Hand Hewn Cross


A friend who collects crosses from around the world asked me for “a Canadian cross.” She asked for something simple but made from an iconic Canadian wood. I chose Western Giant Maple and of course I had to make it artistic so I carved it to look hand hewn. The cross that Jesus died on was made by hand, perhaps by a Roman slave. It is a horrible thing that we often try to clean up and “gloss over” unless you are Mel Gibson. We humans are responsible for this symbol of death but Jesus redeemed it with grace and forgiveness. I have tried to capture both the humanity and the grace in this piece. 

This one is 7″ tall, and is finished with a blend of linseed oil and beeswax. You can have one like it for $90. 

Not-so-new Brand Image

Artists sign their work, right? Well, I guess Banksy doesn’t, but his schtick is to remain shadowy. But how does a woodcarver and sculptor sign a completed sculpture? I know a few who sign  a Sharpie marker, but to me that is a little gauche. Woodworkers have signed their work in unique ways over the centuries (here are a few examples). Woodcarver and instructor, Chris Pye, recommends getting some small circular brass plates made up with name (or initials) etched in. When the carving is completed, drill a shallow hole a hair larger in diameter than the brass plate and fix the plate in place with a little epoxy glue.


I experimented with inscribing my initials with a rotary tool and diamond bit, but it never looked clean enough for me. I have had brass plates made up too, but they don’t fit every carving or sculpture. I wanted something I could easily adjust the size of and yet still maintain the design. I have for years admired Albrecht Durer’s monogram but couldn’t really settle on something for myself.


I have slightly modified the design over the past few years (see above) but when a good friend who has been in the graphic art and design business for decades offered to help me out, he really cleaned it up. He asked me a few simple questions, went quiet for a couple of days, and then sent me some examples. I chose one that I liked and he created about 5 different electronic file types for me to use. The best part is, I can carve it in about 30 seconds or less using two tools – a number 9 gouge and a chisel or even a knife.

Here is the big reveal:


There is a deliberate reason why the lines of the M are not continuous. It is to indicate that my middle initial is a V for Victor, and I am paying homage to my mentor and father Vic, who I have written about several times. He is at the heart of all I carve and, more than a decade after his death, he is still providing most of the wood I use.

You will start seeing this brand image show up on this site more often and it will be on my business cards and stationary, as well as on every carving I make. My friend who designed it for me requested to remain anonymous because that kind of work isn’t where he’s going with his own business – he just did it for me as a friend. As much as I’d like to give him public recognition for his work, I will respect his request. But if I introduce you to him as a graphics design genius and wink at you or give you the secret handshake, you’ll know he’s the one.

Fishing Net Part One


I recently returned from a very nice fishing trip with a friend where we caught many, and some large, rainbow trout. They were feisty fish, with some extra spunk and I had a hard time landing and releasing some of them, which convinced me that I need a landing net. 

A quick trip to my local fishing shop caused me to develop a serious pain in my wallet grabbing hand. I just couldn’t bring myself to pay double for a net what I paid for my best fly reel. 

Oh, I could buy a cheap aluminum handled net for $14, but at least two of the fish I caught would have bent it out of shape and the fish may not have even fit (yeah, yeah, a likely fish story!). Watching episodes of fishing with Brian Chan, I fell in love with his nice wood-framed net. But wow are they expensive! I can’t judge the makers for that, because I know how much the materials cost and how much work it takes. From that perspective, they are a steal, which leads me to believe they are probably factory-made. Never-the-less, I figured I could make my own for the cost of the wood and a $10 replacement net. 


I cut three strips of wood out of maple and walnut and steam-bent them around a jig I made. I thought I would need more clamps but the wood was very compliant as I plied it around the bends. After drying overnight, I glued the strips together around the same jig, with Gorilla Glue, which is waterproof and easy to work with. 

Reject Handle

I ditched my first handle idea because I did not like the length after laying it out. I also wanted to have dark inside and light outsides – an aesthetic choice of my own. 

Accepted Handle

Once all this was ready, I needed to glue the net rim to the handle. Someone thinking ahead would have done this at the same time as gluing the strips together but, hey, this is a first for me and I’m making it up as I go along. 


Is that a ridiculous setup for gluing, or what? Did I tell you that I am making this up as I go along? If you missed that, the above set of clamps should tell you all you need to know! 

Next I will drill the holes for the net and start shaping the curves. Stay tuned! 

Mountain Lion Relief Carving 


For sale: $250

Here is a very rare opportunity to purchase a piece of original art from my carving studio. Almost every item I carve is by commission, so I don’t often have items for sale to the general public. I’ve been slowly working at this piece for several months, in a spare hour here or there. It is finished and is for sale. 

This cougar, or mountain lion, is powerful and fearless. It could kill you in a few seconds and eat you with no remorse. It is not preparing to attack, but is stepping towards you with some interest. Where are it’s feet? How close is it? Do you know how to defend yourself if need be? 

It is a project that I have dreamed of doing for years but only decided on the design last fall. It is carved in low relief, only 2mm high and very challenging to convey all of the above and more.

