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Monday, December 13, 2010

Flat Plane Whittling- Revisit & Elaboration

Now look at that fancy title- there's at least 50 cents worth of words in there, and worth every penny.

So, I've been carving for 2 or 3 or so years, this past spring I stumbled across the Flat Plane forum on WCI, and got hooked. It took a while to figure out what the style entails, I did not find much in the way of definitions or directions- plenty of examples to be had though. I wrote a blog in April 2010 on FP, it's short and incomplete, take a look anyway if you haven't already.

So from here on in your are going to get my interpretation on what I've seen and thought for the last 6 months as I tried to practice Flat Plane Whittling. My first attempts sucked, yours may too, it takes time and practice to change the way you look at what you are whittling. Keep at it, it's worth it.

Some say Flat Plane carving, I say whittling, because the fp style is done with a knife only. If you've been whittling a while, you know that every knife has limitations- there are some cuts you can't do with one knife, or one knife does one cut or set of cuts better than another. There's no sanding, no gouges, no vee tools. So the first rule- embrace the knife and it's limitations.

FP doesn't try to imitate reality, but rather represent reality. Legs and arms aren't round in section, they are faceted, typically 6 or 8 sided. Clothing folds are represented by vee cuts and points, not flowing rounded surfaces. An elbow or knee might be a vee cut in the back and a 'mountain' on the front. Shoes aren't rounded, they're squares with the corners knocked off. Eyes are usually a chip cut or a combination of chip and vee cuts- no lids, eyeballs, irises, pupils. Simpler is better. Rule 2- imagination required.

Rule 3- symmetry is not required. Legs should not be 6 equal facets, or 3 pairs of facets. Make some smaller, some wider, taper them unevenly or reverse the taper top to bottom. Angles don't need to be the same, or even close. We don't want to make tinker toys, or robot men.

Last rule for now- not all cuts in FP are flat! Surprise! Round is fine, and you'll need it. Concave cuts will be limited by your knife (see rule 1), convex curves not so much.

So lets add in some visual aids. You've all seen Roman Gnome- currently in Maryland, working for his keep I think.
His pockets are defined by a couple vee notches, not symmetrical, not the same size. The toes of his shoes use 5 or six cuts to turn a half circle, they're not the same size (just close) and they don't match. The front half of his hat is composed of three planes. His beard is faceted, the section below his mouth is curved tho, and the only 'detail' in his beard is the off center vee cut in the bottom. His knees are sharp angles, the legs are separated by another vee. His cheeks aren't rounded off, neither is his nose. he doesn't even have eyes, just deep pits under his hat, but you wouldn't doubt they are there, would you? The curves I did use are finished with a single knife cut, some of the facets on his shoes are curved, the bent over point on his hat is curved.

Here's a little reindeer I made a bunch of, I think I took FP to an extreme on him, particularly on his legs. Its easy to see rule 3 tho- take a look at the thigh section (?) of his back legs. They are made of 4 planes (which would be 8 sides on a full round leg), none are the same size, tapers reverse from plane to plane, and the angles are not equal. Below the knee is a vee cut that defines both the bottom of the knee and the top of the ankle (reindeer do have ankles, right? and thighs?) Another vee cut defined the knee and top of the ankle on the front of the back leg. Hooves are all 8 facets, the only thing that separates the hooves from the legs are a series of vee notches- two knife cuts each section.

So you see I didn't whittle a leg- I made a series of vee cuts that give the impression of a leg. It's the location and relation to the rest of the piece that makes you sure it's a leg. Ditto for the hoof- heck, I'm not sure what a hoof looks like, I have no chance of pulling off realism there!

His eyes are little triangular chips, his nose which you can't see, is a pair of vees. His two front legs are separated by a single vee notch from chest to toes. His head is round, but still faceted- think of a cardboard box you over inflated- two sides and the back with the 'corners' knocked off.

I do keep symmetry from the left to the right side of these guys- I do my best to make the front legs the same, but I do not measure. They're close enough. The same for the back legs, and the left & right sides of the body and head. The ears are another story- they're not even close, but I like it like that.

Most of these notches are the result of a series of cuts- not one big chip taken in two cuts (I tried that, and broke a couple little guys). The last cut, thin as newspaper, is a single cut to leave one smooth plane. A sharp knife leaves a smooth finished surface.

Well, its not exactly a tutorial, more of a discussion with examples. I hope its enough to get you started thinking about flat plane whittling, and maybe try to work some of the principles into your next piece.

More on this later, its bedtime now-

Happy Whittling,


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Update on Roman

After two weeks in Surrey BC roman departed for lansdowne, Maryland on or about the 30th of October. He has arrived safely in MD, and we hope to hear from him soon. Visit his travel journal on the right for pics and details of his visit

Go Roman!


Saturday, October 16, 2010

SShhhh, its a secret...

Hey, I know I haven't posted much lately, except for Roman the Wayward gnome and his travels. I've been trying to expand my Oline Presence, and have uploaded the reindeer tutorial to another site, and added a set of links on the right hand side. I have two more tutorials in mind at the moment, so check back occassionally to see what is happening. I'll do the rose I use as a bottle stopper and a project I'm working on currently that is a SECRET. I'm whittling ornaments for the WCI ornament exchange, and we're not supposed to post pics before we deliver. I have 18 ornies to do, five are (essentially) done, so it'll be a while. Rest assured I haven't stopped whittling, I just stopped blogging about it for a minute or two.

