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Notes From the Net

By Loren K. Woodard
Email Loren at woodcarver@midmo.com or visit his web site at http://www.woodcarvers-gallery.com/

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.




Power Carving

While writing a recent article for Carving Magazine I queried the carving lists about different aspects of power carving.

Donna McCulloch wrote me a note talking about her favorite burrs. Donna wrote that typhoon burrs were her favorite and that she regularly uses both straight and domed burrs. This is one fact upon which we both agree. Typhoon burrs are a major workhorse in my arsenal also. In addition to the two shapes that Donna spoke of, one other Typhoon that I find myself reaching for on a regular basis are the Christmas tree shaped Typhoon burrs in several different sizes. Typhoon burrs come in several different sizes and are great for both the Foredom and Dremel tools. Donna noted that Typhoon burrs are great for fast wood removal and can do a lot of general shaping and detailing.

When it comes to fine detailing Donna likes ruby burs. This is another burr that I find myself using on a regular basis. Ruby burrs are great for general cleanup after the roughing and general shaping are completed. If your carving is going to require sanding, the ruby burr will take a lot of the work out of sanding as they leave a much smoother surface that most other burrs.

I have often seen comments from carvers on the lists talking about the different power carving units and what they need to start power carving. I recently had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in a power carving class with Wanda Marsh. Wanda is nationally known for her power carving skills. Her forte seems to be about anything that can be carved. She is best known for her animals, flowers, and fish. I spoke with Wanda and ask what she recommended for those wanting to enter the power-carving field. Wanda smiled, and then showed me one of her large boxes containing six Dremel tools. Wanda recommends two tools; one is the Foredom, and the other is the Dremel. She said that you can complete almost all power carving requirements with a Dremel and in her opinion, the Dremel was more suited to many carving requirements than a Micromotor. While this may not be the views of the author or WOM, Wanda is certainly a knowledgeable power carver. Check out her book, Carving Realistic Flowers.


The Fuzzies

Steve Ballance (Sensahumor) wrote:

I would like to address the subject of "the fuzzies" a bit further than yesterday. Without the aide of drawings or photos, it is hard to explain this topic. However, I will attempt to explain it by means of text:

Let's assume the wood species is basswood; we all know that it is a very soft wood and has very little grain if any. However because we cannot see the grain pattern such as other hardwoods does not mean there is no wood grain direction. The entire key to woodcarving or woodworking for that matter is the knowing the wood grain directions. You may not see it but I would take a few practice cuts and determine the grain direction of the grain. Draw an arrow marking the grain direction then layout your pattern. I assume we all understand the workings of a router and by way of direction of the cutter if you feed the wood backwards you will get chipping and soon the crackle and pops you hear tell you your running backwards. The same holds true with running small power tools. Then we need to consider speed and tool bit sharpness and rather it is a burr or a carbide cutter. Each thing you add to make a cut your adding elements to a success or a failed cut.

If you are with me so far then consider this: You just made a directional cut and it is crisp and clear, now run it backwards and you will get a fuzzy and undesirable cut. The router and the power tool runs in the same direction so the same holds true when making your cut. It's just a matter of do I cut from the right going with the grain spinning the cutter clockwise or do I cut from the left with the grain turning the board in an opposite direction. Those of you blending hand carved chisels and power may try using the cross cuts with your chisel and then use your power cutting for the one directional cuts. Once you have your first cut done by your chisel your power cut will lead up to the cut giving you a crisp and clean cut with no fuzz. Woodcarving is a matter of technique rather then skill. When I lay out a design to carve much consideration is then given by what size and shape my chisels are.

After you have your design layout on your wood and you are ready to begin carving consider the cuts and tools that are going to be used. A few changes may be needed to altar your design to match your chisel sizes. The more you can do before you begin carving the less clean up you will be hindered by. Not everyone has hundreds of carving tools so then we resort to techniques. This is where all the experiments take place of how we achieve the look we want after the cutting is done.
Skill comes in to play when we clearly understand the technique's we used to achieve a wonderful piece of work.

