Archive for How-To

Notes From The ‘Net

Notes From The ‘Net

Questions and Answers About Carving Gathered From Popular Carving Groups

 Edited by Matt Kelley


I was weeding through some old files recently and ran across this question and series of comments that appeared in the original Woodcarver List mail group back in March 2009,  Although 8 years old, the information is still quite useful.

On Taking Photos Of Carvings

Alex Bisso posed the following question:

I have a recurring problem with getting good photos of carvings.  My standard method of trial and error with the lighting, inside and outside works sometimes but not consistently.  On my last fish for example, I took one photo (after a couple of tries) using a piece of light blue foam from an old camping bedroll and the color and contrast came out very well.  However, when I tried to set up with a cloth maroon cloth background to take more photos, it looked good but my camera did not like it at all.  The photos were either too dark or too bright and glarey and the colors did not look true.  There must be a way to set up for photos that provides a good background and lighting for true color without glare.  Can anyone suggest something simple and reliable that might work.  

Byron Kinnaman was the first to reply:

Get a photo cube.  It’s a white nylon cube that diffuses the light and eliminates glare.  They usually come with 4 colored backgrounds and come in different sizes.  I bought mine on eBay.   Simply search on eBay for “photo cube”  there’s lots to choose from.   The best thing for photography since the invention of film.    

Alex responded:

Thanks Byron – I will look into the photo cubes.  I will probably still have questions about lighting.  

Joe Dillett wrote:

I think Byron’s comment about the photo cube is good. Other things that are helpful is always use a tripod. I always put something white in the photo, even if it’s in the corner that will be cropped off, so the camera has something to use it for white balance. Shadows help define depth. I like using one light source, generally from the side, to show shadows. Natural outdoor light seems to be ideal however indoors the daylight type of bulbs yield good results.    Joe Dillett

Maura Cooper added:  

As for pictures, I just bought a new Nikon and the difference in my pictures is amazing.  I also thank god for digital cameras.  I often take up to 20 pics of the same thing, changing the lighting, changing positions, changing backgrounds. Then load all the pics into my pc and pick out the best one or two.   

Ron Ramsey penned the following:

If you want a professional looking photograph on a budget, follow these instructions:
Set up a table or sawhorses against a wall in a room where you will be able to block out all of the the light or to make the room dark at night. You want to be able to control ALL of the light on your carving.  Too much light in the wrong place will cause the colors to be washed out or the carving to have too much glare in some areas.  This why it’s NOT RECOMMENDED TO TAKE PHOTOS OUTDOORS!

Go to a framing store and buy a large piece of medium grey poster board.  Bend the poster board so that has a curve at the back and is vertical against the wall at the top and horizontal against the table at the bottom.  Some thumbtacks outside the edge will help hold it in place.

Use a minimum of two lights that have swivel bases and adjustable arms.  Use CFL bulbs.  Natural light bulbs are better if you don’t plan on processing your photos on photo software. The bulbs should not be more than the equivalent of 40 watts incandescent.  The reason you need two or more lights is that you will need to direct the light from at least two directions to fill the shadows.  You will still be able to get shadows to show the detail but there wont be areas that are lost in shadow.  Cover the light bulbs with semi-transparent tracing paper taped to the lampshades.  This is to diffuse and soften the light.  Professional photographers have special lights that work essentially the same way.  Experiment with the adjustments of the lights.  Do not point the lights directly at the carving.  I sometimes point the lights at the ceiling to reflect the light off of the white sheet rock.  The ideal lighting will be much darker to your eye than what appears correct.  Sometimes it appears too dark to take a picture but don’t be fooled.  


If the photo appears too dark when you upload it, experiment with the brightness and contrast.
USE A TRIPOD!  Set the ISO at 200 or less, and the highest resolution your camera allows.  Too high of an ISO will cause grainy photos. Set the camera on manual and don’t use the flash.  Use the timed release to release the shutter so there will be no movement.  You will be taking the photo at a very slow shutter speed and any movement will cause blur.  Most digital cameras will set the exposure for you. Use a 10 second time delay to allow the camera time to settle down after you push the button.

I prefer to take under exposed photos and then work with them with photo processing software.  This allows me to enhance the brightness and contrast and adjust the colors and saturation.  The computer processing can take a bit of experience to master but it’s possible to get quality raw photos with the photography techniques I’ve outlined above.  Take lots of photos, upload them to the computer and analyze the weaknesses.  Adjust lighting angle etc. and take lots more.  You will learn what works for you and what doesn’t 

Jeff Pretz  commented:

Very Helpful for us who are learning to take pictures of our carvings!  Thank you very much Ron!          

MikeG  added: 

Great idea to write down the set up, flash setting, position (flash, camera and subject), type of lens and exposure number on the paper, so you will know what going on between frames and lot easier to figure out from trial and errors. Digital camera are lot easier than 35 mm. Write down everything, no matter what or why. Without record, you waste more time. Good Luck (Great tip by Ron)

Loren Woodard wrote: 

For my photographs I use a home made light tent.  Lynn Diel had an article in Carving Magazine a few issues back that told how to make the light tent.  My best results have come with a light blue background.  I use three lights.  My light tent is wrapped with a bed sheet.  I use a clamp-on light fixture on top with a standard incandescent bulb that shines through the top of the light tent and onto the light blue back board.  I then light the front with two light that have 13 watt daylight (florescent) bulbs in them.  I direct one light on each side of the carving.  This setup seems to work better for me than any other method that I have tried.  I too had a terrible time with light.  As a matter of fact, I had an article turned down for a carving magazine because of the pictures.  I’ve worked hard on the photographs and the above worked better for me than anything. 
By all means, don’t use a bare flash.   

