Knives designed by Mertz

Don Mertz, a member of the Caricature Carvers of America, has a history of collaboration with the Helvie Knife company (HelvieKnives.com). Over the years they have produced a successful line of custom knives that suit Don’s whittlecarving style. Don’s work can be viewed at WoodBeeCarver.com. I own several of those knives but since the blade style was different than the one I use, I’ve delayed giving his a try. The other day I decided to see what I could or could not do. The pictures show the project I chose and the knives I used. They are in Don’s Signature series as numbers 2, 4 and 6. There are many more knife choices on the Helvie site. I did not succumb to the urge to grab my usual knife and a gouge or two because this was a whittlecarving challange.

I thought a reasonable challenge would be a project offered by Dave Stetson, also a CCA member. It was in the Summer issue 2015 of Woodcarving Illustrated magazine. Dave’s advice is to make no cuts that would leave flat surfaces or sharp shadows. In other words, a soft smooth appearance. I, like Dave, would normally use gouges to achieve that look. My results were not exactly like Dave’s, but then I have trouble matching his results using the tools he recommends. I’m still reasonably happy with my result. I’m not ready to toss my straight edge knives but I know I have more options if the circumstances need the Mertz touch.

I used a block of Basswood one and a half inches square (38mm) by 3 inches long (76mm). I used Johnson’s Feed n’ Wax as a finish on the raw wood.

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Carved Thread Spools

Most of the work on the Wizard was done with a carving knife. Some early roughing out was done with a gouge. I want to thank Don Mertz for his carvings that were the inspiration for this Wizard.

This is supposed to be a hobbit. Most of the work was done with a knife. This guy was also inspired by the carvings of Don Mertz.

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These guys preceded the Hobbit and Wizard. I figured if I could do these guys, I could do more detail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2016 Class, Lebanon, TN

These are pictures of my class projects from the Woodcarvers Roundup held in Lebanon, Tennessee, March 2016. Each of the five week-days was a different project with a new instructor. The projects were all done from basswood (linden) rough-outs. The instructors provided an assortment of their own designs so we could choose a project that suited our carving experience level. There were 60 students with 12 in each class. The instructor’s names are shown in the caption.

Sitting Santa by Gary Falin (CCA).

 

Witch by Mitch Cartledge (CCA).

 

Old Ernel by Chris Hammack (CCA).

 

Smiley by Rich Wetherbee (CCA).

 

 

Sleeping Santa by PJ Driscoll (CCA).

Feudin’ Families Chess Set

Here are some pictures of my attempt to recreate a chess set by Mitch Cartledge (CCA). The pattern was published in issue 44 of Woodcarving Illustrated Magazine. It was a challenging project and required a commitment of 4 weeks time.IMG_8034

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The Green Family

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The Red Family

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Bottlestopper Corks

Sometime this month a Facebook post asked about methods for attaching corks to carved bottle stoppers. I didn’t comment because, as you will see, a simple reply would not provide all the details some people would like. This post will describe my method, which is far from the only way to make a bottle stopper. You can also purchase pre-drilled corks with dowels from carving supply vendors.

I use #8 corks. These are 1 1/8 inches long with the top being 7/8 of an inch in diameter and the bottom 3/4 of an inch in diameter. I visit the local wine-making supply store to buy them. There are many sizes to choose from. Here you can buy them by the piece so you can choose the ones you like. Avoid corks with cracks, large openings or missing sections. You can find corks at hobby stores but they will be more expensive and packaged in assorted sizes. The ones I’ve seen in hobby stores are usually in good condition so if you only need a couple, that might be the way to go.

Block in drilling position.

Block in drilling position.

