Unique Cherry Plate

I have carved a few of these bread plates over the years. I thought about numbering them, but that’s normally reserved for copies, such as prints of a painting, where the artist makes a limited number available. These are not like that. These bread plates are all unique for two reasons.

The first reason they are unique is because each piece of wood is 100% unique. Like snowflakes, no two pieces of wood are the same. The wood grows in different locations, different climates, and even in different years, depending on when the wood was harvested. The grain and colour of the wood depend on the species, the weather, the wind, soil, bugs, and all kinds of factors.

The second reason they are unique is because I carve each one by hand. I use a template for drawing the letters but each time I cut a letter I make choices about which tool is required. I make that choice based on the shape of the letter (a curved letter requires a curved gouge). But I also choose a tool based on the type of wood and what the grain is doing where the letter is situated. Consequently, each plate is a mixture of unique wood and hundreds of individual decisions on my part.

My client has requested two plates, and when I carve the second one, they will be close to the same size and shape. But like snowflakes or two original paintings of the same subject, a close look will show all the unique cuts from my gouges, which are like the brush strokes of a painter.

If you order one of these, you will receive an original, that’s for certain!

Hand Carved Walking Cane

Cane carved in walnut

I was recently contacted by a former colleague and long time friend who asked me to carve a cane for her mother. My wife and I visited Nova Scotia and stayed with them for a few days some years ago. My friend’s mom taught us how to prepare a lobster dinner, and she ate parts I could barely look at (ick!). This was a plucky woman!

Carving a wild rose in walnut

Her daughters all got together to commission this cane, and I had a great time carving it. I asked a few questions such as what her favourite flowers are. It was a choice between roses and sweet peas. Sweet pea flowers don’t look like much without colour, and roses are quite identifiable. The handle needed to be special for this feisty woman, and so I carved it in a shape that is suggestive of a bird with attitude. it must be hard to admit you need a cane, so I think it is easier when the cane is not a clunky chunk from the drugstore, but has some class and is an artistic piece that personally represents the user.

They get lots of snow and ice in Nova Scotia so I wanted a tip that was non-slip. I tried to get one from Lee Valley Tools, but they were on back order for months, so I found another option with a carbide ice tip and an even better rubber tip combination from Mountain Equipment Co-op. I had a small challenge drilling into the end grain of the cane shaft to epoxy the tip into the end and keep everything straight and clean. It worked out quite well.

Carbide tip and rubber tip

The finish is a blend of linseed oil, marine spar varnish, and mineral spirits. Three coats gave it a nice low sheen, and the walnut wood looks warm and inviting to the hand. I also used a thin coat of beeswax and lemon oil on the handle just to make it irresistible (grin).

While I was carving the handle, I was concerned about the way the change of grain direction would look at the join to the shaft. So I spent a few weeks trying to locate some brass to use as a spacer that would be decorative. I have a great neighbour named Mario who used to work in a shipyard on repairing propellers, many of which are brass. Mario had some brass for me – a nice heavy, thick, and high quality bit of brass that polished up beautifully. And another buddy (Pat) is a machinist who answered a few questions for me too.

Brass spacer and handle

All in all this was a pleasure to make. I hope it will be even more pleasurable to use.

Carving Memorials


I had the privilege of being asked to carve two memorials by the parent of one of two women who passed away. It was an honour to be asked to be part of their stories.

The two women are connected because of the similarities of their situations, and the two families got connected through their shared sorrow. I will not retell the stories because you can read about them in the news. But the two women went missing around the same time and both were found months later, after they passed away.

Tulip memorial for Trina Hunt

Both sculptures are done in yellow cedar and black walnut. Trina Hunt liked tulips, and Shaelene Bell liked butterflies. I chose to design them as though they are in Gothic windows. Gothic cathedrals are known for their use of light through arched windows, and I wanted these memorials to hint at light, even during the dark experiences. Hopefully the two families are brought closer together through these sculptures, and the fact that their daughters can be remembered this way.

“In loving memory…”
“… of Shaelene Bell”

I carved Shaelene Bell’s butterfly in relief, and added some colour using my Razortip pyrography pen. The antennae are steel and epoxy. The lettering on both sculptures is hand carved. The letters around the rim of the butterfly were very challenging to cut especially in the end grain at the top of the window. Both sculptures are finished with several coats of oil and beeswax, and burnished to a soft glow. TV

This Snail Is a Swinger

Swinging Snail

I just finished sculpting this snail and set it on a swing under our deck. We like to garden and the most consistent critters helping themselves to our herbs and vegetables are slugs and snails. I like garden art, and a snail seemed to be a natural choice.

Holes for eyes/tentacles

This snail is sculpted from a solid block of yellow cedar with birch eyes inserted. It is finished with several coats of UV resistant spar varnish. It’s not perfect: a knot popped out of the shell and I glued it back in. A lot of snails have pretty rough looking shells, so I think it looks about right.

