Archive for Humor

Playing With Fire

Playing With Fire

By Dan Blair

(Edi­tor’s Note — A ver­sion of this arti­cle orig­i­nal­ly appeared on the FC2 List.)

Ever since man’s first begin­ning, he has been total­ly depen­dent on fire.  He has died with­out it and, when care­less, has died with or because of it.  He loves it and fears it almost in equal pro­por­tions.  If you have ever sat in a star-stud­ded and moon-filled night in the woods star­ing into a cheer­ing camp­fire, you know why.  If you have ever wit­nessed the wrath of a for­est fire, you also know why.  Fire can be your best friend.  Or it can be your worst ene­my.  We don’t always get to choose which one it will be.  But in spite of that, I still like to play with fire.

The first time I got caught play­ing with fire was when I was about 5 or 6 years old.  My over-active imag­i­na­tion had me play­ing cow­boys (or moun­tain men) and Indi­ans.  I had my lit­tle plas­tic and lead fig­ures gath­ered around the log cab­in and cor­rals I had made with twigs and sticks.  Indi­ans had attacked and the cab­in was on fire.  Grand­ma smelled my smoke.  The result­ing rep­ri­mand taught me nev­er to play with fire ever.…especially there in the shade beneath the two 50 gal­lon fuel oil bar­rels that kept our fur­nace fired up.  You would think I should have learned my les­son, but.….  Well?  What can I say?  I guess I’m just a slow learner.

As a pro­fes­sion­al out­doors­man with a life-long con­nec­tion to wilder­ness and wild things, I have always con­sid­ered fire to be one of my most wel­comed part­ners.  Off and on, I’ve been a guide/outfitter, a game war­den, hunt club owner/operator, a some­time min­ing camp cook.  I’ve been a ded­i­cat­ed hunter and fish­er­man for all of the adult years of my life and most of the years of my youth.  Need­less to say, I’ve seen a lot of fire.  I’ve kept it close at hand at most times and can read­i­ly recall times when I was most grate­ful for its avail­abil­i­ty.  I can still remem­ber shiv­er­ing through wet and sleep­less nights in the out­doors with­out it.  I know first­hand what hypother­mia feels like and how impor­tant fire is to make it go away.  I guess you could say that Fire and I are just nat­u­ral­ly on a first name basis.  And in some respects, I guess you could even say we have been playmates.

I am a carv­er.  I have been for 47+ years.  A lot of wood has found its way to my work bench.  Sur­pris­ing­ly, very lit­tle of that wood ever found its way to my fire.  On the oth­er hand, fire has often found its way to my wood.  Let me explain.

I tru­ly love the smell of wood smoke.  Espe­cial­ly when I’m cook­ing up fresh fish for shore lunch.  Even more when I have fin­ished a hard day of hunt­ing or fish­ing.  Sup­per is over and done, and the qui­et time around the camp­fire has put every­one in a place of pon­der­ing.  Remem­ber­ing ear­li­er hunt­ing or fish­ing trips  Ear­li­er camps.  Ear­li­er camp­fires.  But I have lived among civ­i­liza­tion and wood-burn­ing stoves and fire­places were not com­mon in my homes or work shops.  I made up for that absence by always hav­ing a camp­fire.  Camp­ing was­n’t com­plete with­out the light and fra­grant incense pro­vid­ed by a campfire.

Some­where along the way of study­ing the Indi­ans and moun­tain men and fur trap­pers of our Amer­i­can West, I learned and was often remind­ed of the val­ue of fire.  I knew the trap­pers could not have guns and traps and knives with­out fire to hard­en the met­al to just the right tem­per.  What sur­prised and impressed me as much was that the Indi­ans also used fire to tem­per the wood of their arrows, bows, and lances and oth­er impor­tant wood­en tools and equipment.

I don’t recall just when it was when I first brought fire to my work bench and applied it to the vari­ety of wildlife carv­ings I was cre­at­ing.  It was prob­a­bly some­where as long ago as the 60’s.  I remem­ber one bass carv­ing that was dark­ened only with fire since I had no wood stain on hand.  It worked.  I remem­ber too, a decoy I had carved to repli­cate an antique pin­tail duck.  I took it in to a local sport shop that kept and sold a large num­ber of col­lectible water­fowl decoys.  When the own­er saw me car­ry­ing my deke into the shop, he said to his cus­tomers some­thing to the effect of “Wow!  There’s an old one!” as he turned to me and added, “How old is that one?”  I unin­ten­tion­al­ly put a dent in his integri­ty as a decoy col­lec­tor by look­ing at my watch and replied, “Oh, a cou­ple of hours or so.