The bottle stoppers I make have generated some interest, I have planned a blog about them in general, that is due soon. With the weather changing I'll be spending more and more time indoors, and should have time and energy for a little more work here at

Meantime, let the chips fly and keep your fingers out of the way.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Roman has arrived in BC!

Hooray! Roman arrived apparently in good condition in Surrey BC today. Check back soon for pics and story about his visit. Still not sure he did nto stop in Cancun.....

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Roman is lost, and Thoughts on Pine Beetles.

I knew this would happen, he left his maps here. He left, I watched him go, but he hasn't made it to Surrey yet. 10 days, you think he'd be able to make that, wouldn't you? It's only 3000 miles or so.

If anybody sees him, let me know. Heck, he could be in Cancun by now....

In other news...

Part of my job involves searching for news stories related to the wood industry. Yes, I get paid to surf the web. Lemme know when you are over your jealousy and I'll continue.

All set? OK. Here in N America we have an issue with this tiny little beetle that likes to eat pine trees, likes em so much that Beetle Killed Pine has become a lumber species. Some people specialize in it.

Problem with dead pine is dry dead standing trees and dry dead pine needles on the ground. We've always had some beetles, but the population has exploded recently. Is it any wonder we've had so many forest fires lately? It took a couple years and a multi billion dollar satellite to draw a relation between beetle kill and forest fires.


It gets worse- now the alarmists (environmentalists and lumber guys too) are jumping up & down yelling that we are going to lose all our pine trees, lamenting the potential loss of genetic diversity, watershed damage etc etc etc.

Take a break and jump over to the pallet and crate industry. In order to use a piece of wood for a pallet or crate that will go overseas, the lumber has to be heat treated (can you see the path?) It seems if you heat a piece of lumber to about 160 degrees F it kills any bugs and their eggs; the idea is to keep your species to yourself.

Shouldn't the beetles all be dead where there were fires? If the fires were concentrated where the beetle populations were worst, then most of the beetles should be dead. Major buzzkill for the beetles, but good for the remaining forests, whose seeds survive the fires, typically.

If only I had a multi billion dollar satellite so someone could hear me...

Hey, the blog IS titled Whittling and Other Affairs.


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Roman the Gnome Hits the Road

I told you he was evolved- he left on Mailabout yesterday (he wanted to go Walkabout but his legs are a little short for the distances he had in mind)

His first stop is in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, additional stops at this point are scheduled in Maryland, Connecticut and the Carolinas. He's promised to stay in touch, but did not file a set itinerary- I have no idea how long he will stay at each stop, or how long he will be gone, or even if he will ever make it back. He's traveling light, since he has no possessions. fortunately he's a quiet house guest and rarely makes a mess. Sometimes strange things happen when he is around, for which he takes the blame or credit without comment or apology. Its a gnome thing I think...

He's actually traveling vicariously for me, its a trip I'd love to take myself. most of his stops are with internet friends of mine, people I've gotten to know over the last 3 or 4 years but never met in person. I'm looking forward to the journey, and will post updates here whenever I hear from him.

Check on Roman's progress in his Travel Journal page, the link is on the right side =>
We'll post pics and comments on his trip there as they become available, and you can follow his trip on the push pin map.

Ain't Google cool?

Goodbye, Roman, and good luck.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Particularly the evolution of Gnome, ala BfloBif. So far I have whittled 3 gnomes, they were not on my list of things to do untill I was 'commissioned' to do one. I thought I did not want to do the same thing everybody else is doing, and I had no experience with the biped form. I was especially leery of my ability to whittle a face that did not look like it was inspired by Picasso. Don't get me wrong, he was a great artist and worthy of respect. I like my whittling to require the user to apply their imagination, just not that much...

But I digress.
I whittled the first gnome and concentrated on the facial features- relationship of eyes to nose, eyes to ears, etc. Well, location of eyes, since he does not have any. He turned out OK, avoided the burn barrel, so he was a success of sorts. I ran out of wood by the time I got down to his feet tho, and it shows. Have you ever seen such a short pair of legs? They are barely long enough to reach the ground.

Gnome #2 is a little better, I think the face is
improved, he has a little more detail, still no eyes but he has cheekbones, and that's a start. I left a little more wood for the body and legs, so they look more in proportion. His feet actually look like they can support him, and possibly be capable of locomotion. There is still an issue- his shoulders ended up narrower than his head, I ran out of wood again, just in a different place this time.

While I was whittling these first two I had the beginnings of a picture in my head of what I really wanted. I find that my best whittlings, the ones I am happiest with, all start with a clear picture of where I want to go before I pick up a knife. I got my fat little pot bellied gnome this time, with rudimentary eyes even. I did not run out of wood, he doesn't look like he was made from a square block, his proportions are good, and he's smiling- definitely a success.
He's made of basswood, the first two are made of paulownia. For a finish (the pic shows him stained but not clear coated) he got one coat of Minwax natural, brushed on repeatedly and allowed to drain for a few minutes, I wanted the wood to absorb as much as possible, then a coat of Minwax golden oak, brushed on and rubbed off. I use a paper towel to remove as much stain as I can from the high spots only- don't push down into the cracks and crannys, I tried to leave the stain there to help accent the details. It worked out pretty good, I'm very happy with the result. I'll experiment more with this process, using different materials, the Minwax stains were handy so I tried 'em. They are a good product, and easy to use, widely available; some people will turn their noses up at them, they are wrong. For a top coat hell get a dip in a mix of polyurethane, mineral spirits, and tung oil I think (equal parts of each). Its a nice flat penetrating stain that offers good surface protection.
The point is, the more we whittle the more we improve, evolve, and so do our whittlings. After all, they are part of us, aren't they?