It’s available for $175.00 (Canadian) plus shipping if required. Email me at gvmcmillan@gmail.com

Carved Growth Chart

Last year some friends from Saskatchewan brought us a board from our old house on which we had marked down our children’s heights as they grew. We had to leave it behind when we moved because it was part of the house. But when the new owners renovated, they took it out and our friends were able to get it and drove it out to us on a visit. The memories!

We do not have this many children!

That inspired an idea to carve a growth chart for our grandchildren. I decided to keep it simple so that there would be lots of room for names. I chose a 6” wide maple board. Because our family is fairly tall (both of my sons are over 6 feet) I made the board 7 feet long.

The tools I used

I marked it every half inch, every inch and every foot. The half inch marks are half inch in length. The one inch marks are one inch long and the one foot marks are two inches long.

As you can see, I also carved the family name. I did not paint or varnish the board so that it would be easier to write on it.

If you want one like this for your family, please contact me by email at gvmcmillan@gmail.com Because wood prices are so volatile right now I can’t set a standard price, but we can make arrangements in advance so that you can order with confidence.

Professional Photos of Carvings

Title: There Are Cracks In the Environment

I am a DIY guy. If there’s a challenge, I am up for it. If I need to learn a new craft, I do it. If it requires tools and technical skill, I’ll research it and try and try again until I figure it out. Over the years I have built several canoes, renovated homes including concrete work, roofing, plumbing, cabinets and finish carpentry (crown molding required a lot more research and skill than I realized at first). I have done a lot of vehicle repairs and maintenance. I enjoy working with my hands and don’t particularly like paying others for something I can do myself. However…

However, there is one skill I can’t seem to master, at least not up to the standard I am looking for: photographing my sculptures. Every time I try, I am never satisfied.

I set up a background with a backdrop. My photos? Meh.

I got up early to catch the morning light. My photos? Meh.

I saw an ad for the newest iPhone with a camera that made NHL star Marc Andre Fleury (one of my all-time favourite players) look like a professional photographer, so I got one. My photos? Meh.

I got semi-serious and built a light box with filters, backdrop, and fancy schmancy daylight LED bulbs. I even used a tripod with a remote. My photos? You guessed it. Meh. For proof of my meh photos, check this previous post.

I was getting desperate because there were two art shows coming up that I wanted to enter, and I needed great photos. So I got truly serious and contacted my friend Dwight Friesen, who is a professional photographer (who also has a Ph.D.) to ask for help. Dwight and I go back a long ways – to 1995, in the middle of the bald prairies in Caronport, Saskatchewan. Even back then his super-skills with an SLR could make a southern Saskatchewan snow storm look good. I needed Dwight.

And Dwight came through! The difference in photos is remarkable.

The moral of the story? If you want your carvings and sculptures to “pop” and yours are only “meh” then call Dwight Friesen (or your local professional photographer).

The seal itself is carved from Pohutukawa wood from New Zealand, and I worked with the naturally formed cracks to emphasize the unhappy eyes of this seal. The base is carved from spalted maple, which is a stage of decay that is halted when it is cut open, exposed to oxygen, and then sealed (pun intended).

Size: 12″ long x 7″ high

Finish: Seal has multiple layers of Tung Oil, hand-buffed between each coat. Base was sprayed with multiple coats of water-based clear finish.

Price: $649

Cute Little Frog Sculpture

Netsuke Style Frog Sculpture

I just finished carving this little frog after working on it here and there for several years. It is carved out of Vera wood, which I picked up in a specialty wood shop over 20 years ago. I don’t remember what it cost but it wasn’t cheap!

It is far and away the hardest wood I have ever carved. Much harder than Ebony, which seems crazy but it’s true. It is so dense it doesn’t float in water, and it’s naturally oily. In fact, finding a glue for the eyes was challenging because most glues just pop off the surface. The trick I used was to make the eye sockets quite rough on the inside, and I used a special epoxy that held up in my tests.

I carved this in a Netsuke style, which is an ancient Japanese art form. The addition of the abalone shell eyes departs from Netsuke, but adds that all important “je ne sais quoi” to this sculpture.

This little fella is available for purchase for $98 Canadian.

Small but cute, eh?

For A Good Cause

Bread Plate Carved in Poplar Wood

My friend David Greb contacted me about donating a carving to the Burnaby Counselling Group’s Spring 2021 virtual auction. I thought that this bread plate would be ideal for this purpose, as I believe there is something socially and spiritually important about breaking bread together. Preparing and serving food is a foundation of hospitality. Eating and drinking together lowers our defenses and allows for relationships to be possible.

The words which I have hand-carved around the rim of the plate are taken from the story in the Bible of the Last Supper. It’s a profound story about relationships and hope for the future. I believe this plate has something important to say when we sit at the table to eat together.

