I headed south to New Braunfels, TX yesterday to get a look at the Texas Woodcarvers Guild Spring Round-Up. The Round-Up is a week-long event that features classes, a banquet, a Whittlin’ Contest, and a few vendors set up to sell things that carvers buy. A lot of carvers are unabashed tool junkies, there were lots of tools available for sale.
The Spring Round-Up does not feature a show or any real “public” appeal. The general public is welcome to come in and look around, of course, but there are no tables set up with pieces on display, and there is no judged contest. The judged show takes place in the fall–typically the last week of September or first week of October.
I had two goals for my trip: to participate in the Whittlin’ Contest, and to buy some tools. I’m decidedly not a tool junkie, but I’ve been carving for three years with just a knife (okay, I own a handful of knives), one V-tool, and one gouge. There are things I can’t do (or can’t do easily) with those few tools, so I thought I’d pick up a few other gouges. I could have ordered the tools online, but wanted some advice from more experienced carvers, and the ability to hold the tools in my hand before I shelled out money for them. I ended up with six new gouges and a few new power carving bits, all of which should help me improve my carving.
I spent Tuesday afternoon wandering around the floor, briefly watching and listening to the classes that were taking place, talking to other carvers, and generally having a good ol’ wood nerd time. I also spent a little time in the Carving Corner, whittling a little dog and chatting with other carvers. Once again I was struck by how friendly and inclusive carvers are. Every carver there, from those who are just starting out to the most accomplished, were happy to sit around and chat while whittling away on a project. And they’re happy to answer questions and spend their time demonstrating some technique or other. Whittling with this group is a relaxing and entertaining experience.
The Whittlin’ Contest was scheduled for 7:00 PM. There are three classes: Novice, Intermediate, and Open. There are a few set rules, the most important being that if you win in one of the lower classes, you have to move up. Beyond that, the person in charge of the contest (who, by tradition, is the person who won the Open class the year before) sets the other rules.
Because I had never done this before, I entered into the Novice class. There were five of us in Novice, five or six in Intermediate, and almost a dozen in the Open class. We all sat down at our respective tables and they passed out the wood. The Novices got a block of basswood, 2-1/2″ x 2-1/2″ x 3″. They told us to carve a “Civil War hat,” further clarified as “any kind of hat you would have seen during the Civil War.”
The Intermediates were given a piece that was approximately 8 inches long, and cut in to a triangle that was about 2″ on a side. I think their instructions were to carve “a military scene.” The Open contestants were given a block about 2-1/2 inches square and maybe six inches tall, and told to carve “a Civil War caricature.”
We Novices were told that we could use any tool in our toolbox. The Intermediates were limited to, I think, three tools, and those in the Open category could use only one knife. They told us that we had an hour, and started the clock.
I don’t know much about hats in general, and I know even less about the kinds of hats worn during the Civil War. I could picture the Confederate cap, but not well enough to try carving one without a reference. But I figured that I could do a cowboy hat. Certainly somebody during that time was wearing cowboy hats. The only problem was that I had to remove a whole lot of wood to realize my vision.
At one point, after I made a mistake and broke the brim of what I was working on, I considered changing to a stovepipe hat, but I ended up having enough time left over to make it look kind of like a cowboy hat.
Judging is done based on originality, technical quality (proportion, symmetry, clean cuts, etc.), and also on completeness. Somebody told me that completing the project within the time allotted was worth a lot in the judges’ eyes. I had carved a couple of stovepipe hats before, and one (failed) cowboy hat, so I was pretty sure I could finish this project in an hour.
I did finish it in an hour, and although it’s a bit of a goofy looking hat, I ended up winning first place in the Novice category. Here’s my hat along with the second and third place winners.
I think that either of the other two would have beat mine, had the carvers finished them in time. My hat is two inches tall, and the brim is two inches in diameter. Here’s a closer picture.
I was going to show the Intermediate and Open winners, as well, but the pictures were very blurry.
My prize was a plaque:
I’ll be the first to admit that my hat is no great carving. But then, I was under pressure just to finish something in the allotted time. Given advanced notice and unlimited time, I could do a much better hat.
I honestly was very surprised to win this little contest. But now I have to move up to Intermediate, and that’s going to require a lot of practice. Even the worst of the Intermediate entries was beyond my current skills.