Archive for Review

50 Years of Carvers

50 Years of Carvers

New Eng­land Wood­carvers, Inc

50 Years of CarversCarv­ing clubs, unfor­tu­nate­ly, come and go, ebbing and flow­ing with changes in mem­ber­ship and pass­ing of time.  The New Eng­land Wood­carvers is a hap­py excep­tion.  Found­ed in 1965, the club cel­e­brat­ed 50 years in 2015.

One of the projects select­ed to cel­e­brate the 50th anniver­sary was cre­ation of the book 50 Years of Carvers.  The effort was spear­head­ed by edi­tors Jer­ry Grimes, Kei­th Old­field and Joe Mar­shall with help from many oth­ers.   The hard­cov­er book, print­ed in col­or on slick paper, is also a cel­e­bra­tion of the many diverse styles of carv­ing and carvers in the club.  It fea­tures over 109 carvers and their work spread over 228 pages. and includes a lot of names with which you will be famil­iar, rang­ing from Paul Ward (on the cov­er) to long-time WOM con­trib­u­tor Pete LeClair.  Inter­est­ing­ly, the chap­ters are by sub­ject area, so indi­vid­ual carvers often end up in mul­ti­ple chapters.

The book is avail­able for pur­chase at a cost of $30 for NEWC mem­bers and $35 for non-mem­bers.  If inter­est­ed, con­tact Jer­ry Grimes via email at or vis tele­phone at 978–660-0625

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

Book Review — Carving Flat-Plane Style Caricatures

Carving Flat-Plane Style Caricatures

By Harley Refsal

Reviewed By Matt Kelley

Refsal 01The art of flat-plane carv­ing reached its peak of pop­u­lar­i­ty in Scan­di­navia and Amer­i­ca in the ear­ly decades of the 20th cen­tu­ry, but by the late 1970’s most of the lead­ing artists from that peri­od has died, and, in fact, “the tra­di­tion of flat-plane carv­ing had fad­ed to near-extinction”.

It was around that time that Harley Ref­sal start­ing research­ing the his­to­ry of the art, and in the 1980’s start­ed to share that knowl­edge and his skill with carvers in North Amer­i­ca and Scan­di­navia.  He has writ­ten sev­er­al books and authored book chap­ters and arti­cles about flat-plane carving.

In recog­ni­tion of his work, Ref­sal received the St Olav’s Medal from the King of Nor­way in 1996, and was named the Wood­carv­ing Illus­trat­ed Carv­er of The Year in 2012.  It is not hyper­bole to sug­gest that Harley Ref­sal almost sin­gle-hand­ed­ly saved flat-plane carv­ing from that near-extinction.

Carv­ing Flat-Plane Style Car­i­ca­tures is a recent­ly release vol­ume that fea­tures step-by-step instruc­tions for four fig­ures and pat­terns for anoth­er forty-six projects.  Con­tents include:

About The Author

Get­ting Started

  • About Flat-Plane Carving
  • Basic Carv­ing Instructions
  • Paint­ing and Finishing

Carv­ing and Paint­ing Step-By-Step

  • Troll King
  • Troll Queen
  • Java John
  • Mocha Mary


  • 49 pages of pat­terns to carve peo­ple, ani­mals, etc

Refsal 02Although a flat-plane style Tomte carved by Mike Bloomquist sits in my office watch­ing as I write, I am not as famil­iar with this style as per­haps I should be, and so found the infor­ma­tion about the art par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing.  I also found the instruc­tions fair­ly well detailed — the Troll King ran to 30 steps over 7 full pages.  The remain­ing three step-by-step projects build on the lessons in the Troll King and are less detailed.  The many projects in the Pat­tern sec­tion typ­i­cal­ly include a front and side view, with brief com­men­tary on each.

This is a book that, I believe, belongs in the col­lec­tion of any seri­ous car­i­ca­ture carv­er.  Even if flat-plane carv­ing is not your par­tic­u­lar style, under­stand­ing the nuances can’t help but improve your carv­ing.  It may be a chal­lenge for an expe­ri­enced carv­er to pull back from very detailed fig­ures using many tools to this sim­pler style of broad­er, flat planes using only a knife and an occa­sion­al gouge.  The style leads you to “try to say more by say­ing less”; to tell a sto­ry in sim­pler, broad­er terms — a skill all carvers should value.

