Wine Box Gifts

Hand made gift box for wine bottle

Earlier this fall a hockey friend commissioned me to make 9 boxes that could hold a bottle of wine or beer or tea bags or [insert gift here]. His company is giving these as service awards for employees who have worked for them for 5 years.

The company is based in Canada but has offices around the world, so he wanted something particularly Canadian: a Canadian carver, Canadian wood, etc. So I chose poplar and maple. These woods are plentiful in our area, and carve quite nicely.

He sent me the company logo and the lettering, and I got to designing the boxes. I grabbed a bottle of wine and a pad of paper and pencil. I was fortunate to grow up with a father who was a hobby wood worker who built more boxes in a weekend than I have built in 30 years. He taught me well about how to build strong, simple designs, and how to problem solve when something goes wrong. He also taught me how to make juices for repeat jobs. Oh he loved jigs! So I made a story-stick and a jig and bought the wood and got after it!

I carved some of the designs in the poplar boxes and some in maple boxes, and I can confirm that I am much more pleased with the maple. The carving turned out well in both, but the maple was less “stringy” and the wood snipped out under my gouges and chisels much nicer. It left a pleasing burnished look, too. I had to work harder to get that look from the poplar.

I met my friend at the Trading Post in Langley to have a beer, catch up on life without hockey (no thanks to COVID-19), and to deliver the boxes. I always feel a little regret handing over a carving, and this was no different, but the thanks I received and the way he handled the boxes tells me they are in good hands.

Now I am back at the bench being Santa’s elf, sculpting for Christmas. Ho ho ho!

Is this Jenga?
Burning my maker’s mark on each box.

Hand Carved Charcuterie Boards

Gather Charcuterie Board

We like to entertain guests and family around here. My wife is an excellent cook who is very creative with food. It has become a little more difficult to do this in the time of COVID-19, but we are still able to do some entertaining in a physically distant kind of way.

There is something spiritual about gathering together around the dinner table with friends and family. I recently made two hand carved charcuterie boards in honour of this important family tradition. These two boards were cut from the same block of maple. I grabbed a pencil and hand-wrote “gather” on the two boards and the hand-carved the letters into the wood with my carving gouges.

One these boards was snapped up by a relative already (thanks sis-in-law!) and there’s a bit of a tug-of-war over the second one, but if you are interested in having one made, send me an email. These are approximately $100 each depending on the size and type of wood. The text can say anything of you want.

My daughter Miriah is the design genius behind the food items on this board. She is a brilliant florist and has a flair for design. Follow her on Instagram here:

Hopefully we can all get together with our important people again soon. When you do, make sure it’s a memorable event!

Sculpted Vase

Sculpted Vase
For sale

The last time I was at my childhood home (where my mom still lives), I dug through my father’s pile of wood that he was drying and saving for one of his many woodworking projects. I found a lovely piece of maple that was very rough, had broken pieces, was grey and weathered but I could also see that it had some serious character. It was a piece of wood my dad had cut down, probably for someone who needed a tree taken down because it was in a tricky spot, perhaps hanging over their roof or power lines, or one that had broken apart in a snow storm. He had split it, noticed the ripples that hinted at figuring (you’ll see in a photo below), and set this piece aside for later.

This is Figured Maple (sometimes called Quilted Maple)

Later never came, as his life ended much too early due to cancer, 14 years ago today. I thank God every day for him and all that he taught me about life and wood. It is in his honour that I present to you this sculpted vase.

Gosh that’s beautiful wood!

It is carved in figured maple. I left the remains of a split down the one face, and smoothed out the other sides. One edge is painted white with acrylic into which I sculpted the repeating pattern. There is a hole in the top for dried flowers or branches. The finish is a custom blend of tung oil, spar varnish, and mineral spirits, buffed by hand to a smooth, soft feel.

Here you can see the remains of the surface split and more figure!

I used my father’s crosscut hand saw (to trim the bottom flat, which I had to do twice to remove all the splits in the wood). then I used a 1 inch wide #3 gouge, followed by a 20 mm wide #2 gouge to flatten the faces. I used a V gouge to sculpt a curved line on one face. Then I used a card scraper to smooth the sides and yet retain the natural curves in the wood. I painted the one edge and used a 6mm #9 gouge to sculpt the pattern in it. The hole in the top was tricky because of the slope, and I pondered for a while how to drill it, but my father’s hand powered bit brace (a large drill) worked like a charm and was much safer than trying to clamp an irregular piece of wood into my drill press. In the end, I decided it was much faster too, something my father always said was true for that drill. The last tool I used was some 320 grit sandpaper. Oh, and a quality paint brush – can’t forget that!