I have a drill press and recommend using one for drilling corks. I learned the hard way that you should not hold a cork by hand when drilling. Using a clamp to hold a cork will compress the sides and cause the hole to be distorted. I made a simple holding devise that will minimize pressure and not apply pressure unequally. Remember mine is for #8 corks but you can modify the dimensions if you use another size. I cut a block of wood 2 inches by 2 inches and about 2 and 3/8 inches long. Basswood scraps are great for this. Locate the center of the top and bottom surfaces of the block. Secure the block in a clamp for drilling a 13/16 inch hole in the center of the top. The hole should be 1 inch deep. I used a Forstner bit to keep it neat. Mark that end so you know it’s the top. If you’re going to use more than one size cork, mark this end with “#8”.

Block, push stick and corks.

Block, push stick and corks.

 

Brad-point bit on left. Forstner bit on right.

Brad-point bit on left. Forstner bit on right.

At the center point on the bottom end, drill a 13/16 hole 3/4 of an inch deep. If you plan to use a second sized cork, change the drill size for the bottom hole. Experiment to determine the size. Mark that end with the cork size. Don’t worry about the alignment of the top and bottom holes they shouldn’t meet anyway.  To create a passage between the top and bottom holes, switch to a 3/8 inch drill bit. The bottom of each of the larger holes will have a mark for the center left by the bit. Drill the passage hole at that mark.

I smoothed the sharp edge of the top hole so it doesn’t leave a mark on the cork.  Test fit the cork. It should fit snugly in the top hole. If the cork is wedged tightly in the hole, there probably won’t be enough cork to protruding to work it loose.  Now it will become clear for the need of the passage hole. I whittled a scrap to look like a dowel with a handle so I could push the cork free. It should be a loose fit in the 3/8 passage hole, just don’t put a sharp point on the end.

Cork in drilling position.

Cork in drilling position.

To prepare the cork for drilling, locate the center of the top surface. There are several tools made for finding the center of a dowel or cut a paper template. Secure the cork in the block. Make sure the top of the cork is parallel to the bottom of the block. Hold the block with a clamp and position a 3/8 inch brad-point drill bit at the center point of the cork. Slowly drill into the cork. It’s been my experience that drilling fast tears the cork. I like to drill this hole 5/8 of an inch deep. I use a 3/8 inch hardwood dowel to connect the cork to the carving. The length of the dowel should be slightly shorter than the combined depths of the holes in the cork and the carving. This allows space for glue trapped at the ends of the dowel.

As for the hole in the carving, my advice is to drill it before the carving is shaped. If you’re using a rough-out or a completed carving that has no hole, the drilling will be trickier. I would discourage holding the wood in your hand when drilling. Find a soft material or two sandbags, something that would conform to the carved shape. When held with a clamp, it should immobilize the carving for drilling. You will have to do your best to adjust the carving so the hole will be perpendicular to the surface that will meet the cork.

Predrill hole for dowel

I test-fit the cork, dowel and carving before using glue. I use a two-part epoxy. Oh, don’t glue the cork before you carve your masterpiece.

March 2015 Class

In March of this year I attended a five day class in Lebanon, Tennessee. The event is called the Renegade Woodcarvers Roundup. For the first time, this year’s class was followed by two classes on the weekend. I took the polymer clay sculpting class. The expectation for the class was to learn to develop ideas in clay that could become a model for a woodcarving. We used a product called Super Sculpey. Our instructor, Rich Wetherbee (CCA), provided everything we needed. We began Friday evening with a introduction to the basics. We learned about making wire armatures to support areas of the sculpture that would succumb to gravity. Also, we worked the clay with our hands and metal sculpting tools. We got down to business Saturday morning. All ten students completed at least one project. The completed projects were baked in a kitchen oven which permanently hardened the clay. Here are some pictures of my completed project. I wasn’t thinking about a project to carve but just having fun with the clay. I don’t know if I’ll do it in wood. My second project is still in progress.

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The other class, being held at the same time, was a carving design class. Ten students each collaborated with Chris Hammack (CCA) to develop a pattern for a figure to be carved from a 4X4X8 inch piece of basswood. Everyone had a very unique project. I was really attracted to the project developed by Chris and Willie Thornton. I asked Willie if I could make a copy of his pattern and brought it home to work on it. I modified it a little but kept the same concept. It was a challenge but I enjoyed working on it. Here are pictures of the progress.

