Carving a whimsical house, Part 3

This is the third in a series of posts about carving a little whimsical house from an old cedar fence post. See Carving a whimsical house, Part 1 for the introduction.

In Part 2, I finished carving the roof. The next thing to do is establish the roof line and gables, and carve the sides down in preparation for the doors and windows. To that end, the first order of business is to draw the roof line similar to this:

roofline1 roofline2


typhoonBudI use a Typhoon “bud” burr, shown on the right, to cut the roof line in the wood. If you
don’t have that particular burr, a flame shape or a taper would probably do just as well. This line doesn’t have to be terribly precise; just be careful not to carve away the roof.

roofline3The picture on the left shows the house after I’ve cut the roof line. You probably noticed that the bottom line looks like I cut it with the same burr. I might have. That bottom line, by the way, is where I’ll carve the rocks that the house sits on.

The next thing to do is carve the space between the roof and the base relatively flat so that the roof overhangs the house. I’ve used several different burrs for this and still haven’t decided which one I like the best. The 9/16″ Typhoon that I used for rough shaping the roof works okay, although it’s kind of hard to get the middle portion. However you do it, be careful not to go too deep. Also don’t worry about getting it perfectly flat. At this point, the most important part is to carve down the triangle that makes the gable on each end.

gable1 gable2

Above you can see that I’ve carved the gables, and then drawn lines to outline the trim board that serves to separate the wall from the gable. The next step is to relieve that board by carving down the wood above and below it.


Carving away the wood below is easy enough: just outline with the “bud” burr and then carve the rest of the wall. Carving the gable is a bit of a pain. I’m still experimenting with the best way to do that. If the area is large enough, I’ll use the bud or a flame shaped Typhoon burr. If it’s smaller, then the ruby carver seems to work pretty well. However I’ve done it, though, I’ve not been able to get a good sharp line. I keep trying.

gable4Here’s what my house looks like after carving both gables and the walls on all four sides.

Again using the Typhoon bud burr, I roughed out the rocks that make up the base of the carving. I probably made a mistake using that large burr for this, because the resulting rocks have too much space between them. I had to do a lot of smoothing and shaping work to get it to look even halfway decent in the rocksbaseend. Live and learn, I guess. I would suggest taking your time with a ruby carver or perhaps a long taper Typhoon if you have one. In any case, something smaller and less aggressive than what I used.

After I finished roughing out the rocks, I spent a little time with the flap sander to smooth the walls a bit so that I had a reasonably flat surface on which to carve the doors and windows. If you don’t have a flap sander, a sanding drum will work as will any other burr that leaves a relatively smooth surface. The surface doesn’t have to be completely free from scratches, as you’ll be cleaning it up later. But you probably want something pretty flat for the door and window frames.

Next time: doors and windows.



Carving a whimsical house, Part 2

This is the second in a series of posts about carving a little whimsical house from an old cedar fence post. See Carving a whimsical house, Part 1 for the introduction.

roof1In the first part, I cut a piece of fence post into four blocks, each 2″ x 2″ x 3″ high, and drilled a 3/8″ hole in the center. The result is shown on the left.

I should note here that all of the carving on this piece is done with the Foredom power carver using various bits and burrs. It’s important when using these tools to wear eye protection, have some type of dust collection apparatus, and wear a respirator or some other way to protect your lungs. Power carving produces a lot of dust, and you do not want that stuff in your lungs. You might also want to wear ear plugs if your dust collection system is especially noisy.

I also want to point out that this series of posts shows how I carved one house. This isn’t the only way to do it. In fact my method is constantly changing as I become more familiar with using the tools. This is only the fifth one of these houses I’ve made, so I’m still just a beginner.

With that out of the way, let’s get started.

Oh, by the way, you can click on any of these pictures to get a larger view. Although the “larger” view might not be a whole lot larger. I seem to be having trouble currently uploading larger pictures.

I find it best to start with the roof. Establishing the roof line sets the stage for the rest of the house. Also, if you carve the rest of the house and leave the roof for last, it’s very possible that you’ll run out of wood to complete the roof you want. The style of roof I’m creating here can eat up quite a bit of wood. I had to throw a Cottonwood bark house away once because I didn’t leave enough space for the roof. I was carving that one with knives and gouges.

roof2In the picture above, you can see that I’ve drawn a rough profile for the roof and chimney. Using a 1/2″ coarse Typhoon burr, I first outline the chimney.

The picture at the right shows how I begin to rough out the roof. The Typhoon burr is pretty aggressive, so I’m careful around the chimney, and I leave a lot of extra wood. I’ll come back later with a less aggressive burr and shape it.

Although the burr is aggressive, the cedar is a medium-hard wood and it takes some time to remove all that wood. Be patient and check your outline from time to time so that you don’t take off too much.

roof3It took me about 20 minutes to finish roughing out the roof to this point. That’s okay. I’m not in a race to see how quickly I can carve one of these little houses. I’d rather take a little extra time than get in a hurry and either destroy the carving or, worse, lose control of the tool and injure myself. Running that Typhoon burr over a thumb hurts. Trust me.

roof4Remember, too, that making a mistake isn’t fatal. These houses are supposed to be whimsical. They’re certainly not architecturally correct. If you inadvertently carve through the chimney, for example, don’t worry too much about it. You can always carve it to look like the chimney is falling apart. Carvers don’t make mistakes; we make adjustments.

roof5Next, I shape the chimney using a smaller and less aggressive Typhoon burr. I also put a few dips and humps in the roof surface in order to make it a little less uniformly flat, although that turns out not to be necessary for the roof style I chose; the process of adding the roof tiles makes for an irregular surface.

The last thing I did before beginning to carve the roof tiles is go over the roof with a 120 grit flap sander to remove most of the scratches left by the Typhoon burrs. Again, that’s not strictly necessary because the next step has me going over the roof with a finer ruby carver, but it’s part of the process for me–something I do regardless of the roof style I choose.


I do all of the tiling with the flame-shaped ruby carver shown on the right. I’ve tried other bits, particularly for carving the lines between roof tiles, but they end up making deep narrow lines that I then have to spend time removing. I like the flame shape, but the ruby carver is a bit less aggressive than I’d like. It also tends to clog up on cedar, and I have to clean it now and then with a brass brush. Don’t use a steel brush.


I chose to do a tile roof on this house. This is something I’ve tried once before with a Cottonwood bark house, and also on an earlier Cedar house. Those two didn’t turn out so well. I experimented with one side of this roof to refine my technique. The photos and description I show here are from the second side. I think I almost have this roof style figured out.

Here you can see that I’ve outlined the first tile. The next step is to remove wood to the right and below so that the tile stands out from the roof. Then, draw lines for the next two tiles.

rooftile2When I started, I found it helpful to draw lines for the tiles before outlining each one. I got the hang of it after a while and began just carving the next tile without first drawing a line. Do what you feel comfortable with.

rooftile3Next, outline those two tiles, carve away wood to the right and below, and outline the next tile. Note that you don’t have to carve the whole rest of the roof down after outlining each tile. Instead, just carve down enough for the next tile. What you’re going for is a gentle slope from the top left to the center bottom.

rooftile4Work your way down and to the right, outlining and carving away wood for each tile until you get approximately to the center of the roof. When you’ve completed the left side, it should look something like the large photo on the right.rooftile5

The general flow of the roof should be towards the right and down. That is, tiles on the left should appear “above” tiles on the right. It’s okay if some tiles appear to stick up above where they “should” be; that’s part of the house’s whimsical nature. But do try to keep the general flow to the right and down.

rooftile6Next, start at the top right corner and do the same thing, but work down and to the left. Again, take your time. When you get close to the center, where the tiles from the left meet the tiles to the right, you’ll probably have to make some adjustments. If there’s a trick to making that come out just right, I don’t yet know what it is. I will say, however, that this is the best I’ve done so far.

rooftile7And that’s one side of the roof tiles, almost completed. You can see that I made a few mistakes, the biggest one being there on the far right where I have one tile sitting completely on top of another. It looks a bit strange, and is not what I had planned. Don’t know how I managed that.