The size is 19.5″ tall by 10″ wide and 3.5″ thick.

Thanks Dad, for the gifts you keep giving long after you’ve passed. I miss you every day. I think you’d be happy with this vase.

If you want to see a video of it in better light, click here for my Instagram page

Some in progress pics:

Just a hunk of firewood right? 😉
This is where I decided I needed to cut more off the bottom
Sculpting a curve, flattening the face.

Dogwood Sculpture #3

This sculpture is carved dogwood flowers. 22″ high by 6″ wide (the base). It has been accepted to the Richmond Carvers Society virtual art show, June 1, 2020. It is for sale.

I carved it with hand-tools (carving gouges), including hollowing out the back, from a branch of holly wood given to me by a friend and member of the Central Fraser Valley Wood Carvers club

This is the first time I have ever carved holly, and I quite liked it. It is very dense and hard wood, with almost no discernible grain, although it definitely has a grain that affects the way it carves. It is strong – stronger than alder – and is sort of sticky, in that the wood really clings to the carving tools and is challenging to carve unless the tools are razor sharp.

The base is teak, and has my marker’s mark, the GVM symbol, carved into a corner. The holly has been protected by several coats of satin varnish spray. The teak has several coats of a unique blend of linseed oil, wiping varnish, and wax.

Restoring an Antique

I enjoy woodcarving very very much and one reason why is because I get to solve problems for other people. The other day I was contacted by a gentleman who restores antique phonographs and gramophones, because he needed someone to carve decorative appliqués that had been lost on an early 20th century machine.

Acanthus leaves

There were 3 main carvings to replace, and some smaller details to add, such as egg and dart motif to some capitals. Two main carvings are of acanthus leaves curving around a frame, which would have held posters advertising the music this machine once played. These were quite straightforward and are very common decorations on many different kinds of furniture.

Acanthus leaves

The most challenging of the three carvings was the acanthus leaves and ribbon, also a fairly common decoration .

This was all carved in oak. The interesting part for me is these pieces were already applied to the phonograph cabinet and I simply needed to carve them. “Simply” might be an understatement, for this oak was some of the worst I have ever carved. It chipped off at very inopportune times, and with no warning. But in the end I made it work.

Dogwood Sculpture Number Two

A local realtor friend came to the Art of the Carver 2019 show and appreciated the dogwood flowers I carved. When he saw I was carving a second version, he immediately asked for it as a gift for his wife.

This carving is is sculpted from one solid piece of alder wood. It is painted with acrylic (the flower stamens and the branches. The whole piece is clear coated with a satin water-based lacquer.

Crow And Fire Sculpture

This sculpture is inspired by the legend of the crow who saved the animals from freezing to death.

This was a commission from a realtor for his business partner who loves crows. When my son heard about it he said, “That reminds me of the legend of the crow who brought fire to his community and saved the animals from freezing.”

I did not remember this story so he reminded me of the details. He probably heard or read the story 20 years ago but his memory was spot on! The gist of the story is that during a long deep freeze, the animals were afraid of freezing to death. Crow, who used to have beautiful feathers and a musical song, volunteered to travel to the Creator to ask for relief. The Creator was impressed with Crow and gave him a burning coal to take back to the animals so they could have fire and warm themselves. As Crow flew home with the burning coal in his beak he burned his tongue and feathers black. He sacrificed his beautiful feathers and voice, but his heroism saved the animals from certain death. Ever since, crows have black feathers and a croaky, raspy caw for a voice.

Inspired by this story, I tried a new technique of turning the sculpture black. This involved a plumbing torch and my BBQ.

The crow is carved from a solid piece of yellow cedar. The legs are steel, and the base is cherry wood. The crow is finished in a waterborne clear satin finish.

Trying Something New

I often approach carving very cautiously, but recently decided to be more bold. I think I’ve been cautious because I approach carving from a position of scarcity: “there is only one piece of wood like this in the whole world and I could ruin it! Ergo, go slow, Grant. Be careful.”

What does it mean to approach a carving more boldly? Take this carving of dogwood flowers.

