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Notes From the 'Net
By Mike Bloomquist, with Doug Evans and Loren Woodard
Email Mike at m.bloomquistATverizonDOTnet or visit his web, Wooden Dreams Woodcarving



We’re going to lead of this issue of NFTN with a couple of contributions from the Fish Carving Group. These are passed along to me via Loren. You see? Matt told you Loren wouldn’t be straying too far from us (thank God!).

Shaping Toothpicks for Spiny Rays on Fish

Hi Folks:

As many of you know, I write the question and answer column for Breakthrough Magazine. I respond to the person asking a question immediately. However, if I think a question is appropriate for my column, it may not get published until sometime in the future because I usually try to submit my columns well in advance.

This is the case with a question I received recently. It won't appear in Breakthrough until the Summer issue, but the question and my answer may be of particular interest now, especially since the World Show is less than a month away and some of you (like me) may still be working on your entries. Here it is. 'Hope you find it useful.

Q: I carve fish, especially tropical marine fish, and I often use round toothpicks to make spines for the fish and for sea urchins that I use in the habitat. As you undoubtedly know, round toothpicks must be tapered correctly to produce the appropriate appearance for both fish and urchin spines. I've been doing this by scraping and sanding the toothpicks individually by hand. They turn out great, but it takes me forever to do this. Can you suggest a faster way to do this kind of work?

A: I use toothpicks in my carvings for the purposes you do and I too ran into the same problem until I got the idea of using a variable speed electric drill. Just chuck a toothpick into the drill, fold sandpaper around the toothpick, and turn it on. Using various grits from medium to fine and a speed you can comfortably work with, this method gives you a lot more control and it doesn't take long to produce the taper you want.

'Hope this helps and makes your work go faster. 'See you at the show!

Larry at Hide and Beak


Get the Lead out for Fish Details

Greetings Group:

If you have been trying to figure a simple and quick way to do some of the very fine detailing found on fin and facial features of your fish carvings, you may want to get the lead out... the lead PENCIL that is.

Some features on fish are SO subtle that they are almost non-existent.  And yet, when you look close, they are really there.  And if there is at least one thing you can always expect from your judges at the World Championships, it is that they WILL "look close"!

When I want to add wrinkles and other fine-line impressions to a competition quality fish, I use a #2 lead pencil to just draw them in where ever I want them to be.  I used a wood burner set on low heat in the past to then trace over the pencil-drawn lines but found that to be rather risky and even dangerous.

At some point, I discovered lines I had failed to burn still showed through the thin layer of airbrush paints, leading me to try just using the pencil alone to detail the features.  The results were superior to the burning, since the bottom of the penciled line was round and smooth, rather than sharp and harsh like the wood-burned cuts.

I have even used a lead pencil to draw in subtle scale details such as the fine scales near the tail of a trout or salmon, and also to define the fin guard... that fleshy appendage near the base of a trout's pelvic fins.  Wrinkles at the base and across the sides of a trout's adipose fin can also be easily applied with impressions from the lead pencil.  And fish with thin transparent webs between their spiny dorsal fins can have very realistic wrinkles added to the webs as well.

Some fish with larger and more defined scales may require even more detailing on the scales themselves.  I suggest using the pencil to create growth rings on the larger scales of Bass, Carp, Tarpon, etc.

If your carving is done in Basswood, you may have experienced some fuzzing when you carved in the detail on the spines and rays of the fins.  It is a simple procedure to rub out the fuzzies with the soft lead from the pencil.  Use a dull lead tip for in between the spines, and a sharper tip for rubbing down the burrs in between the finer rays of the fin.

Alternatives to the lead pencils are ballpoint pens that are dry and leave NO ink residue, which may bleed up through your paint job later... especially when you clear coat the final painting.  You can even make your own burnishing tools for these procedures by rounding off the ends of metal dowels, nails, or broken drill bits and then attaching the point to a wooden handle which has been drilled out to right diameter of the tool.

