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Elements of Woodcarving
By Chris Pye
Reviewed by Mike Bloomquist


This book is a good instructional woodcarving book, but it's greatest feature is that it is a “good read”.  It's one of my favorites, and I'm a little embarrassed that I haven't reviewed it here sooner.  What does Elements Coverthe term “good read” mean? It means that you will want to soak in ALL the text, cover to cover. Do not just scan the pictures and/or use only the sections that have the projects or techniques you need.  I have many books that are fine reference books.  I scan them quickly, decide they are worth buying, scan them again, maybe carefully read one or two section, and then mentally file them away so I can recall there contents and lay hands on them when the need arises. Not this book... this is the type of woodcarving book that deserves to be read.

When I started writing things for Mohawk Valley Art and Woodcarving Association's newsletter, I often prefaced the article with a relevant quote.  Many of my favorites came from this book.  They were gems such as "I know it is a good habit to jot down ideas, catching them like slippery fishes as they swim briefly through our heads", and "Thanks to photography you can browse through time and space to view a vast range of carved work.  Don't be overawed by these illustrious names and works, or feel you are in competition with them; just breathe them in and have joy".  There are more, but I'll leave those for you to find on your own.  Hopefully these teasers illustrate how "Elements of Woodcarving" is a "good read".

Most of the book alternates between lettered sections which deal with theories of the carving process and numbered chapters which hold a project of Chris's for example, but never illustrates it step-by-step.  I suspect there's a logical flow to it, but don't feel it's necessary to analyze and describe it to you since it should be read as a whole anyway.  Try to absorb it all, once through at least, before you try to apply any of it.   Many times on the e-mail lists and  forums  the issue of whether woodcarving is an art or a craft has been  debated.  It can be either, depending solely on the desire, skill level, and  attitude of the  woodcarver themselves.  What Chris Pye does here is describes the processes that occur when woodcarving is an Art, and, no matter how new you are to woodcarving , there should be a glimpse of yourself in there.

My favorite chapter of the book?  It would be the chapter dedicated to his mentor,  Gino Masero.  Through the writing there is obviously a deep connection between Mr. Pye and his former teacher.  The chapter is also the location of  the most inspirational (for me) carving in the book.  This is ironic in a way since the carving is one of Mr. Masero's works.  On page 137 there is a carving of St. Francis of Assisi playing a violin; patched robe, folds, clean tools marks, blissful closed eye expression.  Everything about the carving tells you how absorbed in his music the subject is, and makes you look it over again and again.  Again and again until, finally, I noticed St. Francis was not actually holding a violin, but two sticks, probably firewood, and I'm thoroughly convinced that would have been the same viewing sequence if it had not been a photograph.

A brief tour:


1  Introduction
2  Holding Methods: Screws and Benches

    A  Notes on the Carving Process
3  Hands by Albrecht Durer
    B  Drawing
4  Green Man 1
    C  Modelling
5  Green Man 2
    D  Joining Wood
6  Padmasambhava
    E  Clean Cutting
7  Ikarus
    F  Smooth Surfaces
8  Shirt
    G  Clean Work
9  Leaping Frog
    H  Mistakes and repairs
10  The Returning
    I  Sources of Inspiration
11  Old Woman's Head
    J  Students’ Problems
12  Butterflies

Two Masters of Woodcarving
13 Gino Masero 1915 – 1995
14 Timan Riemenschneider 1460 – 1531

Metric-Imperial Conversion Chart
About the Author

My Copy of this book is dog-eared, but evidently not as well read as I thought (or imply in this review).  During the writing of this review I revisited Chris Pye's web site ( http://www.chrispye-woodcarving.com/  ), and found this small hook for his Elements book:

While you're waiting to get a copy, try these...
The answer to these questions, and many more, will be in this book!

How did I do?   I scored four of the advantages and one of the disadvantages from the first question, I had used the technique in the second question but forgot the term, and I drew a total blank third one.   The three terms of the last question are not in the index, a great feature not found in many woodcarving books, and the chapter where I was sure I would find them came up blank.  Ah well, time for me to read it again.  What a tough penance.

four thumbsNo nit picking for this book, just an observation.  This is not a beginners book.  If you're looking for a book to help you with the basics you need to go elsewhere.  This would be a good second book, and don't wait until you think your ready for the intermediate or advanced carving levels.  What you find in this book may be beyond your current abilities, but if you find you enjoy carving wood, that won't last long. To echo his advice on viewing the works of others, don't be overawed by what you find in this book, just breath it in and have joy.  So Gang, keep them edges keen, the chips piled high, and make sure to put the books down once in a while to carve wood.

Keep on Carvin'
-Mike Bloomquist->

Mike's mugMike Bloomquist is a carver and carving teacher, and a regular contributor to WOM.

You may visit Mike's web site, Wooden Dreams Woodcarving HERE or email him at m.bloomquistATverizonDOTnet.