If you have a smaller ruby or diamond carver, you might want to sharpen the edges between tiles. I suspect that with a bit more practice I’ll be able to get sharp edges between all the tiles. I did a passable job here, but some of the lines aren’t as clean as I’d like them.

That’s it for the roof tiles. Next time I’ll rough out the roof line and carve the gables.



Carving a whimsical house, Part 1


An online carving group with which I’m involved is doing a “friendship stick” project. Each of 10 carvers makes 10 carvings from a 2″ x 2″ x 3″ block of wood, and sends one carving to each of the other carvers. Every carving has a 3/8″ diameter hole drilled through it from top to bottom. When we receive the carvings, we display them stacked on a 3/8″ dowel.

The only rules are that the carving cannot be larger than 2″ x 2″ x 3″, and it has to have that hole in the middle. Beyond that, anything goes. I decided that I’d make little houses from a cedar fence post. The picture above is one of the houses I’ve carved for the project. This blog post is the first of several parts showing how I go from fence post to finished house.


Above is a 13 inch long piece of cedar fence post. We’re replacing the 30-year-old fence around our property, and I pulled this post from the ground a month or two ago. The wood isn’t really cedar, but rather Ashe Juniper, Juniperus ashei. The stuff grows like weeds all over Central Texas, and the wood is commonly used for fence posts. That it’s held the fence up for 30 years is good testament to its suitability for that purpose.

The first step in making a little house is turning this post fragment into blocks. And the first step of that process is making one side reasonably flat. After carefully checking for and removing any nails and fence staples, I took the piece over to the bandsaw. I set my fence about 1/2″ away from the blade, adjusted the height, and made the cut.


(Yes, the picture is a little blurry.)

You can see a few ripples in the cut.  Normally I would have done with a resaw blade (a 1/2″ blade with four teeth per inch), but I had the 3/16″ blade on the saw and didn’t want to mess with changing it. The resaw blade would have made for a straighter cut, but this was good enough for my purposes.

With one flat side, I could then take the piece of wood over to the table saw to finish squaring it up. I used to do this on the bandsaw, but it’s easier to get square sides with the table saw.


The picture above shows the piece with three sides squared up. After cutting the second side, I set the fence for 2″ and cut the other two sides. Then I set it for 3″ to cut the blocks to the right length.


The resulting blocks aren’t quite square because my initial cut with the bandsaw wasn’t perfect. I could have made allowances for that and squared things up on the table saw, but it just wasn’t that important to me. As long as the blocks are approximately square and don’t exceed the size limitation, it’s good enough for making these houses.

The next step is drilling a 3/8″ hole through the center of the block. Again, perfect placement isn’t terribly important, although I don’t want to be too far off. I used to do this with a hand drill, but I recently got a drill press, which makes things a bit easier. I just mark the center by drawing lines from corner to corner, and then clamp it in my drill press.

drillpressUnfortunately, my drill press’s range is about two and a half inches. So in order to drill through a 3″ block of wood I had to clamp the block in my bench vise and use a hand drill to finish the job.


With the block cut and a hole in the middle, it’s time to start carving. Stay tuned.

Part 2, in which we carve the roof.


Squiggle birds

When I was working on my 100 Birds Project, I saved the larger scraps from the bandsaw cutoffs. I nearly always had two cutouts that were in the shape of the bird’s side profile. The cutoffs are flat on one side and have the contour of the bird on the other side. Below are pictures of two cutoffs from a Juniper bird I did a while back, and then a bird cutout and the left side cutoff from a piece of Mesquite.



(If you look closely, you see that the mesquite cutoff is from a different mesquite bird. But you get the idea.)

I had originally planned to take a belt sander to the curved side of the cutoffs to create a bunch of flat bird profiles that I could make into refrigerator magnets or hang from a mobile. I was working on those when my friend Mike took one and made what I call a “squiggle bird.” He sanded the flat side to follow the contour of the curved side. The result is pretty cool.squiggle4We made a couple dozen of those, the idea being that I could hang them from a mobile. But there are problems. Finding the balance point is somewhat difficult. If I attach a line just a few millimeters forward or back of the balance point, the bird takes a severe nose-up or nose-down attitude. I tried to solve that problem by attaching the line to the tail and to the head, but that just looked ugly. In addition, if I attach the line to the back, then the bird ends up tilted on the roll axis–as if it’s making a turn. I’ve yet to find a good way to attach the squiggle birds to a mobile.

Last week I got the idea to mount a couple of birds on a standing base.

2014-04-20 21.37.54-1

The bird on top is mesquite, and the one on the bottom is pecan. They’re attached to a mesquite log with little twigs, also carved out of mesquite.

That looks okay, and I made another just like it. But it seems a waste to use such a large piece of mesquite for the base, and it’d look neater and more compact if I swapped the birds’ positions. So I made another one with the new design.


Both of the birds are mesquite, and the base is a piece of mesquite from which I removed the bark and then sanded away most of the sap wood. The birds and the plaque got two coats of Watco Natural Danish Oil, and then the birds got a couple coats of Deft Gloss spray polyurethane. The birds are attached to the plaque with mesquite twigs that are approximately 3/8″ in diameter. The plaque is flat on the back, and about 1/2 inch thick at its thickest. It’s designed to hang on a wall rather than stand on a desk or shelf.

I really like how this one turned out. I suspect I’ll be making more like it. My biggest problem might be picking out wood combinations that look good together.


Hand made beer mug

Debra and I went to the Sherwood Forest Faire last weekend, and had a great time. I felt a little out of place, though, wandering around in costume and drinking mead from a plastic cup. Many people had wooden mugs, and there were mugs available for purchase at several shops. Although they were attractive, I didn’t get one. First of all, the least expensive mug I saw for sale was $45. That’s a lot for a hollowed-out piece of wood.

More importantly, the mugs they had for sale were too pretty. Most were perfectly turned on a lathe, had perfectly shaped handles, and were coated with a thick epoxy resin that turned the wooden mug into what was essentially a modern plastic mug that just looks like wood.

Sunday morning I went out to the wood pile and grabbed a hunk of mesquite that seemed about the right size. My plan was to carve a mug that would hold 16 ounces.


After cutting it to size and removing the bark with an angle grinder, I drilled a hole in the center to get started, and then used a die grinder and the Foredom power carver to hollow it. This turned out to be more difficult than I had expected due to the depth. It’s distressingly easy to lose control of the tool when you can’t see where it’s cutting. An aggressive bit spinning at 15,000 RPM will throw a piece of wood across the room when it binds up. I ended up putting a few cracks in the cup that way.


It took a long time to thin the walls from there (using a hook knife), and sand it smooth. I also had to fill the cracks that I made while hollowing. I didn’t take any pictures until after I’d completed the cup and put the oil and wax finish on it.