When details are deep, just draw in "lightly" where you want them to be, and then follow over the lines continually with more pressure until you have them as deep as you like.  By drawing lightly to begin with, it makes it less likely that you will end up putting a detail where it really doesn't belong until you are absolutely certain it is where it needs to be and where it looks the best.  (Do both sides of the fish and compare the line drawings before you actually commit them to being deeply impressed.)

Rather than woodburning facial features and undercuts to gill covers, etc. try using the lead pencil method and see how much more natural and fleshy-looking the effect will be.  I think you will agree that the pencil will make quick work of the process.

I could go on and on about the merits of this method, but right at the moment, I have to ...get the lead out... myself.  Anybody seen my pencil sharpener?


Good luck and good carvin'...           



On the Woodcarver’s List we had a discussion about carving arms (carver’s arms?… carvers at arms?).  Most of the good advice revolves around a link to Greg Wilkerson’s web site.  Special Thanks go to Greg who reactivated the page after this discussion.


Carving Arms

I have been looking at Carving Arms and was wondering if anyone has made their own, they look pretty straightforward.  The most difficult part would be locating some of the hardware (for the more elaborate ones).  If anyone has made one please share your insight - thanks.

Terry (Ensley)

I have made some carving arms and there is not to much to it.  Greg Wilkerson has a carving arm on his web site and has the measurements and everything for you.  Check it out and while there, look at all the other goodies Greg has on his pages.

Good Luck
Gene (Bremmer)


Hi Terry,

Yep, just get some good stout oak and have at it.  I would suggest popping for some carver screws though. I used lag bolts for awhile but the carver screws are much handier.

Larry (Odegard)


Hi Terry.  After attending a class with Jeff Phares in which we used a carving arm I decided I must have one so I drew a detailed pattern with measurements, etc. and made one when I got home.  John Burke was also there but had sold out of the arms (I think he was selling them for only $15, arm only no hardware) by the end of his class.  I did buy the main carving screw from him and I had already bought a couple of handles for the side pins from the Whillocks so it was a simple matter of getting some 1 x 4 oak, cutting out the pieces, glueing them up and drilling a few holes.  I got the oak I needed from a local store for $6 so it worked out good for me.  I just looked for the pattern so I could offer to send it to you but it was no where to be found.  I think it might have gone into the round file after I was done but will look again in the garage which is the last place I recall using it.  If you do not get any other offers for the same, let me know and I can make a pattern from the one I have and send it to you.

ALEX (Bisso)



I recently stumbled upon a web site belonging to "The Shoeman". He makes a fairly wide range of carving work holders. Not a carvers arm per see, but what I think is a pretty nice variation on the basic design. Please click on the link below to view his works:

Have a great day!!!

Dan Heine


And while we’re in the Do-It-Yourself mode… Terry Ensley started this thread off too.  Great questions Terry… Keep them coming!


DIY Dust Collectors

I was looking for some plans for a portable Dust Collector.  I noticed that many classes require them and after today I know I need one in my shop ( I tried a little Dremel work).  But I would like to be able to carry it and take some classes.  Does anyone have plans for a portable dust collector?

Terry (Ensley)


 I forgot to mention here is another one (I missed the first one- Mike B.)


Lynn (Diel)


Hi Terry;
I'm surprised no one has yet directed you to the ezine archives, Thierry Varem-Sanders wrote a article on building a downdraft dust curtain...looks portable to me since he has it mounted on a WorkMate.(G)

Gordon Paterson
Dowling, Ont.Can.


I made a dust collector starting with a 21” box fan. I made a shell to go around it that is open on the out side and where the in side has 2 doors that swing out and a "hatch back" that swings from the top. The 2 doors that swing out from the sides support the hatch when it is in operation. I made both swing doors and the hatch from Plexiglas so that light would shine thru. I fixed the shell so that it is deeper than the case of the fan so that I could put 3 furnace filters between the fan case and the doors when they are shut. a simple strap across at top and bottom holds the filters in place. It works just great.

Happiness is a tall boat and breeze to fill her sails
Have a good day


George (Farrel)


Well Gang, that's it for this issue. Keep them edges keen, the chips piled high, and don't miss the book review I have this issue.

Keep on Carvin'
-Mike Bloomquist->

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