Intro to Wood Carving Class


Come take an introductory wood carving class with me!

Acanthus leaf class
Stylized Acanthus Leaf Carving

We will be carving this stylized acanthus leaf, which is a valuable thing to learn because acanthus leaf carvings are EVERYWHERE! Seriously, once you learn about them, you start seeing them on furniture, in architecture, on sculptures, and all over the place. We will carve this one in aspen, which is my new favourite carving wood. The course will last for approximately 3 hours.

Seminar details:

  • February 6, 2016
  • At the Lee Valley Store in Coquitlam, BC.
  • Cost: $60 each.
  • Bring your own tools, although tools are also available for use.

To see more details and register, go to the Lee Valley Carving Seminar site. I hope to see you there!

Fruity Carving…

A carved pear
A carved pear

Carving fruit is an old tradition. I don’t mean cutting up watermelon or an apple to munch on. I mean carving wood to look like fruit. People have been doing it for centuries, even millennia! Fruity carving is another thing altogether that I am not getting into…

I was contacted last week by the director of an upcoming theatre production who asked if I could carve a prop for a play called The Woodcarver. She needed a pear to be used in the play. I have carved fruit in high relief and low relief, but never in-the-round, so this would be a learning project for me too.

Mahogany Fruit Bowl
Mahogany Fruit Bowl

I grabbed a board that was three and a half inches square and quite long, and lopped a piece off with my saw. I cut it a bit longer than necessary so as to leave enough to hold in the vise as per the picture below. Then I ran off to the Central Fraser Valley Woodcarvers club meeting on Wednesday night and started by roughing it out with my largest gouges.

Photo 2016-01-06, 7 15 44 PM
Roughing out the Pear (upside-down)

I made quite the mess in the couple of hours that the club met but had some fun discussing whether or not I was making those dangly-bits of bulls you see swinging from the bumpers of over-sized pick-up trucks in Abbotsford (but not in classy Langley). Several members wondered why I wasn’t making this on a lathe. A lathe can only make things perfectly round and there aren’t any perfectly round pears out there in the wild. I wanted a little more artistic license than that.

After a few back-and-forths by email with the client, I was able to confirm the appropriate size and smoothness of the carving.

Photo 2016-01-09, 11 29 14 AM
Still too large pear

After sanding the pear and shaping the stem, I gave it a light coating of oil to bring out the natural colour and grain of the wood. This went so well I will definitely carve more.

A carved pear
A carved & oiled pear

If you want some wood carved fruit, feel free to contact me about options for something unique to you. In the meantime, I hear my wife asking if her fruit is finished yet. Back to the carving bench I go!

Live Edge Coffee Table

This is normally my woodcarving blog, but I occasionally make other pieces of furniture. Most recently, I have been working on a crosscut out of an old cedar tree that my dad cut down from our yard in Hope, BC a long time ago.

Live edge coffee table scraped

This was a lovely slice of wood that was not so lovely to try to smooth out. Dad cut things with his chainsaw and left them pretty rough, so I had to take my angle grinder to this to get it basically smooth, and then a belt sander with 50 grit sandpaper, and then through a series of smoother grits. Finally I got down to hand scraping and 400 grit sandpaper.

Removing the bark wasn’t so bad because I was able to peel it of and finish it up with a flap wheel sander. Finding the legs was fun too. After researching options on the web, I walked into Napiers Antiques in Milner, a small heritage town in the Langley township area. It didn’t take long for the owner to ask me what I was looking for. When I explained it, he said, “I have EXACTLY what you want. Follow me.” He took me to a set of four hairpin legs that were EXACTLY what I was looking for.

Live edge coffee table legs

After aligning them on the underside of the table, I marked their locations with a square and a felt marker. I ensured they were level and screwed them in place.

Next, I finished it with my favourite finish – a mixture of linseed oil and beeswax. I think it turned out ok. What do you think?


Nativity Carving Joseph

Each year, I carve a figure from the Christian nativity scene for a family member. Last year it was Mary, the mother of Jesus. This year it was Joseph.

