I'm certain that most carvers spend time taking stock of their carving tools and considering their next purchase of carving tools. If you don't have a digital camera, perhaps you may want to consider one as your next carving tool purchase. My friend Greg Wilkerson recently purchased one and thinks it's a great tool. He uses his for web page construction and for adding graphics to his brochures, to better show off his carvings.

Also, Joe Dillett utilizes a digital camera for his business and has good things to say about digital cameras and woodcarving. The following are some of Joe's comments on the Woodcarver's List.

1) Use the digital camera to make patterns. Shoot the image and adjust the size of your photo or your printout to match the exact size for your pattern.

2) I shoot a picture of the finished product and insert the photo right on the customer's invoice when I print it out. That way you and the customer have an exact record of what the invoice is for. This is especially helpful if you have more than one item in process for a customer.

3) I can get the customer's input and design approval in hours by using the digital camera to shoot my sketch or clay model and email them. Before the digital camera, it would take over a week to get approval by sending a photo through the mail.

4) I can keep the customer informed on the progress of the work by shooting pictures and emailing them, sometimes several times throughout the day. Many times, I've had questions about the design while the work was in process and have resolved the issue in minutes by email.

5) I can show a potential customer what I currently have in inventory by emailing digital photos, and it only takes a few minutes. Lots of sales are made this way because I haven't been keeping my current inventory on my web site.

6) The most important tool of all (THIS IS THE BEST ADVANTAGE), is the ability to show the customer how the carving will look before you even start the job. If I'm helping the customer decide on the type of wood, size, and color for a fire place mantel I ask them for a photo of their fireplace. I shoot their photo with my digital camera and using photo retouching I insert all different sized, colors, mounting height, and types of carving of mantels and print out all their choices. They have no problem seeing which one looks best.

I've also done small clay models, scaled them to the correct size and inserted them into the photo to show the customer how the finished sculpture will look in that room. Even CAD programs like AutoCAD have the ability to insert a raster image (digital photo) onto a layer and display it along with their vector layers. Using these CAD programs designers can do a walk-through showing their customer the finished room with the carvings even before the building is started.

Probably the most important factor of photo retouching your carving into the environment is the ability of you, the artist, to better see the finished work, as it will be displayed. This feature has helped me more times that I can count. One example was when I was unloading a carving out of my truck and the customer said that it was way too big. At that time, with it still standing outside, I thought it looked too big also. I told the customer that we should see after we get it inside. Once inside it looked exactly like the photo I retouched in the beginning. The customer was very pleased and said the size was perfect. I looked at the photo and said "Pictures don't lie."

7) I have even used this camera for giving directions to my shop. Taking a photo of my place of business and sending it with the directions over the email.

These are just some more ways I use my digital camera.

I've had this camera for over 3 years and its paid for itself many times over. When I bought it from Best Buy, I asked if they had an "open box" camera. The open box means someone had bought it and brought it back to the store. The store generally gives about $100 dollar discount for open box with the same warrantee as a closed box. I got the discount and it has been one of my most powerful tools in my shop ever since.

There have been many improvements in digital cameras since I bought mine, but I will not upgrade unless not upgrading starts costing me time or lost business.

Joe Dillett
The Carving Shop
645 E. LaSalle St. Suite 3
Somonauk, IL. 60552


Tool Sharpening

Along the lines of carving tools, now may be the time to talk sharpening. We have had many conversations and included many tips on sharpening in past articles. However, this is an ongoing concern for woodcarvers, both old and new. Therefore, we will continue to include hints and comments on sharpening from time to time.

Ken Peterson, a member of the Woodcarver's List, shares three notes on the topic. His notes on the sharpening discussion are these:

1) You can use oilstones dry without any loss of efficiency or lifespan. John Juranitch advocated this rather unorthodox approach 16 years ago in his book "The Razor Edge Book of Sharpening". Although I bought the book shortly after it was published, I didn't try it until about three years ago. I have been using my oilstones dry since and find they work faster than if you use oil on them and do not clog as easily. If they do become clogged scrubbing them with water and a powdered cleanser such as Comet, Ajax, or Barkeeper's Friend can clean them. Juranitch's company has a website at http://www.razoredgesystems.com/ that sells his book and is a source for good oilstones.

2) If you use a wheel to sharpen gouges, you can get a flat grind by presenting the bevel of your tool to the wheel at a 45-degree angle.

3) The sides of cardboard wheels can be used for sharpening. Rotating the wheel horizontally by mounting it in a drill press or vertically mounted motor most conveniently does this. Unlike the conventional orientation of cardboard wheels, this presentation works ok at lower rotational speeds.

Ken also indicated that he is presently using an 8" wheel mounted on a 1725 motor. He put a 5" 220-grit sanding disk in the center to handle the actual grinding and use chromium oxide on the outer rim for honing.

Visit Ken Petersen's web site at http://www.petersonwoodworking.com

Did you know that mineral oil works great on your oilstones? Rip Stangroom told the Woodcarver's List that he puts mineral oil in one of those little plastic accordion type glue injector bottles with a long spout. Rip said that he squeezes the bottle down and put the tip in the mineral oil then releases it and the bottle fills itself. He says that you can easily put just a few drops on the oilstone and it fits in the toolbox nicely too.


Large Carvings From Timber

As the readers might recall, there was an article in Woodcarver Online Magazine a short while back about a large log carving of an 8 horse team of Clydesdale horses by Maricha Oxley, from Australia,. (The full article can be viewed at HERE)

After comments and questions about carving larger pieces, Maricha posted the following information of the Woodcarver's List.