One last thought: If I was making a detailed piece of trim and lay out my pattern, I do not begin carving it. First, I take a scrap piece with the same pattern, plan my cuts, and pick the chisels to be used. Once I have the tools required and chosen the sequence of cuts, the rhythm to achieve carving the piece in a swift manner falls into place. I make all my cuts with one chisel and move to the next chisel and so on. Rarely do I pick up the same tool twice. Make planned precise cuts and never try to get to the detail until last.

When all of these elements are worked through, I then proceed to carving the real piece. If you are sawing down trees, the one with the sharpest tools will take the least amount of time to cut the trees. Technique, skill, and the knowledge of what to use on each step of the process are the key ingredients.


Lettering Layout

There was a discussion on the Woodcarver List talking about how to lay out letter in a circular pattern for sign carving. Dennis Cosgrove provided information on the topic for those with computer graphics software. Dennis advised as follows:

If you have a computer with graphics software, it makes it fairly easy (Once you figure out how to use the software!) to layout the lettering and then print it on paper. This is how to do it using Corel Draw 8:

When you are ready, you can print it out and transfer it to the plate as you would any other pattern.

Rip Stangroom (wdcvrrip@aol.com) offered the following guidelines on laying out letters in a circle.

Lettering around a circle should radiate from the center. Draw a line from the center to the outside of the plate (circle) and draw in your first letter against this line, next draw another line from the center and draw in the next letter...and so on.


Portrait Relief Carving

L. S. Irish answered a question concerning painting a portrait relief carving on the Woodcarver List as follows:

The type of color you use is dependent on the finished look you want. If you are seeking solid colors that completely cover the wood use acrylics or hobby type paints. However if you are looking for a translucent coloring where any tonal work or wood grain can be seen through the colors use watercolors.

Acrylics can be broken down into several types, hobbyist and craft paints, which are very opaque because of their use of white and gray tone bases, artist acrylics, which tend to be less opaque, and milk paints that tend toward the pastel tones giving an antique look to the work.

Personally, I tend toward artist acrylics or watercolors, as I love the idea of the wood grain coming through the coloring. Of these two choices, watercolors are my favorite. I seldom use craft or hobby paints, as it seems a shame to have done all that carving work on a beautiful piece of wood then cover all the wood up. Acrylics can be thinned with water to a watercolor consistency where you achieve basically the same effect as watercolors. This thinning gives a translucent look but does dry very quickly thus setting up permanently on the wood. With watercolors, I have the same translucent look and I can go back over an area to add shading, wash out highlights, and even remove all the color and start again. I believe I have more control over the watercolors.

Watercolors really are not more expensive than acrylics when you realize that all you are paying for is pigment ... no media, filler, or toner base. With each drop of watercolor being thinned with several drops of water those small tubes of paint last forever.

Of all the painting medias, you didn't mention the one that I use the most, oils. Thinned with walnut oil, sunflower oil, or linseed oil they can be used as a shadowing coat or light staining for the entire carving. You can then apply layers of color over the toning for translucent coloring. And, of course, use them right from the tube for solid work. Everything I could want to do in coloring a work can be done with this set of paints.

As you are doing portrait work, I would tend toward oils or watercolors because skin and muscle are not solid, opaque objects. You can see through the thin layer of skin and muscles in the face, it is not until the light hits the bone structures that the color solidifies. Simple example, put a lit flashlight under you hand (in a dark room). The light shows through the skin and muscle and the only dark area is right down the center of your fingers where the bone lies. This is the same effect you get with watercolors ... you look through the watercolors to see the staining work and wood grain beneath.


Along these same lines, Ivan Whillock talks about using the different types of paint for the same project. Ivan wrote:

With watercolors the pigment is, in effect, suspended in water without a hardening binder, and with acrylics, a binder is added. While some of the watercolor pigments are dyes, most settle into the pores of the material, thus coloring it. These colors then can move around if they become wet again. With acrylics after the binder dries, it is water resistant, thus the colors are more permanent.

