Sunday, July 19, 2009

Magical Knives, or Wish in One Hand . . . .

Back a couple of weeks ago on "Beginner's Carving Corner and Beyond", Tom Hines asked the musical question, "Does anyone have any magical knives?" Or something similar. I responded that I had a box full of magical knives, whereupon he responded with another post laying out a list of qualities that a magical knife might have. He must have been reading my mind!

As background for all this, let me start up the Wayback Machine and take you back in time about 15 years. This happened in Albuquerque. It was a lovely spring day, and I made the ill-considered decision to take my wife with me to an outdoors carving show on the University of New Mexico campus. There were a lot of excellent carvers there, but I only remember one. He was in his mid-thirties, I'd guess, and was a wonderful carver. We complemented his work, and I asked him what kind of knives he used. He snapped open a beat-up leather pouch on his belt and pulled out an old Buck Folding Hunter. The original 4-inch blade had been sharpened down to a little less than half that size. It was now an odd shape that I couldn't begin to describe. "This is it," he said. "This is the only knife I use. It does everything I need it to do." That was his magic knife. We'll come back to him a little later.

These are the first of my magical knives.They are called "Harley" knives. They are made and sold by Del Stubbs of Pinewood Forge. They start off life as a Frost's Pattern #122 from Sweden. Del takes them and regrinds the blade from a 20 degree angle down to a 12 degree angle. They are made specifically for Scandinavian Flat Plane carving in basswood and are named after Harley Refsal, probably the foremost practitioner of SFP carving on the North American Continent. For their purpose these knives are truly magical. They drift through basswood with hardly any drag at all. But don't use them to pry and don't use them on anything harder than butternut. Those edges will kink at the least excuse. I know! But for carving Uncle Ira up there, they are worth their weight in gold.

These are a couple of knives made by Carl Johnson. They are magical because they allow me to carve Celtic knots without a scroll saw. All I have to do is drill a 1/8" diameter hole, and I'm off to the races. They are not so magical for removing large amounts of wood, however. Sorry, Carl.

Here's another pair of Del Stubbs knives that I consider magical. These are his regular sloyd and his short sloyd. He also makes a straight sloyd, a skinny sloyd and an extra long sloyd. I wish he'd quit coming up with new knives. I already have a drawer with nothing but his knives in it. If he makes any more, I'm going to have to clean out another drawer for the overflow! These knives are sharp and pointy without being delicate. They are perfect for wood spirits and spoons.

Now here is my latest magical knife. It's made by Ralph E. Long and is called the WH-8. I was introduced to this knife by Don Mertz, the Woodbee Carver. After seeing the post where he used this knife alone to carve a very detailed pirate, I had to give it a try. I carved that Santa using only the Long knife. The blade is whisper thin. I measured 58-thousands of an inch thick at the handle and tapers to nothing at the edge and the point. If the Harley knives drift through basswood, this Long knife (I LOVE saying that!) falls through it. And like the Harley knives, don't twist, don't flick, don't pry! But the shape of the blade is what makes it magical. I could do things with this knife I didn't think were possible. It excells at getting into tight spots. Plus the curvature of the blade keeps the heel of the edge out of the way when you are using the point, and keeps the point out of the way when you are using the heel. A wonderful knife -- as long as you don't try to use it on maple.

Well, I promised you that we'd come back to that New Mexico carver with the Buck Folding Hunter, and here we are. Remember I said I'd made an ill-considered decision to bring my wife along to the carving show? Ever since that day, about every three weeks on average, she says to me, "Why do you need all these knives? Why can't you do like that guy in New Mexico and just use one knife?"

Within the answer to that question lies the point of this whole ramble. You can be a one-knife carver if all you do is one style of carving. If you want to do SFP and wood spirits and spoons and Welsh lovespoons and want to do them with the minimum amount of frustration, you need more than one knife. Because there is no one, magical, do-all knife.

So indulge yourselves. Go out and buy 20 or 30 knives. You'll feel better!

Until next time, let the chips fly!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Of Faces. And Hair. And Hair on Faces.

So, here we are again talking about faces. Faces are endlessly fascinating. Human beings are, for one reason or another, hardwired to see faces in the most simplistic forms, i.e., :). This gives the carver virtually unlimited license in how to do them. And with all that I still find myself qvetsching about stuff I do.

I'm going to show you two similar Santa busts. (I REALLY have to start remembering to take photos during the WHOLE process of carving.) The first is one I did a couple of months ago.

Now, I'm pretty happy with this guy. The eyes are the most stylized part of his face, but they don't look bad.

This Santa, I've just finished. I'm not so happy with his eyes. Unfortunately I didn't see it until I had painted the piece. (That happens more often than I'd like.)

I know exactly why the eyes don't do it for me. They are too low in the face. In most human faces the eye is farther up on the slope of the eye socket so that the lower eyelid extends deeper into the face than the upper. Also the open eye isn't round enough.

I know. Qvetsch, complain, bitch, and moan! It's not perfect, but it's pretty good, overall.

I don't do this to elicit sympathy. "Ach, Bobby, Bobby. 'Tis nae s'bad." (I must be channeling John!) I do it to show other carvers (you, maybe?) that such things are not fatal flaws. I have no doubt that this guy will sell just as fast as the first one did.

But here I would like to get your opinions on the beard. The beard on the first Santa I did with my knife. On the second Santa I textured the beard with a small gouge. Which of the two do you like better? Please leave a comment to let me know what you think.

As one last illustration of my inability to see things before they're painted, I offer a mini-mask I did.

The mouth is great. The nose and chin, I'm happy with. I considered this to be the best face I've ever done. Until I started painting in the pupils. One eye is higher than the other. D'oh!

Oh, well. It probably is still the best face I've ever done. So far.

So I hope I've helped some of you to understand that perfection is not required. You can always change it on the next one!

Until next time, let the chips fly!