The finished mug is 4-1/4 inches tall and between 3-1/4 and 3-1/2 inches wide. The width varies because the mesquite log that it came from wasn’t perfectly round.


It holds just a little more than 12 ounces. I just couldn’t get it any deeper with the tools that I currently have. I’ll have to come up with a better way if I’m going to make another one of these. I’ve considered hollowing from both ends and then carving a 1/4 inch thick piece to fit inside at the bottom. The only difficulty would be getting that bottom piece carved correctly. I’m also considering a few other options.


The residue you see floating in the cup there is a little of the oil and wax. Not to worry: the oil and wax are non-toxic. I was impatient to try the mug. It really is a pleasure to drink from.

I decided not to add a handle. Maybe next time. I’ll probably come up with some sort of leather sling that fits around the mug and lets me attach it to my belt so that I can carry it around the next time we go to one of those Renaissance festivals.

Lizard on a log

I don’t remember where I got this piece of wood or even what kind it is. It’s been sitting in my garage for at least a year.


It’s pretty light, and as I recall it’s some kind of pine or cypress. A conifer, almost certainly. It’s very dry and has lots of bug holes. Turned out it still had some bugs in it, too, which I took care of later after I’d run across a live one in the wood.

Wanting to carve a figure into the wood in much the same way as I did the Bristlecone bird, I chose to carve a gecko.


I first cleared the remaining bark and sapwood from the area I wanted to carve, then drew a rough outline of the gecko on it and used a thin cutter to make it really stand out.

I should note here that I did almost all the carving on this piece with my Foredom power carver. I could have used knives and gouges–the wood was soft enough–but I’m trying to get more proficient with the power carver. Plus, that dang thing can remove wood fast.

With the outline etched into the wood, the first task is to rough out the shape.


Roughing that out was a lot of work, and as it turned out I removed a lot more than I had to. Live and learn, I guess.

Granted, that rough shape is really rough. Time to start refining.


You can see that I’ve refined the shape and taken it down quite a bit. In the prior picture the rough shape was just a blob. Here it’s pretty obvious that I’m going for a lizard. But it needs more refining.

You can see here that I removed an inch or to from the front of the branch, putting the lizard’s head over the edge. The primary reason I did this was to make it easier to shape the under side of the head and neck.


Here you can see that I goofed a bit. I somehow managed to thin the lizard too much. Instead of having a nicely rounded belly, it’s almost straight. But it still resembles the gecko.

I also cut off the other end of the log. I had originally planned to do something over there, but that chunk over there was making it difficult to work on the right rear leg and the right side of the tail. In addition, removing that end put the lizard in the center of the picture.

By this point I’d been working on the thing for four or five hours. I was tired. Also, I’d found a wood borer with the Foredom (bug guts on the carving), so I figured I’d better cook the piece in the oven for a few hours. Otherwise the bugs would end up eating my finished carving.


I had intended to let it sit until the next day, but after it was done cooking I was refreshed. So I went back out to the garage for another hour to finish up the shaping. Above is the final shape, with only a little more work left on the feet, and a lot of sanding.

The next morning I finished the sanding. I’m still not real happy with the feet. The toes are too hard-edged. I haven’t yet figured out how to round them well. I had the same problem with the standalone geckos I’ve carved.


I had originally planned to smooth and sand the base, but when I got started it was looking kind of boring. So I opted instead to try making something that resembles tree bark.


I’ll be the first to admit that it doesn’t look much like bark, but the random squiggles are more interesting than a flat smooth surface. I think it serves to emphasize the lizard.

With that done, I finished with two coats of Deft Satin polyurethane spray.


You can click on the above image, or on the one directly below, for a much larger view.


And here are a few other shots from different angles.

lizf2 lizf3 lizf4

In that last picture, you can see that the wood cracked on the right front leg, just above the foot. That happened while it was cooling, after I’d cooked it in the oven (90 minutes at 200 degrees) to kill any bugs. I considered mixing some wood dust and glue to fill the crack, but figured I’d leave it alone.

It’s been said that carvers don’t make mistakes. Rather, we make adjustments. I made lots of adjustments on this piece. But it was a great learning experience and it turned out okay. Will be fun to keep around and look at in a few years.

It’s going to be a week or two before I can attack another project like this. My garage isn’t heated, so when the temperature drops much below 60 degrees it’s uncomfortably cold to be working in there. The combination of shivering and frozen fingers isn’t conducive to wood carving, and the forecast is for cold weather (some freezing, even!) for the next two weeks. If I do any carving it’ll probably be small basswood figures with knives: something I can do while sitting behind my desk.

Bird in a branch

A carving friend who vacations in Colorado brought me a piece of Bristlecone pine. Fred is quite an accomplished carver who I think started about the time I did. He’s concentrated on carving faces, mostly out of Aspen. He also does stylized carvings from many different types of wood. The sycamore gecko I carved is from one of his patterns, and his cedar armadillo was the inspiration for my mesquite armadillo, although I didn’t use his pattern.

The Bristlecone pine stayed on the floor of my truck for a couple of months while I tried to figure out what to do with it. I thought about carving one of my birds to add to the collection, but for some reason couldn’t bring myself to chop up that piece of wood just for a bird. Last week I finally figured it out: I’d carve a bird in the branch. It’s a kind of carving I hadn’t attempted before.

I think what convinced me to try it was the fragment of a small limb that was sticking out from what was otherwise a fairly straight and boring branch. I decided to use that limb as part of the bird’s tail. I wish I’d taken pictures from start to finish. Unfortunately, I just got two after spending some time roughing it out.


bird2_sAs I said, this was new territory for me. I’d always used a bandsaw cutout for my carvings, except for the little dogs and a few attempts at faces. Carving a figure that remains part of the larger piece of wood is quite different. And difficult because I can’t just turn the thing over and carve from a different direction. The uncut part of the branch often got in the way. Detailing the beak was particularly difficult because I couldn’t easily get the Foredom in there, even with the detailing handpiece.

Roughing out took me an hour or two on Saturday. Sunday I spent two or three more hours roughing out and then detailing the bird. The result is a little thin and not quite symmetrical, but I thought it turned out pretty nice.

bird3_sThe bird figure is very smooth and sanded with 220 grit. The rest of the carved wood is sanded with 120 grit, and not perfectly smooth. I left some dips. I thought about trying to texture it like a nest, but didn’t have a good idea of what that should look like. Rather than do something that detracted from the carving, I just sanded and called it good enough.

bird4_sThe finish is two coats of Watco Natural Danish Oil, which I applied to the entire piece–including the uncarved wood. I haven’t yet decided if i should add a couple coats of a spray polyurethane to give it a little shine. We’ll see.

I made plenty of mistakes on this piece, especially in the bird shape. But I understand how and why I made them, and figure I can do better next time. I especially liked doing this with the bird shape because it’s a familiar subject, just rendered a little differently. I find trying to do something familiar in a new way to be an effective learning experience.

bird5_sAll things considered, it was a fun project and a good learning experience. And I like the way it turned out.





Bandsaw tricks

I picked up a piece of Bethlehem Olive last year before Christmas, with the intention of carving a bird or two from it. I’d already finished the 100 Birds Project, so there was no big rush. Yesterday (yes, about 10 months later) I was making a few birds and thought I’d see what I could do with the olive.