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Carving a Wooden Thread Spool

I’ve been carving thread spools since the early 1980’s. I can’t recall how many I’ve done but they’ve been great for practice. I’ve done two chess sets. One went to a set collector in Australia. I used to carve a spool in exchange for more spools. After friends passed the word, I now have a lifetime supply. I like to carve them for families that have some of grandma’s spools. Grandchildren can have a memory trigger.

The most common question is about the kind of wood. My research has found that white birch was commonly used. I’ve found some too hard to carve but also, some too soft. Toss the hard ones you find. They’re rough on knife points. I’ve found some with grain blemishes but never with knots. Thread doesn’t work well with sap. The grain is usually pretty straight and sometimes is hard to locate. Manufacture of wooden spools stopped in the mid 1970’s. Of course modern spools are not made of wood so you’ll have to find yours at flea markets, antique stores, or EBAY. You may have friends that never throw anything away and still have a bag of them. You can also use what I call counterfeit spools. They’re made for crafting and have never had thread on them. Some of those are basswood. I like the old ones and like to keep the original labels on them.

Spools come in many sizes and shapes. The one I used for this project is 2 1/8 inches tall and 1 3/16 in diameter. Try to find one a couple of inches tall for your first attempt unless you’re also a watchmaker. The shape may offer special challenges to your creativity. Some spools have a thin waist to allow for more thread. Some are shaped like a barrel. Some are only a half inch tall. My goal is to make the spool into a head rather than a relief carving of a face. There’s more wood available than you think so go deep. Of course a cylinder of wood is just a cylinder and not the proportion of a skull and neck. Space is limited and ears end up close to the eyes or the hair takes up the space for the ear. On most of mine, the edges of the carving just blend into the rest of the spool. Due to poor planning, I sometimes run out of space to develop a chin. Except for long whiskers, walking stick faces can be carved into spools.

Antique bobbins from weaving looms can also be carved. They’re the taller cousins of thread spools. Most of those I’ve found are oak or maple. I like the oak bobbins that have absorbed lots of natural lanolin from wool yarn. The lanolin softens the wood. Otherwise the wood is hard and was chosen because it can take a beating.

I always wear a carving glove to hold the spool. I’ve been told about devices to clamp the spool and allow a better grip. I still recommend a carving glove. After carving and signing the spool, I use Howard’s Feed-n-Wax to completely cover the wood. Buff with an old toothbrush. The tools I used for this project are: 2mm and 4mm V-tools, 8mm and 10mm #11 gouges, 2mm and 3mm #9 gouges, and a knife.

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Tools used for this spool. Knife not shown.

The following description appeared in Carving Magazine issue #31. The publisher is now out of business but you may be able to locate a copy somewhere in the woodcarving universe.

Draw a center line and add lines for the hair. The ends of the hair line just fade into and around the spool. Place the part in the hair to the side of the centerline to add interest. Notice I added a line for the eyes and the bottom of the nose.

Draw a center line and add lines for the hair. The ends of the hair line just fade into and around the spool. Place the part in the hair to the side of the centerline to add interest. Notice I added a line for the eyes and the bottom of the nose.

Use a 4mm V-tool to cut below the hair line. Using a knife, begin to reduce the forehead {continuing the work done with the V-tool.)

Use a 4mm V-tool to cut below the hair line. Using a knife, begin to reduce the forehead {continuing the work done with the V-tool.)

Use an 11 mm #11 gouge to cut the eye line. I used the same tool to reduce the forehead more to allow room for the gouge to deepen the eye line. Check the profile occasionally to gauge the relative depth of the forehead, eyes and nose tip.

Use an 10 mm #11 gouge to cut the eye line. I used the same tool to reduce the forehead more to allow room for the gouge to deepen the eye line. Check the profile occasionally to gauge the relative depth of the forehead, eyes and nose tip.

Cut below the nose at the line. Just use a knife. Make sure the cut deep enough to expose the width of the nose.