Fire had been a great tool in the pro­duc­tion of that faux fowl.  It dis­tressed the wood, mak­ing it appear worn away in places where it real­ly was­n’t.  It dis­tressed the paint job as well and made it look like time had tak­en it away rather than heat or a steel-wool pad and a wire brush.  And I can’t even count the num­ber of fake shore­bird decoys I repli­cat­ed for dec­o­ra­tors that became instant antiques using fire to dis­tress the wood and to heat the ice-picks I used to poke fake bird­shot holes into the wood­en bod­ies.  (I referred to them as col­lectibles with a head start on antiquity!)

Some­where along the way, I found that I could use fire on Dou­glas Fir to empha­size the dif­fer­ences in the hard and soft grain of the wood.  The soft wood would burn and brush away a lot quick­er and eas­i­er than the hard wood that was the growth rings of the wood.  I could dis­tress the wood with fire like that to cre­ate the impres­sion of waves on water, or the wind-blown or water washed look of drift­ed sand.  With wood­en bases, I could burn the edges before tak­ing a wire wheel to them before stain­ing the edges with dark stain, giv­ing the edge the appear­ance and tex­ture of black wal­nut shells.

Many times I’ve had to agree with some carvers who com­plain that cer­tain woods are not com­pat­i­ble with pow­er carv­ing tools because the bits and burrs and drum sanders tend to leave the wood “fuzzy”.  I nev­er found that to be a prob­lem because a few quick pass­es with my propane torch took care of the fuzzies as quick­ly as Grand­ma singed away the hair or down off chick­ens, ducks, and more than a few of my pheas­ants over the flames from a burn­er on her cook stove.  (My wood fires always smelled bet­ter than Grand­ma’s feathers!)

Last year, as one of the art judges for the Alas­ka State Fair, I saw two pieces of absolute­ly beau­ti­ful wood turnings.…bowls that gave one the impres­sion of com­ing from old Japan.  What impressed me more than any­thing about the bowls was the han­dles on their lids.  I had nev­er seen any­thing quite like it.  BOTH han­dles had been burned, obvi­ous­ly with a torch because the area of the burn had been very lim­it­ed and care­ful­ly con­trolled.  The wood was clear­ly charred and cracked.  What hap­pened next is what impressed me.  The charred por­tion of the wood had been repeat­ed­ly sat­u­rat­ed with super­glue to the point that the char­coal was now plas­ti­cized and com­plete­ly sta­bi­lized.  Total­ly!  (I can’t wait to apply that tech­nique to a project of my own.  My imag­i­na­tion keeps that thought on the back burn­er for future reference.)

One thing I noticed with some woods was that the heat of the flame expand­ed resins in the wood or forced them to the sur­face.  A clear-coat­ing high­light­ed the minis­cule beads of resin and in so doing, made them look like tiny beads of light glow­ing from with­in the wood.  On cer­tain projects, that affect can be tru­ly spectacular.

It goes with­out say­ing that I still like to play with fire to this day.  Like I said, fire is more than a tool, or a play­mate.  It’s a part­ner.  When used prop­er­ly and safe­ly, it has a very impor­tant role in my efforts as a pro­fes­sion­al wood­carv­er.  I don’t play with it under the fuel bar­rels, so I think even Grand­ma would approve of what I do with it now.  I wish I could show her.  I think she would be proud!

Give fire a chance.  It works for me.  I think you may be total­ly sur­prised by what can hap­pen when you are “Play­ing With Fire!”

Good luck and good carvin’.…

Dan Blair ~ FishCarving2 founder/modera


Dan Blair Rockfish

Dan Blair with a 33″ Yel­low­eye Rock­fish Carved From Wood

Dan Blair is founder and a mod­er­a­tor of the Fish Carv­ing 2 (FC2) Yahoo group.  See more of Dan’s instruc­tion, tips and pho­tos at Fish Carv­ing A2Z, and Fish Alas­ka, oth­er Yahoo groups

Get Whale Soon!

