I probably should disqualify myself from writing this review. After you have met the Nyes and participated in one of Sally and David's fan-bird carving workshops, you can't help but be positively biased towards their book. Bare with me though, because there is something that will balance out the fact that this reviewer has met and personally likes the authors. This reviewer also really dislikes "whittlin' projects". Call it a character flaw if you like (it's not alone), but after cutting my carving teeth and my fingers on whittling fishing lures, I deliberately skipped over whittling wooden chains, ball-in-cages, wooden puzzles, arrow-through-the-heart and those pliers-from-one-piece-of-wood. I'm sure I saw these fan-birds in one of my E.J. Tangerman books. I'm equally sure that I labeled them "whittlin' projects" and flipped quickly past them. So, what changed my mind and made me take the workshop? I also have a soft spot for any carving projects that are functional or have a history/tradition, and through Sally and David we learn that these little birds have a lineage, which extends back to a religious origin in Old World Russia. Something else about this "whittlin project" that impressed me was the sight of people who I knew didn't carve, coming out of this workshop absolutely "lit up", holding out these neat creations and saying "See what I carved?" So, enough self-analysis already... let's get down to the book review.
After the introduction, the book is broken into 6 chapters. They are:
A wood performance
chart, a section on terminology, and a bibliography follow these.
In the first two chapters there is an excellent description of
the fan-bird legend and traditions together with the results of
the Nyes' research while in the countries of Poland, Slovakia,
and the Czech Republic. While history, even woodcarving history,
can be dry and sleep inducing, there is none of that here. The
information is all very interesting and concise with plenty of
fine photographs to support the text.
The second two chapters are essential reading for this project. Where most carving projects rely solely on the carveability of the wood used to create them, successful fan carving relies on:
Poor grades in any one of these categories can make the fan-carving experience frustrating or impossible. Although white cedar is the authors' wood of choice (with basswood a second), it's obvious there was a lot of thought and experimentation done with other wood species. If you don't care to read the wood evaluation section, there is a handy table there and at the end of the book. Just don't use the table and then skip over the wood harvesting discussions. Even if you think you have a ready source for the blanks, these chapters will help you evaluate that source.
While we are here in the harvesting section, there is a small caution. The use of a kitchen knife and a rubber mallet to score the log looks a little dangerous. It's possible that a froe would be a better choice for this task, but they aren't a common hand tool these days and would be hard to locate. Maybe a caution could be included here that the kitchen knife should be large AND stout AND good quality. No place here to use a blue light special from K-Mart, but then that holds true for any woodcarving tool. Like I said, it's a small caution.
Finally, the project chapters show you how to carve a basic fan and then a fan bird. The quality of the photos and diagrams here are top shelf. Even read with the eye of a beginner, the balance and completeness of the text, diagrams, and photography seems near perfect. As a bonus, at the end of the fan chapter there are examples of alternative patterns you can weave with the feathers. Then, at the end of the bird chapter, there are several small modifications to the original pattern shown that will give a large variation in the fan birds you can carve.
In addition to the History/Legend parts of the book, there were several tidbits here and there that kept it from being just another cookie cut, step-by-step book. Here's a quote from the book that made me smile: "Keep your fingers away from the hatchet blade. It's much easier to do fan-carving with all your fingers attached." Most people have a ready list of reasons not to remove their fingers with a hatchet, but there must be room for one more. The Terminology Section in the back of the book is very complete. Definitions are found for heartwood, interlock cut, kiln-dried, and sap wood, but for some strange reason I had to grin when a found a very precise definition for "Whack - The act of striking an object with enough force to create a splitting action in the wood". Every once in a while Yvonne, my life's partner, uses that "whack" technique on me. So that's what she's been trying to accomplish all this time. One last unique feature of this book is that it's self-published. As it was told to me, Sally and David had made the decision to self publish after their last submission to a well known publisher, but before receiving a reply. So there they were, waiting for the response to arrive, hoping to be rejected and worried what to do if the publisher accepted it instead. Happily for them it was rejected. Hmmmmm... happy about a rejection notice? Bet that doesn't happen often. We hope their self-publishing venture is profitable, because the book is an A+ effort.
Well, despite the book's repeated use of the "W" word (that would be whittle or whittling), I think this book gets a very strong 4 Thumbs rating, and high recommendations to teachers looking for a wealth of beginner projects (and, of course for beginners)... Matt, would you do the honors?
Mike Bloomquist is a carver and carving teacher, and a frequent contributor to WOM. You may visit Mike's web site, Wooden Dreams Woodcarving HERE or email him at m.bloomquistATverizonDOTnet.