Earlier this year I received a box of potatowood samples. I’ve shared several with friends to get their evaluations of the material. Only one person has gotten back to me and that was with positive comments. I finally found the time to use a block of it to carve my second potatowood piece. My inspiration came from our vacation trip this summer. We spent several days in Rome so I wanted to carve a Roman solider. I purchased a figurine while in Rome but an exact duplicate in potatowood was not possible because my samples were too small. I made a pattern and reduced it to fit. Because of the smaller size and the nature of the material, I was forced to omit some of the fine details from the original. Even so, I think the resulting piece satisfies the intent. Here are my pictures of the progress.
A week ago I received a padded envelope in the mail. It contained a white block 2 inches wide, 3 1/4 inches high and 2 1/4 inches thick. This was my first encounter with potatowood. It had made the trip from Germany to Cartersville, Georgia to Verona, PA thanks to a carving friend in Georgia and a stranger in Germany. Since then I have carved the block and corresponded with Steve, a stranger no more. Steve moved from Minnesota to Germany where he carves miniatures. You can see his work at MiniSteve.com. Steve has an acquaintance that has developed a material called potatowood. I can’t report on the ingredients or the manufacturing process, but from its name, I suspect there are potatoes or at least the starch from potatoes. I’m pretty sure there’s no wood involved. One of it’s properties is it can be glued together with water. Wetting both surfaces to be joined will produce a slurry that will harden to form a bond. I tried it with some scraps and it works. I’ve been told it comes in a denser version and as you’ll see from the manufacturer’s website, it’s available in colors. See more at carving-colors.com. It’s a German site but the pictures are worth thousands of words in English.
After seeing pictures on-line of animals, I decided to give it a try. I wanted to use as much of the block as I could so I began by sketching a human character on the block. Using a knife and a few carving gouges, I made quite a pile of chips. I guess you could call them potato chips. I had no trouble cutting the material but I did find layers that resembled wood grain. Removing larger chips caused the layers to separate so I switched to smaller chips. I think the details on my project pushed the limits of a project this size. I was forced to use the tip of my knife and re-carve some details. I think it’s a good material for a carver just learning to use a knife and a few gouges. It could be the next step after carving soap. It does require sharp tools. I used my knife for most of the work and stropped it a couple of times during the process.
I’m glad I was able try this material and be somewhat on the “cutting edge” of a new product. Friends know I try materials other than wood, namely golf balls and softballs so I had to try potatowood when it was offered. I understand it’s only available in Germany for now or if you know someone who knows someone. Keep your eyes open and give it a try when it makes it to our shore.
For those who have been curious enough to read this far, I’ll give some info on the painting process I used. Before painting I chose several of the largest chips and sealed the surfaces with various products. I was concerned about the reaction of the material to water because I use acrylic paints. Remember the gluing process. I tried water based polyurethane, petroleum based polyurethane and Deft brand satin spray. I also added some untreated scraps to the test. The paint seemed to work best on the petroleum based poly. After the paint on the figure had thoroughly dried, I added a coat of liquid wax.
The following text and photos were created for an article in Carving Magazine. It was published in the Spring edition of 2010 which was numbered Issue 29. If you are interested in having a copy of that issue, you can order one by going to http://www.carvingmagazine.com.
Click on the pictures to enlarge them.
I use a carving glove that has rubber dots which ensure a good grip on the ball. I used a carving knife with a straight cutting edge. #11-9mm and 7mm gouges. A #5-7mm gouge. #9-3mm and 6mm gouges. A #3-2mm shallow gouge. A 3mm V-Tool.
Depending on the project, I add or substitute other tools.
Step 1. I always start with a center line.
I use a compass with a ballpoint pen.
Notice the lines to mark the top and bottom of the ear, also done with the compass.
Step 2. The eye line is cut with a #11 9mm gouge.
Also remove material in front of the ears
Step 3. Use a knife to cut above and below the ears. This process will be used several times for this project and I’ll refer to it as a shadow-cut. The cut is perpendicular to the surface and extends back under the ball cover. The cover is not cut. The ear cut is about 1/16 of an inch deep and serves as a stop cut. The relief or removal cut will produce a triangle shaped wedge with the inside of the cover forming the third side. Sometimes all cuts meet and the wedge will come out with the blade. The knife should never be used to pry the wedge loose. The tip could break off. I have a 2mm shallow gouge that’s too small for carving but it’s great to remove material from shadow-cuts.