Happy whittling, BfloBif

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Finding Time to Whittle

As I cruise around the web, reading what other whittlers/carvers post, I'm jealous of the prolific whittlers. I'm not one of them, I'm lucky to create a dozen items a year, some folks out there can turn that out overnight. (Note these are the people who don't necessarily have jobs, doesn't matter I'm still jealous).

Making time to whittle is a problem for me, for a couple of reasons. There are things I should do instead- my job, take care of the house and family....

At the end of the day when I sit down for a couple hours I'm often under motivated to make a mess and then clean it up. TV and a refreshing beverage just seem like the better choice.

So lately I've been whittling over my second cup of coffee in the morning. I always have two, after that I either start my job or get my butt up and get to work on something cosmically more important and less selfish than whittling. I suppose if I was getting paid to whittle it would move up the scale of cosmic importance, but that seems as far out of reach as getting paid to nap. Not gonna happen anytime soon. Like any other project, even a few minutes a day results in progress, and the little things I like to whittle get finished pretty quickly. My office is hardwood floor, and needs to be swept daily anyway, so that all works out pretty well for me.

You don't need a lot of time, there's no need to start and finish something in one sitting. I probably have an hour into the little dog in the photo, over two days, one more day like that and he should be done.

So make the time, one way or another. Leave your knife and a piece of wood where you can see them daily. Carry your knife in your pocket. You may find yourself whittling while hubby goes into Home Depot, or while wifey cruised the mall. I have a friend who whittles every time he finds himself in a line- waiting for dinner reservations or whatever. Make your mess out on the porch, or make your kids sweep up your mess. I actually cheat and dump the chips into the nearest houseplant rather than walk to the garbage can across the room, it hasn't died yet. I know one whittler keeps her knife and wood in a plastic shoe box and keeps all the shavings inside until the project is done (I don't know why).

The more I pick up a knife the easier it is for me to find time to do it again, especially when I have a Work In Progress (WIP).

Chips are not born, they need to be made. Happy Whittling - BfloBif

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Bass in a Bucket

Thinkin fish, aren't ya? Nope, it's Basswood cuttings in a bucket of water. I've been looking around the neighborhood for a Basswood tree, studying taxonomy online to help me identify them, and I finally found one. Two, actually, while on a walk last week. Stole a leaf, compared to the pics online along with the description of the bark and seeds. Went by the same house today and asked the ladies gardening there what kind of tree it was, she said 'Linden' I said 'Basswood!' she said 'I carve that!' and the world got smaller. We ended up chewing the fat for a half hour or so, comparing carving notes. She tells the same story many of us have, pick up a knife and chunk of wood and the world goes away, time has no meaning, hours go by like blinking your eye. I asked if I could come back later with my pruners and take some cuttings, she gave me her pruners and I came home with a half dozen cuttings, now trimmed and stuck in a bucket of water. With some luck and a few years I'll have saplings I can use for hiking sticks. more importantly, I can recognize the tree for sure now, I have a couple woodsy areas I'll check for more mature saplings ready to cut. I won't cut them this time of year, I'll mark them tho and come back in the winter when the sap is down in the roots- the tree will dry faster with less chance of splitting then.

Woo Hoo, a Red Letter Day for me!

Friday, July 30, 2010

New knife, first wooden handle

I finished my first wooden handled knife last week, and have been itching to post pics here, but wanted to wait until the new owner saw it first. It was a commision, the blade design and wood for the handle were provided by the new owner, who allowed me to design the handle. I chose to keep the ball shaped end to the handle, a feature of my leather wrapped knives and sort of a signature for me. Neither of us is sure of the wood species, I suspect it is one of the -cote's, either ziricote or bocote.

I had fun making the knife, shaping the handle, working with wood was an interesting break from my leather wrapped 'normals'. There's more to finishing the metal in a wood handled knife, grinding the sides flat so I had a good glue surface under the wood scales, and finishing the edges- all those parts are hidden by the wrapped handle.
Pics are of the knife in it's unfinished state, the new owner wanted to do the finishing himself. I'm looking forward to seeing the finished pics.
So its a first for me, but not the last- I'll do more wood handles. I already have the next one planned and sketched....
So let the chips fly, and Hapy Whittling,

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rosebud Bottle Stopper

I've been planning this one for a while, maybe that is why it took so little time to do. Like all my whittlings, I tend to start and stop over the course of the project, but I figure this little one got done in less than an hour.

It's Paulownia wood, I think its' interesting how the grain of the wood shows through the paint (really a wash coat, acrylic temper paints). I counterbored the bottom so the leaves of the calyx will hang down over the mouth of the bottle a little.

My vision was to imitate/emulate a glass or crystal faceted rose, I came close but did not quite pull it off this time. I'll try again, and i think I'll come closer next time.

I took the unpainted pic in case I screwed up the paint job BTW. Once the paint is fully dry I will give it a long soak in Minwax Wood Hardener, I think it does a superior job of penetrating, sealing, and waterproofing the wood. I hope it does not make the colors run.......

