Archive for March, 2009

*Tool Review: Proxxon’s Pen Sander

pen-sanderProxxon Pen Sander w/full sized Adapter #PX38001 from Klingspor’s Woodworking Shop (800-228-0000) I’ve had this tool only a week or so and, I like it!  The pad of peelable, stickable sanding-strips that came with the Pen are a-bit too finely gritted for my carving purposes; so, I chose several of the variable-shaped sanding bits and used them as patterns for replacement-strips of my own choosing. Klingspor has been easy to deal with and has been very helpful when asked.  I see in their catalog that they offer several different grits for this tool. I have a roll of 240 grit fabric-sanding paper (Swiss Cloth from Klingspor) on which I used a ball-point pen to trace the sanding-bit head. I simply scissored the strips and affixed them to the bits using double-sided shop-tape cut in the same shapes. Bingo! Works fine. I happen to be working on a class project, the Eastern Bluebird-open-winged. Lots of patches on the wing-blank-tabs and on the tail where the Pen Sander worked efficiently and effectively in short-order.  I could have used my sanding-stick just fine; however, the Pen made the task quicker & easier. Quicker & Easier are always good . especially when the project (ie: Eagle!)! is large and labor-intensive.  Consequently, I believe this tool was a good investment for this bird-carver.

Happy birding and carving,  Bill



*Tools & Reviews

I’ve recently added a few new tools to my carving-arsonal.   Interestingly and not surprising, several of them were brought to my attention by a couple of our students.  Thanks to Larry Long and Monica Finan for your helpful tips.  Several others I found on my own whilst browsing through  the Jaymes Co. catalog.  If you too have personal experience or other feed-back on these or other Tool suggestions, please reply below.  Your views and comments will be appreciated.

  1. Stump Cutter #322-027  from the Jaymes Co. $10.95.  (888-638-8998) A fast cutting steel bur that leaves a smooth finish. 3/32″ shank.  Monica has taken several classes from Floyd Schulz and purports this cutter to be one of his favorites. I tried hers for a few days and have now ordered mine also. A short stubby cylinder, very useful in contouring the sides of bird craniums down to the ear-coverts (cheeks?) and in smooth-planing the top surfaces of tails, feathers, etc.
  2. Eye Cutters #33-052 from the Jaymes Co. $29.95.  (888-638-8998) Steel fluted cutters 3mm-8mm, 3/32″ shank, set of 6 useful in accurately cutting eye-holes for birds.
  3. Reticulate Cutters #33-055 “Large “set of 4  from the  Jaymes Co. $23.95.  (888-638-8998) Also available in sets of Medium and Small. These cutters will make round shapes to simulate reticulate bumps on bird’s feet. 3/32″ shanks. I hope to add the other sizes (Medium & Small) in the future if I like using the “Large”.
  4. Proxxon Pen Sander w/full sized Adapter #PX38001 from Klingspor’s Woodworking Shop (800-228-0000) (See Blogsroll) $89.95 This is the most detailed of the detail-sanders. This sander produces 8000 2.5mm linear strokes per minute. It’s ideal for surfaces, slots and tight corners. ideal for feather surfaces,etc. The tool comes with 8 attachments and 45 pre-cut pieces of sandpaper (cut-to-shape). My plan is to cut my own sandpaper “stick-ons” from a roll of adhesive sandpaper I bought from Klingspor long ago. They sell packs of pre-cut sandpaper for this tool, in various grits and shapes to fit their included attachments. It works! Thanks to Larry Long for this tip. I have mine.
  5. Dem-Bart Gun Checkering Tool Kit/Starter’s Special #148850  Woodcraft Store $54.99 These three hand-held-tool-handles come with several different cutter-heads which are inter-changeable based on the shapes of the “cuts” you desire. Larry Long was able to concieve of this tool as an expedient tool with which to “score-in” the Quills on his Bald Eagle project. The results he showed me were very impressive and I purchase a set. It works (with a little practice).  

More to come….