Byron Kinnaman replied to a comment about natural outside light:

I agree that it’s hard to find a soft light day.  Professionals use color corrected lights and polarized filters on the lights for direct lighting. Many use umbrellas for soft non-direct light.  The lights are still color corrected.   I managed to find couple 5000°K CFL lights.  From the pictures I don’t think they’re exactly 5000°K.  I’d like to find some 5900°K light without paying an arm and leg for them.  I also use the photo cube which provides a nice soft light.  I prefer to use 3 lights.   2 at approximately 45° and one overhead slightly behind the subject, sometimes refereed to as a halo light.  With the halo light slightly behind, the subject is separated from the background and appears to float.  Many catalogs use that technique.

I’m going to disagree with part of what you say.   Natural diffused sunlight produces the nicest pictures.  Note I said disused.  The colors on a cloudy day pop.  Direct sunlight is not good nor is direct light of any kind.  With sunlight you don’t have to fuss with color temperature settings. Some CFLs have a green cast to them and can be difficult to deal with. I’ve had to mess with the color temperature setting using CFLs.

Ron Ramsey concluded:

It’s true that cloudy days can work to get great photos but you have to wait for the right day.  Where I live it’s not cloudy that often  and when it is, it’s usually raining or snowing.  With the indoor method you can take photos on any day or night.   Color casts can be a problem so it’s a good idea to get familiar with a software program that allows you to change the brightness, contrast, saturation and color hue.  The cloudy day method is a good option but I find I have
much more control over the shadows and details by using lights.  That’s why professional photographers use a studio to take photos of art.  Natural light can sometimes obliterate fine details because it is coming from all directions at once.  By using adjustable lights you can fine tune the look you want and cause the details to show up.

That’s it for this edition of NFTN.    If you see a post on one of the FB groups or Mail Listservs that you think should be preserved in NFTN, please use the form below to submit your suggestion.

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Suggestions for NFTN
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Will Hayden 4 Inch Figure

Projects From Will Hayden – Step-by-step 4 Inch Figure

Welcome to the second in a series of carving tips, hints, patterns and instruction from the late Will Hayden’s photo gallery.  In this installment, you will find Will’s step-by-step method of carving a 4″ tall figure.  Included are several bonus photos of a 4 inch “WOM” figure from Will’s own hand.  Enjoy!








Selling Finished Work

Selling Finished Work

By Lora S. Irish

I had a question posted to me on one of my message boards.  The person was asking how to sell their finished works (pyrography) and whether to pursue art gallery space or craft show space. Perhaps others will add ideas to this discussion on the Woodcarver List Facebook group.

In my experience arts and crafts shows often do way better for carvers and burners than art galleries when you are looking for sales for your work.

Art galleries have limited space for work in their brick and mortar store fronts, there is only so much room especially for 3-D display. This means that as a carver/pyrographers your chances of getting space are extremely limited and if you do win space the number of items they can show for you is limited.

A gallery will charge up to 50% of the sale price of your work as their commission. If they offer you a One Man show or Solo Show the costs of the advertising and entertainment for the affair can also be charged against your sales.

Galleries work extremely well for flat work as paintings, etching or prints. Prints usually have the preference as they can be racked and are inexpensively priced for customer from between $50 to $250. Plus print sales support the framing business that most galleries have.

As an artist you can incur unexpected costs by working through a gallery setting.  Often a gallery will require you to carry insurance on the full selling price of your work to protect them from paying for the natural damage, wear and tear that can happen to your work while in their custody.  Also you as the artist are financially responsible for any shipping costs to and from the gallery.

High end arts and craft shows on the other hand are where an artist rents space for the affair and then set up their own small, portable shop front. Depending on the show you might be renting a space inside a large building, a certain size of grass plot or sometimes a section of tent. Check to see if you need to purchase electricity or not … if you need it. You will most likely need to furnish your store settings as tables, table cloths and chairs.

For me the biggest difference between a gallery and an arts/craft show is the atmosphere. A gallery is quiet, contemplative, one or two people at a time and ‘I’m considering buying’ place. A shows in noisy, busselly, sometimes hordes of people and ‘I have money in my pockets’ place ….

If I may be so bold as to throw out a few ideas for you to consider before your next show:

1. Create your ‘store front’ carefully and well before you go to any show.

Make it adjustable by using smaller table units (4′ sections) that can be rearranged to fit any space.

Make it match. Go ahead and invest some money into a nice looking arrangement of matching furniture pieces instead of going to the basement and grabbing some saw horses and old plywood scraps. The first looks professional and profitable implying that you have made enough sales to justify the set up. The latter looks throw together and just cheap so to the customer you obviously are not a selling artist.

Don’t use table cloths to “hide” structural units. Use cloth to give accent and color to your pieces. Cloth works wonderfully as a visual divider between items or groups of items.

I once saw a setup of shelves created with small step 5′ high step ladders. The ladders were painted bright fire engine red with black trim for the metal parts. Then white painted boards were slid through the steps to create the shelving. The craft ware could be set on the shelves, certain pieces featured on the step ladders top board or inside the A shape of the ladder steps and more piece hung from the sides of the ladders. Easy to put up, take down and extremely eye catching.