Why isn't it red? Yellow is the Rose of Eternal Love, according to one chart I saw early on in my married life. I've been giving my wife a yellow rose on our anniversary ever since.

Let the chips fly, and Happy Whittling- BfloBif

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

News from the Wood Carving World

Trees felled by Hurricane Katrina Carved into statues by Florida sculptor
Published: Monday, July 26, 2010
Kevin Saucier, The Mississippi Press
© 2010 Alabama Live LLC [ and]. All Rights Reserved

Floridian wood-carving artist Marlin Miller has fashioned over 50 sculptures for the Mississippi Gulf Coast area to boost tourism post-Katrina. His most recent gift was four wooden statues to the Jackson County Welcome Center on Interstate 10 Westbound, including the 6 foot tall eagle seen here.

Four wooden sculptures, carved by artist Marlin Miller from trees knocked down by Hurricane Katrina, have been donated to the state of Mississippi and are now on display at the Jackson County Welcome Center along Interstate 10 in Moss Point.

Miller, who lives in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., has carved many sculptures of area wildlife that are placed along U.S. 90 throughout Mississippi coast.

He said that after the giant oak trees fell in the storm, Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway had the idea that the trees could be salvaged as sculptures.

"So I came in around 2007 and did a couple, and people were so great about it and so excited that I just kept going back," Miller said. "Now, about two years later, there are about 50 sculptures through there. It was a way to bring them back to life and save them from the landfills."

Miller said his previous experience with projects in the area, along with his desire to help the area in the wake of the Gulf Coast oil spill, is what led to the placing of the sculptures in the welcome center.

"Somewhere the idea came up that we could put sculptures in that welcome center," Miller said. "Thousands of people come through there every day, and most don't even stop for gas to see what Mississippi has to offer. So maybe putting those small sculptures in there will work as a way to get them directed off the interstate and down onto Highway 90 to see what the coast has to offer. It might make it easier for them to route people down off the interstate and onto Highway 90, where they can see all the casinos, the fishing industry, the businesses and the beaches."

One of the sculptures at the welcome center is a 500-pound, 7-foot-tall eagle with its wings pulled back above its head, but it does not compare to the 17-foot-tall eagle Miller carved and placed in War Memorial Park in Pass Christian. It's the world's largest eagle sculpture.

"The eagle in the welcome center comes from a giant oak tree that was part of the trees cut down on the coast from when I made those first sculptures, so he's actually made from those trees on the coast," Miller said. "And I think he'll serve as a great appeal to route people down if you say, 'Hey, there's an eagle down there that's 10 times the size of this one.'"

Next to Miller's sculptures at the welcome center, a TV plays a looped video of his first "NBC Nightly News" and "Mississippi Roads" television appearances.

"'NBC Nightly News' has been here to film me two times in the last 14 months," Miller said. "The people at the capitol get excited about those segments, because they have such a large audience.

"Anytime you can throw something into 10 million households, that's a pretty exciting deal, and you can't talk about these projects without bringing up Katrina and the area's recovery from it."

Notes from BfloBif-
From time to time I come across articles like this, wood carving stories worth sharing. I'll post them here for the sake of diversity, and because I don't whittle enough myself to properly fill the blog. Stay Tuned, and Happy Whittling.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Gnome tribe gets new member

Just finished whittling Gnome02, the new and improved model has features not found on Gnome01 like cheekbones, shoes, ears and a lower lip. He has trouble getting the point of his hat to stand straight tho.

Like the first he has good points and some not so good ones. I'm happy with him and he can live here as long as he wants. (Gnomish propensity to wander is well documented) He's made from Paulownia, amazingly light weight wood that holds reasonable detail. I'm getting used to the open grain too. I'm happy with all of him except his torso- I whittled the head and cap first and ran out of wood again- I'd have liked him to have broader shoulders and a rounder belly. The next one I'll use a blank the same height but increase the thickness and width, and I may rough saw the head out to get the proportions I'm looking for. One more practice I think and I'll be ready to work on my 'commission', a Gnome bottle stopper

requested by my one of my biggest fans ;)

Block I started with was a little bigger than 1"x1"x3-3/4". In these photos he is unfinished, like all I have done so far he will be finished clear, I'm just not certain what product I'll use yet. Minwax wood hardener is a possibility, as is a mixture of
polyurethane, tung oil and mineral spirits. Its a mixture with a high penetration that offers good protection and leaves a dull finish. I've been reading about vacuum finishing, and thinking I might give it a try. The piece will be immersed in finish, and the container will be subjected to vacuum. The air should be sucked out of the piece, and when the vacuum is released the finish is driven into the surface of the wood to replace the air. I haven't worked out all the details of the vacuum chamber yet. I have a lab grade vacuum pump I have used in veneer work in the past, but would like to come up with a reliable low tech method more easily repeatable by others. I've seen some methods which involve heating the mixture and sealing it in a canning jar, as it cools if forms a vacuum. I'll try that, the key will be to see if the piece bubbles, indicating the air is leaving the wood. The danger is any finish I have ever worked with is flammable, in a closed container maybe explosively so. Before finishing I think i'll set him in the sun and see if he sunburns, I suspect he will turn a shade of grey (rough paulownia is dark grey on the surface)

I'm generally not the kind of guy who likes to whittle mainstream type items like this, I had no intentions of ever doing a gnome. The only i tried one is because I was 'commissioned' to do one. I'm glad I did, thanks for asking me to (you know who you are). I had a little story line in my head about who he is, where he's been, silly crap like that. There are more Gnomes in my future. There's a lesson here for me, I won't be so quick to decide a particular item would not be fun to do.....

