In the Wood Carving Room

Carve wood?   Holy schmoley ~ ME?   I could become a woodcarver and make lasting beautiful objects?  Yer kidding me……right?

Carving a squirrel perched on a nut

This was probably my 1st reaction, because it came as a delightful surprise these past 2 yrs, to discover I had yet another crafty skill lurking inside me.  It was just a chance occurrence.

My 1st spinning wheel  –  a modern Lendrum – came with it’s own orifice hook plugged into a slot.  When I later got an antique wheel: no hook…..and well…that just wouldn’t do.   I had a Dremel tool and the notion to just try carving a little piece of wood – then glue in the wire hook.   With a bit of cherry off the wood pile, I managed to carve a generic bug.  It was meant to be a fancy cicada, but whatever.  It was still a lot of fun.  I’ve taken no classes….just learned by trying it.

Friends at our Spinning Guild admired this humble 1st effort, and that ~ together with the thrill of watching the carved wood take shape ~ was sufficient lure to keep at it.  If I could carve a bug, I could make all sorts of things!   What sort of wood to try next?  Where else could I find pretty bits to carve?  We have 2 gentlemen in Aurora Colony Handspinner’s Guild who are woodturners creating beautiful items on a lathe (envy, envy).   Both have generously given me lovely scraps of wood to use.  When I cut down a maple in my yard and found gorgeous spalted color inside, I was quick to return the favor, sharing huge chunks with both these kindly gentlemen.  Local wood stores offered additional woods in beautiful colors and grain.  Who could resist glowing Amboyna, or Pink Ivory, or black Ebony?

Amboyna, Bubinga, Camphor burl, Cypress, Ebony, Hazelnut, Holly, Madrone,  Manzanita, Myrtle, Pear, Yew, Walnut, Wild Olive, etc

Carving hungry baby birds ~ inspired this spring by Robins nesting on the front porch

 From Wood Block to Finished Hook ~ what does it take?  Let’s follow the steps…

1). Shopping trip – rummage at wood shop or in my storage bins.  Which wood appeals to me today?   2). Imagination.   Total freedom to try anything I fancy.  Sketch it on wood.  Cut outline with small bench-top band saw; my only other tool.    3). Rough out:  use Dremel to chunk away unwanted wood with gnarly carving bits.  Messy & not the fun part.  Woodcarving means revealing a shape by removing the wood surrounding it.  Sorta like clay sculpting, except a backwards process with much harder material.    4).  Refining contours:  smaller rugged carving bits outline (for example) the squirrel in the photo.    Make the arms, legs, head, tail show.     5).  Refining Details:  smaller carving tips cut in further to texture the tail, reveal the face, create tiny fingers holding a nut.    6).  Smooth the carving:  some bits shave away unwanted roughness.    7).  Sanding:  using round sanding discs to smooth the carving.  It takes multiple passes with several grits:  100 / 150 / 220/ 340 / 600 / 800.   The discs need frequent pause to replace if worn or torn.    8).  Gripe a little:  By this point, I’m hating the %#!* Darth Vader dust mask… despite resolve to keep dust out of my lungs.    9).  Signature & wire hole:  Add my initials “DN”, then drill hole for hook wire.    10). Clean up:  my carving room is tiny & cleans up fast, but I never skip the thorough vacuuming of dust, for health reasons.   11). Apply finish:  I favor Tung oil to harden the wood + make the color & grain “pop.”  Sometimes I add a final coat of high quality Carnauba wax.    12). Maybe Eyes:  Some animal carvings wear attached German glass eyes.  They come with a wire sticking out the back.  I carve an eye divot, drill a tiny hole & glue the eye wire inserted there.  It’s my extra special ‘signature’ feature.     13). Attach hook wire & Tag  with name, wood identity & price.

Carving bits + a Dremel rotary tool

From wood block – – to ‘roughed out’- – then finished carving.

    It takes some 4 -to- 10 hours to complete a single hook. Much depends on the design complexity.  Also the wood type:  Maple or Bubinga are like carving a brick / whereas Cypress, Olive or Madrone all carve “like butter.”      I seldom carve 1 piece of wood start-to-finish in a setting.  These days I attempt an assembly-line process of 3 or 4 hooks of the same design, in futile hope of speeding things up.

So why go to all that effort?  Well it’s not just to earn money – which is still nice.  Carving began with a fun attempt, and remains mesmerizing!  Just the scent of the wood shop can stir a desire to carve that day.  It’s a constant lure to try a new wood or a new design.

I feel absolutely blessed to have become A WOOD CARVER… albeit on a very small scale.  Creating whimsical spinning wheel orifice hooks is definitely a micro-niche market!  But – check it out – I’m carving wood  items that share an obvious connection to all that wool dyeing and spinning and needle felting!  How cool is that?

All my life I’ve admired & enjoyed carved wood, and marveled that someone revealed a shape – be it a spoon, ornate frame, spinning wheel or a statue.  Endless options and a renewable resource.   Wood is totally biodegradable, and yet with care, the items can last a lifetime.

My tiny carvings are small, delightful objects of Folk Art that charm their new owners.  I know…I’ve seen the customer faces light up when they decide upon a purchase, and the smiles they wear walking away with their new treasure.  So many people are attracted to the solidity and creative appeal of carved wood.  It’s a piece of their natural surroundings, a tiny treasure derived from nature and revealed by the human hand.

It’s such a privilege to earn money by having creative fun while working (make no mistake, it IS work).   But I love it.  Can’t wait to carve some more….  already have another idea….oh, and another!  Gotta go now…. There is much carving to be done so I’ll be ready for Oregon Flock & Fiber Festival 2012.

Click on the SPINNING WHEEL HOOKS tab to see more!

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