The piece of wood wasn’t quite 2″ thick, so I had to use a smaller bird pattern: 1-1/2 inches wide and 3-3/8 inches long. The piece of wood, though, was slightly less than 6 inches long. How to get two birds out of that piece of wood?

It was easy enough to lay out the two birds so that they fit on the piece of wood:

olive1The problem is making the top cutout. It’s real important to have a flat surface contacting the bandsaw table. Here’s what I need to cut out.

olive2Were I to try cutting this out, I would have to be very careful when working on the tail. The saw would be pushing down on that tail end, and if I let that happen then I’d lose control of the piece. Very bad things can happen then. And whereas it’s fun to say, “don’t do that,” I already know that I’m no match for a 3/4 HP electric motor.

I could turn the block over and glue the top pattern to the curved part, but that distorts it. The tail would be shorter because it would be going down at an angle. I made that mistake early in my time working with a bandsaw.

My solution was to trace the curve on another piece of wood, cut it out on the bandsaw, and use it as the base, like this.

olive3I taped those together and had a good solid flat base. Then I cut the top outline. The result, after removing the base and turning the thing over:

olive4I then turned the piece on its side and cut out the other view.

Doing this made me realize that I don’t have to cut out the entire top view, which saves me having to tape the sides back on before cutting out the side view. I had a few other birds to cut out (this time from full-sized blocks), so I gave it a try.

I cut the top view on one side from beak to tail. Then turn off the saw, leaving me with this:

plum1Note that I’ve lifted the guides so that you can see the work more clearly. When sawing, the guides are adjusted so that they are 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch above the work piece as shown in the next picture.

The reason I stop the saw is because I back the blade out of the cut. I can tell you from experience that backing a blade out of a cut while the saw is running is a dangerous thing to do. It’s one thing to back it out of a short, straight cut. It’s something else entirely to try backing out of a long, curved cut. The blade has a tendency to bind, which will pull it forward out from between the upper and lower guides. Then it catches the work piece and tears it out of my hand.

I was lucky the one time it happened to me; the blade was kinked beyond repair. It could have destroyed the work piece, or the blade could have cut me very badly. It’s never a good idea to lose control of the work piece. Even a small 3/4 horsepower saw like mine can do some serious damage.

That’s one reason for putting the guides close to the work. The less blade exposed, the less damage it can do.

If you want to back out of a cut, turn off the saw. Then hold a small scrap of wood or a pencil against the front of the blade to keep it in place, and gently work the piece back along the cut.

plum2After cutting both sides this way, I turned the piece on its side and cut out the other profile. I had to apply a little pressure when cutting out the beak, because the top side wanted to chatter a bit. But this was easier and faster than cutting the top profiles completely and then taping the sides back on like I used to.

Now I just have to finish those birds . . .

Hillbilly knife handle

A while back I posted a custom carved knife handle. That one went to the guy who made the knife and sent it to me. I finally sat down and carved the other, which I get to keep.

Nothing fancy here. Just a simple hillbilly. Now to put an edge on it and start carving.


On another note, I’m posting this from my Samsung tablet using the WordPress for Android app. Not too bad, although I don’t think I’d want to write a lengthy post with this on-screen keyboard.

Custom carved knife handle

yummy2_smA fellow carver sent me two knives that he made. The deal is that if I carve one handle and send it back to him, I can keep the other knife. He’s made the deal with many members of the Woodcarving Illustrated Message Board. He ends up with a collection of knives with custom handles, and we each end up with a very nice carving knife. Works for me.

The knives came in back in November while I was in the throes of finishing up my Hundred Birds Project, so I put them on the top of my “to do” list. I took a long break (almost four months) after finishing the birds, and when I started carving again I promptly cut myself, necessitating another stint away from carving.

I really didn’t know what to carve on the knife handle. I considered doing a hillbilly, but some of the other carvers had done caricatures and I wanted mine to stand out. I also considered a ball in cage or some other whimsy, but those would be kind of fragile. I get the idea that these knives will be mostly for show, but I do know that the guy would like to carve with them from time to time. I didn’t want to make a handle that would break with normal use.

So I figured I’d do one of my dogs. But those are only two inches tall and the knife handles are about five inches. After tossing around ideas I finally settled on the dog sitting on a treat, which I called a Yummy Bone.

The knife handle is basswood, which is pretty bland all by itself and is usually painted. My painting is not very good, which is one reason I prefer to work in found wood that doesn’t have to be painted. One wouldn’t paint mesquite, sycamore, walnut, maple, etc. The wood is just too beautiful to cover it in paint!

But Yummy Dog needed paint. So I broke out the acrylics and did the best job I could. The bone is raw sienna. The dog got a couple coats of very light black wash, and then I mixed grey and black, trying to do a charcoal color. The result is … less than what I hoped but better than I expected. I still have a lot to learn about painting.

I let the carving dry for a day and then applied three coats of Deft Satin polyurethane. The shiny part of the blade was stuck in the cork to hold the carving up. I’ll let the new owner buff the poly off the other part of the blade.

You can click on the picture to get a (much) larger view. The picture below shows the completed carving along with the other, un-carved handle.

yummy1The raw handle is five inches long and about one and a quarter inches square. I’m not sure what I’m going to carve on it. I’ve considered another dog, sitting on a fire hydrant. But I’m not sure if that’d be comfortable to carve with. The dog-and-bone handle is surprisingly comfortable.


Dolphin pattern

Several people have asked if I have a dolphin carving pattern. I have some dolphin cutouts that somebody gave me a while back, so I just traced the large one on a piece of paper and scanned it. This is the same basic pattern I used for my dolphin experiment a while back.


That’s a reduced copy of the pattern. Click on it to get the full sized image. You can then save that picture to your computer and print it.

The full sized pattern gives a figure that’s approximately 8.5 inches long and 4.8 inches tall. For a figure that size, you’ll want two inch stock.

To resize, simply load the file into your favorite photo editor and tell it how large you want the figure. A figure half that long (4.25 inches) will require one inch stock.

If you use this pattern, I’d sure like to see the result. Leave a comment or send me email with a picture.

Happy carving!


The elusive desk gecko

A member of the local wood carving club, Central Texas Woodcarvers Association, made a gecko a few years ago and brought it to one of the club meetings. He recently posted the pattern on the club’s site, so I thought I’d give it a try.


This particular figure began life as a chunk of sycamore that I’d picked up somewhere; probably down by the creek. I squared off the log on the bandsaw, traced the Gecko Pattern on the top and one side, and then went back to the bandsaw to make the cutout. The pattern, by the way, is a huge image. I resized it to about 8 inches. The finished piece is about 7.25 inches long.


I did all the carving on this with a single knife, then sanded it with 150 grit sandpaper. The sycamore is a pleasure to work with. I find it much nicer to carve than basswood, and I just love the grain, especially after finishing.


The finish is two coats of Watco Danish Oil. I’ll let that cure for three or four days and then spray two or three thin coats of Deft Satin polyurethane.

Overall, I’m very happy with the way this piece turned out. The only thing I’d like to change is the feet. I found it very difficult to get any kind of rounding on the feet or toes. With the grain running the length of the figure, those thin feet and toes are very brittle, and shaping them was very difficult. I did a little rounding with the sandpaper, but I’ll have to figure a better way for the next time.

Click on either of the two images below to get a larger version.





