Tid Bits

Five Myths About Woodcarving

from "The Complete Woodcarver's Handbook"

by Graham R. Bull

Myth 1- You Need to Be Artistic

If ever there was a myth about doing woodcarving it is this one.  Being artistic may well be a natural part of some people's makeup, but it is not a prerequisite to being able to do some "nice stuff."  Having some artistic appreciation is more the requirement, and this can be learned.

In fact, when you couple some artistic appreciation with some simple carving, you will all of a sudden be perceived as artistic!  There often seems to be a perception that for art, one needs to be an artist before one can do it.  It is rather silly in reality, as one cannot generally be an artist without learning the craft first!

When the words "I can't" are used, they often really mean  "I haven't learned  to do that."  Unfortunately we don't express it that way; so we interpret it as a "cannot do" activity.

As you follow through this book, you will learn the necessary art to be able to be "artistic."  Of the fundamental arts, some drawing skill needs to be learned as well as some visualization skill.

Myth 2- You Need to Be Really Good with Your Hands

It is true that to produce intricate works of woodcarving one needs to have well-developed motor skills.  Manual dexterity, like artistic ability, is more naturally present in some people's makeup than in others.  How- ever, motor skills are also learned skills, so the person with a low natural ability can also become one with a well-developed ability

The learning of manual skill can be a fun experience, to the extent that one isn't really aware that one is "learning" at all, or it can be hard labor with doubtful results.  The latter is generally a result of the wrong projects at the wrong time with the wrong guidance, and just to top it off, the inadequate teacher in whom you have placed your trust tells you your vocational prowess must not include doing anything with your hands.  Those of us who were "hopeless with our hands" at school were most likely victims of the "teacher's copout " if this is you, this book is definitely for you.

Myth 3- You Need to Be Strong to Do Woodcarving

You do need to have good natural hand strength to do large sculpture; however, you do not need to be strong to create fabulously detailed relief carving and smaller sculptures.  The choices of the pattern, the tools (especially the mallet), and the wood are  the deciding factors  for the required hand strength.  Someone with arthritis in the hands can do woodcarving if the choices are correct.  Of course it may depend on the degree of arthritis, and one's medical advice.

In times gone by, in many English-speaking countries, relief woodcarving was the preferred pastime for household women with time on their hands. Some extraordinary carvings were achieved.  Woodcarving certainly was not the preserve of "strong men" except in the area of the journeyman tradesperson. There are greater choices of timber species and better tools and equipment than were ever available in the past; these all allow for more flexibility and greater opportunity.

Myth 4- You Need a Lot of Tools

A professional woodcarver may have two or three hundred woodcarving tools in the workshop.  For most of the time, this professional will use maybe a couple of dozen.  For the kind of work a hobbyist will do, these same couple of dozen are more than adequate. 

Myth 5- You Need to Know All about Wood

The greater the knowledge about wood the better off you might be, not will be.  The key factors are where to go to get the greatest choices of wood and, when you come across a piece of wood, what  characteristics you need to look for to help decide its suitability for a particular design.  You do not need to know its common name, its botanical name, where it comes from, what it is used for commercially, or any thing else about it.   You only need to know what to look for in it.   As the chapters progress, we will examine more and more about wood and its characteristics.  We should always bear in mind that wood is a naturally formed organic mass of cells that conforms to certain characteristics within a species.  Every piece can be different, depending on many factors.  Its behavior under a chisel can vary from one side of the tree to the other,  and one end of the tree to the other.  A woodcarver needs to get to know wood from the point of view of working with it.  This can only come with experience, and that can only come from exposure to it over time.  Knowing all about wood is not a prerequisite to starting carving.   Learning about wood happens as a natural outcome of the process of doing carving.

Start with two or three tools only, and build as you go. Tool-buying can be addictive and a lot of fun, but modern tools can be expensive; so it is important to purchase only those you really need, and this means buying tools individually rather than in sets, which may include tools you will never use.  Buying on a needs basis first, getting to know what they are all about, and enjoying each new purchase as it comes.

Each tool has an amazing versatility of its very own; so exploit this characteristic, and you will soon see just how few you really need.