2. Some things small and inexpensive – some things medium and affordable – some things expensive and impressive – at least three things outrageously priced and just in your face attention grabbers. As a pyro show artist I would include key rings with quick and easy designs and maybe ribbons/silk flowers on the key ring that anyone could afford. Next would be my ‘bread and butter’ price range with items that both artsy and useful as your purses or as spoon holders or letter boxes. Then I would show my ‘commission’ area of work as burnings of a pet portrait group along with the original photos that I used. Finally I would show a few works that were priced just above my choking limit as a framed and matted 12″ x 24″ full color dragon burning or a full decorated man’s leather vest.

(Choking price is where I still have my fingers tightly gripped around the work but the money in your hands that you are waving under my nose smells awful good.)

3. Don’t set a table between you and your customers. Keep an open area where you are inviting them into your studio and shop area. A table becomes a visual barrier between you, them, and what you have to sell. It’s the biggest barrier for a customer to cross if they want to buy!!!!

Bring along another person so that you have one working the sale and one watching the wares, and take turns. Often my Michael is a far better sales person than I am as he can brag about his wife far better than I can.  So over the years he was our primary salesman at any show.

4. Whenever possible demonstrate at the shows. Set a small table at the side of your booth; in fact creep it out into the walking path. Have several pieces on the table in different finished stages. Let your customers see how much work goes into what they are going to buy.

Tell them about yourself, how you are a ‘trained artist’ or ‘self-taught’ artist and a little something about why you chose burning. Customers love to take home a story along with their purchased item.

5.  Create brightly colored matching long aprons!  You can get canvas aprons at or that can be hand painted.  Use acrylic paints and decorate the whosits out of them.  They don’t have to match for each person in the show booth but should have your name plastered boldly in the upper center section.

Why!  Because you want them to remember your name. You want them to go home with something more than “I saw this wood carver who does chain saw bears”. What you want is for them to go home and tell the story that they saw this chain saw carver named “Carvin’ Calvin”. Having your shop name or the name you carve under boldly painted on your chest is instant advertising and instant recognition at the next show they go to.

Plus no show person wants to stand all day long in their own booth.  Every once in a while you will want to go for a walk, stretch your legs and check out the competition.  Why not advertise while you do it … :)

6.  Add something smelly to your craft shop.  I know this one sounds funny but smell is a major factor in catching people’s attention and in getting them to remember you!  I learned this one through my favorite quilt fabric shop.  The owner had bowls and bowls of potpourri everywhere in the shop.  Her store smelled like apples and cinnamon.  Later when I would root through my quilt fabric and come across a piece I had purchased at her shop that fabric still smelled like apples and cinnamon … guess who’s store I thought of every time I went looking through my fabric!

As a carver at a show I would hide cedar chips throughout the store area.  They smell great and they have a commonly recognized wood smell.  As a pyrographer I probably would use one of the musky incense smells, something masculine and strong as sandalwood or a spice smell as nutmeg.

Smell sells … it’s scientifically said to be one of the ways we decide who we will partner with as mates, so to me it’s fair game as a business owner.

7. Remember that most sales made through an arts and crafts show come after the show has closed, not during the show. So have lots of hand out, fliers and business cards ready with your name, business name, address, email, blog url, and phone number clearly printed.

I remember one of my first showings was a real flop, I think we made all of three sales that three day weekend. But the next weekend the phone rang off the hook with people would had picked up a business card at the show and wanted to set up a commission sale.

Standard Disclaimer:  This is just my experience, others may have a totally different view.  Please take what you want and throw the rest away.,

Designs Online Since 1997 by L.S.Irish

LoraIrishLora S. Irish is a carver and designs projects and tutorials for carving, pyrography and related art.  Her line art patterns and drawings site, features line art designs created exclusively by Lora for craters and artisans.   Her blog, at, features many of pages of free projects and tutorials.



Beginner Tool Sets

Beginner’s Tool Sets

By Lora S. Irish

I am a real believe in beginner’s carving tool sets for several reasons.  Usually we, Mike and I, suggest a basic five or six tool set for around $50 and a bench knife or chip knife as your first investment into carving.  So our beginners start with an investment of less than $100.

There are several forms of carving where one or two tools are really all you need to start our hobby as figure carving or whittling with a bench knife or high quality pocket style knife – chip carving where a chip knife and stab knife will do everything you need.  But those two tools – the bench knife/chip knife and stab knife – will not let you explore relief carving!

A basic beginner’s set with round gouges, chisels, skews and v-gouges will let a beginner try every style of carving. After you have settled into your favorite style of carving you may end up using just a few of the tools, so some may seem a waste of investment.  For some reason I have never gotten comfortable with the skew chisel?!? But having enough tool profiles at the start of your hobby gives you so much more variety in carving styles that I believe they are worth it.

I started with wood spirit walking sticks and a bench knife was all I really had to have.  Yet, somehow, I have ended up a relief carver and just a bench knife won’t get me very far into this form of carving.

With an inexpensive (notice I did not say a CHEAP craft store set) beginner’s set you have at hand the basic tools for any carving you might want to try.  As you develop you style, discover your favorite variation of carving then add high quality tools specifically for your type of carving.  But don’t throw that beginner’s set away as one day something might catch you attention and you will be delighted that you have them on hand.


This basic beginners carving set includes two sizes of round chisels, a skew chisel, a straight chisel, and a v-gouge.  Also shown are a long-bladed bench knife and a large chip carving knife for straight-edge cuts.