Keep you knife sharp and let the chips fall where they will.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Notmylast Gnome

He is the first tho.
This little guy is my first attempt at a gnome, I consider him a partial success. Somebody asked me to make one, it took a while for me to find inspiration and here he is. He's made from Paulownia, the first time I've used the wood. It has alternating rings of closed and open grain, unlike basswood or walnut, that took some getting used to. Its very soft, and very light. Goody from the Whittlers Porch introduced me to this wood.

I am mostly happy with the gnome's head, the proportions worked out pretty good tho the execution is lacking a little. The eyes are weak, and not symmetrical, the beard and mustache are alos lacking symmetry. I also ran out of wood when it came to the body and feet, but plowed ahead anyway just for the experience. next time I'll start with a larger piece of wood, this one was 1" square by about 3-1/2" tall. he was much fatter in my mind, and a little taller. Next one will be closer to the one in my mind's eye. I debated his future, considered the burn barrel for a bit, but decided his good points outweigh his bad and so he has a home for as long as he'd like to stay. I'd like to try finishing this wood too, prolly tung oil on this guy, we'll see how much he absorbs and what the grain looks like too.

So go ahead and put knife to wood, and don't worry that the end product might not be exactly what you had in mind. My whittlings are all my children, each a little different each with unique strengths and weaknesses, but all are fun. Happy whittling- BfloBif

Kitty pen

Here's another pen I finished recently, a stylized cat headed to the great state of Texas. Like the bee, the figure actually is the pen, the Octopus and the dog were more or less perched on the end of the pen, if you get my drift. Look back at the pics and you'll see what I mean. I hav another vision for this one originally, it just didn't work out and ended up in the burn barrel before I was half done. I guess the message is just do it, don't be afraid of making mistakes. That's how we learn, right? Yellow cedar, 7.5 inches, 2 coats of shellac.
Happy Whittling- BfloBif

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Howling Hound Dog

I just finished this bottle stopper, the Howling Hound Dog. No doubt he's howling cuz he's been into the wine. He's made of walnut, little less than 2 inches high, and I knew him when he was a tree. (see entry about found wood, last one I think). A friend called me up one day, said he knew a farmer who had dropped a walnut tree and wanted to sell it, as is where is. What the heck, I figured I'd take a look. We got there, out near nowhere, hiked out back around the pond and behind the barn through the hedgerow and on the edge of a field just planted with corn was a HUGE walnut tree, cut into two eight foot logs and a 6 footer, all knot and branch

free. He told us the price, we silently thanked God we brought the trailer and we loaded that thing up and drove like madmen before he could change his mind. There was over 400 bdft of lumber in that log, after buying the log and getting it sawn we had CLEAR walnut lumber for about $1.00 per board foot (current mkt price is 6 or so USD)

So I decided to practice my Flat Plane whittling some more, this little figure is one I've thought about whittling for many years, even when I wasn't whittling it was in the back of my mind to do.

The light color is the sap side of the tree- walnut does not darken up until it is a few years old in the tree. in this tree the outside 2 inches or so (the tree was easy 2' diameter) is lighter and tan. The first two pics show the beginning of the heartwood, the darker streaks at the bottom.

He's the second stopper I made, the first (frog) I finished with acrylic paints and water based urethane. I'm certain the frog will hold up for quite a long while, with care, but am also certain I'll eventually need to repair the finish. My wife has that one, so that's not really a problem. For the hound I tried something different, Minwax (not the only mfr) makes a product they call Wood Hardener, its a nasty cocktail of ketones and acetone and some sort of plastic or acrylic resin. It is supposed to penetrate pretty far, its intended to repair rotten or damaged wood so you can get a good solid base for filling and painting. I immersed doggie in a bottle, cover on, and still outside (one review I read suggested staying 7 miles from any open flame source) until the little air bubbles stopped coming out of him. That took about an hour, and another couple hours to dry enough to bring inside. Within a day I can't detect the scent of any solvents, even when I inhale the little guy, so I figure he's pretty well cured. I ran him under the faucet, water seems to bead up and not penetrate, so it looks like I got what I want, so far- a durable protective finish that enhances the grain of the piece without adding color, and will stand up to careful rinsing needed by a working- dog bottle stopper.

Ask me in a year how it worked out. On to the next __________. See you then, BfloBif

Friday, April 30, 2010

Wood for Whittling

Red and white, blue suede shoes, I'm Uncle Sam. How Do you DO?

