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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.

This issue of Notes From The Net, will be different from previous issues. We had a carver ask questions concerning the first carving class she would be instructing. As normal, the list members were gracious and passed along excellent ideas. To me, all carvers should be willing to pass along information they have learned to keep our art and craft alive and well. Since there were so many good tips passed on I have used them to compile my entire article for this issue. I hope that all readers enjoy the instructional list and find it useful to them in their carving endeavors.


Notes For The Carving Teacher

1) Have a written lesson plan prepared. This was necessary for me as the quick action and interchanges at the teaching table often pulls you away from where you are in the lesson and where you are headed next. If you haven't, just jot down a brief outline of the steps that you are going to use, in order, and a few side notes of what are important that they learn with each step.

2) Give them a list of what tools you are using ... students want to be able to purchase those tools that they have been introduced to but often don't get a chance to write down their names, brands, or sizes. For example, I have a micro dog leg chisel that I love and use on about every carving. Now my students might remember that it's the tool with the 90 degree angel in it but have no reason to remember that that angle in wood carving tools is called a "dog leg". As a traveling teacher I always liked to give the studio that was kind enough to sponsor me the list of tools in advance. That way they could, if they chose, stock those tools and have them ready for the students during class. I also was always willing to use the tools that the particular studio sold ... that way I wasn't using something that the students couldn't have or the studio didn't sell.

3) Let them know if this is your first teaching class ... your students will love it! They will be very patient and guide you through what they need to learn and what they expect to get from the class. You will discover that you will learn as much as they do by the end of the session.

4) Don't be afraid to say "I don't know that answer!" Your students really don't expect you to know everything. I sure don't know everything today even after years of working in this craft. They don't so why would you. You can tell them, if this is a series of classes, that you will find the answer for them for the next session. Post their questions to the digest or e-mail other carvers. That way your students learn not only the answers to their questions but also how to discover/find/ask for themselves. You can also get them to sign up for a mailing list that you can then write and mail the answers too. This also gives you, the teacher, a mailing list of students who might be interested in taking more classes from you.

5) Let your students tell you what they "NEED" to learn. Be attentive to their questions. Often, even with a written lesson plan I would end up somewhere that I had never considered teaching that day. I have found that if one student asks a question then most likely every student is confused on that point! Very few people are willing to say "I didn't understand what you just said" so when one asks it I always assumed that I needed to restate the instruction in new words or to demonstrate what I wanted them to do.

6) Go where you students want to go, not where you planned to go. If your students have questions of sharpening, as an example, take time from the class to teach sharpening! If they want to discuss different woods that are used, go there with them. Remember your teaching project is just a vehicle by which you teach. If they don't get the project done because of all this other information that they have learned ... fantastic! They LEARNED from you and they learn WHAT they needed to know.

7) Carving the student's project - Please ... this is just my opinion here as both a student of seminars and as a teacher ... there was always one unbreakable rule in my classes ... I NEVER took a project out of a students hands and did the carving step for them on their piece!!!!! I would take a blank or several pre-carved or pre-worked blanks with me to demonstrate on but never worked on another person's project. If I did it for them then they didn't do it and so they didn't learn how! Note all of the exclamation points in this paragraph. I would rather hand a student my blank to practice on, make mistakes on, ruin!!! than to take a project out of someone else's hands to demonstrate on. They really don't care as students if their first class project is perfect, they care that they did it themselves, all by themselves!

(Note: There was a good bit of discussion concerning # 6 after that hint was posted. My take on the general consensus of the discussion was that an instructor should ask the student before carving on their project but that many students actually preferred that an instructor carve on their project so they could follow the instructors carving on their side. Almost everyone agreed that an instructor should ask before carving on the student's project.)

8) Have fun! Teaching is fantastic, one of the greatest highs life can give you, and they pay you to do it! I always used the little trick of treating my students, no matter whether it was in my classroom or someone else's studio, as if we were all sitting down at my kitchen table having coffee and as a group of friends and buddies enjoying learning together.

9) The most important person in the room is the one that knows the least. Focus on that student. The questions that they have are probably very basic and simple, but you can never go wrong by teaching the basics! I thought that was the last idea for you this morning before I posted this ... but, I have one more.

10) Remember to breathe!!!! I often found myself, even after years of teaching, holding my breath as I watched the students sit down to the table. So, Smile, Hand out your patterns and instructions, Take a slow deep breathe, and say "Good Morning ... What a wonderful treat to me that you have come to enjoy a day of carving together!"

11) Safety first and be prepared for in-class accidents. For safety, we like everyone to have a glove and a thumb guard. We carry a large supply of "green tape" to wrap people's thumbs. We ask them, "Does anyone need a thumb guard? We also have band aids. It is easy to become so involved in your project that you forget the safety aspect.

