CCA Class 2018

On August 24th, 25th and 26th of 2018 I attended my 10th Caricature Carvers of America class in Converse, Indiana. This annual event is hosted by the local club, the Eastern Woodlands Carving Club and is held in the building owned by the club. The students are divided into three groups of 13. Each group spends one day with each of the three instructors. The venue is ideal for the event and lunch is provided by the EWCC members. This year’s instructors were Dennis Thornton, Ron Dowdy and Jim Hiser, all CCA members of course. All of the projects were from basswood roughouts designed by the instructor. I was able to complete my projects and paint them after returning home.

This is Jim Hiser’s Santa.

This is Ron Dowdy’s Firefighter.

Here is Dennis Thornton’s Traveling Turtle.

Caricature Class with Tom Richmond

Caricature Class with Tom Richmond

On June 9th, 10th and 11th of 2017 I participated in the Tom Richmond Caricature Workshop held in the Pittsburgh area. I was the odd duck in the workshop because of my background, or lack of one, in drawing. For the last 40 years I have been a woodcarving hobbyist. I have no formal training in drawing or sketching but really like the art of caricature and the humor it provides. The other students ranged from seasoned live caricature pros to professional cartoonists/comic book artists and animators.

I met Tom several years ago in Pittsburgh and watched him in action. I knew he had a lot to offer so when I saw on his blog,, that he would be hosting a workshop 8 miles from my house, it seemed like a sign to make the leap. When I contacted Tom to tell him of my interest and experience, he assured me I would benefit from the class and would not spoil it for the other students. Although I must have been a challenge for Tom, his encouragement and individual direction gave me confidence to improve as the workshop proceeded.

As Tom hoped in his opening remarks, I am now seeing faces in a new way.  It remains to be seen if I can apply the vast amount of this new insight to my carvings. I’m excited to make this happen.

I’m also glad I had the opportunity to see the many aspects of Tom’s profession. I appreciate the skill and effort required to produce the art we see every day in political satire, advertising, graphic novels and comics.

Tom’s vast knowledge, skill, humor and willingness to share make him an invaluable asset to the industry. I would encourage caricature carvers, who are ready to expand their skills, to make an effort to attend Tom’s workshop. I still have many hours ahead to perfect the techniques from the class but I know it’s possible. I felt a lot of pressure during the drawing exercises, but that is what it takes if you’re serious about learning.

Click here to get a better sense of Tom’s workshop content and availability.

Here are the participants in the Pittsburgh workshop.

Here are some shots taken during an inking demonstration.


The students are checking their photos, not checking email.


Tom explained the process to produce the artwork for a MAD Magazine feature.

Tom used a laptop and drawing pad to project his drawings while he described his techniques.

Carving Foam

Last month I met an artist from a nearby Ohio town. When he learned I was a woodcarver, he asked if I had ever tried carving high-density urethane. I’ve carved the rubber centers in golf balls, the core of softballs and Potatowood but never urethane. I learned that this HDU is used for sign making and is designed to be durable enough for outdoor use. My new friend, a sign maker, uses power routers, Dremels, pneumatic tools and saws to shape the material on a larger scale than I work, but I was interested in trying to use regular woodcarving tools. I was told the material is very expensive so my friend keeps his larger scraps, just like me with my wood scraps except I seem to keep everything. He generously gave several pieces to me for experimental purposes. The scraps are 2 inches thick but can be laminated to increase that dimension.

I have two densities now. One is called Signfoam and at 15 pounds per cubic foot, it’s easier to use of the two. It’s white with a smoother surface when carved. The second type, from Jasper Products, is darker with a grainier rougher carved surface. At 18 pounds per cubic foot, it doesn’t appear to be as dense. I can’t explain the logical contradiction except that it is a different compound.

I prefer the 15 PCF foam but, in both densities, a slicing cut is required. I used a carving knife for most of the work. A gouge will work but only if it’s rotated to make a slicing cut. A V-tool is not very effective because it’s usual cutting method tends to crush the material and a slicing action is difficult. I had to resort to using a knife for making hair.

Here is a link to a vendor if you want to learn more.

The first two examples are from the Signfoam.

This is an example from the Jasper Products foam. You should be able to see the rougher texture.

I still have some of both left so I may do some more experimenting. It is interesting but I’ll stick to Basswood for now.




Painting Tip

Painting Tip


Several people have offered painting tips on Facebook so I thought I would expand the tip about a holding device. A handle can be used to hold a small carving while carving and/or painting. Some have suggested carving a handle-shaped stick or some other form for ease in holding a carving. I found some cheap tool handles that were probably meant for files or replacement screwdriver handles. Flea markets and yard sales are good for these items. I cut the heads from drywall screws and other assorted self drilling screws. I made sure each one would fit in the pre-drilled handle hole and used epoxy glue to set a screw in each handle. If the hole is larger than needed, you will have to support the screw so it remains in line with the handle until the glue sets up. That’s not a big deal but it will be a better experience using the handle if you can easily screw it into the carving.

img_4042Using different sized screws is not necessary but can be helpful if you have a small base on your carving and a large screw will cause the wood to split.


I happened to have a big chunk of pine, 3.5″ X 3.5″ X 21″ (90mm X 90mm X 533mm), that had seven holes conveniently drilled so I could use my handles. Each hole also had a pilot-hole in the bottom. This allows me to invert the handles for storage when they’re not in use.


I took a class with CCA member Tom Wolfe where painting was part of the instruction. Tom used the same concept but instead of a heavy chunk of pine, he had a short log with angled chainsaw cuts to form a rough dome shaped top so it looked like a stump. That allowed holes to be drilled at angles around the top. I don’t remember how many holes were in his base.  If I have carvings that cause my base to tip, I add a clamp at the bottom to increase the size of it’s footprint.


fullsizerender-4 By the way, the carvings pictured were inspired by an article by Dave Stetson (CCA) in the Winter issue 2016 of Woodcarving Illustrated Magazine.

Knives designed by Mertz

Don Mertz, a member of the Caricature Carvers of America, has a history of collaboration with the Helvie Knife company. 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 I own several of those knives but since the blade style was different from 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 challenge.

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 Howard’s Feed n’ Wax as a finish on the raw wood.




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.


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




I use a product called Howard’s Feed n’ Wax to protect the carving. It’s in liquid form and is applied directly to the wood with a small plastic paintbrush like you might find in a child’s paint box. I let the wax dry several hours and wipe the excess off with a cloth. I use a clean brush to remove wax deposits in deep spots not removed by the cloth.

2016 Class, Lebanon, TN

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).

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 woodworking clamp to hold a cork will compress the sides unequally 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.