Step 4. Use a #11 4mm gouge on the forehead to define space for a little hair and the top of the eyebrows.
Step 5. Use a #11 9mm gouge to establish the bottom of the nose.
Notice the shadow cuts below the ears.
Step 6. Mark the width of the nose and use a knife to raise the wings.
Note the small space marked near the center line to reserve space for the septum.
Step 7. Use the #11 4mm gouge to define the sides at the top of the nose.
Reserve space between the eyes for the bridge of the nose.
Step 8. Using an inverted #5 7mm gouge, shape the wings of the nose. Use the first cut as a stop cut and the second cut to remove some of the cheek as the gouge meets the stop cut.
Use the #11 9mm to shape the nose above the wing.
Step 9. Use the #11 9mm to prepare the area for the eyes and reduce the cheek material.
The cheeks will continue to be shaped as adjacent areas are developed.
Use a knife to smooth the nose.
Don’t for get to reserve that space between the eyes.
Step 10. Make a stop cut to form the outside mustache line from the corner of the nose wing.
Remove material from the face to make the mustache protrude.
Use the point of a knife to extend the wing line up onto the nose.
Remove a tiny sliver of material to create the shadow.
Step 11. Better view of previous step.
Step 12. Front view of Step 10.
Step 13. Use a knife to round the tops and bottom of the ears.
Use a #9 3mm micro tool to form the inside of the ear.
When using this tool, do not pry or twist. Straight in and out will do the job.
Use the 2mm shallow gouge to remove the material if it remains inside the ear. This can also be considered a shadow-cut.
Leave space between the cuts for the small flap of skin that protects the opening of the ear.
Step 14. Remove the ridges on the ears with small knife cuts.
Use the knife to make a stop cut behind the flap and remove the material with the 2mm gouge.
Step 15. Begin the eyes with a 3mm v-tool making “S” shaped cuts that will form the top edges of the upper eyelids.
Trace the cuts with the point of a knife to make a stop cut.
Remove a slight bit of material above the lid to deepen the shadow.
Step 16. Follow the first V-cuts with parallel cuts below to form the bottom edge of the upper lid.
Once again trace this cut with the point of a knife for a stop cut.
This time remove material below the stop cut. This will begin to form the eye ball.
Step 17. Use the same 3mm V-tool to establish the top of the lower lid. Don’t make the cut connect with the outside end of the upper lid. To remove the flat area on the eyeball, make a similar stop cut along the lower lid line. Round the eyeball into the stop cut. Remember to remove more in the corners of the eye to make the eyeball look like the surface of a ball.
Step 18. Use the 3mm V-tool to add lower lid lines, bags, eyebrows and a little hair. Use a knife to make a tiny shadow-cut at the top end of the hair. This will also form the top of the head that has no hair.
Step 19. To create an iris/pupil “suggestion”, I use the #9 3mm micro gouge. Remember it’s fragile. I usually have my heads looking to the side. I place the gouge on the eyeball so it touches, but doesn’t cut, the lids. This will be a stop cut. Straight in and straight out. This is the first side of a three-sided chip. The other two sides are made with the point of a knife inserted along the lid lies and meet at the corner. I resort to my 2mm shallow gouge to remove the chip in pieces.
Step 20. Draw the line for the lower edge of the mustache.
Step 21. Cut a fairly deep stop cut angled slightly behind the front of the mustache. Remove material below the mustache. Leave a flat area in the center to provide for the lower lip.
Step 22. Use the #5 7mm gouge to open the mouth. If the stop cut was deep enough, the chip will fall out. Otherwise, repeat the cut.
Step 23. Use the #11 4mm to shape the lower edge of the lip. Continue this cut to the stop cut at the mustache.
Step 24. Using a knife, remove the sharp ridges and shape the lip. Scoop out the area below the ends of the lip using a knife point that reaches the stop cut. A similar cut would be made with the #5 gouge. This is done to begin shaping the chin.
Step 25. Continue rounding the chin between the ends of the mustache.
Step 26. Considering the previous shadow-cuts were practice, you may choose to add a shadow-cut between the jowl and chin. This is a larger cut and is done with a single arch, not two stop cuts. Work carefully. Don’t use the knife to pry.
Step 27. Add hairs in the mustache with the 3mm V-tool, making short random strokes. The hair that hangs over the mouth should have an uneven (nibbled) look.