It is carved in aspen wood, and is 6″ x 8.5″. It is finished with a water borne enamel. 

If you purchase it, you will need to display it properly and with good lighting. Here is a video to show you how to do that:

Spooning With Style

It’s not always about the big, complicated, detailed, historical carvings around here. Sometimes when I’m between projects, I pull out a scrap of wood and carve something that I can finish in an hour or so. Last night was a good example. All the projects that I’m either working on or about to start are quite large. One requires more research. One requires cutting and laminating together a bunch of yellow cedar. One requires a consultation with the client. At about 9 pm, I wasn’t about to start on any of these. But I didn’t want to waste an hour, either. So I grabbed a 6″ x 1 3/4″ x 3/4″ piece of walnut out of the off-cut bin and started carving a spoon.

First, I found the middle of the board, and drew a line down its length. I used a compass to scribe a circle with an inside and outside edge, which would form the bowl of the spoon. After that, I clamped the board in my vise, took out my #7 – 14 mm wide gouge and started carving the bowl. Once I had the bowl scooped out, I switched to a 5a – 7 mm spoon gouge to clean up the bottom of the bowl. Then I drew the handle and cut the outside shape on my bandsaw.

After the shape was cut out, I cut a strip of double-sided carpet tape, flipped the spoon bowl-side down and stuck it to the tape on a piece of scrap wood which I clamped in my vise. Double-sided carpet tape makes a wonderful “vise” for things that are difficult to clamp due to their shape. I took my #3 – 25mm gouge and shaped the outside of the spoon bowl. A quick switch to a #7 – 14 mm gouge, flipped over so I was primarily carving with the inside edge of the gouge, helped me shape the handle in a few strokes. Once all that was done, I worked it free from the double-sided tape, made a few passes with my round rasp and smoothed it with a large double-cut file before sanding it with several grits of sand paper. It requires a little more sanding as you can see from the photo, and them some foodsafe oil to finish it.

I really like the shape, and it fits very nicely into my hand. It will make a nice coffee scoop or something similar.

I’m trying to decide whether to put my maker’s mark on it or just leave it smooth. Got any recommendations for me on that? Leave a comment and I’ll consider it!

Carving an Heirloom 

I have been at my carving bench working on a commission for a client who asked me to carve two family crests – one for him and one for his brother. I have carved many items for this client over the years. He is nearing completion of his house, which is beautiful! Here are a couple of pictures of some of the architectural details I have carved for him.


The family crests are to be carved in a similar style, and are being carved in black walnut. Walnut is a very good wood for carving. It is relatively hard, straight grained, and holds details well. It is easy to finish, and the wood is not heavily grained so it does not distract from the carved details. 

I started by cutting out the general shape of the crest before transferring the drawing onto the wood. 


Then I set the depths for the various elements of the crest which were very specific. No more than 3/8ths of an inch deep, the helmet, feathers, and castle turrets should be the highest points, etc. 


Then I began removing wood with my carving gouges. Having a reference drawing nearby is essential to get the details correct in this sort of carving. 



I finished the first one and have made substantial progress on the second one. 

Relief Carving Classes

One of the things I love about woodcarving is how many people are interested in learning it. In my other life at university, I teach a few courses every year and I find teaching to be something I love. Teaching carving classes is also something I do quite often and I find a lot of fulfillment in watching students get excited as they think about the endless possibilities of carving.

Recently, I have taught two different types of carving classes. The first was a lettering class at Lee Valley Tools in Coquitlam. In that class, we learned some basic principles of lettering – such as what is a serif? We didn’t dwell on this part, but moved on quickly to learn how light and shadow works for letters and how important it is to have tools that match the  curves of the letters. We learned that a 60 degree incised angle can be difficult to cut but it can make a large difference to the look of the letters. We learned that it is important to “give the wood a place to go or it will find its own way” and so we started each letter with stab cuts in the middle of the letter. Then we also learned how much easier it is to cut the serifs before cutting the rest of the letters. The students went home with a completed project and some ideas for how to apply their new-found carving skills to other carpentry projects.

The second class was an introductory relief carving class which I taught at our club location – the Central Fraser Valley Woodcarvers Club. We meet at Yale Secondary School in Abbotsford on Wednesday nights.

Relief Carving Class Brochure

What I found most interesting was how much the students seemed to take to carving with large gouges hit with a mallet. They learned just how easy it is to control a carving gouge with a mallet and how fine details can be cut by light taps with a mallet on the tools. We also learned how every carving gouge can cut a circle and how much difference it makes to use a slicing action when carving by hand. My goal is to show the students how to finish a carving right from the gouge, with no sandpaper needed. This method of carving is quite quick, and with the correct techniques and some artistic vision, can create a unique piece of artwork that shows the individual carver skill. I compare this to a painter whose brushstrokes set him or her apart from every other artist. The marks left by the carver show the skill of the carver, the sharpness of the tools, and are what shows the uniqueness of each woodcarver.

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No sandpaper was used on these relief carvings!

 

If you are interested in taking a course, contact me by email at gvmcmillan(at)gmail.com