Happy birding and carving,  Bill


*Bird Painting Issues

june-paints-owl Left: Here’s June, the Paintmeister at das Hamonhaus, painting one of Bill’s many Owls that she’s painted since taking up bird-painting in 1988. Actually, she’s painted all of the birds that I’ve carved including the Cardinal carved in my “Beginner’s” Class in 1988. June was a graduate of a two-year course of study at Cincinnati’s Central Commercial Art Academy and, an accomplished artist,  long before I took up woodcarving in 1988. At her suggestion, I looked into and enrolled in a beginner’s class in woodcarving in Dayton, OH. During my earliest lessons, she commented to me to “not” expect her to paint my birds. In class, I was in the process of carving a bird. I replied that “it had not entered my mind to ask for her assistance”. I had been a credible artist all during my school days too; doodling, drawing cartoons, etc.  However; she accompanied me to the final beginner’s Session#10, which was to paint the Cardinal. Her curiousity had gotten the better of her and she had decided to come along with me and observe the class. My version of this tale, is that she interrupted me, just as I was about to touch paint-to-bird for my very first time, by saying “let me see that”. I meekly handed bird & brush to her and gave her my seat at the paint-table. She had observed that the instructor of the paint class was a bit heavy-handed in her technique and knew she could do better. So, here we are over twenty years later and she’s still at the paint-table and I’ve, never as yet, painted a bird. This is our story and we’re sticking to it. Several months later, I was prevailed upon by fellow students to teach a class myself (10 weeks-free) on carving a Bluejay. I protested but did give in to teach the class. At the end of the ten-weekclass, June pitched in to teach them to paint the carving. Hence, we have continued in like manner, lo these many years. All of the above occured during our first year as Wildfowl Artists, 1988.

carving-class-2005-009Left: June teaching at her workshop in KY. Long before we came along, over two hundred years ago in fact, Hunters hunted wild game as a means to earn their livings; shooting animals and game-birds for their own provisioning as well as to sell to food markets and restaurants, hotels, etc.  A few of the hunters learned (probably from the Indians) that they could shoot more ducks and geese by utilizing floating decoys to draw-in the flocks from the air. The decoys would be roughly hewn from wood to resemble the birds flying overhead. The flocks would alight on the water nearby to the floating decoys and be “bagged” by the hunters. Basically, the carved decoys were “chopped” with a hatchett-like tool called an “Adze”. With practice, the hunters chopping these decoys from rough wood developed a form of production line by shaping the decoy with the adze and tossing it onto a nearby pile. Their spouse would dab dark pitch tar or paint to resemble eyes, add a coat of varnish and place them on another pile nearby to dry. The hunter/carver would finish the process by attaching the keels, weights, kleats and  rope with which they became a “string of decoys”. Some hunters developed  reputations for excelling in the catving and manufacture of these decoys. Eventually  informal competitions ensued between the more talented in given areas; hence, “Decorative Wildfowl Carvings” was born. And so, here we are today! Speaking personally, I’ve not been tvery empted to “do” ducks! I feel that there are Duck Carver’s galore and too few who can carve a decent Eagle!  My whole point of this yarn, is about the wife’s role in the process. For over several centuries now, it’s a sub-tradition in woodcarving of all genres; maybe, especially in birds for the spouses to collaborate on the carvings, involving often, the wife as paint-artist and the husband as carver. It would be even more widespread, I opine, if men carvers had more influence over their better halves.     Since there exists today, so many couples who do this, I was finally prompted to pose this pseudo-issue to a world-class bird carver/judge/teacher/author, last year. His response was that, as a Judge, he has no problem with it. His criteria is that the “same team” remains consistant and that a special (ringer) painter, not be brought in to assist just for a competition. He mentioned that this situation is not unusal at all. It has regulary occured in the World Championships, as well as “everywhere” else! 