Armadillo in mesquite

I cut out the pattern for this piece two or three years ago. Then it sat on a shelf, mocking me. I had originally planned to carve it with knives and gouges, but that mesquite is just so dang hard that I gave up on the idea after a couple of tries.

This was a bit of an ambitious project for me because I created my own pattern by downloading pictures of real armadillos, drawing an outline, and then cutting it out. It’s also a little larger than most of my carvings: measuring about 8 inches long (including the tail), 3.5 inches tall, and 2 inches wide.

The tail is a little thicker than it should be, but I was a little worried about it breaking.

My only real disappointment with the piece is the legs, which I should have either detailed, or made more stylized. As they are, they kind of detract from the rest of the piece.

I met the primary goals, though: make an armadillo-shaped carving that shows off the beauty of the mesquite.

armadillo1 armadillo2 armadillo3 armadillo4

Wear your carving glove

Saturday evening, Debra and I were over at a friend’s place. There were eight or ten of us, total, sitting or standing around, just conversing. I was also whittling on a piece of Ash, making another little dog. I don’t know if my attention lapsed (possible) or if the knife just slipped (more likely), but suddenly I was cutting into my left hand.

Surprisingly enough, it didn’t really hurt. I stared at it for a second, surprised, then stood up and grabbed a paper towel to stop the bleeding. Then to the kitchen sink to rinse it, thinking I’d just clean it a bit, bandage it up, and go back to my carving. I’ve had plenty of minor cuts, so I wasn’t terribly worried.

I only needed a brief look at the laceration while I was running it under the faucet to know that this one would need stitches. My friend handed me a wash cloth, we secured it with duct tape, and Debra drove me to the emergency room.

The second surprise (the first was that I cut myself so badly) was that the emergency room was not full at 9:00 on a Saturday night. But then, Round Rock is kind of a sleepy place. I walked up to the check-in desk. The triage nurse was safely ensconced behind a window.

Nurse: “How can I help you?”

Me (holding up left hand): “I cut myself rather badly.”

Nurse: “The duct tape didn’t fix it?”

Me (laughing): “No, but it’s holding things together for now.”

Less than a minute later, I was sitting in an exam room with a RN removing an impromptu bandage while a nursing student looked on. When she got it uncovered she said, “That’s not so bad, but recovery is gonna suck.” I had what is (apparently commonly) called a suturable laceration. It was still bleeding a bit, so she had me apply a little pressure while we waited for the nurse practitioner to come along and stitch me up.

And waited. … And waited.

I’m not sure what he used to deaden the area, but it sure hurt like heck going in. I couldn’t feel the needle going in, but it sure hurt when he pushed the contents into my hand. But within a minute my thumb felt like it’d been shot up by the dentist, and I couldn’t feel a thing when he started stitching.

The cut, by the way, is about 7 centimeters (2-3/4 inches) long, running from the base of my thumb to the center of my wrist, and almost a centimeter deep. If you’re morbidly curious, you can see the result.

Then we got to wait a even longer. Debra and I got some amusement out of all the forms they brought in, and I laughed out loud when I had to sign a document saying that I received a copy of the hospital’s no smoking policy. Oh, and they gave me a 10 mg Norco tablet and told me not to drive, and a prescription for antibiotics and more Norco. I filled the antibiotic prescription but decided against the Norco. It didn’t hurt that bad.

All in all it took about 45 minutes from the time we walked in the door until my hand was stitched up. It took another 45 minutes or an hour before they finally brought the bill, took my payment, and then came and put on the bandage before I could walk out the door. Gotta love bureaucracy.

And all because I wasn’t wearing my carving glove. The glove is Kevlar, and probably wouldn’t have completely prevented the cut, but it most likely would have made the difference between a surface scratch and a trip to the emergency room.

I’d been lax, not wearing the glove because I thought I was good enough not to need it. Only takes one slip of the blade, though, to ruin your day. I’ll be wearing the glove from now on.

Christmas tree, with birds

I completed my 100 Birds Project just in time to get all the birds on the tree for Christmas.

Debra is the one responsible for the artistic vision of the tree. I just carved the birds. Between the two of us, I think we made a beautiful tree.

You can click on the picture to get a larger view.

More information on the project’s blog post: All together now.

Hunted Bird

Debra and I met Mike and Kristi at the local sushi restaurant 10 years ago on New Year’s Eve. I was telling Tim, the sushi chef, about how another friend had recently come down to hunt deer in the back yard with his bow. When I mentioned that I was looking for other hunters to help with our deer problem, Mike introduced himself as a bow hunter. I invited him to come by in the morning (the last day of bow season that year).

Mike showed up late in the morning, after spending a few hours out hunting at another location. He didn’t get a deer there, but he did show me a dove that he’d managed to shoot with an arrow.

The four of us have been good friends pretty much since the day we met. We regularly get together for dinner, and they invite us up to their north Texas property a few times a year, including the last four Thanksgiving holidays. It was there at the ranch four years ago that I grabbed a stick off the firewood pile and began to whittle, thus starting my foray into wood carving.

At the ranch last week I finished carving a bird from a piece of Aspen that had a worm hole through it. I knew that I wanted to do something with the bird, but hadn’t quite figured out what. Then Mike started talking about hunting, and I knew immediately what I wanted to do with that bird.

As I said, the bird is Aspen. I made the arrow shaft from a piece of Yellow Birch. I carved the arrow head from mesquite, and the fletching is Cottonwood bark. I whittled and sanded the shaft to fit through the hole, glued it in place, and then attached the arrowhead and fletching with glue. The whole thing received a few coats of spray polyurethane.

I have no idea where Mike is going to display it, but I hope he enjoys it.

Miniature cottonwood bark houses

After I made the pumpkin houses, I got interested in making these little cottages. I’ve made a few fantasy houses and castles from cottonwood bark, but these are much smaller–a little smaller than the pumpkin houses.

For me, the biggest advantage of the smaller size is that I can experiment with styles, textures, techniques, and design. I’m still learning a lot about this carving hobby, and working on a small scale makes me much more apt to try new things. If I make a mistake or ruin the carving, I’ve not sunk a lot of time into it. Contrast that to my cottonwood bark tree house, which involved more than 20 hours of work. I’d be much less inclined to try something crazy on that than on one of these little pieces that I can carve in a couple of hours.

Another benefit of the smaller size is that I can carry a couple of them around in my carving box and work on them at odd moments. If I get to a stopping point on one of them, I can pull out another and keep going.

And, of course, I can make a bunch of the things. I have to be careful, though. I think Debra wants me to make a Christmas village or something similar.

So far, I’ve carved and finished 11 of these little houses. I two more roughed out, and a few more small pieces of bark. If I want to make more after that, I’ll have to cut up some of the larger pieces that I’ve collected. That’s not really a problem, as I recently acquired three very large pieces of bark. The largest is about six feet long and two feet wide. That in itself will keep me carving for quite some time.

You can click on any of the pictures below to get a larger view.

This house is one of the first that I completed. It came from a rather narrow piece of bark that, in its natural state, suggested the chimney that I carved on the side. This is probably the smallest of the houses, and one of the simplest in terms of finish. All I did was texture the roof and add a few lines to suggest wood siding.

This, too, is from a really small piece of bark. Truthfully, I can’t decide if I like it. I only textured the roof and the chimney, leaving the walls plain. Sometimes I think I should have added some siding lines. But then I smile at the whimsical simplicity of the thing.

