Friday, March 30, 2012

My first carving class

Well, I know I've been  neglecting my blog for a few weeks now, but that's mostly because I'm working on commissions I'm not ready to publicize yet, and I've also been working on a complete re-write of my website (which has me learning new languages and all sorts of fun stuff, but not even a little interesting from a carving perspective, so I figured there was no point in writing about that here, either).

You may recall that I mentioned having felt a little strange being asked to do that workshop a few weeks back, when I'd never even taken a carving class myself, apart from one quick Santa carving thing at a local club. So I didn't have a whole lot of idea of how a class should really go. Still, that one I did seemed to have gone ok. But, then, last  night, I finally attended my first real, full-fledged carving class! It's Celtic relief carving, with a very nice fellow named Wayne Cruze, who has been doing Celtic relief carvings very successfully for many years. We're making a lazy Susan with some Celtic knotwork relief-carved into the top.

I've been meaning to take this class for quite a while, but it seems like I'm always out of town or something when it's offered. I'd seen Wayne's carvings since I started carving, and always admired them and wondered some things about his process. Then, people had referred me to him early on, when they learned that I was making lovespoons, since there's often a lot of Celtic knotwork there, too. Around here, he's "the guy" for Celtic carvings. :) I did get to meet him a couple times, and I've always really enjoyed talking with Wayne, so was even more looking forward to eventually taking this class. Anyway, I finally made it this year, so I am quite excited about that. I was wondering about how he got such a nice-looking finish, among other things. Well - the main answer seems to be that he carves very nice & cleanly. Me, not so much. I'm a little spoiled by lovespoon carving, which usually involves extensive sanding. However, I have been trying to get better about carving cleanly, as even when you're going to sand, it takes away a lot of extra work if you carve cleanly to begin with.

So.... I'm carving away on my stop cuts, and he comes by and is looking a little puzzled at me, surprised that I'm making my stop cuts with my double-beveled skew. I said, well, I forgot my chip carving knife (I actually do have one). But I do like my skew. :) So, when I got home, I got out my chip carving knife, and started trying to drag it through the wood to make more of the stop cuts... sure seemed a lot harder than it was with the skew (though, I'll admit, the hold was more comfortable). And then it slipped a few times, and even resulted in a couple nicks into some of my "over" ribbons - which made me say "Grrrrr." And then I switched back to my skew to finish off the stop cuts. Yep... I guess I'm just not a knife person! Oh well. More power to all you knife carvers out there - I guess I'm not among you. :(

Anyway, now I'm through the stop cuts, and getting into all the little negative spaces (apparently, in next week's class - it's a 2-part class - we'll work on the over/unders, and then the finishing, which is another part that really interests me). Some of my stop cuts are a little wobbly-looking (mostly ones I did with that stupid knife),  but I suppose they're ok. Also, I was a little surprised to find that it was acceptable to make stop cuts that would be deeper than what I cut away next to them. Still - as I started into my first negative space, it's not clean - so I take it a little deeper.... still not clean. A little deeper..... ok, I guess this is good enough... and then Wayne comes by - gee - that's pretty deep. It's hard to get tools all the way into those corners like that. Again, I laughed at myself, and said, yeah, I suppose you're right about that. On the other hand, I suppose I'm not too afraid of getting tools into little corners... but more importantly - I just had to go that deep in order to get a clean cut. So now I have to do that the whole way across the piece. Creating more work for myself - yeah, that sounds about right. :)

Then, I had a revelation about something: I guess I've always thought the side (?) cut had to meet the bottom depth of the stop cut. But, then, I realize, it really doesn't - and thinking it through, in relief carving, it doesn't seem like that would always matter. I think it matters a little more in lovespoons, just because they are something between relief and in-the-round, and strength can become an issue - not to mention, if I made a deeper stop cut, you'd probably see it from the side. But you wouldn't in this relief carving, so - I felt like that was a really good revelation, and took a lot of pressure off. I mean, I still don't want to make huge crevasses, but  cuts at the bases of the ribbons would actually do nothing negative, and would probably add something to the shadow.

So, here is where I am - as far as I got before I went to the eye doctor and had my eyes dilated today (now I can't see up close). I am finding I really am getting a lot cleaner, the more I practice, which is great - didn't expect it to improve that quickly. And if I'd only been that way from the start, I wouldn't have to carve so deep, which, of course, is actually  making it more DIFFICULT to carve cleanly, since it IS harder to get the tools in there. Still - that particular thing isn't so strange for me - just takes longer. So, I don't know - I think I'm getting there. I have always liked the look of chip carving, but have been afraid of it. To me, this feels like a looser version of chip carving, and I quite like that, so I'm really having fun with it! And next week, we'll do the over-unders, and I'll get to learn something about stain, too. (stain has always very much intimidated me, so I'm really looking forward to learning about that, too.)

So - Carving class is GOOD! I quite like it! Maybe some day I'll get brave and actually try a chip carving class, too. Hmm... we'll see. :)

Edit: Bob, your comment reminded me, I meant to say - flat plane carving was exactly what came to mind as I started cutting into those negative spaces. I still don't know how clean I am cutting, but I'm definitely improving. And David - I share your apprehension of kohlrosing and chip carving - I really think this is a good compromise to both, and I am also very happy with the idea of having a nice lazy Susan. Very practical, this stuff. And, it is also surprising me a little how quickly it's going - but, then again, it's basswood... ;) We'll see if I ruin it with stain, though....

Anyway, thought it might be helpful to show a bit closer picture so you can maybe see better how I've got that flat plane thing in mind.  Then, we'll see if I destroy it by next week....


  1. Glad you're enjoying the class. I also have never taken a class. All self-taught. If you want to learn to make clean cuts, learn Scandinavian flat-plane carving. All done with a knife, and only sissies use sandpaper! But then, you and knives . . . . ;-)

  2. Same thing with me, I've never taken a class in carving, though I'm sure I would learn a lot, especially by way of carving cleaner and more efficiently at the start. We all have different learning styles and blogs like this, I find particularly instructive and of immense value to me, thank you.

    I can relate to your preference for gouges and chisels with the stop-cuts. I've been planning to use more relief carving on my spoons and that carving you are working on does look good, so I am looking forward to seeing your progress and on the other aspects you mentioned.

    I like the look of chip carving too and the Kohlrosing Mack has been doing, but I haven't been game to try it yet. The 'looser' celtic knot relief carving might be a bit less nerve racking to begin with, though time consuming.

  3. I don't know. Seems to me carving Celtic knots in relief would be more difficult than doing it "in the round". But then, I don't like gouges and chisels. It's a totally irrational thing with me. The worst I ever cut myself was with a gouge, right into the meat below my left thumb. Ever since then I get a little "frisson" every time I pick one up. The only relief carving I've done is with Northwest Indian style bent knives. Just did some mountains on a lovespoon commission that turned out pretty well. Also did some kolrosing on that same spoon. Turned out a lot better than I thought it would. After the gifting date I'll post photos. As for chip carving, like you, Laura, I always go way deeper than I need to.