Happy birding and carving,  Bill


*Intro to Power-Carving

dscf0001In preparation for an up-coming seminar in Middletown, OH., I stole verbatim from this Blog’s “Glossery” Page, “I” define “Power Carving” as:
4. Power-Carving: Traditional woodcarving utilizes conventional hand tools; i.e: knives, gouges, chisles, rifflers, etc. Contrary to popular impressions, so does “Power-Carving”! However; power-carving utilizes a variety of electrical power tools to do a wide assortment of tasks in the removal, sanding and cutting of wood. Power-Tools arguably, can remove wood faster and can create detail on your carving in a manner that can make the various tasks easier. A “fast” knife” carver can possibly carve faster than a “slow” power carver and vice-versa; that’s not the point. ”

Notes continued:  New carvers learn (are taught) their earliest techniques using a particular type of tool(s). With perserverance and practice, they inevitably develop proficiency leading to initial successes using their tools of choice. they recieve recognition from their teachers, family & friends on their very first carvings.

Usually, that very first tool is a knife. In my own case, I was encouraged to buy a second knife having a curved blade for the sole purpose of shaping the underside of a bird’s tail. Ca-Ching! Another $10.00 down the rabbit-hole.  Haven’t used it for nearly $20.00 years. Also, later that first year I added a set of Palm Gouges which are still useful from time to time.  Also, that first year I taught (at their insistance) my first class to 12 students in a church basement. A “free” class for 10 weeks on a Bluejay. Many of the students had power-tools which I had not yet discovered for myself. I still relied on my knife & gouges exclusively. Of course, I had to teach them how to use their power-tools even though they were totally new to me.  I noticed the reluctance of many to discard their knives for the “power”. I still surmise that they feared losing their skill-level by diviating from their “first” tools, their knives. Along with the loss of their “edge” with the knife, they might also lose the compliments that came to them with every new carving. I was too new at carving to have that feeling. what many felt might be a big-step-backwards, I saw as the opposite! On the 10th weel’s session, the class presented me (it was close to Christmas) a gift and card of thanks. The gift was a Foredom Flexible-Shafted Rotary Tool which I still use to this day (20 years nearly). 

The story I’ve heard repeated several times at Shows is from older guys & gals, standing at our exhibit table looking at our Class Notices Sign-Up Sheet. They would lament that they indeed, owned a Foredom but it was still “in the box”! Afraid to undertake learning how to use it, it remained in the box and they continued to rely solely on their knives, etc. I would always respond that I teach power-carving”! A few have taken lessons over the years. I’m certain that several Foredoms are still in the box!

I’m a “Power Bird Carver”! That doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate all of the methods and forms of carving practiced by the masses. I do! However, as “Popeye” said, “I yam what I yam”! Let’s be clear; That doesn’t mean that I care what anyone else choose to carve. Nor, do I look down on anyone’s “Art”. The vast majority of our students over the last two decades, were carving anything BUT birds before setting in our classes. I hope that I’ve not encouraged anyone to leave behind some other type of carving. I’d be fine with it to be the world’s only “Bird-Carver”. Actually, I’m grateful that my heros exist to inspire me. I teach power-bird-carving to anyone who wishes to learn it.

Everything you learn carving genres other than birds will come in handy carving birds. Every “hand-tool” you’ve come to rely on carving OTBs (Other Than Birds) will continue to be your friend. Leave No Tool Behind. 

Many think that a Dremmel is a power tool; and so it is. It lacks the power to do the necessary hogging of “much wood” and the hand-piece style & size to do the necessarily intricate detailing on a bird. It’s much like trying to carve the eyelid on a humming-bird using a “flashlight”!  Dremmels are welcome in my classes; however, they are usually replaced with a Micro-Motor or even, a Flex-Shafted Foredom. I don’t attempt to teach students to carve with the tools they might bring to class, but the tools they should have.

As you get the hang of a power tool, you gain confidence (just as you did with your knife) and learn more applications of it as you go. “It” will take over!

Beginners!!! Can they start out from scratch carving a bird (an Eagle, maybe?) using “Power-Tools”?  The answer is YES! Go figure. More than a few have done it in our classes and to our amazement. “Talent” will out!

Firstly, it’s a huge challenge, frought with more than a few hurtles. So, it’s not for the timid or those lacking the “Passion”. Do you know that “Passion” is nearly equal in importance to “Talent”? It certainly is. First hurtle is to invest in acquiring the necessary equipment (See my page on this Blog: “Tools that I Use”) with which to participate in our class.  Yes, I have a “new” carver just completing his very first carving of any kind; a Bald Eagle 2/5S, flying. Obviously, he has passion, talent, tools, and a knowlegible  teacher. He hasn’t watched me demo, he hasn’t sat in my class so I can watch him. I have never carved on his bird. He has completed an advanced project just by mutual visits for instruction & critique and, access to our reference library. this is a project that proves many points that we’ve made for years. Figure them out for yourself or, just ask. Moral”Don’t or sell yourself short. If you want to do it, you’ve got to try.

