While others are out enjoying their Martin Luther King, Jr three-day weekend, I got called upon for alert duty.  Unless there’s something hot going on, this amounts to sitting around and doing nothing… and that, unfortunately, was what I was anticipating on doing.  So much for using the weekend to work on finishing my table (among the other 3 projects I’ve started).  But wait…

Then I recalled reading a post that Shannon did over at the Renaissance Woodworker where he brought the work with him to stifle off boredom.  Hmmm, this may very well be a great idea.

For Christmas I got a set of carving chisels – the Chris Pye set.  I have never carved, and I started spawning an interest in it because I want to customize the Tool Chest that I’m about to tackle (by carving an insignia on the front of it).  So, in case nothing happened during my 12-hr shift on both Saturday and Sunday, I packed up two hand-clamps, a few small scrap pieces of wood, a small mallet, and my carving chisel set.

Watch Carving the Camellia Woodcarver on PBS. See more from pbs.

Sketch your carvingArmed with only a brief glimpse of Mary May performing her magic on the Woodwright’s Shop (above), I set about to replicate her work – it looks pretty easy. Well… not so much… but I did learn a few things along the way.

With a projector, I set up my block of wood to trace the image.  Since I have a branding iron of my Snakeye Logo (pictured in the sketch at right), I decided to attempt to replicate that first – and I use “attempt” in the heaviest of terms.  The wood blank that I’m using is Elm, my favorite wood for furniture building.

I clamped it down, and began (as in the video) cutting out the lines with the V-chisel.

Tip #1: Beware the grain.  As you cut with the grain, it will tend to run (especially if you’re grooving against the grain).  Moreover, as you transverse the grain, especially over thin protrusions like the border or letters that stick out of the wood, take care not to chip the entire thing out. This happened to me once or thrice.

Carving halfway doneAs you can see at left, Tip #1 was hard-learned through experience; I chipped out part of the border as well as a little bit of the cursive signature.  But, you learn more from mistakes and defeat than you do from wins and doing everything exact the first time… (as I say this through gritted teeth).

All in all, it took me maybe 5 hours total (condensed time – I stretched this out over my 12-hour shift).

It came out all right.  It sucks that it got chipped out here and there, but I take a step back and without light, it looks just too busy to me.  I think I needed to use a flatter carving chisel to gouge out the background and prevent the busyness.  So I guess the next thing to figure out is how to chisel out, accurately and smoothly, the little details.  I’m at a loss.  But perhaps with experience, I will figure it out.  But for the time being, let me tell you, those protruding letters were a bitch!

Finished Snakeye Logo

So day 2 of weekend duty: to correct the mistakes from day 1.  This time, I wanted to do something with a little less protruding detail.  Perhaps I tried to build the Eiffel Tower as my first ever building.  This time, I used a scrap piece of Mahogany (rather than Elm) and a different image/logo.  So back to the same litany: project the image onto the wood, sketch it out, grab the V-chisel and start carving out the lines.  Chisel out the interior and start to fine tune…

Tip #2: Your choice in wood will make a pretty big difference.  Elm is very stringy… at least the Elm that I was working with – it was pretty hard to carve with.  Choose your wood wisely.  Mahogany was a dream to carve with (especially after doing my first piece on the Elm), and I think it shows below.

Tip #3: When it comes to lettering or other fine details, female “inny” carving is much, MUCH easier than male “outy” carving.  I think this is perhaps why most letters you see are carved into the wood, rather than protruding from it.  The stars (below) were WAY easier to carve out than if they were carved to be protruding.  For further expounding on why male “protruding” letters are tough, see Tip #1.

The Triple Nickel

I am definitely satisfied with how the patch (above) turned out.  Since I’m moving soon and need a gift as my “going away,” perhaps I will turn this into the top of a Mahogany cigar humidor .. if I only had the time.

So, in two days I’ve gone from not having ever carved a thing, to carving something at least somewhat recognizable.  Next is to see how Beech takes to carving (since that’s what most of my Tool Chest will be).  So far in the tally: Elm = 0, Mahogany = 1.  Most of all, I’ve learned a lot that you can’t replicate… unless you do it.  Go carve.

Twin Carvings

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