Carv­ing Flat-Plane Style Car­i­ca­tures is avail­able from many carv­ing sup­ply hous­es (see the Ven­dor side bar) or from book stores.  Please con­sid­er sup­port­ing your favorite carv­ing sup­ply shop.

Review: “Carving & Painting Christmas Ornaments” by Betty Padden

Carving and Painting Christmas Ornaments -

Easy Techniques For 23 Patterns in Wood

By Betty Padden

Reviewed by Matt Kelley


Carving & Painting XmasCarv­ing and Paint­ing Christ­mas Orna­ments, a recent release by Wood­carv­ing Illus­trat­ed Books, is a col­lec­tion of 23 pat­terns for carved christ­mas orna­ments, includ­ing projects for begin­ner, inter­me­di­ate and advanced carvers.  Pad­den starts with a page of Get­ting Start­ed infor­ma­tion, then includes five pages on her paint­ing tech­nique.   She paints with oil paints and so focus­es on that type of paint, but much of the infor­ma­tion may be use­ful to acrylic paint users as well.

After the paint­ing sec­tion, Pad­den starts out with carv­ing and paint­ing direc­tions for two begin­ner projects, fol­lowed by two inter­me­di­ate and two advance projects.  Fol­low­ing the six projects with carv­ing and paint­ing instruc­tions, there are 17 addi­tion­al projects with pho­tos, pat­terns and paint­ing sug­ges­tions, in a mix of skill lev­els.  The projects are a nice mix of new orna­ment designs, cer­tain­ly suf­fi­cient for a new­bie, but even advanced carvers will find some fresh ideas in this volume.

Con­tents include:

  • Inside front and back cov­ers — Paint Mix­ing Quick Reference
  • Intro­duc­tion
  • Get­ting Started
  • Paint­ing
  • Step-by-Step Projects
  • Begin­ner
  • Christ­mas Sock
  • Stargaz­ing Sheep
  • Inter­me­di­ate
  • Bloom­ing Poinsettia
  • Heart Angel
  • Advanced
  • I’m On The Nice List Elf
  • Polar Bear Delivery
  • Addi­tion­al Projects
  • Twin­kling Star
  • Sim­ple Heart
  • Clip-on Can­dle
  • Elf Ici­cle
  • Bless This House Ornament
  • Christ­mas Reindeer
  • Large Snow­man Head
  • Snow­man Snowflake
  • Large Snow­man Icicle
  • Small Snow­man Icicle
  • Cozy Pen­guin
  • Snow­man Family
  • Top Hat Snowman
  • Bird and Top Hat
  • Clip-on Chick­adee
  • Snow­man Head and Star Fam­i­ly Ornament
  • Snow­man with Sign

The pho­tos and draw­ings in this vol­ume are of good qual­i­ty.  The direc­tions seem suf­fi­cient­ly clear to allow even a new­bie to suc­cess­ful­ly carve at least the begin­ner projects.  If you are look­ing for some fresh orna­ment projects and don’t have the time to design your own, you will find this book use­ful, par­tic­u­lar­ly for the new­bie carver.

The book has a sug­gest­ed retail price of $16.99 and should be avail­able from your favorite carv­ing sup­ply house, or Fox Chapel Pub­lish­ing.   Check the Resource Files on this site for quick links.

Review: Carving Woodspirits

Carving Woodspirits:  Beyond The Basics

By Susan L. Hen­drix and Paul “PJ” Peery


Carving WoodspiritsCarv­ing Wood­spir­its:  Beyond The Basis was con­ceived with a fair­ly lofty goal in mind — to bridge the gap between the new­bie carv­er and the inter­me­di­ate carv­er.    Susan Hen­drix notes her hope the book will pro­vide a more expan­sive method for carv­ing wood­spir­its, explain why more expe­ri­enced carvers use a par­tic­u­lar tool or method, and will help read­ers gain a greater under­stand­ing of facial anato­my.  Hen­drix also men­tions that her meth­ods are only one of many ways to arrive at a fin­ished carv­ing and encour­ages stu­dents to try dif­fer­ent tools and meth­ods, and to nev­er stop learning

Carv­ing Wood­spir­its is a 64 page spi­ral-bound soft­cov­er book with glossy cov­er and good qual­i­ty paper.