Just a quick note on wood types for whittling. Most common is probably Basswood, it's readily available relatively soft yet hard enough to hold details well. Close in the running would be walnut, butternut, mahogany, willow, Paulownia, cedars including spanish cedar and maybe pine. (I probably missed a few). Paulownia reminds me of balsa, amazingly light. One of the members of the Whittlers porch uses it almost exclusively, he likes the light weight for Christmas tree ornaments, he has a good point it is light. The others are a little harder, pine has varying grain density that can cause some small issues, the summer rings are softer than the winter rings. It's not on my list of favs.
And then we come to Found Wood. Oh Boy. Its just what the name says- wood you just found, maybe in in the woodpile, by the side of the road, at the beach, etc. There are a couple pitfalls in found wood, and some hidden gems too. One pitfall is you don't necessarily know what is in the piece, did that root grow around a stone, or in sand, is there some foreign matter in there that will ruin your day and maybe your knife too? Second pitfall is the hardness- a lot of times you won't know what species you found- I have a walking stick half done that is hard like a rock. It was a sapling, I did not see the leaves, the juvenile wood defies my ability to identify it, but I can tell you it it hand cramping hard to cut. I have heard that dipping hard wood in alcohol (think denatured, NOT your beer) will temporarily soften the wood so you can whittle. Alcohol does not swell the wood fibers like water and should not cause any damage to your work. It also dries quicker than water would. It works, I don't use it in the house because of the fumes. It might raise a little heck with your knife handle if the finish is shellac, watch out. You can always fix the finish if you need to. You might try carving your found wood while green, it will shrink and is likely to crack as it dries. I can promise you it won't shrink evenly, and Murhy's Law says you won't like where it cracks either. Maybe that could fit into your project?

That all sounds like a lot of negativity, if a piece of kiln dried bass will suit your project, use it. That brings us to the Hidden Gem factor.

The one good reason (and its a doozy) to collect and carve found wood is you can find things you'll never be able to buy. Magnolia supposedly carves well, has unusual grain and or color, but is not commercially available, at least not in my locale. My own collection of found wood has 4 items- some willow taken from the woodpile, big thick chunks of straight grain stuff, along with some wavy grain pieces that suggest a figure (one looks like a penguin). Another item is some sort of swollen mass, probably the tree or bush's reaction to an infection. It's not very big, fist sized, grain looks swirly, and I'm looking forward to what I find inside when I get inspired to cut it. Walking stick 0r hiking staff material I get here in suburbia from vacant lots, along fence lines, or the little space between the neighbors garages. The last item in my found collection is two root balls I found helping my brother in law take out some Yew bushes of some sort in front of his house- they're head size masses of multiple branches and roots all heading in different directions, and the centers of the branches have a nice red coloring to them. I'm not sure if the color will remain as they dry, so far they've been drying in my garage away from the light for a year or two. No inspiration there yet either.

Between purchased kiln dried lumber and found wood of unknown lineage we'll put Opportunistically Harvested Lumber. If you see someone taking down a walnut tree, or a basswood tree, grab all you can, wait until after dark if you have to, and dry it your self. It's not that hard, and hey, you can't beat the price or the chance to say you knew your Gnome when it was still a tree..

Happy whittling- Bflobif

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Apr 28 Spring is Sprung

Spring is sprung the grass is riz,

I wonder where my (fill in the blank) is?

I have a friend on the Whittlers Porch (can I call you my friend John? We've never met) whose whittling motto is 'Know when to stop'. One of his mottos anyway. One of mine, seen here recently, is 'Don't be afraid to cut deep'. Both have merit, both help us do our own thing, more importantly they show that we are busy evaluating our past work and striving to improve.

And both apply to this next project. It's a Trick Pony, it's not my own design, I found him (her?) and two friends on the Woodcarving Illustrated message board, click here to take a look:

Caricature Animals

Actually I'd reccommend looking around the entire site, there are a lot of good folks and a lot of neat info there. Join, subscribe, buy the mag at the bookstore, or just visit, its all good. (I get no compensation from them, i just like them)

What's the trick? I thought you'd never ask...

If you give this little pony a push start, she rolls all the way over and stops back on his feet. Cool Huh? I went with vertical grain on this one, she's about 2" thick x 4" nose-to-tail x 3-1/4" tall. Horses are measured in hands, right? This one is four fingers tall....

And here is where the dual motto applies-

  • Know when to stop- if you cut too much off the the outer shape, you could affect the ability to roll straight. You need to leave a fairly round, flat primeter to help him keep rolling and not fall over to one side or the other.

  • Don't be afraid to cut deep- on the sides. Deep cuts, shadow lines, sharp(er) relief make for a more interesting piece. I think you have to make up for not being able to cut much on the perimeter too.

This is actually one you don't really need to carve either- start with a smooth piece of wood, cut carefully, sand the cut edges and ease the corners, and paint the details on, the toy will function and look good too.

I'm excited to try the bison next- think I'll call him Little BfloBif

Monday, April 26, 2010

Bottle Stoppers, Whistles and Pens

I'm not sure I've said it here, but I really enjoy whittling things that have a purpose in life. That's why the pens and whistles are so much fun, and this guy is too. Little frog of Alaskan Yellow Cedar, the stopper part comes from
or your local Rockler store. (Think I saw them on eBay too) They come several in a pack, 6 or ten, and have a wooden dowel in the center of the silicone stopper. You'll need a 5/16 or so hole in the bottom of your whittling blank, and I used Epoxy glue to hold them together. After using the stopper for a bit, the silicone occassionally comes off the dowel, as it is only a friction or slide fit. One of these days I'll slip a little clear silicone caulk in there to hold it all together better. Future stoppers (I still have the rest of the pack left) will get the silicone caulk treatment at the beginning. Before I bought these I bought a fancy chrome one, at twice the price of the pack, only to find out it did n't fit the first bottle I opened. Save your money I say.

I used a little green acrylic paint for color, topped by a couple coats of water based polyurethane. Think I'll look at doing one flat plane style....