They say a pun is the low­est form of humor, so what bet­ter time to inflict one on a friend but when they’re ill.  And if your ill friend is in a sit­u­a­tion where get­ting well is a rel­a­tive thing, excuse your­self as I did and explain that Get Whaler Soon brought to mind a car­i­ca­ture of Ahab with a har­poon… not near­ly as fun or effec­tive as this project is.  Trust me!

OK, let’s get start­ed! If at any time the pic­tures don’t help you with the step, skip ahead for lat­er shots for more ref­er­ences (espe­cial­ly steps 23 & 24).  Also know that click­ing on any pic­ture will enlarge it.  To get back to the tuto­r­i­al, just click the “Back” arrow of your browser.

Step 1:  Well… my step one. Could have sworn I’d seen a “Get Whale Soon” carv­ing project some­where.   Could not find it.  Nor­mal­ly at this point I would try and draw my own pat­tern, but this project/muse had a time crunch on it.  So then you type “car­toon”, “car­i­ca­ture”, and “whale” into Google and search pic­tures.  Nor­mal­ly I take 2–3 of my favorites and com­bine them.  This time, this one just seemed per­fect.  Sketched a quick pro­file.  Notice how the grain goes par­al­lel to the length at the nar­row­est sec­tion of the tail… very important.

get whale soon - 01


Step 2:  Band saw­ing off what I can.  You can’t tell from the pic­ture, but that’s a Rock­well 14″ with a 6″ ris­er block kit.  It’s a vet­er­an that came over from the hob­by shop of a closed US AFB in Ger­many.  The beast has a trans­mis­sion that allows it to cut met­al as well as wood.

get whale soon - 02


Step 3:  Some more band saw cuts.  A lit­tle hard to describe, but the sec­ond set of band saw cuts from the nose to the widest part are down from the tail and the rest were down from the front.  Check the saw marks in the picture.

get whale soon - 03


Step 4:  The fins are going to be carved sep­a­rate.  Try to lay­out the pat­tern so that the grain is par­al­lel to the length of the root where it will be insert­ed into the body of the whale.

get whale soon - 04


Step 5:  And the water­spout is going to be carved sep­a­rate as well.

get whale soon - 05


Step 6:  With most of the parts cut out, start by knockin’ the cor­ners off.  Notice the cen­ter­line I draw to stay symmetrical.
get whale soon - 06


Step 7:  You don’t want to carve the fins flat. Cut them dou­ble thick and carve away the black areas.  Remem­ber to make one side the mir­ror of the oth­er.  Also, there’s a “don’t” in this pic­ture… the end that should insert into the whale’s body should end par­al­lel to the grain.  This means I should have cut this from a thick­er piece of wood and fin­ished that end of the curved fin flat against the side of the wood.

get whale soon - 07


Step 8:  The shape of things so far… the water­spout is basi­cal­ly a mush­room with a tapered stem… the fins taper down to a dow­el rod shape at it’s base for mount­ing in the body (lat­er)… the body is nice­ly round­ed with a soft­ly flat­tened tail.

get whale soon - 09


Step 9:  Some close ups.  Notice that the typ­i­cal cross sec­tion of the main body is not cir­cu­lar.  It’s kind of squashed with the widest point being high of the center.

get whale soon - 11

get whale soon - 10


Step 10:  The ridge from the tail bone.

get whale soon - 13


Step 11:  This shape is done with a gouge cut down both sides of the cen­ter line, and then a knife or shal­low­er gouge is used to blend the out­er sides of each of those cuts into the tail (erase them).

get whale soon - 14


Step 12:  Time to draw the facial fea­tures.  A per­ma­nent pen would have been bet­ter… no smudg­ing of the graphite over the carv­ing, either eras­es with a knife not an eraser.

get whale soon - 15


Step 13:  Out­line the eye and lips(?) with a stop cut using a v‑tool (leaned slight­ly towards the waste side of the cut).

get whale soon - 16


Step 14:  Carve away wood from the waste side of the cut until you no longer see that side of what the v‑tool did.

