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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
In March of 2015 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.
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.
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.
To view more carved spools in my Flicker account, click here.
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.
My very first instructional article was the result of an invitation from Chris Whillock the Editor of Carving Magazine. The article appeared in the Spring issue (#29). Included in the article were several examples of the hundreds I have carved since 1993. To see them and many more examples, click here.
The magazine is no longer published so I am sharing the following text and photos that were created for the article.
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.