Con­tents include:

  • About The Authors
  • Author’s Note
  • Safe­ty
  • Sharp­en­ing
  • Supplies/Materials
  • Tools
  • Instruc­tion­al Overview
  • Intro­duc­tion:  Facial Proportions
  • Carv­ing Woodspirits
  • Pat­terns
  • Gallery
  • Resources
  • Susan-isims

Hen­drix wise­ly doesn’t spend a whole lot of book space on top­ics such as safe­ty, sharp­en­ing,  and sup­plies & mate­ri­als. and in fact dis­pos­es of the first sev­en top­ics in eight pages.  Hope­ful­ly the some­what expe­ri­enced begin­ner carv­er has some famil­iar­i­ty with the haz­ards, mate­ri­als and tools, but if not, the brief dis­cus­sion should serve.

The intro­duc­tion to facial pro­por­tions pro­vides a con­cise overview of the stan­dard pro­por­tions of the face, from both frontal and pro­file views.  While brief, this overview like­ly exceeds the lev­el of infor­ma­tion found in many begin­ner carv­ing books.

The real meat of the vol­ume begins on page 10 with the step-by-step instruc­tions for carv­ing a wood spir­it.  Here you will find 121 detailed steps and progress shots that take you from a round­ed piece of wood to a fin­ished wood­spir­it.   Each step includes at least one detailed pho­to or sketch, with addi­tion­al use­ful tips scat­tered through­out the steps.  The text and pho­tos are large and easy to read, so no eye strain using this book.  Most pages have three steps and accom­pa­ny­ing pho­tos.    Some pho­tos are larg­er than oth­ers, based upon the view need­ed for the par­tic­u­lar step.

This is by far one of the most detailed treat­ments of wood spir­it carv­ing that I have encountered.

This is by far one of the most detailed treat­ments of wood spir­it carv­ing that I have encoun­tered.  The text is gen­er­al­ly quite clear, and the pho­tos sup­port the text points nice­ly.  The Tips and oth­er sup­ple­men­tary mate­r­i­al are excel­lent learn­ing points and mer­it par­tic­u­lar atten­tion from the new­bie carv­ing work­ing to tran­si­tion to the next skill level.

After the 53 pages of step-by-step instruc­tion, the read­er will find 7 pages of pat­terns and a 3 page gallery of fin­ished carvings.

The book con­cludes with a page of what her stu­dents have come to call Susan-isims; use­ful lit­tle quick gems  learned over twen­ty-five years of carv­ing, such as “Put your knife down BEFORE you scratch your nose,” and “By learn­ing the var­i­ous meth­ods you will even­tu­al­ly devel­op your own carv­ing style.”

Are there nits to pick with this book?   Actu­al­ly, darn few.  I would have liked to see a bit bet­ter light­ing on a few of the pho­tos, but gen­er­al­ly speak­ing the light­ing and qual­i­ty was good.   Some might think the intro­duc­to­ry mate­r­i­al was a bit light­ly cov­ered,  but I an com­fort­able with that in exchange for more and bet­ter detail in the actu­al carv­ing process.

If you are a new­bie carv­ing look­ing to upgrade your skill lev­el, or a more expe­ri­ence carv­er look­ing for anoth­er method of wood­spir­it carv­ing, then you should cer­tain­ly con­sid­er adding this book to your col­lec­tion.   Carv­ing Wood­spir­it:  Beyond The Basics is avail­able for $17.95 plus ship­ping from (Click HERE)


Review — Carving Fantasy & Legend Figures in Wood

Carving Fantasy & Legend Figures in Wood — Revised Edition

By Shawn Cipa


Fantasy Legend FiguresFox Chapel Pub­lish­ing recent­ly released a Revised Edi­tion of Shawn Cipa’s Carv­ing Fan­ta­sy & Leg­end Fig­ures in Wood.  This book was first released in 2005 and favor­ably reviewed by our Mike Bloomquist in the Nov/Dec ’05 issue of WOM.   (Click HERE to revis­it the orig­i­nal review).