When you bid on this plate, or other items in the auction, you help subsidize the cost of counselling for those who need it. Professional counselling can change someone’s life, providing hope and wellness, but it often takes time and can be costly. Perhaps your bid will make it possible for someone’s life to change for the better because they receive subsidized counselling.

This plate is approximately 13″ in diameter, and is carved from Poplar wood. I hand-draw the letter around the circle, which is a painstaking process, much like counselling. Each letter is uniquely shaped and spaced around the circle. Regular letters would look too large at the bottom and be too spaced apart at the top. The bowl and under rim are all hand-carved – no lathe work is involved. Finally, I brush on a coat of warm, melted bees wax and food grade mineral oil. Then it is bake it to perfection in my oven while I watch to make sure it isn’t overcooked. Ok, maybe “baking” is a stretch here. I heat the wood in the oven so that the bees wax/oil mixture melts and soaks in deeply. Then I buff it with a soft cotton cloth until it glows like the photo above.

To care for this plate and make sure it lasts a lifetime, do not use it as a cutting board. Instead, use it as a serving plate. When you’re done, simply give it a wipe with a dry or damp cloth. Never put it in the dishwasher. If it ever looks a little dull, buff it with a cotton cloth. You can always add a little cutting board oil and buff it after letting it soak in for 15 minutes or so.

These plates normally sell for $180, but I’m hoping that a worthy cause like this will raise much more. This one is donated to the Burnaby Counselling Group’s auction, and you can bid on it. But if you want one and didn’t make the winning bid, you can order one directly from me by emailing gvmcmillan@gmail.com

There Are Cracks In The Environment

There Are Cracks in the Environment
“There Are Cracks In The Environment”

My latest sculpture is titled “There Are Cracks In The Environment.” The story of this piece began in New Zealand. Our family took a trip there a few years ago, and I was struck by how rugged and beautiful it was. The scenery is amazing, and the beaches are non-stop!

We were there over the Christmas holiday, which is their summer season. We fell in love with the beautiful Pohutukawa tree that blossoms bright red and is known as the New Zealand Christmas tree.

Pohutukawa tree in full bloom. My wife Kathleen also in full bloom from being near the ocean.

Our friends there knew I liked to carve, and gave me a piece of wood from this tree that had fallen and had partially dried. I wasn’t sure what I would carve at that moment but later in the trip we travelled to Christchurch and saw the devastation from the two massive earthquakes that city endured a few years earlier. We traveled to Greymouth on the west coast of the South Island and watched the seals on the rocks. Suddenly I knew what I would carve.

I started carving the seal with my Opinel knife, which I really like because the carbon steel blade takes such a sharp edge and holds that edge really well. I made decent progress on it while sitting on some rocks in the little town of Granity. Then I packed it in my suitcase for the trip home where I would occasionally work on it in between commissions for clients.

Over time and as the piece of Pohutukawa wood dried, a couple of cracks began to form. As my friend and fellow carver, Tim Babiuk likes to say, you should love knots and cracks in wood because they provide opportunities for truly creative work. I took his words to heart and incorporated the cracks into the face of the seal and they gave me the idea for the name of this sculpture.

The title, “There Are Cracks in The Environment” is a reference to the country of New Zealand and the obvious results of the earthquakes and ancient volcanoes, the changes in the environment affecting seals, and the cracks in the wood of the sculpture.

The base is its own story. It came from a piece of spalted maple that my father cut and dried. when I cut into it, a rotten knot fell out, leaving a cool hole. It is a remarkable piece of wood in itself. I love that it brings together our new family (on my daughter-in-law’s side) and my parents, who lived for several years in New Zealand before I was born and said it was their favourite place on Earth.

It is finished with several light coats of Tung Oil, with lots of buffing with a soft cotton cloth.

This sculpture is 12” long, 8” tall, and a hair over 3” wide, and is available for purchase. The price is $590 CAD. I can package it up and ship anywhere.

Baking Bread Platters?

I have been struggling to keep up with the demand for bread platters carved with “Give us this day our daily bread” around the rim. These have proven to be very popular. I recently had to create a new template for the lettering because the old one simply wore out. This time, I payed more attention to the kerning, and the serifs, which are technical terms in lettering. Kerning refers to the spacing of each letter. Serifs are the little curves and extra strokes of the pen in the corners of each letter. I also livened up each of the straight letters, such as an “I” by giving them a very slight hourglass shape.

And on particularly chilly winter days, I warm up the wood in my oven so that it allows the mixture of oil and beeswax to soak in better. I find when I don’t do this, it tends to sit on the surface. A little bit of buffing by hand with a cotton cloth brings out the nice luster of the wood afterwards. The bread platter in the photo is carved in poplar wood. Maybe that’s why these are so popular. (Dad joke!)

Anyhow, if you want one of these you’ll have to get in line. You can email me at gvmcmillan@gmail.com to ask me to make one for you. Or you can ask me to make something else for you too. I am always open to new ideas. But it might take a while, because, well, I just told you why.