Here's a gluing tip for you all- when you glue the dowel into a hole check the direction of the end grain on both pieces and line them up, as best you can. Wood expands and contracts along the grain more than across, if the two pices are moving in the same direction (grain lined up) they will hold together longer than if they are growing and shrinking in opposite directions (grains at right angles)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Flat Plane Whittling

There is a Carving style out there called Flat Plane Carving, it's really whittling by definition- work is done with just a knife, no other tools, and the wood is held in the hand. There are exceptions- I saw a chainsawn piece that was done in the flat plane style. The Woodcarving Illustrated website (link on the right =>) has a flat plane forum, fairly busy with a lot of pics and info available. Take a look.
I've had a couple email coversations with different folks about FP, trying to get clear in my mind just what is involved in the style. Everyone seems to capitalize the words, the style is held in high regard among many carvers. I won't go into the history of the style, anybody interested can browse the forums or search the web and find the same thing I did. The Little Shavers website (link=>) has some nice pics and some good info).

So here's my take on it. It's am impressionistic form in that it does not try to imitate nature as much as represent nature. Most of the cuts will be straight, leaving flat planes of different sizes (hence the name). No sanding is done, the more respected whittlers in this style seem to make fewer cuts without sacrificing detail. They also cut more deeply, use sharper angles. The interplay of light and shadow on high and low areas give this style a sense of detail that really is not there.

I don't know what a horse's knee looks like, but I know where it goes, and I can cut a couple vee shaped notches that leave a high spot and a shadow line, and everybody knows its a knee.
Its a simple style, that forces the viewer to use their imagination.

I used the pics of my reindeer, because they are the only thing I have made more than one of. In the first pic, the light deer's feet look to me like footed pajamas. The darker one looks more like hooves. Both still very rounded. The second pic is my attempt to use the FP style on the same item, I like the way the legs look. You can see how light and shadow play with each other, and there is actually more detail to the leg and foot- this guy has ankles and knees the others do not.

I was a cabinetmaker for years here on the frozen shores of Lake Erie, in the hiererarchy of woodworkers we considered ourselves second only to the carvers. There is a dirty little secret we kept-our job was simple- we made boxes. Skinny box with rounded corners, countertop. Flat box with legs, table. Box with drawers, box with doors- you get the picture. In my opinion there is a dirty little secret to flat plane carving too. Its quick. By NOT trying to impart as much detail, by avoiding round surfaces, the project moves along quicker. That's pretty important if your trying to make money. I think the style originated when the carver wanted to create a quick, simple item, for whatever reason. Could have been to help make a living, or to satisfy an impatient customer, like a child waiting for a toy. Straight cuts are easier to do with a knife, especially a working knife or a belt knife- I picture a working man picking up a piece of wood on lunch break, or riding home in the back of a wagon. It would not be easy to cut the footed jammie feet with a belt knife. I'm not bashing the FP carvers, many are artists, likely with a little genius included. I'm just calling it like I see it.

I will certainly practice the style, maybe not exclusively (I'm not sure the Octopus pen would lend itself to FP). To me whittling should be a little impressionistic, viewers should to have to use their imaginations.

Happy Whittling- BfloBif

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Moai, and the Importance of Rodent Control

There are a number of things I like about whittling, some of them I have blogged about here. Among them is the opportunity to learn something new. I asked my oldest daughter for a whittling idea one day, and she told me an Easter Island head would be good. We had recently watched the DVD Night at the Museum, and I figured that was her source.

The neat thing about DVD's is you can pause them and get a clear picture, so I got out my ruler, some paper,put in the DVD and used the other neat feature- scene selection to cut to the scenes with the talking Easter Island head. Just a quick sketch, some dimensions off the screen to let me scale my final drawing, and a bunch of questions. I couldn't tell what detail there might be on the sides of the statue, they were always in shadow in the movie.

Next stop the World Wide Web.

They were called Moai, the statues probably started out honoring the chiefs, some of them used to have eyes of red coral. The have headresses or ears or hair on the sides, many had shoulders and upper arms. The last head was erected about the time the last tree on the island was cut down. Seems while the Moai were cutting down the mature trees, rats were eating the palm seeds, and the forest was unable to replenish itself. I believe the Moai did not long survive the last trees. (Or was it the last of the rats?)

There's more, go find it for yourself.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Edgar Poe, and the Eldorado of Whittling

"...Ride, boldly ride, the Shade replied, if you seek for Eldorado."

I don't know many poems, most of the ones I do know I couldn't post here, as least not in their entirety. This quote is from 'Eldorado' by Edgar Allan Poe.

So what the heck has that got to do with whittling?

As I write this blog and look at the things I have whittled over the last few years I can see evidence of progress in my work. I'm learning as I go, that's what whittling is; I spend time on other sites, looking at other's work, reading blogs about different carving styles, etc.

Most importantly, I keep whittling. You can learn ABOUT whittling by looking and reading, but you can only learn to whittle by whittling.

Comparing my older items like Sphinxcat, with some of my newer ones (and with some of the things I've looked at on the WWW)I can see two things i've done somewhat unconciously.

Both practices have to do with not removing enough
material. Sphinxcat's legs should be cut deeper,
made to stand out more against his body.
Dogpen's body still looks like the square blank
he was cut from. Both would look better if I had cut deeper, removed more wood.

So whittle BOLDLY is my new motto, and maybe chips on the floor could be a decorative element...