So what is dif­fer­ent about the Revised Edi­tio?.  First off, the cov­er is much dif­fer­ent, fea­tur­ing a drag­on in addi­tion to the excel­lent gryphon found on the orig­i­nal cov­er.  The text is now a san serif, clean­er and more contemporary.

Mov­ing inside the book, the change to a clean­er, lighter, more con­tem­po­rary look con­tin­ues.   What did not change, how­ev­er, is the core con­tent itself — the book con­tains the same projects and pho­tos as the orig­i­nal edi­tion.  Bloomquist give the orig­i­nal four thumbs up back in 2005 and the new edi­tion cer­tain­ly doesn’t reduce that at all.

So if you have the orig­i­nal edi­tion, do you buy the new one?   Like­ly not, unless you have worn your edi­tion to tat­ters or are a con­firmed Shawn Cipa groupie.   (I sus­pect there are more then a few of those around.)

If you don’t have the book and are inter­est­ed in carv­ing fan­ta­sy fig­ures, then this would be a good edi­tion to add to your carv­ing library.

Carv­ing Fan­ta­sy and Leg­end Fig­ures in Wood is avail­able from your favorite carv­ing sup­ply hous­es at $19.99 plus tax and shipping.


Twisted Taters — A Review

SDCoverIf you have been inter­est­ed in a minor diver­sion from wood carv­ing and want­ed to try carv­ing sweet pota­toes or yams, up until now your only choice for a ref­er­ence was Tom Wolfe’s 1998 paper­back, The Yam Yan­kee.  Now, final­ly, there is a sec­ond book avail­able — Twist­ed Taters — Straight Talk For The Sweet Pota­to Carv­er, Crafter & Hob­by­ist, by Steve DuBridge.

DuBridge start­ed carv­ing ‘taters about 14 years ago, and over the years has devel­oped tech­niques and tips that he now pass­es on to oth­er would-be tater-heads in his new book.



The book includes the following:

  • An Intro­duc­tion
  • Four­Pro­jects
  • The Avi­a­tor
  • Bald Guy
  • Indi­an Chief
  • Medieval Peas­ant
  • Dry­ing Your Tater-head
  • Free-up Details
  • Set­ting The Eyes and Teeth
  • Paint­ing
  • Project Gallery

Scat­tered through­out are var­i­ous tips on carv­ing and pre­serv­ing tater carvings.

So do we need anoth­er book on tater carv­ing?  Well, if you are look­ing for a lot of use­ful tips, some rea­son­ably good step-by-step instruc­tions and a nice pho­to gallery, then this book might be just what you are look­ing for.  (Exam­ples from the pho­to gallery may be found at the end of this article.)

One of the most use­ful bits of knowl­edge is DuBridge’s alter­na­tive method for quick­ly dry­ing a tater-head.  It is inno­v­a­tive and promis­es quick­er, more reli­able drying.

One of his oth­er hints sug­gests a method for deal­ing with grub infes­ta­tion.  My own sin­gu­lar attempt at tater carv­ing turned out well enough, although it took a long time to dry.   It last­ed nice­ly until the fol­low­ing spring, when it became infest­ed with what were most like­ly grain moths.   Had I had this book at that time, I would have known how to deal with the moth lar­va, instead of chuck­ing the carv­ing into the trash as I did.

If I were to pick a nit about this book, it would be that the step-by-step pho­tos could be improved if tak­en with bet­ter light­ing and a neu­tral back­ground.  This is more a styl­is­tic pref­er­ence then any­thing else; the exist­ing pho­tos do the job regardless.

The book, at 34 pages, is avail­able from the Lulu Mar­ket­place at a cost of $24.95.  Click HERE to vis­it the Lulu website.

Reviews: “Woodcarving Magic” & “The Art of Netsuke”

Wood­carv­ing Mag­ic: How To Trans­form A Sin­gle Block of Wood Into Impos­si­ble Shapes
By Bjarne Jespersen

The Art of Carv­ing Net­suke
By Peter Benson

Reviewed by Matt Kelley

In the January/February 2012 issue of WOM, Mike Bloomquist reviewed two books that I would call aspi­ra­tional books for the begin­ning carv­er.  In this issue, I’ll review two books that I con­sid­er aspi­ra­tional for the inter­me­di­ate to advanced carv­er.   Why do I say that?  While sev­er­al of the projects could be tack­led by a per­sis­tent new­bie, the more advanced are suf­fi­cient­ly daunt­ing as to give even a much more expe­ri­enced carv­er pause.