Sharpening stones, strops and rouge are an important part of any carver’s tool kit.  No matter how much a carving tool initially cost, it is no better than its cutting edge.  Shown here are a Japanese wet stone, ceramic stones, a profiled honing strop, leather strop, and a synthetic strop.  You can also obtain varying grits of emery cloth at your local hardware store for edge sharpening.


Many of the tools that will end up in your carving kit are basic household tools.  Scissors, ink pens, pencils, and graphite paper are used to transfer your pattern to the wood.  A T-square will help you properly set the pattern to the wood blank.  You will need sandpaper is several grits from 150- to 320-grit for preparing your wood and for smoothing out rough areas in the carving.  You will also need masking tape, dusting brushes, and an assortment of small riffle files.


For many carvings, whether you do 3-D work or relief carving, will require some means of securing the wood.  Shown here is a basic bench hook or bracing board that you can make out of scrap plywood.  The front edge of the board drops over the edge of your table.  The back corner brace allows you to push the cutting stroke into the corner without the wood moving from the pressure of the tools. (Plans for the bench hook may be found by clicking HERE).

Just my opinion.,

Designs Online Since 1997 by Lora S. Irish

LoraIrishLora S. Irish is a carver and designs projects and tutorials for carving, pyrography and related art.  Her line art patterns and drawings site, features line art designs created exclusively by Lora for craters and artisans.   Her blog, at, features many of pages of free projects and tutorials.



Notes From The ‘Net

Notes From The ‘Net

Questions and Answers About Carving Gathered From Popular Carving Groups

 Edited by Matt Kelley


Welcome carving friends to NFTN, version 2.0.   In this ongoing series we will gather the best questions, answers and comments from the more active Facebook and mail list carving groups, such as the Woodcarver List, Woodcarving 101 – The Joy of Woodcarving, and the International Fish Carvers & Painters Association, and present them here.

Enjoy, and Carve On!

On Woodburning Tools

On the traditional email Woodcarver List, James Norton wrote:  I am a novice woodcarver who has started a somewhat ambitious bird carving. I am nearing the point where I will be detailing the feathers, and wish to get feedback from more experienced carvers than myself about the best woodburning tool.  I am looking for a set that allows precise temperature control and that has a variety of tips for different purposes. Suggestions welcome, thanks in advance.

Faulkner2206 replied:  I find the colewood “detailer” works great for bird’s and is relatively reasonably priced. Tips are easy to change and you will find you need to use just a few different tips for most birds.

EarlandBarb wrote:  Personally, I think all the major brands that you will find in a woodcarving store are pretty much equal. Some prefer one, some another. I am happy with my Nibsburner but I don’t think they are making them any more. Fortunately, I can use Colewood tips with it.

Stephen Blakley added:  I take classes from a guy who uses Razor tips.  He believes the tips are better than the Colwood.  To do the quill, I purchased a Razor tip pen and tip, with an adapter to fit the Colwood.  He honed down the one tip on my Colwood  so that it was thinner.

Faulkner2206 replied:  I always hone my burner tips, both Colewood and Razor. Sharpen them like a knife for really tight feather barbs. Much of this becomes a matter of personal preference based on what you get used to.

Byron Kinnaman wrote:  The trouble with making the tips thinner is they burn up faster.

The technical aspects of wood burning tips – any conductor (the tip is a conductor) the smaller the cross sectional area, the higher the resistance, and the hotter the tip.  The more fragile the tip, the sooner you’ll have to replace the tip.

One consideration is the material the pen is made of.  You want a pen that doesn’t transfer heat easily.  This will allow you use it longer than one that made of material that is know for it’s ability to transfer heat, like aluminum.  Plastics can be made to either slow down heat transfer or speed up heat transfer.   Most wood burning pens that are plastic are of the slow down heat transfer type.   The aluminum pens transfer heat rapidly.

Another thing to watch out for is hype.  There’s a couple manufactures that hype their product and demand a higher price.  A couple hype capable of 150 Watts, typical woodburning happens below 30 watts.  2000° tip temperature, what are you trying to do?, melt the tip, start a fire?  There are several good wood burners out there without buying the hype.

Faulkner2206 added:  When burning feathers  low heat and sharp tips make for better birds. Tips are not permanent, they are expendable just like glue and paint.

That’s it for this edition of NFTN.    If you see a post on one of the FB groups or Mail Listservs that you think should be preserved in NFTN, please use the form below to submit your suggestion.

NFTN Suggestions

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Review: Concepts to Caricatures

Concepts To Caricatures – Celebrating 25 Years of Caricature Carving

The Caricature Carvers of America

Reviewed by Matt Kelley

CCA Book 01

The Caricature Carvers of America (CCA), as many of you know, was founded in 1990.  In this, their 25th anniversary year, they have released their seventh book, Concepts to Caricatures; Celebrating 25 Years of Caricature Carving.

Unlike many of their books, this volume from Schiffer Publishing is not centered around a specific project; rather, each CCA member created a carving in their own style.  Some of the projects are individual figures; some are set in scenes – no restrictions were placed on style, size, or subject matter.


