Weekend Letter Carving Seminar

On Saturday, September 12, I taught a letter and number carving seminar at Lee Valley Tools in Coquitlam. The seminar went from 9:30-4:30, which was just the right amount of time for the students to create a sign, and have about an hour near the end of the course to either embellish the sign with a carving or start a new project of their own making.

Letter Carving Seminar Students working hard.
Letter Carving Seminar Students working hard.

We started with introductions and what people hoped to get out of the course. I presented a short historical overview and use of letter carving before moving on to typical fonts and how they are applied in wood carving. We reviewed a few tools and how we planned to use them throughout the day, and then started carving.

To start carving we learned how to hold a gouge effectively and how to carve a circle. Following that we learned how the same gouge can carve a smaller or larger circle as well as an ellipse using a few simple techniques. After a few practice circles, we moved on to carving a sign. We talked about how to lay out the letters and I gave them a small problem to resolve where the letters were too closely aligned. We discussed kerning and fonts, and a few common printing/type-setting matters. Then we discovered how to remove wood from letters without them chipping or splitting outside the lines: my woodcarving mantra is that you have to give wood a place to go or it will go where it wants without regard to your desires. I showed them how shadows make or break letter carving and we learned that a very common letter-carving angle is 60 degrees because it creates a pleasing shadow.

The seminar participants got to work and we spent a few hours with mallets and chisels and gouges. After lunch we had a quick sharpening review with the seminar coordinator Derek Darling, and we took the opportunity to touch up the tools and get back at the carving. Later in the afternoon after everyone had finished carving the sign they had the chance to add some extra carvings to it or start their own design.

Letter Carving Students trying their own designs.
Letter Carving Students trying their own designs.

All in all, it was a lot of fun and good learning. The techniques can be applied far beyond what we did in the course. The students saw the benefits of having only a few tools and “making do”, but we also saw how more tools can make letter carving faster with the advantage of requiring less cleaning up of the letters.

If you would like to take a carving course like this, check out Lee Valley Tools seminars. You can also check with your local woodcarving club to see if they offer anything similar. I hope to offer this course at my own club soon, so if you live in the Lower Mainland area of BC and want to take this course, please let me know.

Grant McMillan


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