Dogwood Flowers (safe version)

I intend that it will start low to the table on one end and rise in the middle before dropping back down at the other end, somewhat like my powerful looking biceps muscles (smirk!). So I started carefully by drawing the flowers and branch on the wood and cutting out the shape on the band saw. The first thing I started carving was the centers of the flowers, followed by the petals of each flower with the intent that I would gradually sculpt down from the surface, lowering each flower centre and each petal until I felt the flowers were at the right height. You can see in the photo that I started carving  all the flowers at the same height, that I separated the petals and had begun to lower them slightly. Not too much at a time because, hello scarcity! This is how I carved the last dogwood carving, and it was very safe. But it took me longer to carve than it takes Canada Revenue Agency to complete my tax refund, and I thought there must be a better way! Which is also how I think about paying taxes.

I have long been a fan and subscriber to Chris Pye’s carving training videos, and noticed that he confidently and aggressively removes waste wood before he starts carving details. So I thought I would give it a try. In less than an hour, I had the first flower and stem at the correct depth and roughly carved. All that is left to do is to smooth the petals, undercut the flower to throw a good shadow, and stamp the centre (stamen), which will take another half hour of time.

Dogwood Flowers (bold version)

In short, I’m happy with this new way of thinking and I am happy with the the process and the outcome. As I always say, “Go bold or go home!”

Ok, maybe this is the first time I’ve said that – it must be my bold coffee speaking. Bring on the boldness, in coffee and in carving!

My First Ever Art Show Auction

A while ago, I became a member of the Fort Gallery in Fort Langley. This Saturday evening, I am inviting you to a gala event in support of the Gallery. At this event, Paint the Town, my carving of the dogwood flowers, will be auctioned off

Dogwood Flowers

in a silent auction. This is the first time I have participated in an art show silent auction and, to be honest, I am a little nervous about it. What if no one bids on my art? However, as Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.” I’m all in on this one! [Update: the Dogwood Flowers sold. Insert happy dance.]

Tickets to the gala are $50 each, and there will be appetizers, dessert, music and dancing, and of course, the silent auction. The link to the tickets and information is here. I hope to see you Saturday evening!



A Good Art Show

What makes a good art show?

This past Saturday, the Central Fraser Valley Woodcarvers club hosted our annual Art of the Carver art show. I think a good art show should have top quality art, have some strong energy, and be an event that people want to be and linger at.

Pumpkins carved in a caricature style

Photo Credit: Mark Smith

I had the privilege of being a co-chair of the Show along with Mark Smith. Mark is an excellent photographer and has a lot of experience in senior management, so he knows how to get things done. We had some challenges putting the show together, but with the help of club members, it was a successful event.

There were several things I liked about how this show.

Good Judges Make a Good Show

Judge Norm Williams speaks with Co-chair Mark Smith
Norm Williams and Mark Smith

First, we had a phenomenal judge in Norm Williams. He is a sculptor from Abbotsford who is well known for his bronze sculptures of Roger Neilson and Pat Quinn which are standing near the entrance to Rogers Arena in Vancouver. Norm was great because he is a very experienced judge and he also hung around afterwards to talk with carvers about their work, offering advice and encouragement. I personally talked with him for over an hour about how I can improve my carving and sculptures. This is very beneficial and is appreciated by carvers.

Show Judges at work
Judges at work

Good Displays Make a Good Show

Dan Lefebvre’s display table
Dan Lefebvre’s display table

Another good thing about this show was the display table for professional carver Dan Lefebvre. It was Dan’s first time participating in an art show like this, and he stole the show! The size and complexity of his carvings meant that they drew a crowd. In the end, one of his carvings won the Best of Show, The People’s Choice, and the Carvers Choice awards, so he really did steal the show.

Good Carvers Make a Good Show

Dan Lefebvre was not the only excellent carver at this show. We had other world class talent, as well as many emerging talented artists who put their carvings on display.

Carvings on display

Carvings on display

Ribbons and Awards

The show award winners were as follows:

  • Best of Novice: Phillip Guite
  • Best of Intermediate: Ted Kieneker
  • Best of Advanced: Yours Truly Grant McMillan
  • Best of Expert: Dan Lefebvre
  • Best of Show: Dan Lefebvre
  • People’s Choice Award: Dan Lefebvre
  • Carvers Choice Award: Dan Lefebvre

There are several improvements planned already for next year. I hope you’ll be able to make it.