Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cutting Wood

Well, you can't carve a face like this without cutting wood, so here we go! Be sure to wear your carving glove and thumb protector. I don't want you springing a leak and getting blood all over that lovely piece of wood you have in your hand! That will just ruin a carving.

The first thing you need to do is take the tip of your knife and cut into the wood following the line you drew to outline the face. Cut in at a slight downward angle; it'll be a little easier that way. Don't worry if you wander off line. As you can see, I did.

Next, from just below the first cut make a series of small cuts back toward the first cut. Do this all the way around the face. Or where the face will be.

This leaves you with a small furrow that outlines the place your face will soon appear. This line will sink straight, more or less, down into the wood as we continue to carve to it, deeper and deeper from both sides. Look at old Sleepy at the top of this post. This furrow you just cut is where his forehead disappears into the wood. Since this is his hair line, you don't want it wandering too far north or south from where it is, or your facial proportions will be off. I just want to repeat here that this is neither rocket science nor mathematics, so it doesn't matter if the line moves a little.

Here's where we begin locating and carving the nose. Make a shallow cut straight down into the wood along the nose line. Try to make the cut extend an equal distance on either side of the center line. You won't be able to cut far down into the wood so don't worry about it and don't try to force it. That cut you just made is called a stop cut. It's called that because it stops the next cut you make from going too far.

Now place your knife below the stop cut on the nose line and cut back up to it raising a small chip of wood like you see here. You're going to be making a lot of these cuts, and each time you do, renew the stop cut at the nose line so the chip will fall away.

This kind of cut is called a "push cut". You will be using it a lot. As you can see from the photo, you put the thumb of the hand holding the wood on the back of the knife blade and push. This gives you a great deal of control and minimizes the chance that the knife will slip and run away from you. Use just enough force to make the cut and don't try to take too large a chip at any one time. Cutting thin chips may seem like the "slow boat" way to do things, but, believe me, once you get some practice you can remove just as much wood just as quickly and much more safely as you can with a single deep cut. You can also make this cut by putting one thumb on top of the other, but that's a little hard on the bottom thumb.

You can also make the cut this way. Put the thumb of your holding hand on the back of the blade and move your knife hand back toward you. This turns your thumb into a fulcrum and your knife into a lever. You still have great control and much more power than with a straight push cut.

You will continue to make these cuts until you have cut a deep vee up to the nose line as shown in this photo. This will take some time, and you will get tired, so take a break every now and then. You want to make this cut deep, because if you don't your face will be flat. You don't want to carve flat faces! One of my issues about wood spirits is that many of them have flat faces when viewed from the side. I don't like that look, but your mileage may vary.

Old Tangle Foot here doesn't have a flat face, and neither should the wood spirits you carve. I haven't always been so successful as with Tangle Foot, but that was mostly because I was carving in a hard wood and got lazy. One rule to keep in mind: if you think you've finally carved deep enough, carve deeper!

Next time we'll start defining the upper part of the face. Be prepared for some major wood removal!

So, until then, let those chips fly!


  1. I enjoyed looking at your pictures. ..My 2 cents worth on your comments about "I never use "... then go on to name a half dozen power tools, sanders, etc. as if you taking 5 hours to do a 2 hour job somehow makes it better or smarter ...
    I work the NC State Fair every year and have made bowls in front of millions have folks, live and on TV and have had folks from all over the country coming to meet me and buy my hand made products ... and have (on most days) the #1 site on the internet for "Handmade wooden bowls" ... I hear it all the time - someone "downing me because I use an electric or air sander" ... ??? ... I have worked my whole life - well ever since I was 7 or 8 .. mowing yards, painting signs, air brush artist, portrait drawer, bowl maker, even garbage man for the city I grew up in and a lot of other things ...NEVER should you feel bad about using power equipment. I can make a big bowl with no electricity in about 14 hours and have to sell it rough - or I can make the same bowl in 8-9 hours and have it smooth as a baby's butt and beautifully shaped where someone will cherish it and I can at least clear minimum wage on a bowl that will become an heirloom...
    I went thru "Amish" country a few years back ... funny thing - I saw few barns that did not have a power line going to them. One Amish guy said that they never use electricity "unless they can make it better, easier or cheaper with electricity"
    Our forefathers used the best tools they had ... a two man cross cut to fell trees ... a two man "pit saw" to cut lumber, etc. If they'd have had a chainsaw you can bet your butt they'd have used it ... or a revolving 48" blade the pit saw would have bitten the dust quick ... They used the best they had and so should you if you're smart. If you want to make a trinket for yourself and take forever doing it - fine - but to earn a living from it you got to be a little smarter.
    I will never apologize for using a chainsaw to cut a tree ...or a sander/whatever as long it is all "eye hand co-ordination only" with no automation. It is hand made!!! Folks using a lathe call it "handmade" - I don't have one so I don't know how much work it saves ...
    Please don't think so highly of yourself because you choose to make items the way you do.- there's a lot of us out here spending endless hours just trying to pay the bills and using electricity will never be something I'll ever be ashamed of. There is nothing I have made that was not created by me 100% ... as Don Henley's f the Eagle's song goes ..."get over it"

  2. Well said, thanks