Cut below the nose at the line. Just use a knife. Make sure the cut deep enough to expose the width of the nose.

Use an 8mm #11 gouge to define the width of the nose. I like to draw lines before I use the gouge to make sure the nose will be symmetrical. Pencil lines are easily adjusted.

Use an 8mm #11 gouge to define the width of the nose. I like to draw lines before I use the gouge to make sure the nose will be symmetrical. Pencil lines are easily adjusted.

Use a knife to raise the wings of the nose.

Use a knife to raise the wings of the nose.

I taper the nose to resemble a tent. Notice in the picture the bridge of the nose retains a flat area. The nose is small and could break easily, so I carefully use a knife. For a nose this size, I used a 3mm #9 gouge to remove wood from the front of the wings continuing up the sides of the nose into the corner of the eye.

I taper the nose to resemble a tent. Notice in the picture the bridge of the nose retains a flat area. The nose is small and could break easily, so I carefully use a knife. For a nose this size, I used a 3mm #9 gouge to remove wood from the front of the wings continuing up the sides of the nose into the corner of the eye.

I use the 3mm #9 again to form the outside edge of the wings. Make a stop cut by pushing the gouge in at an angle that causes the tool handle to extend across the center line. This way you avoid cutting behind the wing. With the same tool, make the removal cut by cutting into the cheek.

I use the 3mm #9 again to form the outside edge of the wings. Make a stop cut by pushing the gouge in at an angle that causes the tool handle to extend across the center line. This way you avoid cutting behind the wing. With the same tool, make the removal cut by cutting into the cheek.

Use an 8mm #11 to develop the eye area. Be sure to reserve space between the eyes at the top of the nose to be able to start working in the eyebrows.

Use an 8mm #11 to develop the eye area. Be sure to reserve space between the eyes at the top of the nose to be able to start working in the eyebrows.

Use the 10mm #11 to narrow the face at the eye line and a knife to smooth the ridges at the temple.

Use the 10mm #11 to narrow the face at the eye line and a knife to smooth the ridges at the temple.

Use a #9 gouge to separate the eyebrows. I used a 3mm. The forehead was not recessed enough so I used a knife to push it back. Using the area near the tip of the blade, roll the brow up to the hair line, leaving the brow area for some eyebrow hair later.

Use a #9 gouge to separate the eyebrows. I used a 3mm. The forehead was not recessed enough so I used a knife to push it back. Using the area near the tip of the blade, roll the brow up to the hair line, leaving the brow area for some eyebrow hair later.

t helps to redraw the eye line and upper eyelid line. Using a very sharp 2mm V-tool, cut the upper eyelid line. Notice this cut dips slightly below the eye line and continues around the head.

It helps to redraw the eye line and upper eyelid line. Using a very sharp 2mm V-tool, cut the upper eyelid line. Notice this cut dips slightly below the eye line and continues around the head.With the knife tip, lightly trace the lid cuts to make a stop-cut. Still using the knife, remove a tiny amount of wood below the stop-cut. Using the V-tool again, make a cut parallel and slightly below the lid line. This cut makes the lower edge of the upper lid. Again use the knife tip to trace the new cut and remove wood while shaping what will become the eye ball.

Here is another view of the eye cuts.

Here is another view of the eye cuts.

With the knife tip, lightly trace the lid cuts to make a stop-cut. Still using the knife, remove a tiny amount of wood below the stop-cut. Using the 2mm V-tool, make a cut parallel and slightly below the lid line. This cut makes the lower edge of the upper lid. Again use the knife tip to trace the new cut and remove wood while shaping what will become the eye ball.

 

Use the V-tool again to define the upper edge of the lower lid. Because space is limited, I start these cuts in the middle and toward the corners. Remember the lower lid is shorter than the upper lid.

Use the V-tool again to define the upper edge of the lower lid. Because space is limited, I start these cuts in the middle and toward the corners. Remember the lower lid is shorter than the upper lid.