12) Spend equal time (or nearly so) with all of your students. If they were interested enough to attend your class they should get equal time. I love it when instructors use a timer. If you have a student that needs a little extra time just turn the timer off and spend it. The other students will understand. What they won't understand or like is that if one or two students get way more of your time than the rest of the students do.

13) Add surprise and the unexpected to make important points memorable. There are times I've made a point, when I see a student in danger of breaking off a delicate part off the carving, I pick up a piece of wood about the same size as that delicate part, hide it in my hand, and hold their carving and knife the same way like I'm going to make the cut and let that piece pop out of my hand. It makes for a little excitement in class. Then I explain how to make the cut without loosing that delicate piece.

14) Make time and space available for those students that need a little extra attention.
One tip I can offer is if one student needs extra time, I take that student to my demonstration area and invite all the other students to join us for a group demonstration.

15) Don't hesitate to assign homework and let them see what they will be doing next. I give them 5 more of the same project to take home. The more THEY practice the better they got and the better THEY got the better I looked in the eyes of others. Every week I have a NEW small project for them.

16) Make eye contact so that your students know you are paying attention to them and their project work. Another thing we have quite a lot of is the student feels apologetic or has little confidence. Try to give them eye contact straight on and let them know how important they are. You don't have to say those words but they should pick that up through your working with them.

17) Encourage creativity and individuality in the student's work. The other thing that I would like to add to the list is to encourage students to add their own personal touches to a pattern or blank. I look at teaching as an opportunity to first teach the necessary techniques, and then teach the skills one needs to create their own works of art.

18) As an instructor, teach your students everything you know. Don't hold back as I see in some instructors...so that their students won't be as good as they are. Give them 100%+.

19) The first time carving is usually the worst one. We probably fell the first time we tried to skate, missed the first time we shot a basket, or hit a bad note the first time we tooted a horn. Understanding this can help both the teacher and student understand that learning to carve is a process. Your first carving is the first step in a lifelong learning process. The more you do, the better you get. Your best carving will probably be your next one.

20) Just as there is no one way to learn, there is no one way to teach. Do what is fun for you. It will be fun for your students. When Moses stepped down from the mountain, there was nothing about wood carving written on the stone tablets he hauled down with him. Thus, my pronouncements are suggestions, not commandments. I will show you my way of doing it. I may even show you different ways of doing it.

21) Be versatile in how you demonstrate a step or technique. One problem developed in a class with a young carver who I determined had to be unteachable, until I noticed he was left handed and everything I tried to show him looked backwards. We were both quite thrilled when I took the tools in my left hand to demonstrate for him. He soon became very proficient. Ever since then, the first thing I ask is if anyone is left handed.

22) Take pride in your students and their successes! Our carving club provides beginner
lessons each spring. A couple of the students who I helped get started are now doing much better work than I. It is thrilling to watch them progress and know that you had a little something to do with their ability. When they do well I think I'm prouder of their work than they are.

23) Don't let them "Sam It" and don't "Sam It" for them. One deceased carver named Sam used to ask the instructor to show him how to carve every detail until he had an instructor carved piece. He became the source of a common expression in the local club; "Sam It". When someone would comment they did not know how to make a cut, everyone would pipe up, "Just Sam it".

24) Encourage.....Encourage.....Encourage!

25) Catch them doing something right!!! I try to save 15 minutes at the end of each class for critique. Since each carver in my class is doing a custom project and each project is at a different stage of completion, there is a lot to see and learn from critiquing each carving in turn, I insist that these critiques be encouraging, positive and helpful. They invariably are.

26) Teach by example. I am a hands-on carver, teaching by showing. I show hand grips, techniques to coax smooth cuts from contrary grain, proper approaches to V-tooling and stop-cutting (plunge cuts) and the like. There is SO MUCH that cannot be communicated in words that it is essential that I show my carvers how to do it.

27) Remember to show up to teach the class :) I would also comment that it is good to confirm a date for a seminar or class, when you set one up and do not go by the 2nd or 3rd weekend of the month. This was questionable for me once, and I got busy, didn't check the specific date, and missed the one that they were expecting me. I was mortified. I have in the past been a very dependable person. It will be something that was hard to live down. KEEP THAT CALENDAR NEARBY!!

It is my hope and the hope of those that helped to compile the list that both current and future instructors, as well as seminar students, learn some new techniques or reinforce current techniques for the instructor's teaching arsenal.

I would like to especially thank Susan Irish (http://www.carvingpatterns.com) for her work in keeping the list and forwarding it to me. I too kept the list and felt that Susan did such an excellent job that I used hers instead of mine. She did all the work! LOL!!

If you have issues or article suggestions please drop me an email at woodcarver@midmo.com.

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: Disclaimers and Cautions