Gaily bedight,
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.

But he grew old,
This knight so bold,
And o'er his heart a shadow
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.

And as his strength
Failed him at length
He met a pilgrim shadow.
Shade! cried he
Where can it be?
This land of Eldorado?

Over the mountains of the moon,
Through the valley of the shadow
Ride, boldly ride,
The shade replied,
If you seek for Eldorado

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Bee Pen in Yellow Cedar

If only the best bird sang the forest would be a very quiet place

That's true for whittling too- just do it. The more you whittle the better you'll get.

Here's pics of my Bee Pen, Alaskan Yellow Cedar, Minwax #209 and beeswax finish. Just over 5 inches long, barely enough for the bic insert. The Minwax (natural) seals the wood pretty well and enhances the grain very nicely. I was tempted to paint or stain the eyes and stripes black, but just couldn't bring myself to do it. I've aways like the natural aspects of wood.....

Let the chips fly, somebody will sweep later.... BfloBif

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sketching & planning

(The usual Disclaimer)I'm not an expert, and there are a thousand ways to do most everything. This is just how I do things. Hopefully I can provide a little inspiration, or help someone over a hump.

So where do I get ideas to carve? Everywhere. When a thought comes into my head to carve something I head for the WWW. Plenty of carving sites have plans or patterns, some for sale and some are free. Sometimes I just search images. Save them, print them, heck, trace them off the puter screen.

So now I have an notion to whittle something, and I've done some research, and maybe refined the pic in my mind, it's time to get the idea out of my head onto paper or wood. What size should it be? What size wood do I have? I cut a square block to start from, and if it is small enough I trace the outline onto a piece of paper several times next to each other.

Here's the sketch for another pen, a bee. So far my pens have been about 7" long, I start with blocks of Yellow Cedar (all the YC I have is about 1-1/4" square) I thought the first sketch on the left was a little too long, so I made the blank barely longer than the pen insert I use and am hoping not to expose the drill hole when I whittle. The sketch is only to establish proportions and shapes/relations, a lot of the design work for me will be done 'under the knife'. I like the last sketch on the right, I'll cut that out and tape it in a spiral notebook I keep most or all my ideas in. I can see one modification I'll make when I whittle- the wings will probably have to be shortened to make the pen more comfortable to hold.

I read some great advice on the The Whittlers Porch: Carve a little bit every day, even if you only sharpen a pencil. both the Porch and Wood Carving Illustrated are great resources for inspiration and answers. If you join the forums section at WCI you'll have access to tons of pics of other peoples work.

So long for now- pick up a knife, let the chips fly. Bflobif

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Reindeer Tutorial


This is just the way I make these guys, certainly not the only way. I got the idea from Will Hayden, see the links section and look for Lesson 4, I think, in Will's Classroom. Actually take a look at all the lessons in the classroom, and don't forget to bring your knife to class. I've made a bunch of these, tho it is Will's idea I don't make them quite the way he does. Basswood blank is 1"x2"x4", since I've made a few I have a pattern to try and make them come out a little bit alike, and I rough saw the outline. I've sketched in suggestions for the shapes of the head body feet and legs.

I cut some shallow vee's/notches/wedges to divide the major body parts- ears head body legs feet. They're shallow straight cuts near the lines, I'll refine shapes later. It might take several slices to make one vee- I find that small slices mean more control and less bandaids, also less sharpening and less fatigue.

I took a top-down approach to this guy, not my usual method. I tend to jump around, and whittle whatever strikes my fancy from second to second.

At the notch for the ears, remove material on the ear side of the cut till the entire ear is flattened to the depth of the cut. Cut another notch and flatten it some more. My goal is to remove the front half of each ear.

I undercut the front face of the ears, this surface is close to finished.

Bevel back the forehead. Starting point on the front of the face is just above the halfway point,to a point just in front of the top of the ears

I curve the upper part of the face with a twisting motion of the knife, cutting first along the top of the nose and curving up to finish the cut vertically at the forehead. The first cuts only give me a small eighth inch wide curve, but a shaving at a time will get to the point in the photo.

Have at the chin body and legs. My goal here is a body like a golf ball, sometimes a neck and sometimes none, legs that taper from the bottom to the top

Sketch in the feet from the bottom and get ready to cut some more notches. There's a lot of notches in whittling.

Cut out most of the blackened areas, but leave a little for the final cleanup. That's really the majority of the work on this little guy. He's not done yet, but the rough work is complete. We've got the basic parts proportioned, what's left is the details. I'm not sure how this one will look when it's done. There's still a bunch of room to adjust the shape and size of the feet, shape of the legs- will he he be knock kneed? Double jointed? Will he have knees at all?. Will he have a neck? What shape will his eyes & nose take? I woodburned most facial features on the ones I've finished, and have only whittled the last couple.

Here he is, same point as above.

Little guy is flat backed, meant to stand up against a wall or similar. I only shape the ears from the back, and run a little bevel aroung his outline.

There he is, done (below). Eyes, nose and mouth are pretty simple, he's a simple piece and I feel like complex features would be out of place (just my opinion) . Last pic shows the four reindeer I can actually round up, the washed out guy on the left is the one in this blog. Just a little sampling of the different things you can do, feet, legs faces ears a little different on each. One on the right (only doe in the herd) is made of rosewood, probably Narra judging by the amount of silica in the wood. She was brutal to carve and required a lot of honing.