Logs and large sculptures are quite fascinating to work with. Safety is important too so Maricha makes sure the log is secure before starting. She does not know of any books which specifically deal with larger carvings from wood logs; however, she stated that she was sure there must be some around. (If you know of any good books on carving a large sculpture from a log, you can email me at woodcarver@socket.net and I will pass the information along.)

The experiences Maricha has had in sculpting logs have all been the result of her own ideas. Before she starts carving, she studies the log: its size, grain, knots, cracking disposition, and whatever other information she can obtain from a visual inspection.

Maricha indicated that sealing the ends of the log are a priority, and she has used all kinds of sealants including Penetrol, marine grade Penetrol, as well as outdoor sealants, waxes and oils. "Experts" have told her what to use and she has spent a small fortune in sealants, only to discover that trial, error, and experience are the best teachers in finding the best method of sealing effectively. Depending on the timber, Maricha seals and waxes the ends of the log. If the bark has been removed, she uses a blowtorch on the outside of the log to give it a protective hardened skin. Maricha suggested, however, that if possible it would be better to keep the bark on to retain as much moisture as possible.

Planning your sculpture is essential. Maricha makes a small sketch incorporating the whole log and the total idea. Then she enlarges it to the size of the log in sections that are manageable to work with, say in a day or weekend of carving. For example, with the Clydesdale carving, the size of the log was important because the two logs were about three meters long. If one of the logs had not been pinched, she would have sculpted fourteen horses in it. However, she was limited to ten. Since the wood cracked at the ends, she lost two more and ended up with eight horses and one stock horse at the end.

Thus, the size of log is important. The carver must anticipate the wastage, moisture loss, stress areas, etc. Sketch the carving, in a small version, in proportion to the size of the log, allowing for hidden agendas, such as cracks, rotten bits, bits of metal, holes, knots, etc. Avoid overstressing the log and work in the round. That is, work on all sides as you go for equal distribution of moisture release and stress. Where you intend to have negative spaces, drill holes to allow for moisture and stress distribution as you go. If you carve on one side only and no support is given, it will cave in; thus your planning design is essential.

For example, when carving the Corroboree, Maricha carved the canopy top. The underside of the canopy was also carved. In between the top branches, some holes were made to allow the pull and push stress to work. As she worked each day, Maricha covered the carved areas with linseed oil, except for the canopy and bottom, which were covered with wax to allow for movement.

Other things to consider:

TIME: For a long log with large diameter, you may need three to four months if you are working on more than one figure. Allocate some time for various stages in a sequence. For example, working the outer shape, making the cavities in between the figures, and leaving the shapes in almost blank-like stages to give yourself room to work the shapes.

TOOLS: Each tool has its place. Learn what each tool does best then use that tool on your log adventure. The "Arbortech" chisels, "industrial carver", and small carver all had their special place. Maricha used the "industrial carver" for the Clydesdales as the chisels were still at the drawing board stage. For the corroboree, she used the "Arbortech" chisel with one blade only, as the others were still being manufactured. She carved and scooped the bottom in a cone shape inner section.

Carving the log figures, Maricha used large hand chisels to make the negative spaces in between the arms, hands legs and torsos, leaving lots of timber around them and behind for support. The delicate parts were the thinnest, with little timber around them. When shrinking occurs, as the timber dries, this will crack arms, legs, hands, etc., so anticipate this.

The advantages of making the models small for her was that she could have the models in front of her and on top of the log as she enlarged it to the size she wanted. It was handy reference as it could be placed in front of her eyes and working area. The disadvantage was that you couldn't visualize the proportions from say 1 inch to 1 foot. Another advantage is if the log cracks, the model allows you to change its posture to avoid that crack. When sculpting logs always be flexible, as timber moves constantly with changes in your work, weather, growth of timber, amounts removed, etc. Also, remember the timber shrinks across grain, never along the grain. This acts as a tug of war on the log you are carving.

For the divisions of the Clydesdales in Maricha's carving, a friend started to help her by using a chainsaw. However, the chainsaw takes a lot of wood as it cut and she decided to do the separation by hand. The chainsaw was taking too much wood and not leaving enough for the buttocks, tails, and heads of the horses. Her chisels also came in handy. However, for the area between the bodies of the parallel horses no chisel would fit. She made one chisel about 5 inches long to handhold and maneuver. Scorps came in handy to remove the concave recesses under the canopy of the Corroboree or wastage behind the figures. Maricha advises, be alert and improvise as you use tools that will help you achieve what you are aiming for. Have them sharpened, ensure all the equipment is in super condition with no loose bits anywhere which could cause an accident or hamper your work.

Smaller chisels are used towards the end of the carving for detail and refining those areas that you want to emphasize like eyes, mane, etc. in Maricha's Clydesdales.

DESIGNING: Keep your ideas simple. Proportions, harmony, and balance are a must.

WORK PROCESS: Research your work and the materials to be used. Combine what elements surround you: weather, space, clamps, transportation for log, where will it stand, where it will be stored, where it will be displayed and how will it be viewed. Thinking and working out your plan takes time; however, it pays because you will better know your materials, what finish is to be applied, what the total design is, what tools you will need, what you will want to make, and how to make it.

SAFETY: Safety is important. Stop at regular intervals to ensure your whole body is alert and not over exhausted, so you can create a great carving without having an accident and/or hurting yourself and depriving yourself of a great satisfaction that comes from making something out of a log.

That wraps up this issue of Notes From the Net. May you always strive to reach the next level with your carving efforts.

Loren Woodard

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 Resource Files, or click the links below.

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