That is not to sug­gest that a less expe­ri­enced carv­er should not pore over these two vol­umes – they are both well-writ­ten and laid-out, and offer a good look at two remark­ably dif­fer­ent but equal­ly intrigu­ing areas of our craft and art.


Wood­carv­ing Mag­ic: How To Trans­form A Sin­gle Block of Wood Into Impos­si­ble Shapes

By Bjarne Jespersen

Wood­carv­ing Mag­ic” By Bjarne Jespersen


We have all seen carved chains, ball-in-cage, and oth­er sim­i­lar carv­ings with inter­locked loops – that par­tic­u­lar style of whit­tling or carv­ing has been around in some form or oth­er of hun­dreds of years.  Bjarne Jes­persen takes that old hand­i­craft, injects it with sci­ence, and turns it into art.

Although not yet that well known in the Unit­ed States, Jes­persen is inter­na­tion­al­ly known as a wood­carv­er with a pas­sion for math­e­mat­ics and geom­e­try.  He uses that back­ground to cre­ate what he calls “mag­ic wood­carv­ings” — high­ly com­plex carv­ings of inter­laced rings and loops, all from a sin­gle block of material.

Inspired by his inter­est in sol­id geom­e­try, “recre­ation­al math­e­mat­ics” and the work of M.C. Esch­er, Jes­persen has spent a good por­tion of his life design­ing and carv­ing a col­lec­tion of inter­lock­ing rings and cages, a body of work that George W. Hart, Chief of Con­tent, The Muse­um of Math­e­mat­ics, describes as ‘beau­ti­ful and intel­lec­tu­al­ly rich.”

This book is a sin­gu­lar vol­ume – while oth­er books may touch upon sim­ple chains and inter­lock­ing carv­ings, I know of no oth­er that starts with two inter­lock­ing rings (the Hopf Link), three rings (the Bor­romean rings) – and then goes on through increas­ing com­plex designs, some of which, like the hoso­he­dral hexa­link, may seem uncar­v­able.  For those will­ing to under­take the work, how­ev­er, Jes­persen offers advice and council.

The Con­tents:

  • About the Book
  • About the Author
  • Fore­word, Introduction
  • Chap­ter 1: Traditions
  • Chap­ter 2: Wood
  • Chap­ter 3:  Tools and Methods
  • Chap­ter 4:  Mock-ups and Prototypes
  • Chap­ter 5:  Prepar­ing Blanks to Carve
  • Chap­ter 6:  Get­ting Started
  • Chap­ter 7:  Flat Rings
  • Chap­ter 8: Cages
  • Chap­ter 9:  Twist­ed Rings
  • Chap­ter 10:  Knot­ted Rings
  • Chap­ter 11:  Cre­ative Geometry
  • For Fur­ther Infor­ma­tion: Index

In all, the book con­tains 29 projects, along with much oth­er mate­r­i­al, includ­ing a good selec­tion of pho­tographs.  Some of the projects are quite do-able even for a mod­er­ate­ly expe­ri­enced new­bie.  A few oth­ers only an obsessed, geom­e­try-lov­ing carv­er with lots of time would even attempt.   The major­i­ty of the carv­ings are quite ele­gant and many beau­ti­ful.  Some, how­ev­er, are so com­plex your first response will be; “No way that can be done,” close­ly fol­lowed by “How the heck did he do that?”

Would I rec­om­mend this book?  Well, cer­tain­ly – it’s one I think many carvers will want in their col­lec­tion.  It’s a great book for those “I need a new chal­lenge” days.   It’s also a great “amaze your friends with what can be carved” book.  Next time one of your buds pro­claims loud­ly, “I can carve any­thing,” – stick this book under his or her nose – after you place your bets!

The Art of Carv­ing Net­suke
By Peter Benson

The Art of Carv­ing Net­suke” By Peter Benson

Net­suke, (pro­nounced “net-skee” ), were devel­oped in 17th cen­tu­ry Japan for a prac­ti­cal pur­pose – to serve as a tog­gle to help sup­port con­tain­ers (sage­mono) that were hung by cords from the sash, or obi, that were part of tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese gar­ments.  These gar­ments, called kosode and kimono, had no pock­ets, and the sage­mono were used to car­ry a vari­ety of per­son­al effects, such as tobac­co, pipes, mon­ey or medicines.