 

Trace the v-cut and use the knife tip to clean and shape the eyeball. Remember to remove a little triangle from each corner of the eye to create the impression of a ball. Try to eliminate flat spots on the exposed ball. I like to mark the iris/pupil location with a pencil before committing to the cut. To make him look more interesting, I’ll have him look to his left.

Trace the v-cut and use the knife tip to clean and shape the eyeball. Remember to remove a little triangle from each corner of the eye to create the impression of a ball. Try to eliminate flat spots on the exposed ball. I like to mark the iris/pupil location with a pencil before committing to the cut. To make him look more interesting, I’ll have him look to his left.

 

I take the easy way out on these tiny eyes by just making a negative space for the iris/pupil. For this face, a 2mm #9 just fits between the upper and lower lids. Push straight in and avoid nicking the lids. I use the point of my knife and sometimes a 1.5 mm #9 to remove the wood and create the shadow.

I take the easy way out on these tiny eyes by just making a negative space for the iris/pupil. For this face, a 2mm #9 just fits between the upper and lower lids. Push straight in and avoid nicking the lids. I use the point of my knife and sometimes a 1.5 mm #9 to remove the wood and create the shadow.

 

Now for a few last details around the eyes. Reduce the outside end of the lower lid to create a tiny shadow that suggests the lower lid is covered by the upper one. Use the small V-tool to cut a lower lid line curving like a reclining “S”. With a knife, round over any ridges and blend the brow with the rest of the face. While you’re rounding and shaping, work on the cheek mounds. Use the small V-tool to add a few eyebrow hairs. Don’t get carried away. A few will do.

Now for a few last details around the eyes. Reduce the outside end of the lower lid to create a tiny shadow that suggests the lower lid is covered by the upper one. Use the small V-tool to cut a lower lid line curving like a reclining “S”. With a knife, round over any ridges and blend the brow with the rest of the face. While you’re rounding and shaping, work on the cheek mounds. Use the small V-tool to add a few eyebrow hairs. Don’t get carried away. A few will do.

 

We can finish the hair now. Use a knife to remove ridges and taper both sides toward the part. I use either of the V-tools to add random hair lines (sometimes both). The hair lines shouldn’t be cut completely from end to end - they should be carved to suggest they’re going to meet at the part. Just blend them into the spool as they disappear around the sides. Don’t go around too far or the viewer will expect as much detail on the rest of the head. You can cut up into the flared part of the spool to round the top of the hair and get a few more strands. Remember the cuts will be across the grain so have a sharp tool. Notice the extension of the smile lines.

We can finish the hair now. Use a knife to remove ridges and taper both sides toward the part. I use either of the V-tools to add random hair lines (sometimes both). The hair lines shouldn’t be cut completely from end to end – they should be carved to suggest they’re going to meet at the part. Just blend them into the spool as they disappear around the sides. Don’t go around too far or the viewer will expect as much detail on the rest of the head. You can cut up into the flared part of the spool to round the top of the hair and get a few more strands. Remember the cuts will be across the grain so have a sharp tool. Notice the extension of the smile lines.

 

Even though the spool is round, the mouth and teeth must fit the head. Remember grandpa’s dentures were not as wide as his head. We’re going to concentrate on the dental mound. Use an 10mm #11gouge to deepen the area under each cheek. Because the muscles stretch the mouth a little, the mouth will be a little wider than the distance between the center points of the eyes. Use a knife to shape the upper lip back into the area prepared under the cheeks. Draw the lip line. Notice the ends do not touch the expression lines that form the cheeks.

Even though the spool is round, the mouth and teeth must fit the head. Remember grandpa’s dentures were not as wide as his head. We’re going to concentrate on the dental mound. Use an 10mm #11gouge to deepen the area under each cheek. Because the muscles stretch the mouth a little, the mouth will be a little wider than the distance between the center points of the eyes. Use a knife to shape the upper lip back into the area prepared under the cheeks. Draw the lip line. Notice the ends do not touch the expression lines that form the cheeks.

Read above.

