When I go to demonstrate or give a talk to interested groups, there are some questions that are asked frequently

Q The best type of wood?

A Since the Grinling Gibbon’s time, the answer has been lime, a light coloured wood with almost no discernible grain and easy to cut. Before that, it was mainly oak as this was what builders and furniture makers used. I use found wood and often do not know what it is. Found wood has more character than bought/machined wood and leads to more lively and exciting carvings.

Q How did you get interested in carving?

A I started when I was about eight and have no real idea why. Perhaps it was a reaction to my father, a pattern maker and latterly a woodwork teacher. He was into precision, joints, and the proper use of tools, etc. Today I cannot easily plane a piece of wood flat or saw it square, but will tackle almost anything with a chisel.

Q What tools do you need?

A I recommend starting carving with a single-bladed penknife with a steel, not stainless steel blade. I tend to use Opinel knives which are cheap, well made, and keep a good sharp edge. When you have mastered the knife, the choice of carving tools will become obvious. You will know what you want to do but cannot manage with a knife, and therefore what you need.

I would always advise against buying a set as they always contain some tools you will hardly ever or never use. I tend to look round second-hand markets, eBay, and only buy new when all else fails.

Q How do you design a carving?

A Most carvers start with an engineers front and side elevations. They remove the waste with a band saw and then start to carve.

As I use found wood, defined as ’not machined’, I do not have flat surfaces to draw the elevations. When carving a human figure or face, I am so familiar with these by drawing them at every opportunity, that only a few measurements and marks are needed before starting to carve. I do a drawing or make a maquette in plasticine for other subjects and scale it up.

If you are interested in wood carving you may want to look at the Lancashire and Cheshire Woodcarvers site

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