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Carving Tree Bark

by Rick Jensen and Jack A. Williams

Review by Mike Bloomquist


This book was a real surprise for me, and humbling. A lot of the books I purchase these days are because they're the latest from an author I'm faithful to or they are a necessity to a complete woodcarving library, or both. Well, "complete" for my wood carving interests and the classes I teach that is. If I get one or two new ideas or tips from a new book it's a bonus and I'm satisfied with the new addition. I won't justify a bad case of woodcarver's cockiness, but I had been carving wood spirits for a while, I had carved cottonwood bark for a while, I had taught both, and I had carved "gnome homes" before I saw Rick Jensen's wonderful collection of them in "Carving Found Wood" by Vic Hood and Jack Williams. This book was not on my hurry-up-and-buy list. That's why I'm glad Matt came to me wanting a book review because it turned out to be a real slap in the head for my woodcarving ego.

"Carving Tree Bark" by Rick Jensen and Jack A. Williams had more than a couple new things. It was absolutely stuffed full of new tips and things related to carving cottonwood bark that I had not seen or thought of. Like, did you know that Upstate New York cottonwood bark is wimpier in size because it's a whole separate species of tree? How about patching holes with putty comprised of ground up wood bark and glue? I've done it with regular wood, but it never occurred to me that cottonwood bark could be patched in the same way. Those of us who love cottonwood bark as a carving medium know it's easier to carve, but "different". Rick explains "how" different and illustrates carving techniques to deal with that subtle difference. Then there's the beauty of cyanoacrylate glue. That last one I did know. A student of mine taught me about it when he reattached his wood spirit's nose in under 30 seconds.. That's only four off the top of my head. Hey! I'm not going to read the book to you. Call them teasers if you like.

There is another feature of this book that blew me away. It was the photography. Jack Williams' photography is phenomenal with a capital "P". The lighting, angle, subject, and physical pointers are all fantastic. I admired Jack's photography in "Carving Found Wood" also, but the majority of that book is gallery shots. The harder job is a series of well-planned pictures that illustrates a process with the right number of steps, clear, well-lit angles and no gaps in the instruction. This book has much more of that, and Jack's photography contributes so much to the quality of this book that it should always be referred to as Rick Jensen AND Jack Williams' book, "Carving Tree Bark". That is no exaggeration. In fact, I would love to see Jack Williams do a solo book "Photographing Your Woodcarvings/Artwork"

Now for a chapter-by-chapter tour (with highlights):

About the Authors
A "good read" area

Why I Carve Bark
Another "good read" area

Gallery of Bark Carvings
Eye candy to inspire even the veteran bark carvers

1: About Cottonwood Bark
The different cottonwood species, harvesting, and storage

2: Bark Carving Basics
Among other neat stuff, how to deal with the "difference" about carving bark

3: Carving a Whimsical House
This is your first step-by-step project area. Bookmark page 30-31 for great tips on collecting architectural textures and suggestions for doors and windows

4: Carving Tree Bark in the Round
This is the only chapter that made me wince. Probably because you remove all evidence that the carving material used to be tree bark

5: Finishing Bark Carvings
Lacquer, clear wax, shoe polish, and paint. A great table on all the various "Santa reds" there are. Some things you can bet I'm going to try

6: Patterns
All wood spirit type patterns and a great paragraph on "The Legend of the Wood Spirit.

Appendix: Sources for Cottonwood Bark
My favorite source isn't here, but considering all the new bark carvers this book should generate, that might be a good thing.


OK Matt, there's no perfect woodcarving book yet, but in regards to the subject matter this one was written for, I think it is worthy of a 4 and half thumb rating. The only reason this book should not be in your library is if you are deathly allergic to cottonwood bark. Well Gang, keep them edges keen, the chips piled high, and remember no one knows as much as everyone.

-Mike Bloomquist->

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.