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We take so many everyday things for granted. While I try to be grateful for the many blessings life has bestowed on me, with carving and my carving friends high on my list, some of the simplest miracles escape my attention because I didn’t know they even existed.
Those were my thoughts as I listened to David J. Linden, an American professor of neuroscience at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, being interviewed on the radio. When the interview concluded, I ordered his book Touch – The Science of Hand, Heart and Mind so I could share two facts about touch that he discussed.
Although Linden spoke on several aspects of his book, the first of two items that caught my attention was his pointing out that when we hold a tool, do we realize that we are able to actually feel what the end of the tool has touched? Stop for a moment and think about this. It was something I had never considered.
According to Linden, this is possible because although our hands have four different touch receptor systems, it is the 350 Pacinian corpuscles (that look like a tiny cross-section of an onion) in each finger that allow us to feel what the end of the tool has touched. The Pacinian corpuscles are extremely sensitive to tiny vibrations, and each vibration received sends fire spikes to our spinal cord and then on to our brain stem so we can interpret what the end of our tool is doing.
While Linden used a shovel as his example, of course, I was thinking about a bench knife or a gouge cutting into wood grain. In Linden’s words, “When we use a tool, like a shovel, we can perceive tactile events at the working end of the tool almost as if our fingers were present there. Imagine digging into a pile of gravel with a shovel and then doing the same with a pile of soft, loose topsoil. You can easily distinguish the different properties of gravel or topsoil through the shovel, even though your hands are far away from the contact point. Furthermore, with practice, our ability to interpret this kind of long-range touch information improves. In this way, the violinist’s bow, the surgeon’s scalpel, the mechanic’s wrench or the sculptor’s chisel effectively become sensory extensions of the body.”
So the reason you can feel the difference between carving bark and carving walnut is because of the 350 Pacinian corpuscles in each of your fingers turning the tool’s vibrations in your hand into energy and sending fire spikes racing to your spinal cord and then up to your brain.
The second point of interest from Linden’s book that I wanted to share, and that affects each of us, is how we feel pain. Here’s a brief synopsis:
Ever cut yourself – deeply – then said, “Oh *&%# that is gonna hurt!” and waited for the pain to hit? In Linden’s book, he explained the reason for the interlude between the first pain we feel and the second pain that arrives afterwards.
The initial pain we feel travels to our brain fast. It’s carried to our spinal cord and up to our brain by a mixture of two types of fibers – A‑delta and A‑beta. The A‑beta fiber transmits that first painful electrical spike at 150 miles per hour. It tells you to stop cutting yourself … or to take your hand off the hot pot. In other words: THIS HURTS – STOP NOW!
The second wave of pain (that you wait for) is transmitted by C‑fibers that travel at only 2 miles per hour. This pain’s purpose is to demand you do something to promote healing – like stopping the bleeding.
Isn’t it amazing that electrical spikes are traveling through our body at 150 miles per hour, and we are totally unaware of it? And, isn’t it a coincidence that the author’s last name, Linden, is also the name of the linden tree, commonly known as basswood? Hmmmm.
Now, if anyone asks why you carve so often, you can smile and tell them that you are improving your mind’s ability to interpret long-range touch information.
That should work.
Subject: Let the Shadows Tell You
I received a very interesting TIP from a carver named Shorty Short.
I am a hobbyist carver. I use to sell my work on-line by request order. Since my wife died I just carve what I want and give them away. My suggestion is one of my disabilities that I have discovered beneficial. I am almost totally colorblind.
When looking at pictures or live figures such as birds, reptiles or facial figures turn off the lights from time to time and have one small light off to the side when examining your piece. Let the shadows show you what you need to enhance or bring out. Carving is creating illusions making a 1/4″ nose look extremely large. Sometimes color can misguide your desired outcome. Try it and see if it works for you!
Fascinating! This is something I’ll definitely try. Thank you, Shorty!
Subject: Eagle Head Walking Sticks
In response to last month’s email from Mike Hermann asking about eagle head walking sticks, I received the following email from “Jake Residing in Ohio – a Iowa Hawkeye at Heart.”
I make eagle canes for wounded warriors. I use a design from WCI spring 2006 issue 34 page 64. It is realistic in design. Maybe he could get a back issue or look for it online. If you would like to see some of the canes I have done go to the site and click on Ohio recipients. They are listed as by Jake Jacobsen, Myron Jacobsen and some are listed by Huber Heights senior carvers. Mine are done completely by myself. They are the ones with a handle above the eagle head as I drill through them so they can be mounted on the shaft rather than as the cane handle.
This URL will take you to the site where cane pictures are displayed. I have provided canes more than 80+ canes I do not know the exact number as I lost track.
http://www.eaglecane.com/ftp.eaglecane/Recipients/Recipients.html When you get there click on Ohio.
As it happens, I have the WoodCarving Illustrated issue that Jake references. To make it easier for Mike to find WCI Issue 34, I took a photo of the cover and the first page of the article, so you could see the type of eagle described. The article, Realistic Eagle Bust, written by Pat Mikula Moor, includes full carving instructions.
Jake, that’s a terrific suggestion for Mike, and you have my sincere thanks for all the canes you’ve carved for our veterans. Bless you.
Subject: Window Fans and Furnace Filters
I received an email from Jan Omega out of Ontario, Canada. Jan has the greatest sense of humor. I met Jan and his wife once, over 8 years ago, and I still have a small cottage he carved. Here’s Jan’s TIP.
As you well know I am NOT much of a reader (lips get tired) but I read all of your letters. WELL DONE !!
I do use the old 2’x2’ x6” window fans in my preparation shop 10’x14’ Have them hanging from the ceiling and have furnace filters taped on BOTH sides so all my air in that small shop gets filtered constantly while I do cutting and or grinding
I DO spray “Endust ” on the filters so all dust gets caught and once in a while I vacuum the filters and because of the “ENDUST” it comes off easy.
You have your self a great day now you hear.
Two great TIPS from Jan – securing furnace filters on a fan, and then spraying them with Endust! While I can’t hang a fan from my drop ceiling, I thought this was such an interesting idea that I bought a box of furnace filters and attached one to a fan with a bungee cord. Here’s a picture of how it turned out. I still have to attach one to the back.
Now, I just have to remember to buy the Endust! Thank you, Jan!! To learn more about Jan, his carving studio, and to see his carving gallery, go to http://www.janscarvingstudio.com/
It’s all about Carvers Helping Carvers!
Until next time, gentle reader, may your wood be plentiful and your tools stay sharp. Take care, carve lots, and always remember to smile.