The way you have to learn Power Carving is with the tool in your hand; not here and not now! Hopefully, when you do, you will have a competent teacher in the room and at your elbow. Be safe!

Which Tools? Carving is a lot like Golf! Some golfers trade in their old putters every year or so. Others, learn to putt great (or, I’d settle for “better”) by practicing more and by sticking with their “old” original putter.  My Foredom Flex-Shaft and my Foredom Micro Motors are my “originals”!

How to start? Just Comment” below on this page to get the ball rolling. I simply solicit your name and e-mail address, which will be added to my “Noticiations” List. About a month prior to a new class, a letter is e-mailed to you with the details. You may respond, or not. If it’s not really for you, we’ll both figure that out eventually. Thanks for listening.

Happy birding and carving,  Bill


*Preparation to Teach

Bill Teaching in Winchester, KY  Actually, preparation to teach begins when you first commence to gather the skills, tools and reams of reference data & materials into a useable stock-pile. I’ve been known to actually tear and remove a desirable bird-image out of an up-scale magazine whilst awaiting my turn in a Physician’s waiting-room and fold it neatly into my pocket. Hmmm! With me so far?  My library on my chosen subject (birds) is fairly impressive. That’s how I “roll”!  For a specific New Class Event, the subject chosen,

  1. I carefully pick the available Time and Dates for all (10?) Sessions and plot them on my Wall & Google-Calendars. Since this Blog also has a “Calendar of Events” page, I plot it there, as well. Now, the class is “Committed”!
  2. I locate patterns, modify as needed and make several copies of the pattern as it’s to be used in the project.
  3. Since I personally catalog all carving-projects in large hand-labeled manila envelopes, I make one for this project as well. These newly developed materials will kinda pile-up as we proceed. Eventually, this project will be taught and each student will receive on Day #1, their own labeled project envelope. We’ll take a brief inventory of it’s contents as we work  down in this list.
  4. I print transparency copies of the pattern for myself and for each student; an exta copy for myself. I cut-out the pattern on my extra copy to use in tracing the pattern on to the wood. Into the envelope all of these copies go. Firstly, I measure the pattern to ascertain the dimensions of the wooden block that will be required for each bird. Notice, I’m already calling “it” a “bird” and not a “carving”? On “New-to-Me Species” projects, I create a new Notebook” for that species  Copies of all printed materials used in this project as well as reference info & photos are included permanently into the notebook. On “Repeated” projects, old-notebooks are up-dated or amended as necessary. 
  5. I inventory my supply of available wood. As usual, I’ll probably need to order some from my friendly wood dealer. Deal with someone you have confidence in. I use one dealer for Tupelo and another for Basswood. See the Blogsroll Listings on this Blog. I pick-up the phone and call in the order.
  6. I like to send a “New Class Notification Letter” to my E-Mail List of Woodcarvers” about a month prior to the first day of the new class. This list is composed of addresses volunteered by interested individuals. I have pretty much ceased to send “Snail-Mail” due to the time, effort & money involved. Also, because I have become very comfortable with “smaller” groups in the class. It requires more work to attract more students! No way! I compose or up-date the letter, which includes all class details &  info, pick the date to send the e-mail and on that day, send it! My credo is, “If I have students, I’m a Teacher. If I don’t, I’m a Carver!” Carvers may have as much or more fun than teachers, anyway.
  7. O.K., the wood arrives. I get myself comfortable, turn on my tunes in the shop, stack the blocks of wood conveniently on my bench, have a pencil or two near by and retrieve the pattern cut-outs from the envelope where “all” materials are stored at all times. If you’ve misplaced as many items as I have, you’d be this way too. On each block of wood, trace the side & top profiles of the pattern on to the wooden blocks. Make about three  more than needed so you can carve those three in different stages before & during the Class-Sessions on-going. These ‘demos” are priceless to the students. How did I know how much wood to order, you ask? Well, any extra wood is “never” extra. “So many birds to carve and so little time”. I normally like to prep a  “blank” each for the class with maybe, four extra for teacher. So, if we estimate four students will enroll, lets prep  seven-blanks for purposes of this illustration.
  8. A “blank” is the block of wood, band-sawed on the top and side profiles. This Blog is not intended as a class on how to do this. Maybe later. Band-saw  the seven blanks.  Feel free to prep as many as you need for your own class. I’ll only saw more in the event we have more enroll than four.  Pencil in the center-lines on the teacher’s blanks…..Oops! I nearly started the class too early.
  9. Now’s the time to ascertain the correct glass eyes, size & color and cast-legs (if appropriate to this class-project), and check my inventory. Just as I thought, I need to order some eyes and legs from my favorite vendors. Pick-up the phone and order them. If, the Vendors are not currently listed on my Blogsroll, they may soon be; eventually, maybe….
  10. It is however, important, to begin carving all of the teacher’s birds.  Show the starter-cuts on all four of them and the next-cuts on the second blank, next-cuts on the third, etc. Go ahead and do the same to the fourth  blank, which will be the one you will carve to completion along with and a little a head of the class. All of the teacher’s blanks serve as visual-stepping-stone-pathways for the students. I often elect to leave the first three with the starter & more cuts “as-is” for future projects and mount them on a short board, using dowels. I have more than a hand-full of these aids sitting together in small groups on a shop-shelf . Someday, after the last student has matriculated, these “aids” will finally become the “birds” they were always destined to be. Hope that I’m the one to do the deed.