get whale soon - 17


Step 15:  OK, this is what it looks like after a few more steps.  To get here  I round­ed the eye area then stop cut the lid and the low­er half of the eye cir­cle.  I then removed some wood from the inside of these stop cuts.  I also stop cut the upper lip and the low­er lip where it forms that open area of the mouth where the teeth(?) go. Then I removed wood from inside this area.  Remem­ber this pat­tern is repeat­ed as mir­ror images on both sides of the cen­ter line.

get whale soon - 19


Step 16:  Draw in the teeth (yes, I know they’re not real­ly teeth on the whale, but this is caricature).

get whale soon - 20


Step 17:  Then chip cut out the ver­ti­cal lines and voila!

get whale soon - 21


Step 18:  Drew in the rows of the under­side.  Notice that the depres­sion on the right isn’t as sharp as the one I’m cut­ting.  I soften/widen it on pur­pose by mak­ing two more pass­es on the first cut.  One with the v‑tool leaned over to the left and anoth­er pass leaned to the right.

get whale soon - 22


Step 19:  The water spout so far is a mush­room with a tapered stem.  The final shape is like a flower with long, round tipped petals rolled severe­ly over as they radi­ate.  Stag­ger and over­lap them like shin­gles.  I decid­ed after out­lin­ing them with a v‑tool that they need­ed a cone shaped dip to spray out from and that’s what you see me carv­ing now.

get whale soon - 23


Step 20:  Stop cut the petals with a v‑tool or a knife. Start with the whole shape of the top­most ones and cut waste wood out from the water “petals” below.

get whale soon - 24


Step 21:  You might need to under­cut more from behind the bot­tom edge to “sell it”.  This is prob­a­bly the trick­i­est piece to carve… go slow!

get whale soon - 25


Step 22:  Drill the holes for fins… approx­i­mate­ly 45 degrees back and slight­ly down.  Test fit them and when you like them epoxy them in..

get whale soon - 26


Step 23:  I would drill the hole in the base first (1/4″ hole for a 1/4″ dow­el rod) and then drill the hole in the whale.  When that all looks good, then drill the hole for the water spout.  Notice he looks a bit grumpy here… paint­ing the pupils in will fix that.

get whale soon - 27


Step 24:  …and a view goin’ away.

get whale soon - 28


Step 25:  My secret for lay­ing out let­ter­ing?  Corel Graph­ics Suite X5 stu­dent & home edi­tion.  Corel Draw lets you fit text to a curve. Oh, and I’m a font junkie.  This one is Nach­mere (Night­mare).

get whale soon - 29


Step 26:  Graphite paper, painter’s tape, and an emboss­ing pen (which I use for paint­ing as well… but not emboss­ing… go fig­ure <G>).

get whale soon - 30


Step 27:  My pyrog­ra­phy kit is a Franken­stein mon­ster… Detail Mas­ter base con­trol, an adapter, and Opti­ma pens with inter­change­able tips.  This was a deer foot shad­er.  I’m not an expert, and it might have been eas­i­er to out­line them with a dag­ger point and fill with the shad­er.  Next time.

get whale soon - 31


Step 28:  TaDa! (How’s that for an infor­ma­tive step?)

get whale soon - 32


Step 29:  This is towards the end of the paint­ing.  When I start­ed, I thor­ough­ly soaked the pieces with water using a spray bot­tle and then used very watered down wash­es of col­or.  If you look close you can make out the grain.  That’s just the way I roll when paint­ing my carv­ings, if you have a pre­ferred method of your own use it.

get whale soon - 33


Step 30:  A cou­ple coats of acrylic clear satin… just enough to get rid of the chalk­i­ness of the acrylics and leave the piece with a nice, soft sheen.

get whale soon - 35


Step 31:  An a close up.  Remem­ber when I said I used the emboss­ing tool for paint­ing?  Check out the small dot of off-white high­light­ing the pupil.

get whale soon - 36


I hope you enjoyed the project, and under­stand when I say that I hope you don’t have to carve too many of these.  If you do carve sev­er­al, try a dif­fer­ent whale with a dif­fer­ent shape next time like a sperm whale, or if the patient is a uni­corn lover, a narwhale.

Whale Gang… keep them edges keen, the chips piled high, and remem­ber, puns are fun! ;-).

36 Things I Learned As A Full-time Carver Of Fish

36 Important Things I Learned As A Full-time Carver Of Fish

By Dan Blair

(Edi­tor’s Note — A ver­sion of this arti­cle orig­i­nal­ly appeared on the FC2 List.)