 

Use a V-tool to remove wood under the lip line. Use a knife to trace a stop cut into the v-cut and continue removing more wood below the lip.

Use a V-tool to remove wood under the lip line. Use a knife to trace a stop cut into the v-cut and continue removing more wood below the lip.

 

Draw the upper edge of the lower lip and cut above it with the V-tool. Once again trace the cut and begin removing wood to shape the teeth. Keep in mind the teeth should appear to protrude from behind the upper lip and tuck behind the lower lip. The curve of the teeth should be the same on both sides of the center line. Invert the spool to double check the balance. Because the lower lip dips below the upper teeth on the right side, mark a line for the lower edge of the teeth. I use a knife to create the negative space between the teeth and the lower lip. Rest the blade on the lip as a guide. This will make the lip disappear into the mouth. A variation of this face could show a lower tooth (or two) instead of the opening.

Draw the upper edge of the lower lip and cut above it with the V-tool. Once again trace the cut and begin removing wood to shape the teeth. Keep in mind the teeth should appear to protrude from behind the upper lip and tuck behind the lower lip. The curve of the teeth should be the same on both sides of the center line. Invert the spool to double check the balance. Because the lower lip dips below the upper teeth on the right side, mark a line for the lower edge of the teeth. I use a knife to create the negative space between the teeth and the lower lip. Rest the blade on the lip as a guide. This will make the lip disappear into the mouth. A variation of this face could show a lower tooth (or two) instead of the opening.

 

Lay out the teeth with a pencil. Start with the center teeth. They should be the same width. The teeth on the left side are easy because they just get tiny cuts to create a shadow between them. Because the right side of the mouth exposes more of each tooth, and maybe one more than on the left, most of the work is done there. Remember the curve has already been established so avoid changing it as the teeth are defined. Note how I have created a shadow inside the mouth at the back tooth. Remove wood from inside the cheek, not the tooth, to achieve this effect.

Lay out the teeth with a pencil. Start with the center teeth. They should be the same width. The teeth on the left side are easy because they just get tiny cuts to create a shadow between them. Because the right side of the mouth exposes more of each tooth, and maybe one more than on the left, most of the work is done there. Remember the curve has already been established so avoid changing it as the teeth are defined. Note how I have created a shadow inside the mouth at the back tooth. Remove wood from inside the cheek, not the tooth, to achieve this effect.

 

I use a knife tip to divide and shape the teeth. If you need to expose more tooth area, you can do this by lowering the lip line. This will be more difficult after the bottom of the lip is carved. Each tooth on the right side should be shortened a bit as they continue toward the back of the mouth. Think of stair steps.

I use a knife tip to divide and shape the teeth. If you need to expose more tooth area, you can do this by lowering the lip line. This will be more difficult after the bottom of the lip is carved. Each tooth on the right side should be shortened a bit as they continue toward the back of the mouth. Think of stair steps.

 

We move to the lower lip. Use the 8mm #11 gouge to cut below a line drawn parallel to the upper edge. This cut will create the bottom edge of the lower lip.

We move to the lower lip. Use the 8mm #11 gouge to cut below a line drawn parallel to the upper edge. This cut will create the bottom edge of the lower lip.

 

Shape the corners of the mouth and lip with the 10mm #11 gouge. The lower lip tapers as it approaches the corners, both from both the bottom and the side. Notice the vertical opening that connects the upper and lower lips. Leave a little mound of wood on the cheek side of the vertical cut. Continue smoothing the area under the lip toward the sides of the spool. Also notice I used a 2mm #9 gouge to create nostril openings.

Shape the corners of the mouth and lip with the 10mm #11 gouge. The lower lip tapers as it approaches the corners, both from both the bottom and the side. Notice the vertical opening that connects the upper and lower lips. Leave a little mound of wood on the cheek side of the vertical cut. Continue smoothing the area under the lip toward the sides of the spool. Also notice I used a 2mm #9 gouge to create nostril openings.

Another view.

Another view.

Finished view.

Finished view.

Finished view.

Finished view.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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