Another small and simple piece. The key here was highlighting the large natural depression in the bark. For me, that and the roof line make this house. And the oversized chimney adds that whimsical touch. I wish I had been a little less sloppy with the knife, though. Fortunately, those marks don’t show up so much when you view it normally. The camera and the flash have a tendency to capture every mistake with excellent clarity.

I think this was the second of the houses that I completed. The piece of bark I was working with had some interesting features, including a fairly large rotted section where the chimney is. Much of it crumbled under the knife, but I managed to salvage enough to keep the house.

One thing about working with “found wood” in general and cottonwood bark bark in particular is that the piece of wood determines in large part the shape of the finished product. I have in mind to create a little house, but the wood tells me where certain features will be. Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of any raw bark to illustrate that point.

I really like this one. I had originally planned to do a different roof, but by the time I’d roughed out the rest of the piece, it cried “flat roof” to me. Well, flat in the sense that there’s very little texture on it. I created a flagstone-like roof by etching some lines. Again, I made it a point to keep the natural depressions in the bark on the sides.

This was one of the first houses I roughed out, but I delayed in finishing it. I just couldn’t come up with an idea of how to texture it without ruining the design. I finally decided on simplicity: contrasting the relatively smooth finish of the carved bark on the left with the cracks on the right.

This house is a good example of using the features of the bark. There was a valley right in the middle of the piece. I could have carved the “hills” down even with the valley floor, giving a flat front. Instead, I left as much of the valley as I could, incorporating it into the design. I also goofed when I was hollowing out the back of this one. The power carver caught (bound up), and broke the house in two. I glued it back together, and the only place you can tell is on the left side where a piece broke off. Now it looks like a meteor went through a corner of the roof.

That’s the only house that I actually broken, but I do use a lot of superglue to reattach small pieces here and there. The outer layers of bark are very brittle and often chip off. Almost every house shown here has at least one piece glued back onto the roof edge or the base. Wood glue works just as well, but it takes longer to set. Superglue sets quickly–almost instantly if you spray it with accelerator after applying.

Another example of using the bark features. I left that protrusion there, just cutting it down to make a little ledge for the window. I textured the ledge and the chimney with my faux flagstone.

Not much to say about this one. I’m a little disappointed with the brick work on the left side, but I quite like the rock work around the window on the right.

The roof line on this house is the result of the piece of bark I was working with. It’s one of the first I roughed out, but one of the last I completed. I just couldn’t figure out what to do with it. I’m pretty happy with everything except the door, which I think I could have done a better job on. I had a heck of a time getting the roof texture right, trying to make the lines flow with the contour of the roof. But after three tries the roof was getting pretty thin, so I called it good. It’s something I’ll have to work on in the future.

This is the last house I completed. I’m particularly happy with the roof and the chimney. Again, I dislike the front door. I think I need remedial door design classes or something. But overall, I really like the design and proportion of this house.

I guess the thing I like most about carving these is that every one is unique. They all have similar elements, and I suspect that they all exhibit my emerging style. But each one has a different shape, different roof line, different textures, etc. The nature of the medium and my desire to add whimsical elements makes each piece  quite different from all the others. They’re truly “one of a kind” carvings.

Woods that sink

I don’t know why, but I’ve long been fascinated by the idea of wood that doesn’t float. I suspect it has something to do with busted expectations. I like it when my preconceived notions are shattered. “Wood floats” is one of those things that Everybody Knows, and growing up in the United States we’re given little opportunity to learn otherwise. There are very few wood species in the U.S. that are denser than water.

I’ve had an ongoing discussion with a couple members of my local carvers’ group about woods that don’t float. One of them insists that there are fewer than a dozen such species. I had read somewhere that there were over 100, but couldn’t produce the data. So this weekend I tracked it down.

I first ran across the Wood Database article, Top ten heaviest woods, which showed me that there are at least 15 different species that are more dense than water.

The Global Wood Density Database contains density information from 16,468 wood samples collected from all over the world. The data covers 8,412 species and 1,683 genera. Some species have multiple samples.

It took less than an hour to download the data, massage it, and output the following list of woods that are more dense than water–that will not float.

One might ask why I even care about wood density. Beyond curiosity, which I think is a perfectly valid reason all in itself, density is the best indication of how hard a wood is to cut. If I know a wood’s density, then I know which of my tools I can use to cut it, and how hard I will have to work. It’s also one indicator of how well the wood will hold fine detail, although it’s not a perfect predictor. Basswood, for example, is less dense than Black Walnut, but holds detail better.

A few notes about the list:

  • Adding the common names and links to information about each species is an ongoing project.
  • I find it interesting that the database does not include entries for Texas Ebony (Ebenopsis ebano) or Desert Ironwood (Olnea tesota), two species that I know are more dense than water. And, curiously, two of the very few such North American species. I wonder how many other species are missing.
  • By my count, there are 183 species with samples that have specific gravity greater than 1.0. If you count those that have a specific gravity equal to 1.0, there are 209.
  • Those 209 species occur in a total of 183 genera. It is definitely not true that the very dense woods are concentrated within a very few genera.
  • No, I do not have plans to track down samples of each wood so that I can say I carved them. I certainly won’t turn down donations, but I’m not actively seeking them.
Common name Binomial name Specific gravity range
Acacia acuminata 0.90 – 1.01
Acacia amythethophylla 1.01 – 1.01
Acacia aneura 0.86 – 1.04
Acacia brachystachya 0.97 – 1.01
Acacia cambagei 1.05 – 1.16
Acacia erioloba 1.06 – 1.06
Acacia grasbyi 0.86 – 1.05
Acacia omalophylla 1.06 – 1.06
Acacia papyrocarpa 0.89 – 1.07
Acacia peuce 1.23 – 1.23
Acacia ramulosa 1.01 – 1.01
Acacia rhodoxylon 1.10 – 1.10
Acacia shirleyi 0.86 – 1.02
Acacia subtessarogona 1.10 – 1.10
Acacia suma 1.21 – 1.21
Acacia tetragonophylla 0.87 – 1.00
Acacia xiphophylla 1.14 – 1.14
Allocasuarina decaisneana 1.04 – 1.04
Amblygonocarpus andongensis 0.83 – 1.01
Amyris elemifera 1.05 – 1.05
Anadenanthera peregrina 0.77 – 1.08
Andira micrantha 1.00 – 1.00
Aniba canelilla 0.90 – 1.03
Apuleia ferrea 1.09 – 1.09
Archidendropsis basaltica 0.99 – 1.03
Astronium balansae 0.95 – 1.01
Astronium concinnum 1.07 – 1.07
Astronium graveolens 0.73 – 1.20
Astronium urundeuva 0.69 – 1.21
Bauhinia carronii 1.20 – 1.20
Bauhinia hookeri 1.06 – 1.06
Bocoa prouacensis 0.97 – 1.11
Brosimum guianense 0.48 – 1.03
Brownea indet 1.21 – 1.21
Bulnesia arborea 0.82 – 1.01
Bulnesia sarmientoi 0.77 – 1.28
Caesalpinia coriaria 1.03 – 1.20
Caesalpinia ferrea 1.17 – 1.17
Caesalpinia granadillo 1.03 – 1.03
Caesalpinia indet 1.05 – 1.05
Caesalpinia paraguariensis 0.96 – 1.18
Caesalpinia platyloba 1.03 – 1.03
Caesalpinia sclerocarpa 1.39 – 1.39
Caryocar pallidum 0.68 – 1.00
Cassia ferruginea 0.50 – 1.23
Cassia marginata 1.28 – 1.28
Casuarina pauper 0.84 – 1.10
Chamaecrista scleroxylon 0.90 – 1.01
Coccoloba pubescens 1.00 – 1.00
Combretum imberbe 1.06 – 1.06
Conocarpus erectus 0.69 – 1.00
Cordia ecalyculata 1.08 – 1.08
Corymbia polycarpa 0.78 – 1.01
Corymbia setosa 1.02 – 1.02
Coula edulis 0.79 – 1.02
Dalbergia indet 0.89 – 1.11
Dalbergia melanoxylon 0.90 – 1.20
Dalbergia nigra 0.68 – 1.00
Desbordesia glaucescens 0.80 – 1.02
Dialium bipindense 0.88 – 1.00
Dialium guianense 0.48 – 1.12
Dimorphandra parviflora 1.00 – 1.00
Dinizia excelsa 0.60 – 1.15
Diospyros burmanica 1.10 – 1.10
Diospyros ferrea 0.65 – 1.08
Diospyros hemicycloides 1.01 – 1.01
Diphysa occidentalis 1.18 – 1.18
Diplotropis purpurea 0.56 – 1.00
Dipteryx alata 0.88 – 1.10
Dipteryx odorata 0.66 – 1.09
Dodonaea viscosa 0.84 – 1.05
Elateriospermum tapos 0.64 – 1.06
Erythrophleum chlorostachys 1.02 – 1.05
Erythroxylum pulchrum 1.07 – 1.07
Eschweilera coriacea 0.70 – 1.13
Eschweilera grandiflora 0.75 – 1.00
Eschweilera ovata 0.81 – 1.03
Eschweilera pedicellata 0.85 – 1.02
Esenbeckia grandiflora 1.08 – 1.08
Esenbeckia nesiotica 1.19 – 1.19
Eucalyptus brownii 1.02 – 1.02
Eucalyptus decorticans 0.94 – 1.03
Eucalyptus griffithsii 1.01 – 1.01
Eucalyptus intertexta 1.03 – 1.03
Eucalyptus longicornis 0.93 – 1.01
Eucalyptus melanoxylon 0.92 – 1.00
Eucalyptus normantonensis 1.05 – 1.05
Eucalyptus oleosa 1.01 – 1.06
Eucalyptus orgadophila 1.06 – 1.06
Eucalyptus petraea 1.01 – 1.01
Eucalyptus platycorys 1.09 – 1.09
Eucalyptus populnea 0.85 – 1.02
Eucalyptus shirleyi 1.06 – 1.06
Eucalyptus tectifica 1.00 – 1.01
Eucalyptus tetrodonta 0.88 – 1.01
Eucalyptus websteriana 1.02 – 1.02
Eucalyptus whitei 1.06 – 1.06
Eucalyptus woodwardii 1.00 – 1.00
Eucalyptus yilgarnensis 1.01 – 1.01
Eugenia pseudopsidium 0.62 – 1.30
Exellodendron cordatum 1.01 – 1.01
Exostema caribaeum 0.99 – 1.00
Goniorrhachis marginata 1.01 – 1.01
Guaiacum coulteri 1.10 – 1.10
Guaiacum indet 1.05 – 1.05
Guaiacum officinale 1.08 – 1.25
Guaiacum sanctum 1.08 – 1.10
Guibourtia demeusei 0.69 – 1.04
Guibourtia hymenaefolia 1.00 – 1.00
Gymnanthes lucida 1.10 – 1.10
Haematoxylum campechianum 0.78 – 1.04
Heritiera littoralis 0.69 – 1.04
Hortia arborea 1.02 – 1.02
Humbertia madagascariensis 1.13 – 1.16
Hymenaea courbaril 0.59 – 1.00
Hymenaea parvifolia 0.75 – 1.00
Klainedoxa gabonensis 0.78 – 1.15
Krugiodendron ferreum 0.95 – 1.35
Lecythis lanceolata 1.01 – 1.01
Lecythis usitata 0.80 – 1.00
Leptospermum scoparium 1.03 – 1.03
Letestua durissima 0.92 – 1.03
Librevillea klainei 0.85 – 1.04
Licania hypoleuca 0.84 – 1.01
Licania laxiflora 1.03 – 1.03
Licania robusta 0.77 – 1.02
Licaria cannella 0.84 – 1.04
Machaerium acutifolium 1.12 – 1.12
Machaerium allemanii 0.84 – 1.00
Machaerium firmum 0.90 – 1.09
Machaerium fulvovenosum 1.04 – 1.04
Machaerium incorruptibile 0.85 – 1.01
Maclura tinctoria 0.70 – 1.02
Manilkara bidentata 0.77 – 1.06
Manilkara chicle 1.04 – 1.04
Manilkara hexandra 1.06 – 1.06
Manilkara huberi 0.79 – 1.04
Manilkara mochisia 1.08 – 1.08
Manilkara salzmannii 1.03 – 1.03
Marmaroxylon racemosum 0.75 – 1.00
Melanoxylon brauna 0.90 – 1.16
Memecylon myrsinoides 1.00 – 1.00
Metrodorea stipularis 1.05 – 1.05
Mezilaurus synandra 0.70 – 1.15
Micrandra scleroxylon 1.03 – 1.03
Mimosa arenosa 1.01 – 1.01
Mimosa elata 0.96 – 1.08
Mimosa tenuiflora 1.12 – 1.12
Minquartia guianensis 0.61 – 1.04
Myrocarpus fastigiatus 0.96 – 1.02
Parapiptadenia rigida 1.07 – 1.07
Patagonula americana 0.54 – 1.15
Pentadesma butyracea 0.56 – 1.00
Pimenta pseudocaryophyllus 1.00 – 1.00
Piptadenia obliqua 0.84 – 1.11
Pithecellobium dulce 0.50 – 1.00
Platymiscium trinitatis 0.69 – 1.08
Pouteria cladantha 0.89 – 1.03
Pouteria eugeniifolia 1.08 – 1.15
Pouteria guianensis 0.83 – 1.01
Pouteria melanopoda 0.90 – 1.08
Pouteria torta 0.52 – 1.01
Prosopis kuntzei 0.99 – 1.10
Psidium acutangulum 0.74 – 1.02
Psidium cattleianum 1.12 – 1.12
Pterocarpus santalinus 0.97 – 1.07
Pterodon emarginatus 0.82 – 1.00
Qualea megalocarpa 1.01 – 1.01
Raputia magnifica 1.12 – 1.12
Recchia mexicana 1.02 – 1.02
Rhizophora mangle 0.81 – 1.05
Rhus pyroides 1.01 – 1.01
Roupala brasiliensis 0.67 – 1.12
Sapindus laurifolius 0.85 – 1.02
Schinopsis balansae 0.99 – 1.20
Schinopsis brasiliensis 1.23 – 1.23
Schinopsis indet 1.00 – 1.00
Schinopsis quebracho-colorado 0.90 – 1.04
Schistostemon retusum 1.00 – 1.00
Schleichera oleosa 0.76 – 1.08
Scutia buxifolia 0.70 – 1.12
Sideroxylon indet 1.23 – 1.23
Sloanea nitida 0.90 – 1.01
Stryphnodendron adstringens 1.19 – 1.19
Swartzia bannia 0.86 – 1.11
Swartzia corrugata 0.91 – 1.20
Swartzia grandifolia 1.03 – 1.03
Swartzia leiocalycina 0.91 – 1.03
Swartzia panacoco 0.82 – 1.03
Swartzia recurva 0.77 – 1.00
Swartzia ulei 1.00 – 1.00
Tabebuia chrysantha 0.92 – 1.14
Tabebuia incana 0.82 – 1.06
Tabebuia obscura 1.21 – 1.21
Tabebuia ochracea 0.78 – 1.01
Tabebuia serratifolia 0.81 – 1.08
Talisia esculenta 0.67 – 1.10
Tamarindus indica 0.73 – 1.28
Tecoma azaliaceae 0.92 – 1.14
Tecoma curialis 0.79 – 1.05
Tecoma insignis 0.94 – 1.02
Tectona hamiltoniana 1.02 – 1.02
Teijsmanniodendron ahernianum 0.92 – 1.03
Terminalia fagifolia 1.00 – 1.00
Vouacapoua pallidior 0.80 – 1.00
Ziziphus mistol 0.77 – 1.02
Zollernia ilicifolia 1.05 – 1.05
Zollernia paraensis 0.95 – 1.05
Zygia selloi 1.33 – 1.33