Step 28. I used a #9 6mm gouge to cut the nostrils. I could have used the #5 gouge but, in this case, I liked the #9 better. The important thing is to make both cuts symmetrical. I use the V-tool to cut my initials and date in the back cover.
Here are some pictures of the finished carving.
I just purchased a knife that comes from Sweden. A Mora. It’s blade is 3 1/8 inches (80 mm) long. I first saw this knife in use when I took a one week class in March led by Harley Refsal, a CCA member. During that week Harley showed us how he uses it for a special purpose, which isn’t carving. Actually he doesn’t cut with it at all. You’ll have to ask Harley if you want to know more. Anyway, being a person who always needs a new tool, I ordered two. One for myself and one for a friend.
To my surprise, it arrived with an extremely sharp edge. Considering my friend’s safety, I decided to make a blade cover for him. There have been several articles in carving magazines for making wooden covers and then cleverly carving them into keepsakes. In case you missed the articles, here are the steps I used to make the cover.
I started with two scraps of basswood 2 1/4 by 5 3/4 inches (58mm by 122mm). The pieces were about 3/8 inches (9mm) thick. Because the blade was extra large, the wood was large, too. I added the extra inches to the length to allow more room for creativity. The surfaces that will be glued should be smooth and flat so no gaps occur.
I traced the profile of the blade onto the middle of one piece of wood. Then I used a carving knife to make a “stop” cut just inside the profile lines. A #3 gouge was perfect for relieving the wood inside the “stop” cuts. I tapered the area so the “cutting edge” side was very shallow and the depth of the other side matched the thickness of the back of the blade.
Many test fittings were made before the recess was perfect. Test the progress by placing the blade into the recess and covering it with the second piece of wood. If the second piece rocks on the blade, more wood must be removed. The goal is to have the blade squeezed slightly between the two pieces of wood, specifically at the thickest part of the blade. The final test should be made by clamping the pieces together as if they were glued. Insert the blade into the opening; too tight and the force required to remove the blade may cause an accident, too loose and the cover could fall off or become loose after sharpening several times.
Carefully spread a thin coat of wood glue on the surface with the recess. Because the glue may squeeze into the recessed area, don’t spread glue too close to it. Clamp the two pieces. Before the glue dries, insert the blade and remove it immediately. Check for glue on the blade. CAREFULLY remove any glue and repeat this step until no glue appears on the blade. Allow the glue to dry. Do NOT leave the blade in the cover while the glue drys.
Before adding your design, you have to reserve the area that contains the blade. Position the blade on the outside surface of the wood by aligning it with the opening. Once again trace the blade profile onto the wood. Because my design was the same on both sides of the cover, I just did my sketch on one side. Make sure your design does not come too close the the profile line. You can remove the scrap with a scroll saw, band saw or simply carve it away. Please don’t leave the knife in the cover while you shape the cover.
I’ll point out a couple of design considerations I used for my cover. I wanted a “push point” in my design so it was more natural to hold the knife with the sharp edge downward and the thumb could push the cover to loosen it. I created this with the boot on the figure. Of course the obvious position of the figure suggests the sharp edge is toward it’s bottom. The other precaution I took was to protect the hat on the figure. Because of it’s shape, and it’s location at the end of the cover, I wanted to add some protection. I used the extra length of the wood to carve some stones that would more than likely receive the impact from a fall.
Someone asked me why the figure is lying on stones. Must be for drainage.
Here are a few more examples of wooden knife covers.
I hope you understood this and are able to put it to good use.
A friend of mine, Rod Beamish from Indiana, showed a bunch of really cute carved ornaments to me a few years ago. I’ve carved a couple dozen of them myself since then and thought I would pass along some tips to encourage others to try carving “Dim Bulbs”.
The following description will not be carving instructions as much as tips and shortcuts for those who already know how to carve a corner face. Most corner faces are done for practice or demonstration. When finished, you just have a face on the corner of a scrap of wood. This project will allow you to practice and have something “useful” when you’re done. I’m going to describe the process to prepare the wood and offer some tips to shape the wood before actually carving a face.
I used Rod’s blank to create my own cardboard pattern. The pattern is for 4 ornaments. That’s done to allow more wood to grasp while working on each small ornament. You could increase the number of ornaments on the blank but at some point you’ll cause a problem for yourself. If you have ever carved a walking stick or cane, you know how unwieldy a long stick can be. Click here to link to a PDF for Dim Bulb Pattern.
