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.
Here’s the original block of potatowood. It is orange and actually smells like an orange. I resisted the temptation to eat the chips.
I made front and side view patterns to fit the block.
After the pattern was transferred, I used the bandsaw to cut the side view. The back of the side view retained the original surface at the bottom (where the cape would fall behind the feet) and near the top at the helmet crest. This allowed the block to remain flat on the bandsaw table while I cut the front view. Note that I retained the original front surface scrap of the block so I could replace it for cutting the front view. I used a small piece of double-sided tape to hold the scrap in place while cutting.
This is the “blank” after cutting the front and side views.
This is the “blank” after cutting the front and side views. The second piece is the scrap.
Here I’ve added some lines for “landmarks” and removed some corners.
Just another view of the “landmarks”.
More blocking according the the lines.
Blocking toward a point for details.
Getting closer to details.
Face, hand and breastplate details.
Details in face, breastplate and hand.
All finished. I changed the White Balance setting on my camera so the real color of the material would show.
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.
Here’s what you’ve been waiting for.