  • Who Are The Caricature Carvers of America?
  • History of the Caricature Carvers of America
  • Overview
  • Step-by-step with Chris Hammock
  • CCA Chapters – a chapter with each of 25 CCA members over 97 pages
  • Patterns – 13 pages worth
  • Members Gallery – another 13 pages

Chris Hammack Step-by-step – The Pitch

Chris Hammack, who is know for his western art, decided to do something different and carved a baseball player.  Actually, he carved five caricatures of a pitcher on the mound, one each for:

  • The Sign
  • The Look
  • The Windup
  • The Stretch
  • The Release

While there are photos of all five carvings, the step-by-step covers the everything from concept to finished carving for The Windup.  The first set of photos include the final design sketch, cutting out the pattern and transferring front and side views to the block, and bands awing the blank.  Chris then spends the next 25 pages covering the carving and finishing of the piece, concluding with some great gallery pages.  Along the way he salts the photos with lots of commentary and hints.  There is a lot of detail in this section, and an experienced carver should have few problems following the steps-by-step.  This is not for the faint of heart, however, as there are a lot of skinny limbs and thin cross-grain sections to deal with.  As Chris notes early in the introduction to the step-by-step, “I recommend leaving those [cross-grain] parts ’til last and not being far form a tube of super glue and some accelerator.”

CCA Chapters

After the step-by-step, you’ll find almost a hundred pages devoted to the additional 25 CCA members included in the book.  Each chapter includes a brief biography of the member, an discussion of the development and carving of the piece, some tips and a selection of in-progress and finished photos.

CCA Members and carvings Included:

  • David Boone – Are You a Hatfield or McCoy
  • Mitch Cartledge – Big Daddy’s Big Night
  • PJ Driscoll – Let The Games Begin
  • Gary Falin – Lance Boyle
  • Gene Fuller – Checkmate
  • Dale Green – Don’t Drink and Drive
  • Bruce Henn – Diamond Devils – Little People’s League
  • Eldon Humphreys – Guitar Man
  • Randy Landen – Pull
  • Pete Leclair – Mornin’ Ladies
  • Don Mertz – Windy Windale
  • Keith Morrill – Santa Chess Set
  • Ryan Olsen – Still Fits
  • Steve Prescott – Cowboy Wisdon
  • Doug Raine – Vaquero
  • Floyd Rhadigan – The Old Salt
  • Joe Schumacher – Squinten Clinten
  • Sandy Smith – MelonCollieBaby
  • Dave Stetson – Female Figure
  • Dennis Thornton – Eagle Eye
  • Bob Travis – You Are My Sunshine
  • Rich Wetherbee – Back Forty
  • Jack A Williams – Pickin’ and Singin’
  • Tom Wolfe – Home Delivery
  • Joe You – Feeding The Prince

Wonder about the carvings behind the titles?  You’ll need to get the book to see!


Here you’ll find a pattern the carving included the CCA Section.  Some are simple outline patterns; some include much more detail.


A tasteful selections of photos of other carvings by CCA members

In Conclusion
The layout of the book is good, the photos excellent.  A tip ‘o the hat to editor Sandy Smith and her associate editors Randy Landen and Bob Travis.  Another tip ‘o the hat to Jack A and Carol Williams for the cover and studio photos, as well as Chris Hammock for the step-by-step photos.   The layout and photos, as well as the humor present whenever CCA members assemble, all combine to make this an enjoyable book to read and use.

If you are a caricature carver this book should be on your Christmas list (It’s still not too late).   If you are a more general carver, you still should consider this book, as learning more about how a carving is conceived and created will be of benefit.

To learn more about Caricature Carvers of America, their other publication and the annual CCA Caricature Carving Competion, visit their web site at

CCA Book 02

Susan Alexander’s “Let’s Talk Carving” Update

Susan bio shot    Susan Alexander and Let’s Talk Carving Are On Hiatus!






Hello everyone!  Susan Alexander is taking a few months away from writing Let’s Talk Carving.  We expect her and Let’s Talk Carving to return in the new year.  We’ll let you know as soon as a return date is confirmed.  Until then, you may continue to submit questions and comments using the form below (but please don’t expect an answer right away).



Susan Alexander’s “Let’s Talk Carving” Issue 11

Susan bio shot    The Most Funnest* Carving Competition Ever!

Please refer to and fol­low all man­u­fac­tur­ers’ directions.  Safety First!





Entering a carving competition usually involves a whole lot more than carving a competition-worthy piece. What type of wood should you use? Do you have the right size at home, or do you have to go out and buy wood? Is the competition close enough so you can deliver your carving, or do you have to search for the correct size box, gather packing material, pack it up, add postage, mail it, pray it gets there safely and then there is the cost and packing of the carving’s return trip home. All this takes time, and you haven’t even started the funnest* part yet – carving!

I certainly am not trying to dissuade you from entering any/all carving competitions; go for it, especially the 50th International Woodcarvers Congress in 2016, as well as your local carving club competitions.

… however …

I am here to offer you the opportunity of having some plain, old-fashioned, sittin’ on the back porch while the autumn leaves fall, carving FUN in the next few weeks! I’m speaking of the third annual Helvie Knives’ Handle Carving Competition, run by Rich and Holli Smithson, owners of Helvie Knives. This carving competition offers all of the fun and none of the hassle.

For $5, which includes your entry fee, Rich/Holli (probably Holli) will send you exactly what you see in the photo below – an unsharpened dummy knife with a 6 inch basswood handle and an entry form.

Helvie Knife Handle Blank and Entry Form

Helvie Knife Handle Blank and Entry Form


If your carving turns out spectacularly well, and you want it returned in lieu of allowing it to join the 170 other carved knife handles displayed at Helvie’s headquarters, then send an additional $5 when you mail off your carved knife handle and they’ll send it back to you after the competition.