Net­suke have evolved over time from util­i­tar­i­an objects into objects of great beau­ty and artis­tic mer­it.  Most pop­u­lar dur­ing the Edo peri­od, around 1615 to 1868, the art of carv­ing net­suke con­tin­ues today.

Peter Ben­son notes the fol­low­ing in the Intro­duc­tion:  
Although there are many books on net­suke, they are pri­mar­i­ly aimed at col­lec­tors and admir­ers; there is very lit­tle on offer for carvers.  The main rea­son I wrote this book was to redress this issue and to encour­age more carvers to exper­i­ment with what net­suke carv­ing has to offer.

He also goes on to say:

This book is not intend­ed to be an informed instruc­tion­al man­u­al for aspir­ing pro­fes­sion­al net­suke carvers.  My aim is sim­ply to pro­vide enough infor­ma­tion and encour­age­ment to get you start­ed on a new way of carv­ing and to help you gain expe­ri­ence in carv­ing minia­ture pieces.  With luck, some of you will go on to pro­duce your own exquis­ite work, typ­i­cal of the tra­di­tion­al net­suke carvers, the netsuke-shi’s.

The Con­tents:

Intro­duc­tion; The His­to­ry of Netsuke

Get­ting Started

  • Plan­ning
  • Mar­quettes and patterns
  • Mate­ri­als
  • Tools and equipment
  • Mak­ing and mod­i­fy­ing tools
  • Main­tain­ing your tools
  • Safe­ty
  • Avoid­ing and rec­ti­fy­ing mistakes


  • Eyes
  • Scales
  • Feath­ers
  • Fur and hair
  • Uki­bori
  • Adding colour
  • Himo­to­shi


  • Dor­mouse
  • Tur­tle Dove
  • Rab­bit
  • Toad
  • Mon­key
  • Apple
  • Snake
  • Mask

About the author
Acknowl­edge­ments Index


Ben­son spends the first fifty-sev­en of 168 pages on the Intro­duc­tion, His­to­ry, Get­ting Start­ed and Tech­niques sec­tions.  Although not, as he notes, an exhaus­tive study, these sec­tions still con­tain a sig­nif­i­cant amount of use­ful infor­ma­tion.  If you have not tack­led very small carv­ing or used mate­ri­als oth­er than wood, you will find the infor­ma­tion par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful.  Some of the tech­niques will like­ly be total­ly new to you, such as uki­bori and himotoshi.

Ben­son next turns to the project sec­tion, which includes eight won­der­ful projects.  Each projects has sim­i­lar information:

  • Sev­er­al pho­tos of the fin­ished carving
  • The Tool­box, a list of sug­gest­ed tools
  • A bill of materials
  • Cre­at­ing the Marquette
  • Pro­duc­ing the basic shape
  • A series of steps that vary depend­ing upon the carv­ing, with top­ics such as lay­ing out the piece, rough­ing out, adding detail, adding the himo­to­shi, finishing


Each project ranges from 8 to 12 pages.  These are not exact, detailed, step-by-step instruc­tions, but more of an over-view, but cer­tain­ly with suf­fi­cient detail for an inter­me­di­ate or advance carv­er to pro­ceed nice­ly.  You will find more then enough infor­ma­tion about each project to gain a good under­stand­ing of the tools and tech­niques used.

Final­ly, the book clos­es with an excel­lent pho­to gallery, includ­ing pieces by Ben­son, a selec­tion from the Peabody Essex Muse­um, and a nice col­lec­tion from some of the top net­suke carvers in the world.  The gallery alone is worth a lot of your time and a fair por­tion of the cost of the book.

Like Wood­carv­ing Mag­ic, this is a vol­ume that I think belongs in the col­lec­tion of any seri­ous carv­er, par­tic­u­lar­ly if you have an inter­est in net­suke or minia­ture carv­ings.  For the mod­er­ate­ly to high­ly expe­ri­enced carv­er, some of these projects would be a good, sol­id challenge.

