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!

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

Horse Bust Completed

The horse bust is completely finished!  

This sculpture captures the history and the future of horses in the area in which it was carved. It is sculpted out of an old material (wood), remade into something new with the most modern technology (parallam), all supported by a strong base that isn’t interested in stealing any of the limelight. It represents the nature of horses in the Langley region. Originally used as working animals in the lumber, ranching and farming industries, they have been repurposed for the modern industries of equestrian therapeutic riding for the disabled and people with special needs, as well as the competitive world of show horses, with hunter jumper, vaulting, western and English shows. Both industries demonstrate the future of horses in Langley. And the material is a mess of torn up strips of wood fibres pressed and conformed into a controlled product. The sculpture captures the wildness and the structure of the modern horse. 

This sculpture  is for sale. It is 23″ tall by 21″ wide on a base of steel custom made by my friend Steve Bennett. 


Horse Sculpture

i have completed the carving stage of the horse head sculpture. This included a few last minute adjustments to the eyes, mouth and mane. Then I determined the way it would stand before cutting the base of the neck at the proper angle.

The next steps are to put a finish on it and make a stand. Does anyone know where I can find some plate steel, something at least 1/4″ thick onto which I can weld a post? 

Thank you to my lovely daughter Miriah for the photos.


Horse Mane Carving

The horse mane carving has gone well, although I did find it challenging to work in wood where little bits just randomly spring off and fall out under the v-gouge. This happens when certain strips of wood in the parallam beam did not receive enough glue. It’s not really a problem. It means I adjust the carving slightly. I finished the mane tonight. At this point I will set the carving as it will stand and make sure the entire sculpture looks right. I’ll probably stare at it, turn it around and around, nip off bits here and there. I’ll sand it and sand it some more until I’m finally satisfied. Only then will I put the finishing coats on. 

This is the point where I get excited. 

Carving a Bust of a Horse

Nose to Nose with a Horse
Nose to Nose with a Horse

Months ago I started carving a bust of a horse out of a parallam beam off-cut given to me by my friend Carl, which I wrote about here. I’ve been chipping away at it in my spare time between commissions for clients. It has been a most interesting project for me. The parallam “wood” acts like most other woods except for when it doesn’t. I have discovered that not all the wood fibers have accepted the glue. These show up when I’ll be using a gouge, cutting away by pounding it with my mallet. The gouge will suddenly slip and skip over the sculpture. What happens is my gouge will partially cut through a long fiber (more like a strip of wood) and will pull the strand loose when it will slide out of the sculpture and cause my gouge to take off for regions unknown! I have learned to keep a firm grip on those gouges. Fortunately, this has happened only once in an obvious location, leaving a gap in the left nostril. I am undecided about whether to fix it or leave it, although I’m leaning towards leaving it.

A good look at the wood strands.
A good look at the wood strands.

This “wood” is unique in another way. The wood strands used to make up the beam are softwoods (spruce, pine, and fir), but the glue is incredibly hard. It causes my gouges to dull quickly, sometimes even folding over an edge. It’s much worse than carving in hard rock maple! I’m wearing my tools down at an alarming rate, and spending an inordinate amount of time resharpening them.

Horse Bust Progress
Horse Bust Progress

Years ago I learned from an experienced carver/sculptor to work on the whole carving all at once so as to not lose perspective. In general, that’s what I’m doing here, sculpting the snout, neck, ears, etc. as I go along so as to not lose their places as I remove relatively large chunks of wood. I plan to leave parts which will have more delicate details like the mane, ears and eyes, to the end. For now, I’m just giving them the basic outlines with the details to be added later.

But this will go back on the shelf for a while because a client dropped off another carving project.


Grant McMillan

Horsing Around: Sculpting a Horse Bust

The Township of Langley where I live has a ridiculous number of horses. I have heard numerous times that Langley has more horses per capita than anywhere else in North America! The Langley Horse and Farm Federation puts the number at over 5000!

Did you hear that, Calgary, Alberta? Did you hear that, Montana and Texas? More than YOU. Put that in your cowboy hat and smoke it!

Everywhere we drive in the Township we see horses. One of my favourite places to see horses is the Thunderbird Show Park. This place hosts some amazing, world class shows of people horsing around. I have a 7 minute drive to work, and on that short commute I pass about 20-30 horses. There is a lady who occasionally rides her horse over to the church we attend, and a number of our favourite hiking trails in the area also allow horses. We do a lot of hiking which means we also do a lot of avoiding horse… um…, er, droppings.

I’ve always believed that art is personal and reflects the heritage, location, and culture of the place where the artist is. It is for this reason that I have wanted to sculpt a horse for a long time now. But to do so I needed a substantial piece of wood and I felt that it needed to be a very unique wood.

Enter my friend Carl. He was building a large shop and two of the parallam beams he’d ordered came too long. He wondered if I wanted the cut-offs. they were exactly what I had been waiting for.

Horse Bust Cutout
Horse Bust Cutout
Horse Bust Rough Out
Horse Bust Rough Out

This horse is just a little on the wild side. Only barely tamed, he is a horse who is feeling his oats. The unique wood and direction of the “grain” (strands of the parallam beam) highlight the wildness and sense of action in this sculpture.