Of course, there are a few rules. This is the third year of the competition, and the rules have been firmed up a bit because carvers are such a creative bunch. Basically, it’s just “carve the handle without cutting it apart or gluing any add-ons to it, and leave the blade alone.” Not sure what exactly is allowed? Go to website and read the rules.

I asked Holli to send me a few photos of knife handle carvings from past years so you can have an idea of what types of carvings have been done in the past….looks like everything from A to Z!





It’s great that Helvie offers three separate prize categories:

  • Beginners’ Class – 1 year or less experience
  • Intermediate Class – 1 to 3 years experience
  • Open Class – Anyone regardless of experience

You are on your honor to enter the correct class. Carvers are an honest group of people mainly because it is a small community and we would all know if you fibbed.

To receive your Helvie blank, send $5 to:

Helvie Knives

P.O. Box 145

Tipton, IN 46072

Now, this is the important part. To get your attention, I am putting this in bold and red, typing it in capital letters, and centering the lines.


BY OCTOBER 16, 2015.

It takes a few days for the post office to deliver your check to Helvie, and then another few days to receive your blank. Turn around time for me was less than a week.

If, in the next day or two, you put a check in the mail to them, by the time you receive your blank, you should have a good two weeks to carve and finish you knife handle and get it back to Helvie by October 16. That is more than enough time for you to turn out a competition-worthy 6” carving. Sounds like a terrific carving club project to me.

I asked Holli if the metal used in the dummy knife could be sharpened, and she said, “No, but it could be used as a great butter knife.”

That cinched it! I sent Helvie a $15 check, less than the cost of a delivered pizza. For that I received two blanks ($5 each) and guaranteed return shipping ($5). My $15 investment, even if I don’t win a prize (great prizes, by the way – see below), is well worth having two really cool butter knives.

Got questions about the competition that I haven’t answered? Call Holli Smithson at Helvie Knives at 765-675-8811, or email her at You can also check out for additional information.

If you send me photos of your Helvie carved knife handles, I’ll run them, with your name, in the November issue. It would be great to see everyone’s carvings. You can send your photos to

Helvie will take all carving entries to the Renegade Roundup in Tennessee to be judged by CCA member, Steve Brown.  Participants do not need to be in attendance to win. Winners will be notified either by phone or email – your choice.

Speaking of winning, we have to thank Larry and Carol Yudis, owners of The Woodcraft Shop (click their ad in the column to the right to go directly to their online store), for generously offering the following prizes:

  • $70 Gift Certificate for First-Place in the Beginners’ Class
  • $50 Gift Certificate for First-Place in the Intermediate Class
  • $30 Gift Certificate for First-Place in the Open Class

Wait … there’s more.

We also have to thank Gene Webb, of Gene Webb Woodcarving (click his ad in the column to the right to go directly to their online store), for generously offering the following prizes:

  • The Gene Webb DVD of your choice for First-Place in the Beginners’ Class
  • The Gene Webb DVD of your choice for First-Place in the Intermediate Class
  • The Gene Webb DVD of your choice for First-Place in the Open Class

Wait … there’s still more.

Other carvers and companies are coming on board in support of the Helvie Knife Handle Competition. Helvie has already received and will award two $25 gift certificates from Chipping Away, two roughouts from Jim Hiser, and a special carving from Don Mertz, current secretary of Caricature Carvers of America.

Wait … there’s even more!

Every first-place winner will receive a Helvie Knife of their choice. Click on the Helvie Knife logo in the column to the right to go directly to Helvie’s online store where you will see hundreds of knives made to the specifications of some of the finest carvers in the world, and available to you. Overwhelmed with which knife is best suited for your style of carving and size of your hand, or have a specific need? No problem! Speak with the owner, Rich Smithson, at 765-675-8811 and tell him I told you to call. He is accustomed to working with carvers. After asking you a few questions, Rich will be able to give you his knife recommendations. Talk about personal service! Starting this month, Helvie Knives is one of our new sponsors. Please welcome Holli and Rich Smithson to the Carvers Companion and the Let’s Talk Carving family.

Carvers helping carvers.


You Are Never Alone

H.S.'Andy' Anderson and Harold Enlow

H.S.’Andy’ Anderson and Harold Enlow

So … who is standing over your shoulder, whispering into your ear? Don’t turn around. You won’t see the line of carvers who have given you the help and encouragement that made you the carver you are today, but they are all behind you. Even if you can’t see them, slow down for a moment the next time you carve and you may very well feel them, and if you are like me, hear them, as well.

At the last International Woodcarvers Congress banquet, I sat with Neil Cox, Vic Hood and Terry Brasher. When I got home and started a carving, they came to mind. Thinking about them, I felt badly that I hadn’t told them how each had influenced my carving education. Every time I reach for a V-tool, I hear Neil’s gentle voice suggesting to start with a veiner because it is easier to fix a mistake made with a veiner than a V-tool. Whenever I believe the face I’ve carved is just about done, I hear Vic Hood telling me I could go “deeper.” When I’m laying out a face, Terry Brasher is reminding me to measure my face by the size of the eyes so it will fit into the size wood I’ve chosen.

Although I thought about it during the banquet, I never told Neil, Vic or Terry, “Thank You,” but I’m doing that right now.

So, how about you? Who is standing over your shoulder? Do they know that they’ve helped you? Besides thanking them, we should be passing along their nuggets of wisdom. That’s what carving and this column is all about.

While I was thinking about adding this new feature, it just happened that, on the same day, I spoke with both Rick Jensen and Larry Yudis, so I asked them who they would thank, and why. You’ll see their responses below.

