Carving Whimsical Houses, Day 2

You might want to check out Day 1 if you missed it.

Today was exciting and frustrating in approximately equal amounts.  I’m excited because I can see my house taking shape, but frustrated because my carving skill is not up to the task of realizing my vision.  This is especially true when it comes to adding detail.

Today’s first task was to split the carving so that I could hollow out the inside of the house to let light in.  Splitting the carving was not at all difficult.  The two pieces of bark had been glued on each side of a thin piece of cardboard using trusty old Elmer’s school glue.  A large putty knife and a rubber mallet easily separated the carving into two pieces.

Hollowing out the house turned out to be a much bigger job than I had imagined.  The house is about six inches wide, and I have windows on the extreme ends.  As a result, I had to carve through about two and a half inches of wood on each side.  It took me most of an hour to hollow out one side with my small hand tools, being very careful not to go too far and punch through the bark.  When it came time to do the other side I used the power carver and had it done in about 10 minutes.  I’m not a purist.  As Rick (the instructor) said, “If I could control dynamite to remove waste wood, that’s what I’d be using.”  Some people insist that “hand carved” means that no power was used on the carving.  The way I look at it, if a person controlled the tool by hand (i.e. rather than an automatic duplicator or computer-controlled device of some kind), then it’s hand carved.

I mentioned yesterday that the way I designed my carving made it difficult to separate the limbs underneath the house.  After splitting the piece, I took a few minutes to separate those limbs.  That’s what the holes below the house are.  Those will be enlarged after gluing the piece back together.  I just didn’t want to be in there carving blind and inadvertently punch through something important.

Gluing the pieces back together sounds difficult but is actually incredibly simple.  First, we drill two small holes (3/32 inch, if I recall) in one of the pieces–one near the bottom and one near the top.  A small BB (from a BB gun) is inserted into each hole so that it’s protruding a little bit.  Then, the pieces are lined up and pressed together so that the BBs make indentions on the other piece.  We then remove the BBs, drill deeper holes and insert 1/8″ diameter dowels to keep the pieces from sliding, apply some good wood glue (I think we used Titebond, but any carpenter’s glue will work) to one side, and clamp the pieces together.

That took us almost to lunch time.  I cleaned up my station a bit and enjoyed some good BBQ while the glue was setting.

After lunch, Rick pulled out the power carver to demonstrate some techniques for adding roots and shaping the limbs of the tree.  My carving is one that he selected for demonstration purposes (he eventually did personal demonstrations for most of us, on our carvings), so I got the benefit of some professional quality work.  A power carver wielded by somebody who knows what he’s doing is quite impressive.   With it, one can add a lot of detail very quickly and do some things that are nearly impossible to accomplish with edge tools (knives and gouges) alone.

In the picture at right, you can see the final tree shape beginning to emerge.  He added some roots around the base, and showed how to put rocks between and under the roots.  He also added a few large knot holes in the tree limbs, removed more wood between the limbs to make it look like the house is sitting in the crotch of the tree, and began the shaping of one limb.  He then gave me back the carving and I set to work with my hand tools for a while.  Note that the house itself didn’t get any attention at this point.

I spent the rest of the afternoon shaping the tree and cleaning up the house–mostly with edge tools.  I’m sure that adding roots and rocks is possible with a knife, gouge, and V-tool, but I’m finding it exceedingly difficult.  I got some time and a bit more instruction on the power carver, but the results are less than satisfactory.  I have a feeling that I’ll be spending many an hour on the tree’s base long after this three-day class is over.  A large part of the problem is that I don’t really know what I want it to look like, but mostly I just don’t yet have the skill.  But I do have patience.

I like how the tree limbs are shaping up, though.  I was able to separate them from the house in places, which I think looks much better than having the limbs hugging the house completely.  The top limb has to be attached to the top of the house, though, in order to provide support.  Were I to lift that limb from the peak of the roof, it would become very brittle and likely would break off.

I still have a whole lot of detail to add to the tree and to the house.  The tree limbs need final shaping, and the base needs a bunch of work.  I have to make some sense of all the roots I tried to add.  The house needs window and door frames, siding, and shingles on the roof.  One part of the roof has a very steep concavity that will make it impossible to add shingles.  I need to smooth that and figure out what kind of texture I’ll place there.  There’s also a visible glue line at the peak of the roof–the result of my designing the house with the peak right in the center.  Other than the bottom where it doesn’t matter, that peak is the only place on the entire piece where you can tell that it was glued together.  I’ll have to figure out how I’m going to hide that glue line.

It was a very busy day of carving, and I expect tomorrow to be just as busy.  I doubt very much that I’ll have the carving finished before the class is over tomorrow, but I will have been exposed to techniques for finishing it, and I will have at least done a little bit of everything.  It will be up to me to complete the carving on my own time in the coming weeks.

More tomorrow, after day three is complete.  Updated photos are in my Facebook photo album, Carving Whimsical Houses in the Round.

View Day 3.