New project: Carousel horse

A fellow carver made me a really good deal on a full-sized carousel horse blank.

The blank is made up of eight different pieces: body, neck, head, tail, and four legs. I placed the body on a stand and temporarily attached the pieces with dowels (but no glue) so I could get pictures.

This is a reasonably large figure. The body is about 48 inches long and 13 inches wide. Horizontally, the figure is 80 inches from the extended left front foot to the right rear. Vertically, it’s 60 inches from the bottom of the left rear foot to the top of the head.

Each piece is made from multiple pieces of basswood, which were glued together and then cut out on a very large bandsaw. The body is hollow, but still pretty heavy. Getting it onto that pole was quite a trick. Next time I’ll have somebody help me with it.

The neck piece should be back about two inches. I couldn’t get it exactly into place because of the pole. It will fit correctly once I carve the neck and mane. It does seem a little odd, though, that there would be that much extra wood on the neck piece. Maybe it won’t seem so odd to me once I start carving.

The lines you see drawn on the body are the saddle and trappings that the original owner had planned to carve. I’m not too excited about that design. I’ll likely erase those lines (by lightly sanding the body) and draw the saddle and trappings that I want.

Here, you can see that the head is slanted a little bit to the right. Carousel horses very often (most often) have their heads tilted to the right because carousels turn counter-clockwise. At least, American carousels do. Carousels in Britain turn clockwise. Turning the head to the right makes for a more attractive view to passersby.

Another consequence of carousels turning counter-clockwise is that the figures were usually more highly decorated on the right side. The right (or romance) side would contain not only the saddle, bridle, and reins, but also trappings—flowers, jewels, weapons, etc. to make the figure flashier. The left (or plain) side lacked all those adornments.

This horse is the size of a second or third row horse, about 3/4 the size of an outside row horse. It’s considered a “jumper,” for the obvious reason that all four legs are off the ground. On most carousels, this type of figure would be on a pole that moves up and down as the carousel rotates.

If you look closely at the right rear leg, you can see that my friend had started to carve the leg. It looks like he took a few swipes with a gouge, but that’s it. He also had attached horse shoes (actually, pony shoes) to two of the feet. I removed them because nails tend to attract water if they’re not coated, and I don’t want the feet to rot before I get around to carving this thing.

You probably can’t see it in this picture, but the tail actually rubs against the right rear leg. The tail is somewhat fragile, and on working carousels would get a lot of abuse. On many carousel figures, the tail is attached to the right rear leg with a dowel in order to relieve stress on where the tail is attached to the body. That additional strength prevents the tail from breaking off and perhaps being stolen as a souvenir.

It’ll be quite a while before I start carving this figure. First, I have to finish my Hundred Birds Project. I also have to learn a few things and obtain quite a few tools before I tackle this project. I do, however, have a plan.

I’ve purchased two books on carving miniature carousel horses in 1/8 scale: 1.5 inches equals one foot. Those figures will be 8 to 10 inches long, and perhaps 6 inches tall. I’ll carve a half dozen of those (at least) in order to familiarize myself with the basic horse shape and the details of carousel horses. That will also give me time to develop my drawing skills, which are sadly lacking, and improve my eye for symmetry.

Once I’m comfortable with the miniatures, I’m going to carve at least two horses in 1/3 scale. Those will be about two feet long and perhaps 18 inches tall.  For them, I’ll have to glue up basswood pieces for the individual parts (body, head, neck, legs, tail), cut them out on the bandsaw, carve them individually, and then attach everything.

I need to improve my drawing in order to draw the trappings that I want. In addition, learning to draw is very much an exercise in learning to see. Something I’ve struggled with in my carving is the ability to visualize a three-dimensional object when viewing two-dimensional drawings. I’ve noticed, in the the little bit of drawing I’ve done so far, that it’s improving my ability to visualize things.

And, of course, I have to learn to paint. One of the reasons I’ve gravitated to stylized carvings like my birds, and carving things other than basswood is because I’m not comfortable with my painting ability. But a carousel horse just isn’t very exciting if it’s not painted. So I’ll be learning to paint while I’m developing my ability to carve horses.

With all that I have to learn, I figure it’ll be at least a year before I start working on this full-sized horse. It’s sure to be a fun journey, though. I can hardly wait to get started.

More pictures in the gallery.

Pumpkin houses

I’ve not been much of a “seasonal” carver. That is, many carvers make Easter carvings in the spring, Halloween and Thanksgiving carvings for fall, Santa figures and nativity scenes for Christmas, etc. I, on the other hand, typically carve whatever strikes my fancy at the moment, although I’ve carved Christmas-themed figures for family and friends a few times.

It just so happened that I saw this project in the Fall 2012 issue of Woodcarving Illustrated Magazine, and had some time over the weekend to work on it. Actually, I started the first one at some point last week. I finished it Friday night, and spent most of my spare time Saturday and Sunday carving three more.

The wood is actually the bark from a cottonwood tree. The bark can grow eight inches thick. When the tree dies and dries, you can peel the bark off. People use it to carve faces and whimsical houses. I’ve carved a few pieces in the past, and of course I carved a cottonwood bark bird for my Hundred Birds Project.

All four of these came from the same piece of bark. It’s not the best bark I’ve worked with. The outer 3/8 inch is very hard and brittle, and tended to flake off easily. I used a whole bunch of CA glue (superglue) putting things back together. It’s not uncommon having to use superglue on a bark carving, but this stuff was worse than any I’d ever worked with before. Carving down to the workable area was difficult.

The only other hard part about carving these things is hollowing out the back. The easiest way is with the power carver, although that makes a heck of a mess and it’s distressingly easy to go too far and remove a little too much. I used power to hollow out two of these, and my trusty hook knife (originally purchased for making spoons and bowls) for the other two.

They’re fun to carve, and only take a couple of hours each. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, depending on your point of view), just about everybody who sees them wants one. There’s no way I could keep up with demand.

It was a fun weekend diversion. I have two more pieces of bark cut to size, which I’ll eventually turn into pumpkin houses, but I think that’ll be it for a while. I have to finish my birds (only 22 more to go!), and then I have a new long-term project to work on.


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