I’ve already primed the pump, but here are two more people I want to thank, with more next month, because I’ve got a thousand of ‘em.

Keith Miller, the first person who put a bench knife and a piece of basswood in my hands taught a Wednesday night carving class at The Center in Palos Park. Keith extolled the virtues of looking at a carving not only right side up, but upside down, down from the top, up from the bottom, and from both sides. After I would do a “quick” scan of my carving, hoping it would be “good enough”, he would take it from my hands and point out what this novice carver had overlooked. Yes, Keith, I remember you saying, “It isn’t done until I say it’s done.” Thank you, my friend. If not for you, this wonderful carving community would not be a large part of my life.

Rick Jensen, 2014 WCI Carver of the Year, reminds me (to this day) that it is vital to wear an apron with a front leather insert when power carving because a bit going at 40,000 RPM can grab your clothes and hurt you badly. To drive that point home, he has told me, in graphic detail, what he has seen an out-of-control bit do to a carver. Before I even sit down to carve, I look at my power carving equipment, hear Rick’s words and reach for my leather apron.

Thank you’s from:

Rick Jensen: I always think of my good friend, Harold Enlow, every time I do a demonstration.  Harold taught me how to carve clean and how to impress people when I carve by using large tools to make big bold cuts.  He also taught me how to hold an audience’s attention while carving by making these large dramatic cuts and telling jokes and stories. 


Larry Yudis: I guess if I’d have to put into a few words how Harold Enlow influenced me it would be:  Remember, it’s just a piece of wood … and, sometimes you have to improvise.  That just showed me a person shouldn’t get all worked up if something isn’t turning out quite the way it was intended.  Change your pattern … change your plans … improvise!

You must know what I needed to do after hearing Rick and Larry thank Harold. I had to speak with Harold Enlow.

While I probably own every Harold Enlow book, I had never met the legendary carver. I called Rick Jensen for Harold’s phone number. Took a deep breath, called Harold, introduced myself, told him about this new feature, that both Rick and Larry had chosen something he had taught them to pass on to our readers. Then I asked Harold, “Who would you want to thank and why?”

Harold told me that, without a doubt, it would be H. S. ‘Andy’ Anderson. Andy’s caricature carving book influenced Harold’s entire life, which is accurate when you remember that Harold Enlow is known as the Godfather of Modern Day Caricature Carving, written numerous books with their accompanying study sticks, is a tool maker, blacksmith, and a founding member of CCA, the Caricature Carvers of America.

I wondered if Harold and Andy had ever met. Harold said that although he was stationed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, while Andy was living in Santa Fe, unfortunately he had never had the opportunity to meet Andy, and would probably have been hesitant to talk to such a famous carver. I told Harold now he knew how I felt talking to him.

So this part of our story almost comes to an end, except … just before we hung up, Harold mentioned a photo that Don Arnett had manipulated a few years back … that included Harold and Andy.

Of course, I couldn’t let that lie. I had to contact Don Arnett. You’ve already seen Don’s wonderful, heart-warming photo at the beginning of this feature. Thank you, Don, for allowing us to share it with our readers.

So, my carving friends, this is a bit like, except a carvers’ version. It was Andy Anderson’s book that influenced Harold Enlow who influenced Rick Jensen, Larry Yudis and an entire world of carvers, and, in the end, it was Andy in Don Arnett’s photo that inspired the name of this new Let’s Talk Carving feature, You Are Never Alone.

I wonder who was looking over H. S. ‘Andy’ Anderson’s shoulder.

If you have a carver or instructor you would like to thank, use the form below to send me their name, and in a few sentences what they specifically taught you that improved your carving skills and creativity.

You can send me one or numerous “Thank You” messages to be published, as space permits. They can either be for the same person or for different people. In today’s world, we can’t have too many “thank you’s” floating around out there, plus whatever it was that helped you be a better carver will now be read and help other, newer carvers.

Carvers helping carvers~

Until then, gen­tle reader, may your wood be plen­ti­ful and your tools stay sharp. Take care, carve lots, and always remem­ber to smile.


*Yes. I know there is no such word as “funnest.” I made it up. It’s one of the perks of writing this column.



Notes From The ‘Net

Notes From The ‘Net

Questions and Answers About Carving Gathered From Popular Carving Groups

 Edited by Matt Kelley


Welcome carving friends to NFTN, version 2.0.   In this ongoing series we will gather the best questions, answers and comments from the more active Facebook and mail list carving groups, such as the Woodcarver List, Woodcarving 101 – The Joy of Woodcarving, and the International Fish Carvers & Painters Association, and present them here.

Enjoy, and Carve On!


From Wood Carvmg 101

Brian Pacholka asked:

I want to carve a turtle and leave it out in the weather. What is the best wood to use and the best way to preserve it. Once I put it out, it will never be touched again so I want it to last as long as possible.

Jim Doyle replied:

Not so much the type of wood, but the cut. I always opt for heartwood.

Ron Snow added:

White or Red Cedar, Teak, or Cypress. A few coats of boiled linseed oil, thinned.

Perry A. Reynolds commented:

Jim and Ron just gave you the best information for what your seeking to do

Ron Snow added:

I suggested those woods, especially the Teak and Cypress, because they are almost impervious to weather and age to a beautiful gray over time.


From Perry A. Reynolds

The Knife and The Tree!