  • Carv­ing fish is a good way to keep your­self in the chips.  Unfor­tu­nate­ly, almost all of them are on the shop floor and mixed in with a bushel bas­ket (or two) of sawdust.
  • What start­ed as a plea­sur­able hob­by can and will be con­sid­ered a career move if you haven’t giv­en it up after 46 years and the city insists that you must have a busi­ness license to con­tin­ue your efforts in that direction.
  • Your sig­nif­i­cant oth­er will not think you are fun­ny when you announce you’ve nick­named your saw­dust-filled lungs “Hoover” and “Kir­by”.
  • The depth of a cut will be direct­ly deter­mined by how sharp your carv­ing tools are.  The sharp­er they are, the bet­ter and deep­er they will cut into a wood carv­ing.  The same point is true when talk­ing about dull tools and body parts.
  • You will not be reim­bursed by Medicare for emer­gency treat­ment to a severe lac­er­a­tion that you dis­in­fect­ed with an alco­holic bev­er­age and ban­daged with paper tow­els and duct tape.
  • Will I go to Hell for judg­ing oth­er fish carvers in com­pe­ti­tion since the Bible says, “Judge not that ye shall not be judged.”  Should I be wor­ry­ing about that more than I already do?
  • Repairs to an acci­den­tal­ly bro­ken fish carv­ing will take at least 20 min­utes longer to fix and con­ceal than it will take the cus­tomer to show up who decid­ed to sur­prise you by stop­ping by to pick it up early.
  • Sand­ing off the top of your thumb knuck­le on your disc or belt sander does not look seri­ous as long as you keep your thumb tight­ly bent.  It is only when you straight­en it out that it becomes a 1/4″ deep hole that can eas­i­ly cra­dle a lima bean and then begins to bleed profusely.
  • Dog hair does not make good home­made paint brush­es.  (Cat hair, on the oth­er hand …)
  • Nev­er Super Glue a project while wear­ing shorts, and if you do, be cer­tain that your bare legs are not crossed!  It is very dif­fi­cult to go to the bath­room when your legs are crossed and glued together.
  • Being able to carve a rea­son­ably real­is­tic fish does not mean you can also carve the replace­ment leg to an antique French love seat.  And no mat­ter how many times you try, you will not be able to stain free cot­ton­wood to make it look like expen­sive, import­ed French walnut.
  • Your chil­dren will car­ry a grudge into their adult years if you ever used their stuffed-ani­mal toys as an emer­gency source for eye­balls for your fish carvings.
  • House paints and deck stains make poor sub­sti­tutes for paint­ing fish carv­ings, and left over auto­mo­tive lac­quer paint from the local auto body shop is not air­brush ready.  (Strain it two or three times through nylon pantyhose.)
  • Emory boards used by the Ladies for sand­ing and pol­ish­ing their nails work great for touch­ing up some of those hard to reach areas on a fish carv­ing; how­ev­er, in the long run, they will cost you a whole lot less if you go to the store and buy your own.  The same rule applies to those soft facial cos­met­ic brush­es, rub­ber gloves, Q‑tips, rub­ber gloves, pearles­cent fin­ger­nail pol­ish, steel wool, Scotch Brite, sharp scis­sors, and espe­cial­ly… panty-hose.
  • Insert­ing the bar­rel and action of a rifle into a hand carved gun stock is far more chal­leng­ing than insert­ing carved fins into a wood­en fish carv­ing.  And scal­ing a fish carv­ing is far less chal­leng­ing than check­er­ing a gun­stock and forearm
  • Nev­er hold a board on your lap when drilling holes into or through it!  And do not drill it on the din­ing table, the fend­er of your truck, the kitchen counter top, or linoleum floor.  Also do noth­ing on these same sur­faces that requires using screws and elec­tric screw­drivers.  Pow­er tools will always dri­ve a screw at least a 1/4″ deep­er than the screw is long and the board is thick.
  • Nev­er assume you can suc­cess­ful­ly put lac­quer-based clear coat over acrylic enam­el paint if you just apply it in a built-up series of very thin coats until it looks as wet and shiny as you’d like.
  • Why is it that when you tell peo­ple that you carve fish for a liv­ing they auto­mat­i­cal­ly assume you do that only with a chainsaw?
