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Notes From the 'Net

By Loren K. Woodard
Email Loren at lorenwoodard@charter.net 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. As is normally the case, chattering chippers have been more than willing to share their knowledge on the Internet once again.



On Painting

A few weeks back I posted a note on the Woodcarver's List asking that carvers submit their personal favorite finishing techniques for carvings; this issue we will present the answers.. I will send the same question to the Knotholes List and have the answers in the next issue. Hopefully, these two issues will help us all in our finishing of woodcarvings. The information presented on the Woodcarver's List is as follows.

John Anderson from Bristol RI wrote;

Hi Loren,

I would greatly appreciate the "finishing tips" thread you suggested for your "Notes From The Net" article.

I found Bill Judt's SSW method one of the most helpful to me when I first tried some Relief Carving. This SSW technique involves the use of Sanding Sealer as a base coat which provides a clear finish, followed by a thorough rub down with a fine abrasive pad. I have followed that up with clear or stained paste or finish waxes for satin sheens.

I now also use that SSW technique for my in-the-round natural finish carvings, smooth and textured surfaces, with equally satisfying results. I like the fact that Sanding Sealer dries very quickly and I can usually proceed with the finishing process in one sitting. (More information on Bill's SSW method HERE.)

John Anderson - Bristol, RI
You can see some of my woodcarvings at: http://www.picturetrail.com/john87


Daniel Heine presented one of my favorite methods for finishing my carvings. Daniel wrote;


Good Afternoon to all, I took a class with Phil and Vicki Bishop this past spring, and before painting, we scrubbed our carvings with soap and water, then while the wood was still wet, then paint was applied. Like many of the methods described in this list, the Delta Ceramacoat paint was mixed with water according to the color. Typically a few drops of paint to a small cup of water. When we were finished and our carving was dry, the colors were very pale. We then brushed on liberal amounts of boiled Linseed oil (be careful with this stuff), and the colors changed right before our eyes. I know have a beautiful carving with a very nice color 'wash'. The wet wood prevented the colors from bleeding from one are into another, and the highly diluted paint gives it the colors to make it look realistic, but you can still see it is wood, and did not come from a machine somewhere off shore. (Dan provides us a look at this finishing technique at http://home.comcast.net/~daniel.heine/Bishops.html)

Good carving and have a great weekend,

Dan Heine


Loren Woodard

Since we didn't get too much feedback on the paint question I will add another that I have started using quite often. It is a very good technique that I learned from Pete LeClair. Pete paints the eyes in his carvings using nearly full strength acrylic paint from the tube. He then dips his carving in Linseed Oil, lets it soak in a few moments and then wipes the carving clean with a soft cotton cloth or paper towel. (Again, be very careful with the Linseed Oil as it will combust and burn very easily. I store my soaked rags and paper towels in a gallon jar with a lid on it until I can dispose of them properly) After you have wiped the carving you can then start painting it immediately with diluted acrylic paint. I generally start with two or three drops of paint in a tablespoon of water. I can add more paint if necessary but it is difficult to remove it after the pain is dry on the carving. :o) Check Pete's books out, they are great!

Another great finishing technique is one that is used by Rex Branson. After completing his basswood carvings Rex coats carvings with Bix (brand) pre stain. If they are to be left natural he adds no color to the pre stain. If he wants to color his carvings he adds a small amount of oil paint to the pre stain and then coats his carvings. Personally, I like Rex's technique for my Native American carvings. I used a small dab of Burnt Sienna in the stain for my base color. I then have another bottle of pre stain with a small amount of burnt umber in it. I paint this on the hair. I forgot to mention, when I use this finishing technique I paint the eyes before using the pre stain. I use Ivory and paint the entire eye. I then paint a large black circle for the beginning iris. For Native Americans I then paint brown over the black leaving a small black line around the outside edge of the Iris. I then paint the pupil black. When this is dried I add a small white dot using a stylus. When all is dry I do the Bix finish. When the Bix is dry, I wax the finished carving using a mix of Dark and Natural Watco finishing waxes.

Loren Woodard

Robert Mace, the Moderator of the Knotholes List wrote a short descriptive process explaining how to keep your finish from running to other areas of your carving. Robert wrote:

Just a note since we are talking about painting and colors...here is a tip on how to make sure the colors do not run over or bleed into the surrounding work. Lets say you have done a carving of a caricature who is wearing a sport coat and the sport coat has two pockets at the hip area and each pocket has a top flap over the pocket opening. Now say the sport coat is some shade of green and the top pocket flap is to be tan or brown like it maybe leather or suede. How do you paint this tan or brown color so it will not run into the green area?