For thousands of years the knife has been an indispensable tool. Though at one time made of stone or bone, the knife, in all of its forms, has graced the hand of mankind. The tree is much as man is! It has given man kind warmth, shelter, food and raw materials necessary to survive. It is born from its parents seed and at first is weak and fragile. It suffers from cuts and bruises and bears the many scars of life. It is prone to disease just as we are and its goal is to bear offspring to insure the continuance of future generations. As it grows old it becomes weaker and then when its time comes it dies and returns to the soil. It is much as we are. So, the next time you carve, think about that knife and that tree and do your best to give both the fitting tribute that they deserve!

That’s it for this edition of NFTN.    If you see a post on one of the FB groups or Mail Listservs that you think should be preserved in NFTN, please use the form below to submit your suggestion.

NFTN Suggestions

Suggestions for NFTN
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  • Please enter your email address - this is a required field
  • Please enter your suggestion for inclusion in Notes From The Net. Include the date of the post, the name of the person who started the discussion, names of those who provide the best responses. It is important that you include the NAME of the Facebook group or mail listserv.. Your email address will only be used to clarify your suggestion, if needed. Thanks for your suggestion.

Susan Alexander’s “Let’s Talk Carving” Issue 10

Susan bio shot      How To Make A Koozie Sander

When Gene Webb told me he made a large sander out of his koozie, I had to ask him for directions so I could share the information with all of you and because while I don’t own a large sander, I do own a Gene Webb koozie. Here are Gene’s instructions on how to make your own koozie sander.

(Editor’s Note:  Always wear proper safety equipment when using any power tool.  Undertake and use this project at your own risk.)

I wore my logo off my koozie, so I decided to try and make a big sander that I could use in my drill. It works great and wasn’t too hard to make.

My koozies have a plastic cup built inside it (not all koozies have that). The plastic cup makes it durable and is why I chose this type of koozie for my woodcarving school and business. Now, I can use it as 3” by 4” sander that works pretty well in a drill. You have to run the drill slowly, with it being that big. 

Webb Koozie Sander 1

All I did was cut out 2 end caps about 1/4 smaller in diameter than the koozie cup. I needed the end caps because when I tightened the all-thread bolt without them, it squeezed the koozie flat. The end caps help to hold the belt on, and to keep the cup’s shape.

Webb Koozie Sander 3

The belt took a while to figure out. Finally, I used Gorilla tape on the back. Where the sand paper meets, the pressure slightly expands a small gap, but the Gorilla tape is still holding strong. 

Webb Koozie Sander 2

To make a koozie sander, you’ll need:

  • A cool Gene Webb koozie with a built-in plastic cup
  • 80 grit Swiss sand paper
  • Plexiglas for 2 small 1/4″ thick end caps
  • Gorilla tape
  • One 3/8″ all thread bolt with 2 washers and 2 nuts.

They can throw in their own cussing as they go.

This koozie sander works great on sanding off the burs. You could use the sander in the drill, or strap the drill down and just hold the wood to it.  Whatever works best for you.

Webb Koozie Sander 4

Remember – you will have to run the drill slowly, with it being that big, and because we don’t know how long the Gorilla Tape will hold, always work slowly, carefully, wear eye protection, and check your koozie sander before and after each use. 

If anyone has any questions about the instructions or the sander, they shouldn’t hesitate to call me at: 865-660-1110.


Thanks, Gene, for taking the time to send us the instructions and the pictures, and for sponsoring the Carvers Companion.

Like I always say, Carvers helping Carvers!



Subject: Question on Painting, then Sealing a Carving

I received an email from Rick Houlden regarding an issue he is experiencing when painting his carvings, and then using a sealant.

I dip my carvings and sometimes I can see some color coming off onto the paper towel when removing excess sealant. Since I work out of my garage that is attached to our home I have never been interested in using (can’t think of the name) the finish that is known to be flammable on the used rags. I found my current system in a carving magazine, the carver noted that this system doesn’t leave flammable rags around and also is more cost effective. But it can have issues when applying the sealant over acrylic paints when removing excess sealant from the carving.

I asked Rick what sealant he was using. Here is his reply:

I used the Minwax Polycrylic in the clear satin finish it is a water based sealant. I like many carvers layer my paints either by blending the colors or as with the eyes paint a black dot then inside the black I paint the brown or blue in a smaller diameter then add a small white dot as the reflective highlight. I have usually after dipping give the carving a minute or two to drip off the excess but at times need to take a towel or paper cloth to remove access sealant. If not careful with the way I handle the carving at this point I can have small spots of color pull off. It doesn’t happen all the time and I am slowly perfecting the way I do this but it made me wonder what is if any the complete curing time of the acrylic paints. Most seem to believe that is when it is dry to the touch but since in the past I have had some color come off this gives me the impression that the layered area may not have been completely cured at the time of dipping.

I have begun to put a sealant coating on the carvings before I begin to paint but I know this is not the issue since I have had the color showing on the cloth even before I began this process.

I know some carvers say to dip the carving and then once the majority has drained place the carving bottom down on a paper towel to allow more run off of the excess. But I many times let the color continue to the backside stopping at the point where the hollowing of the carving begins.

If you have a suggestion for Rick, send it to, or fill in the info below, with your comments, and it will get to me. I will forward your emails to Rick as I receive them (so he doesn’t have to wait a month), and will also share them in my next Let’s Talk Carving column.


Until next month, gen­tle reader, may your wood be plen­ti­ful and your tools stay sharp. Take care, carve lots, and always remem­ber to smile.