  • And why is it that when you explain that you pre­fer to carve fish in bass­wood or tupe­lo that they ask, “Is that soft like bal­sa wood?
  • My stom­ach can eas­i­ly hold those 44 ounce sodas I buy from the gas sta­tion next door.  My blad­der cannot
  • Mak­ing a good impres­sion is most impor­tant.  The first per­son you should impress is your­self.  It is a mis­take to carve a fish and only then com­pare it to the real thing.  It makes much more sense to look at the real fish first and most, and only then to make the carv­ing look like the fish.  The lat­ter method will help to show you how close you can get where­as the pre­vi­ous method only serves to show you how far off you missed.  If your fin­ished fish carv­ing does­n’t look like the real fish, you did some­thing seri­ous­ly wrong.  Not using good ref­er­ences to impress your­self is most like­ly where your prob­lems first started.
  • Carv­ing stu­dents will remem­ber every­thing I tell them about using my pow­er tools except the rule about not kink­ing the cable on my Fore­dom flex shaft.
  • Apply­ing hun­dreds of spots with an air­brush on a high­ly spot­ted trout or oth­er fish always works well.  It is only one of the very last spots that blows out into a spi­der shape that ruins the entire paint­ing process.  So play it safe and do not add the last three or so spots.
  • Carve more lit­tle fish.  That way, when they don’t come out quite right, you can always add fish hooks to them and tell spec­ta­tors you spe­cial­ize in carv­ing home­made fish­ing lures because that’s where the REEL mon­ey is at.
  • Con­sid­er find­ing a bet­ter source for carv­ing woods than from that stack of pal­lets behind the gro­cery store.
  • Do not shake a glass air­brush bot­tle if you have added a steel ball-bear­ing to help stir up the paint inside.
  • Carv­ing while sit­ting on the toi­let is not a good idea.  The accu­mu­la­tion of chips floats and has a ten­den­cy to clog the toi­let, sew­er line, and sep­tic tank.
  • As a rule… yard sticks are usu­al­ly very inex­pen­sive, fre­quent­ly made from bass­wood, and thin enough to use as a source for fish fins and oth­er thin-wood carv­ing projects like plant leaves, etc
  • Using real rocks on a carved fish habi­tat base will not impress a cus­tomer near­ly as much as carv­ing and paint­ing even poor sub­sti­tutes.  Even a very small child can glue rocks on a board.  Right?  And who would ever believe you could carve a fish, but you could­n’t carve a rock?  Nev­er give them that impression.
  • Deal­ing with the demands of an over-pow­er­ing inspi­ra­tion is like throw­ing up.  You nev­er feel real­ly good again until you get it all out of your system.
  • There are a lot of ways for an artist to be tak­en, but I think one of the very worst is to be tak­en for granted.
  • No mat­ter what I’ve done, there is no doubt in my mind that I could have done it bet­ter.  I still have to fig­ure out why I didn’t.
  • Buy­ing less expen­sive tools costs more in the long run because they even­tu­al­ly end up in the junk draw­er after I replace them with what I should have bought in the first place.  I keep my first air­brush (a Paasche’ H sin­gle action) to remind me that I real­ly should have bought my Paasche’ VL dou­ble action air­brush instead
  • Wood chips and shag car­pet make a very poor com­bi­na­tion and a gar­den rake will not be part of the solu­tion.  Pic­ture your­self on your knees with a pock­et comb and a tweezers
  • Some say rules should not be bro­ken.  I say because some have dared to break rules, the rules have been made bet­ter and stronger.  As a result, so have we.
  • Ralph Wal­do Emer­son once said, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is not path and leave a trail.”  I have tried to leave a trail for sev­er­al years now and I sin­cere­ly hope some­one is fol­low­ing because it must be very obvi­ous that I have been thor­ough­ly and com­plete­ly lost now for quite some time.


Good luck and good carvin’.…

Dan Blair


Dan Blair is founder and a mod­er­a­tor of the Fish Carv­ing 2 (FC2) Yahoo group.  See more of Dan’s instruc­tion, tips and pho­tos at Fish Carv­ing A2Z, and Fish Alas­ka, oth­er Yahoo groups