Joseph IP
Joseph in progress, from the rear

I had a lovely piece of mahogany given to me by a client and friend, which was straight grained, relatively soft and of a warm reddish-brown colour. I cut out the basic shape on my band saw and went to work with the carving gouges. Joseph is intended to be a figurative sculpture, hence there is little detail. The idea is that you can see yourself in him and imagine what it would have been like to be at the birth of Jesus in that manger in Bethlehem. Joseph’s body language is a mixture of awe and pride, welcoming you to the scene and showing off the baby.

Joseph is approximately 6 inches tall, and is finished with a blend of linseed oil and beeswax.

Joseph, complete, from the front

The Problem With Perfection

Tall Ship Closeup
Tall Ship Close Up

I don’t often wax philosophical in this blog, but as the demand for my carvings has grown so much I am left with the question of why that is so. Why do so many want to buy my carvings or commission me to make a unique carving for them or for a loved one? Why not buy a 3-D printed item? Why am I not in competition with the laser-cut, the CNC machined products? Why am I not afraid of the factory, the reproduced and infinitely replicateable and therefore cheap volume discount products?

The author of this article in the New York Times (re-tweeted on Twitter by @maxwellarm) said something very interesting, “We want to know where our free-range eggs come from, and where our coffee beans are grown and roasted. We also want the vessels we use to consume those things to embody a deeper story about craftsmanship and creativity.”

Carving Students Right
Letter Carving Seminar Students working hard.

In the article, potter David Reid made an insightful comment, “People are looking to have their humanity reflected back at them.” Marshall Mcluhan said that media or technology are extensions of ourselves. We have dreams of perfection, so it makes sense that we want a reflection of that around us. In my mind, this is the attraction of the perfectly linear designs we see in architecture and home decor. These are the brushed stainless or nickel hardware on cabinets, the perfectly flat, shiny, fake stone countertops, the square, linear trim.

But there is only so much perfection we can accept. Hence the creepy movies where the psycho bad guy lives in the hyper-perfect world, where everything is crisp white (so white it hurts the eyes) and nothing is ever out of place. I believe we are unsettled by this perfection because we know we are unable to attain it. We know this so well that we distrust any human or human made product that claims perfection. We know the perfect guy in the movie is going to have an evil side – somewhere, buried, so we look for it and we are ready when it appears. The problem with perfection is that it is impossible and when we find the inevitable flaw, it becomes all we can see. It stands out and laughs at our feeble attempts to be something we are not.

Mahogany Fruit Bowl
Mahogany Fruit Bowl

As I noted in a previous post, David Savage has some excellent points about perfection, quality, and the struggle of the maker. Perfection is cold. It is aloof. It is unhuman. If we want the things around us to reflect our humanity, then perhaps this explains the interest and growth in the handmade. In the article, Fashion designer Steven Alan said, “There is beauty in imperfection and having items that are really handmade.”I agree, to a point. We would not accept an imperfect factory made item. That means poor quality control and uncaring factory owners. No one accepts that. However, we see beauty in imperfection when we know the maker and the struggle he or she took to make something. We love the struggle because we can identify with it, unlike a machine-made product. We want to know that love, care, and attention has been part of the process.


My carvings could be reproduced and even made perfect by a CNC machine. But they would cease to have that je ne sais quoi quality, and would have no soul. I believe that art reflects its maker and the viewer. I believe that we want to see the world through the eyes of the artist. I believe that we want to see evidence of love in the art. I believe we want to have a little piece of that love of the artist. This is the appeal of the human, handmade, art. This is the appeal of the craft market, the art studio, the public art, the commissioned piece of art and the craftsmanship we so enjoy. It makes a statement about the world and, perhaps more importantly, about we ourselves and who we are.

Letter Carving Course Finished


A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of teaching a letter carving course at my local carving club, the Central Fraser Valley Woodcarvers club. All old, 14 people took the course. We carved the word Peace into some clear Aspen. I chose that word because we’re close to Christmas, but also because it has a couple of challenging letters (P, e, and a). Learning to carve perfectly straight lines that blend in with curved lines can be hard if you don’t know some helpful techniques.

If you want to join us, we meet on Wednesday nights from 6-9 at Yale Secondary School, in the woodshop. It’s a great group and we’d be glad to have you.

Thanks to the Club President Joany for taking and sharing these photos with me.