It’s not always about the big, complicated, detailed, historical carvings around here. Sometimes when I’m between projects, I pull out a scrap of wood and carve something that I can finish in an hour or so. Last night was a good example. All the projects that I’m either working on or about to start are quite large. One requires more research. One requires cutting and laminating together a bunch of yellow cedar. One requires a consultation with the client. At about 9 pm, I wasn’t about to start on any of these. But I didn’t want to waste an hour, either. So I grabbed a 6″ x 1 3/4″ x 3/4″ piece of walnut out of the off-cut bin and started carving a spoon.
First, I found the middle of the board, and drew a line down its length. I used a compass to scribe a circle with an inside and outside edge, which would form the bowl of the spoon. After that, I clamped the board in my vise, took out my #7 – 14 mm wide gouge and started carving the bowl. Once I had the bowl scooped out, I switched to a 5a – 7 mm spoon gouge to clean up the bottom of the bowl. Then I drew the handle and cut the outside shape on my bandsaw.
After the shape was cut out, I cut a strip of double-sided carpet tape, flipped the spoon bowl-side down and stuck it to the tape on a piece of scrap wood which I clamped in my vise. Double-sided carpet tape makes a wonderful “vise” for things that are difficult to clamp due to their shape. I took my #3 – 25mm gouge and shaped the outside of the spoon bowl. A quick switch to a #7 – 14 mm gouge, flipped over so I was primarily carving with the inside edge of the gouge, helped me shape the handle in a few strokes. Once all that was done, I worked it free from the double-sided tape, made a few passes with my round rasp and smoothed it with a large double-cut file before sanding it with several grits of sand paper. It requires a little more sanding as you can see from the photo, and them some foodsafe oil to finish it.
I really like the shape, and it fits very nicely into my hand. It will make a nice coffee scoop or something similar.
I’m trying to decide whether to put my maker’s mark on it or just leave it smooth. Got any recommendations for me on that? Leave a comment and I’ll consider it!
I have been at my carving bench working on a commission for a client who asked me to carve two family crests – one for him and one for his brother. I have carved many items for this client over the years. He is nearing completion of his house, which is beautiful! Here are a couple of pictures of some of the architectural details I have carved for him.
The family crests are to be carved in a similar style, and are being carved in black walnut. Walnut is a very good wood for carving. It is relatively hard, straight grained, and holds details well. It is easy to finish, and the wood is not heavily grained so it does not distract from the carved details.
I started by cutting out the general shape of the crest before transferring the drawing onto the wood.
Then I set the depths for the various elements of the crest which were very specific. No more than 3/8ths of an inch deep, the helmet, feathers, and castle turrets should be the highest points, etc.
Then I began removing wood with my carving gouges. Having a reference drawing nearby is essential to get the details correct in this sort of carving.
I finished the first one and have made substantial progress on the second one.
One of the things I love about woodcarving is how many people are interested in learning it. In my other life at university, I teach a few courses every year and I find teaching to be something I love. Teaching carving classes is also something I do quite often and I find a lot of fulfillment in watching students get excited as they think about the endless possibilities of carving.
Recently, I have taught two different types of carving classes. The first was a lettering class at Lee Valley Tools in Coquitlam. In that class, we learned some basic principles of lettering – such as what is a serif? We didn’t dwell on this part, but moved on quickly to learn how light and shadow works for letters and how important it is to have tools that match the curves of the letters. We learned that a 60 degree incised angle can be difficult to cut but it can make a large difference to the look of the letters. We learned that it is important to “give the wood a place to go or it will find its own way” and so we started each letter with stab cuts in the middle of the letter. Then we also learned how much easier it is to cut the serifs before cutting the rest of the letters. The students went home with a completed project and some ideas for how to apply their new-found carving skills to other carpentry projects.
What I found most interesting was how much the students seemed to take to carving with large gouges hit with a mallet. They learned just how easy it is to control a carving gouge with a mallet and how fine details can be cut by light taps with a mallet on the tools. We also learned how every carving gouge can cut a circle and how much difference it makes to use a slicing action when carving by hand. My goal is to show the students how to finish a carving right from the gouge, with no sandpaper needed. This method of carving is quite quick, and with the correct techniques and some artistic vision, can create a unique piece of artwork that shows the individual carver skill. I compare this to a painter whose brushstrokes set him or her apart from every other artist. The marks left by the carver show the skill of the carver, the sharpness of the tools, and are what shows the uniqueness of each woodcarver.
If you are interested in taking a course, contact me by email at gvmcmillan(at)gmail.com
A few months ago I was commissioned to carve a large 4 foot diameter circular sign for the Coulter Berry building in Fort Langley, British Columbia.
I seriously considered carving it in Ultra High Density Urethane Foam sign board because I would only have to cut out the circle and start carving.
However, the developer, Eric Woodward, and the local contractor built the building with the goal of gaining the LEED Gold certification for environmentally friendly construction. As a result, I decided to carve the sign celebrating environmental construction out of certified sustainably harvested Aspen wood.
Making the sign in wood meant a lot more work cutting the wood to length, jointing, planing, gluing, clamping, cutting the circle and sanding before carving the letters and design. But it is in keeping with the purpose of the sign, so I felt it was worth it.
After some adventures with the design (bonus prize if you can find it in the picture below), I worked with a good friend who is an old pro at sign painting who helped me with the lettering and layout.
Then I talked with Michelle, the manager of the North Langley Paint & Decorating Benjamin Moore store in Walnut Grove, who made some great suggestions about what sort of finishes to use with the colours I was given by the designer. As you can see below, it turned out very nicely.
I carved two other pieces that I have done before: a lettercarving piece (the first photo above) and a stylized acanthus leaf in relief.
And on the heraldry front, I am working on a large family crest that is getting close to being finished. The short video below shows some progress.
Stay tuned for more updates. I have a very large lettercarving project that I am on the verge of starting. In the new year I am picking up the wood for an ornately carved lintel over a front door in a large foyer. And I have another family crest in the works. It’s nice to have work, but I am feeling the pressure to get things completed!
The TWU Torch sculpture was installed by the Township of Langley this morning at about 10:00 am. My friend Dale asked me, “Grant, what is the history behind this? Why is there a TWU insignia up in Fort Langley?”
Trinity Western University has obtained a lease for a building in Fort Langley and opened it up to students and community members as a place to hang out, get some great coffee (thanks Republica Roasters), free wifi, and free nightly entertainment. Fort Langley is a favourite place for students, and it seemed like a natural fit to open up what is essentially a collegium there.
The Facebook page for Trinity Western House says, “We are a place for TWU students, staff, faculty, alumni, and the public to study, work, and hang out in the heart of beautiful Fort Langley.” Here is a short video showing the space. Inside Trinity Western House