Because acrylics come in the form of a paste or a thick liquid, they must be greatly thinned to achieve the transparency of color that is easily obtained with watercolors, which are designed to be applied thinly.

Similar transparent effects can be achieved with either acrylics or watercolors, (or with oils, for that matter) depending on how they are used. To avoid the thick paint effect of acrylics, thin them to a very watery consistency. Achieve the density of color that you prefer by adding layers of color rather than applying the paint on thick with the first coat.

Each medium has advantages and disadvantages. Watercolor is designed to be transparent but lacks a binder. Acrylics have a binder but must by highly thinned to give the transparent effects to "let the wood show through." Oil colors have the advantage that the paint does not raise the grain, the color does not change when it dries, but they stay soft longer--both an advantage, better blending, and a disadvantage in that it takes a while for the painted object to dry.

Many carvers have "trademark" techniques they prefer for the color effects they desire: how they prepare the wood before applying color, what paints they use and how they mix and apply the colors, as well as what glazes or glazing effects they have developed, etc. There are many painting alternatives and unique ways to color wood--watercolors, dyes, acrylics, oil paints, tempera powder, crayons, colored waxes, shoe polish, colored pencils, and the list goes on.

Keep all your carving mistakes and experiment, experiment, and experiment until you develop your own recipe for the effects you prefer. That's part of what makes the game fun.


Fish Carving Techniques

Keith Clements, the moderator of the Fishcarver's List ask for techniques to be shared amongst it members. Ted Richmond responded with the following information:

I saw a request for small glass eyes on this Fishcarvers discussion group and it came to mind that many times the smaller glass eyes look very dark after inserting them. The Flexeyes brand is good and can be viewed at www.flexeyes.com. They are made by Wayne Cooper. They are painted on flexible plastic and look good after finishing. You can trim around the edges for an even better fit. They are pre-painted according to species. If you insist on glass eyes, then try the Hide and Beak Supply Company and our friend Larry can advise you as to whether he still has any smaller series 140 by Tohickon left. One of the best ideas is to carve your own right on the fish and smooth it out. (Now here comes the tip.) After getting the carving done, seal it right around the eye. Then use magic sculp or similar product to smooth out the wood on the iris and around the sclerotic capsule. USE a WETTED ARTIST BRUSH to make it very smooth. Once dried it can be painted. Remember to use detailed photos and other 3-D reference if you have it. Paint eye with artist brush. The painted eye can really be more attractive when they are that small.

Along these same lines, Keith Clements shared a previous posting by Danny Patterson concerning the protection of eyes during the painting process.

One of the problems that carvers face is finding a way to protect the eye while painting their carving. There are commercial liquid eye protection products that you can purchase. However, Danny came up with a solution that is readily available to most carvers.

Danny came up with a simple and effective solution to this problem. He discovered a non-toxic, removable, adhesive that works great. Danny found his in a office supply store. It comes in a small package and is a thin clay like substance. It is used to hang pictures on the wall, memos, etc. It is very pliable and can be kneaded to a thin layer. You just take a small piece and gently place it over the eye. After your carving is painted you just pull it off. It works great!

Keith indicated that he found the product at a Dollar Store for one dollar. It is sold under the brand name of Sure-Tac and will last a long time.

As always, I hope that you have found something in this information that will be useful to you in your carving endeavors. One of the best places to find additional information concerning woodcarving is the archives found on The Carvers' Companion. Take some time and browse these web pages. I'm certain that you will find them more that just worthwhile. (WOM back issue HERE: Woodcarver Resource Files HERE)

Until the next issue, keep carving and strive to make each carving your best one yet!

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 - Fishcarving List

Editor's Note: Endorsements of products mentioned by contributors to this article should not be construed to be endorsements by either the editor of this article or of Woodcarver Online Magazine, unless specifically so noted.