Do a not to deep "stop cut" around the pocket flap before painting. This will keep the tan or brown color from getting into the green of the sport coat. ;>)

That does it for the finishing techniques for this month. Be sure to check out the next issue for more on this important topic.


Plastalina Clay

Another topic of discussion was the use of Plastalina clay for modeling. It seems that some crvers had had difficulty with the stiff clay and ask how to work with it. There were several short answers provided for this question, as follows.

Don Heuerman from VT wrote, "I used to soften the large block of clay in the sun on a nice warm day, but just working small pieces in your hands works well. I had clay I used 12 years after I bought it. But-- CAUTION- most of this type of clay contains arsenic. We had a person who accidentally poisoned his dog many years ago by throwing small bits of clay on the floor as he worked, and the dog ate them. I am always careful to wash my hands after using plastalina and I keep it out of the grandkids reach.

Don H in Vt


Joe Dillett wrote, "Just pinch off or slice off small pieces of the clay and work it in your hands to warm it. It will become soft and pliable.

Joe Dillett
The Carving Shop


Loren Woodard wrote, "What I do with my clay is to cut slivers off the block and work the slivers in my hands. This will generally soften it to a workable consistency. If not, put it under a lamp for a few minutes and that should help it out."

Loren Woodard

My carvings can be seen at http://www.woodcarvers-gallery.com


Moisture Content in Basswood

Finally, a question was asked about the correct moisture content of basswood for carving. Three knowledgeable carvers provided their opinions as to the correct moisture content of basswood for carving. Their answers indicated that there may be a slight difference of opinions as to the correct moisture content and also as to why the difference in color of basswood. Joe Dillett's answer sets the lower and upper limit of the range of proper moisture content while Dennis Moore and Dick Allen indicated more similar moisture content ranges. Joe did indicate in his answer that carving wood in the upper moisture content range can cause some checking and warping. This information is provided to help you decide for yourselves what the ideal moisture content range may be.


Joe Dillett wrote: "Here in the Midwest USA the average air dry moisture content is about 13%. If your basswood is 16 to 20% moisture content it is just about dry (depending on the thickness and where it is reading 16 to 20%). My ideal range for carving is between 5 and 20% moisture content. However some checking or warping may happen, depending on the design, if it is closer to that 20%.

Joe Dillett
The Carving Shop


Dennis Moor added:

*Ideal moisture content is 10 to 12% for carving.
*Air dried basswood is not always easier to carve.
*Lighter color (whiter) basswood is not caused by air or kiln drying. The color is largely determined by how soon the tree is cut into planks after it is felled. The longer it sits before sawing, the less white it will be. Color is also determined by geographical location: ideal and whitest is from Ohio north to Southern Ontario/S. Michigan. Soil condition can make a small difference in the color of the wood as well.

Hope that helps.

Dennis Moor Chipping Away ... We Deliver Fun!


Finally, Dick Allen wrote:

Basswood is very fickle about proper drying. Usually the lighter in color wood has be cut after the sap is down in the fall or winter
months. If the wood is left in a log form during hot weather, the wood will frequently get punky spots through the wood. The punky spots will usually be light or almost white in color. To prevent this condition, the log needs to be milled soon after cutting but this can be delayed some if the climate is cold as during winter. After milling the wood needs to be stickered and stacked where a good flow of air can pass through the packet. With the use of kilns, this requirement can be eliminated but still requires a flow of air to remove the moisture. As others have indicated, 8-12% moisture is desired. Even after the basswood is adequately dried, it needs to be kept in a relatively dry location. I have had pieces in a walkout basement that started to turn blue from the humidity and inadequate air flow. The pieces were inside a cabinet which prevented air flow.

Density of the wood seems to be more of the environment (growing location) than from the drying process. There is a possibility that kiln drying does cause a rind characteristic in which a external layer seems to be harder. We process about 20-40K board feet yearly of northern MN basswood and will frequently find dense wood (hard) and suspect that it has come from larger trees and possibly open dry areas.

This is all guess work with no exacting study. The southern wood seems to be a denser wood and most of this is probably kiln dried due to time factor from mill to consumer. Another theory that we have is that wood with active sap will have a golden color and will be more pronounced when kiln dried. Some of the summer northern cut wood from storms has a golden color even though it has been air dried.


That's it for this issue of Notes From The Net, until next time, 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 List2

Editor's Note: Disclaimers and Cautions