Take special care when making this pattern so each ornament is the same width and the edges fall in straight line. This will help when it’s time to draw a center line. Trace the pattern onto two adjacent sides of a piece of wood. Allow about a quarter of an inch of scrap wood on both sides of the pattern. Make sure the pattern is centered on both sides of the wood.
Use a band saw or scroll saw to cut the pattern on one side of the wood. Make one cut on each side of the pattern so you have three pieces of wood after this step.
Some people will leave a small section of the line uncut on each side of the blank. That way the scrap will remain attached to the blank for cutting the adjacent side. I prefer to use a one-inch piece of double-sided carpet tape to hold each scrap piece onto the blank while I cut the adjacent side.
Making the cuts on the adjacent side will produce the completed blank. If you used the “incomplete cut” method on the first side, return to the that side and carefully finish removing the scrap pieces. If you use the tape method, pull the scrap from the original side and remove any tape still sticking to the blank. You will have a blank with 4 corners.
Now is the time to mark a center line on all four sides of the blank. I have a useful tool made by Dave Rushlo. It holds a pencil and is adjustable. It’s great for drawing a center line on blocks of wood or anything where you need a line drawn parallel to a flat surface.
The center line defines the widest point of each ornament so as you round three of the four corners to form the back, you’ll leave the line and follow the directions below. The center lines, to the left and right of the fourth corner, define the boundaries for the face. The center line also helps when transforming the square area at the top of each ornament into a cylinder in preparation for the “threads”.
A line should also be drawn between each ornament. This serves as a reminder to reserve enough wood for the “threaded” cylinder as you form the bottom of the ornament above it.
You can start with any of the ornaments but I recommend shaping the backs and tops of all of them before carving the faces. I choose a corner of the blank that I think has the strongest grain for the noses or a corner free from blemishes. I like to remove some wood from each of the three corners I intend to round over. That way I don’t remove a nose by mistake.
Another tip I can offer is when rounding a corner, remove the center third of the area between it’s left and right center lines. Note the red lines in the photo. Then remove the ridges (the red lines) formed by those cuts trying to use the “thirds” method again.
This should create a balanced and more rounded area. You’ll still need to make many more smaller cuts to smooth the rounded quarter before repeating the process on the other corners.
You’ll have to carefully cut off the center lines on the back of each ornament to remove the original saw cuts and make the adjacent quarters blend. Remember, the center lines are located on the widest dimension of the ornament so the more wood you remove at that line, the thinner your ornament will become.
The area for the “threads” should just be roughed out. Remember there is a small bit of wood in the center of the top of each ornament. It represents the contact point between the ornament and the circuit in a real light socket.
Add the “threads” after the ornaments have been separated. To do this, I draw a lite pencil line for guidance. I like to start at the top of the cylinder above the center of the face. It would be great to finish the thread-cut right below the starting point but that doesn’t always happen. The threads would never work for real but the suggestion of real threads is more convincing if you see the beginning and the end of them as you view the face. On the back my threads are almost horizontal. I use a 3mm # 11 or #9 to cut the threads. I have a Dockyard brand tool that size.
After painting, use a small awl or large needle to make a pilot hole in the center of the contact point.
Add a small screw eye to allow hanging.
I hope this provides enough detail to get your creative juices flowing. Happy carving.
Recently I was given a copy of a current special issue of Woodcarving Illustrated magazine. It’s title is Whittling, 30 Easy Patterns. Even as an experienced carver, several projects caught my attention. One in particular was a scrap wood crescent moon with a face. The article was prepared by Dave Stetson. I liked it for it’s simplicity and the way Dave broke the project into ten simple steps. If you get a copy of your own, you might notice the printing error. Some of the steps are pictured upside down. A casual glance would miss that fact. You can see the corrected article at www.woodcarvingillustrated.com. Look for the Man In The Moon article.
Anyway I used the picture in step one to create a cardboard template and cut out 8 copies. I made mine 3/8 ” thick. The work went fast and I soon had six finished moons. I started to think about different faces with different expressions. I lightly traced around my template on a tablet sheet. Then I started enlarging noses, mouths and eyes. I left simplicity with Dave and just tried lots of variations. Dave’s moon didn’t have ears so mine were without ears. I could have created more variations if I used mustaches and beards but everybody knows the man in the moon doesn’t have hair except when he’s a Santa lookalike. I’ve painted them Turners Yellow with Gold Oxide shading, White for the teeth and eyes and Red for lips. Here is Dave’s original and my variations.