Over the Fireplace

Are you looking for a very cool, one of a kind gift for someone you care about? Here’s a story of some very good friends who were moving to a new city and the gift I was commissioned to create.

Our friends had been long-term members of the community, and had made many close friends. The lady of the house had fallen in love with a children’s story book that had a painting of a room with a fireplace mantel. The mantel had a phrase in German carved into it which said, “Eine feste Burg ist unser Gott”. These are the starting words of the famous German hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

The best part about the story is that another friend overheard her say, “I wish I could have a mantel someday with that carved into it.” That friend talked with a bunch of other friends, and they all decided they would commission me to carve it for her. The trouble was, she and her family were moving and most people don’t take their fireplace mantels with them when they move. So, some creativity was needed to come up with something that would work. I chose a piece of oak, 1 inch thick by 6 inches high and approximately 36 inches long. I carved the letters into it, taking care to match the lettering in the painting. Then I rigged a hanging system on the back, so they could take it anywhere and hang it where it suited best.

Eine Feste Mantel Piece

About the carving:

The wood is oak, 1x6x36 inches. It is stained in medium oak Danish Oil stain and sprayed with lacquer. It is in a personal collection, hanging over a fireplace, and not for sale. Contact me if you have an idea. I’ll work with you to come up with a piece that suits your style and wishes.

Carving in Threes

When my wife was a teen, her parents got her an antique hope chest. It’s beautiful – dark stained oak that has aged to a lovely patina, with some well-carved acanthus leaf scroll work on it. I have admired the craftsmanship for years, and said I’d one day like to have more pieces like it in our house.

A few years after I started carving, I clued in that maybe I could make some pieces to match. So my wood-working father and I designed a serving tray and made it out of 3/4″ oak. I took a crayon-rubbing of the original hope chest carving and, after reducing its size, transferred it to the tray. That tray has been in our house for about 7 years now. Then I had the idea of carving a mirror frame to match. Out came the crayon again. Then came the carving tools. The results are below – first the hope chest, then the tray and finally the mirror frame.

Antique Hope Chest
Carved Tray
Carved Mirror Frame

About the carvings:

I’m not sure what the stain is for the hope chest, but the wood is oak. The serving tray is oak, stained with medium walnut gel stain and sprayed with lacquer. The mirror frame is birch, stained with numerous coats of medium walnut danish oil and hand-rubbed till it glows.

Till next week,

Grant

Carved Heron

When my father retired from working at BC Hydro, the guys from work commissioned Pete Ryan, the famous wood carver from Hope, BC, to carve something for Dad. He carved a couple of herons in a softwood burl.

Pete Ryan Heron

After my father passed away a few years ago, I was rummaging around in his stacks of wood (he had hundreds of pounds of wood for his wood working projects) and found a slab cut out of a maple burl. After admiring Pete Ryan’s carving for years, I finally had a piece of wood worthy of my own attempt at something similar. However, there were a few issues I had to work out first.

The slab was 14 x 8″ of solid maple burl, about an inch thick, and very heavy. It had a few rough edges with the bark still on, as it was cut out of a piece of firewood with a chainsaw – likely a piece Dad found out in the bush or perhaps given to him from our neighbour, Roy Corbett. It had a split partway up the middle where some bark had grown in as well. And the wood had very interesting colouring – after I sanded off the rough chainsaw marks with my belt-sander, I could see a dramatic colour change from one side of the wood to the other. The grain was very interesting as well, with a strong arch in the lighter grain to crazy-curls in the dark area. I knew I wanted to carve a heron into this, but how?

I like to represent animals in their natural context as much as possible, and we see herons most often wading in water. I decided this bird was going to have his feet in the water. The way the colour shifted from very light on the top right to very dark on the bottom left had sunshine & shadow written all over it. The split in the wood was a problem at first – would I have to cut it off and make this a much smaller piece? Then the idea came that it could play into the sunshine & shadow, especially with the bark on it, giving a very dark shadow away from the ‘sun’. And in the end, the curly dark grain of the bottom left sure looks like wavy water with the sunlight reflecting off it. It took first prize in its division the Central Fraser Valley Woodcarving show a few years ago.

Great Blue Heron

About the carving:

It is carved in maple and finished with multiple coats of tung oil. Oh, and the little snail clinging to a bull-rush? It’s carved in lignum vitae. I carved it tucked away in its shell as though it’s hoping to avoid being the heron’s dinner. This carving took me about 20 hours and currently hangs on our wall and reminds me of my father. I can’t part with it, so it’s not for sale.

A New Carving Blog

Hi and welcome to my new blog about wood carving. I know that you’re busy and have many things competing for your attention. I also know that you like eye candy (hey, don’t we all?), so this blog will have lots of pictures. Some of my art is for sale, some is for a commission, and some is just for me and my family, but all of it has a story behind it. Sometimes the story is about the wood, sometimes it’s about a person, and sometimes it’s about an experience.

Today’s post is about a beautiful piece of wood.

Leaf Plate

This carving of a leaf is one of my very first attempts at carving. My father was quite the wood worker. He wasn’t really into wood carving, but he provided me with many pieces of wood and most of my tools. When he was cutting up some birch for his fireplace, he found a large piece that had “spalted”. Spalting is something that happens when birch and maple and a few other types of hardwoods begin to rot. It’s a fungus that gets into the wood and changes the nature and colour of the wood in really cool ways. It can be tricky to carve because it’s hard to tell whether the rotting has gone too far and the wood has turned soft and punky or whether it’s still hard enough to hold together and take detail. Oh yeah, and once you expose the fungus to the air, it kills it and it stops spreading and rotting. The best, but also the most challenging part of spalted wood is that you don’t know what you’re getting when you carve it. You have to go with the flow and try to highlight what you find under the knife and gouge.

This piece above was carved in 1995, and is approximately 8″ in diameter. It’s carved like a leaf, and I hoped to capture the essence of late fall in the lower mainland of British Columbia. Here, unlike the north or central and eastern Canada, our leaves hardly change colour – they mostly fade from green to yellow to brown, often rotting in the copious amounts of rain that we get. This leaf hasn’t really changed colour much – but it is clearly rotting and curling up at the edges.

About the carving:

It’s spalted birch, 8 inches in diameter, 3/8ths of an inch thick. It’s finished in wax. If you look closely, you can see some veins carved in it. It’s finished in tung oil and wax. It got dropped and broke in half a few years ago. I glued it back together, but that means that this one’s just for our family’s enjoyment and is not for sale. I can make you one like it because I have quite a bit of spalted birch. Just promise me you’ll keep it in a safe place where it won’t get dropped.