As I sug­gest­ed at the start of this arti­cle, Wood­carv­ing Mag­ic, and The Art of Carv­ing Net­suke are aspi­ra­tional books for the mod­er­ate to advanced carv­er.  Most of the projects in the books are ones I would hes­i­tate to rec­om­mend to a new­bie carv­er, but cer­tain­ly would rec­om­mend both to a more expe­ri­enced carv­er will­ing to under­take the work.  Both books are nice­ly laid out, with good pho­tog­ra­phy, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the case of Net­suke.  The carv­ings in both are fine exam­ples of the carver’s art, eye-catch­ing and at times dra­mat­ic.   These were not intend­ed as cof­fee table books, but the sub­ject mat­ter is cer­tain­ly inter­est­ing enough to share with your non-carv­ing friends over a cuppa.

Review: Us Carvers

Us Carvers

by Ger­ry Holzman

Review by Mike Bloomquist

Cover of Us CarversFirst off, an apol­o­gy to my read­ers (all three of you) for my sparse con­tri­bu­tions to WOM over the past cou­ple of years.  I’ve been recent­ly tempt­ed aside by oth­er activ­i­ties.  Hope­ful­ly my writ­ing and wood­carv­ing hasn’t suf­fered for it.  Any­way, I hope this is a treat for you here on my return.  This book, Us Carvers,  by Ger­ry Holz­man, was a bit hard to acquire, but, in the end well worth the effort.   At Artistry In Wood about three years ago a fel­low wood­carv­er dropped off a pho­to­copied ad from Chip Chats announc­ing this book and describ­ing it as an account of the auth or’s cor­re­spon­dence and friend­ship with the wood­carv­er Gino Masero.  Not to snub the author, but it was his friend’s name that imme­di­ate­ly caught my inter­est.  In a pre­vi­ous review writ­ten for the book Ele­ments of Wood­carv­ing authored by Chris Pye, two of the final chap­ters were ded­i­cat­ed to carvers who had great­ly influ­enced the author.  Gino Masero was one of them.  Unfor­tu­nate­ly I did snub Mr. Pye in that review, because the one carv­ings in  Ele­ments that was not­ed specif­i­cal­ly was a soul­ful piece of St. Fran­cis of Assisi play­ing the vio­lin (actu­al­ly two sticks).  I was eager for anoth­er view of the wood sculp­tor Masero.

To see the rest of this review click HERE.

Review: First Projects for Woodcavers

First Projects For Woodcarvers Cover

First Projects for Woodcarvers & 

First Christmas Projects for Woodcarvers

by Lar­ry Green and Mike Altman

Review by Mike Bloomquist

These two books are old friends off mine and I haven’t carved a sin­gle project from either of them.  What’s even more strange is one of them, First Christ­mas Projects for Wood­carvers I just pur­chased from the Wood­craft Shop at the Artistry in Wood show last Novem­ber.  Pret­ty sim­ple rid­dles real­ly.  I’ve had them with me for many of my wood carv­ing class­es espe­cial­ly where begin­ners were expect­ed.  You see, I don’t like to force any par­tic­u­lar pat­tern on stu­dents if it can be helped, espe­cial­ly those who are new to the art.  So begin­ners are offered as wide a selec­tion of pat­terns as pos­si­ble. As for Christ­mas Projects begin­ning a recent pur­chase, I bought a copy from “Big Dog” to replace one I’d lost track of.  Some­day, whomev­er I loaned it to will turn up with it and I’ll prob­a­bly let them have it as a gift.  It’s hap­pened like that before.

OK, these to have been around for a bit. First Projects for Wood­carvers was pub­lished in 1996 and it’s com­pan­ion the fol­low­ing year.  First off, these books have more authors than just the two list­ed on the cov­er.  Lar­ry Green is the pri­ma­ry author (I believe) and Mike Alt­man is an illus­tra­tor.  One of the fin­er points of these books is the illus­tra­tions and car­i­ca­tures of the authors, so Mike deserves to be list­ed.  Then there’s some fine pho­tog­ra­phy by Steve Smith and con­sul­tants Tom Brown (CCA mem­ber) and Mac Prof­fit (own­er of Smoky Moun­tain Wood­carver’s Supply).

First Christmas Projects cover

To see the rest of this review click HERE.