As much as I hate to do it, now is a good time to clean-up the shop & inventory my tools. I actually have nearly a month to get around to this chore; maybe tomorrow….

See my definition of “Shop” in the “Glossery of Words & Terms” page.

Happy birding and carving,  Bill


*Good Start for 2009 Season

nJune & I always look forward to the Miami Valley Woodcarving Guild  show in Middletown, OH. on the first weekend of March each year. It “kicks-off” our carving season and officially ends our “Winter Sabbatical”. This year marked an interesting twist for me personally,  inasmuch as I served as one of the three competition Judges, along with Bob Stadtlander, “Relief” carver and old friend, Don Mertz, world class “Characterture Carver”. Both Bob & Don are “tops” in their respective fields of woodcarving. Don & I took procedural cues from Stadtlander. he’s an old hand at being a judge. We worked well together processing all of the competing wood-carvings in the judging room. Peaceful Concensus was reached in the judging Room, one piece at a time!  That is perhaps saying a lot considering the differing points of view between a Relief, Characterture and Bird Carver. We probably suceeded much to the credit of a mutual display of gentlemanly professionalism exerted by all involved in the process. My appreciation and thanks to MVCG President Lowell Dunn for offering me this opportunity. I found it educational and a worthy investment  of my time. Hopefully, we’ll have future opportunities to do it again. The show itself was as good as ever and the food at the Carver’s Banquet was excellent! We donated as a door-prize,  the 4th year shore-bird in our series, the American Avocet.  I found that wearing the Name Badge bearing the blue “Judge’s ribbon came with additional duties attached. Many of the contestants approached throughout the two days of the show to have their carvings critiqued. Some persisted to obtain “mini-lessons” on one aspect or another of “bird-carving”. My Seminar on “Power Bird Carving” Saturday was well attended and fun to conduct. Thanks to Dick & Barb Belcher for the loan of several power tools that I used as props. Only downside that June &I agreed on was that we missed the chance for our Bald Eagle to win it’s third Blue Ribbon in three shows. Upside is that it’s eligible to compete in this same show next year. Also, a tradition, our Spring Class always commences the Saturday following this show. Til later,
Happy birding and carving, Bill



*All Set-Up for Middletown Show

Just Home from Golden Corral’s “Seafood & Steak” Nite. That’s where we went following setting-up our woodcarving exhibit in Middletown, OH at the MVWC Show. Each year, we kick-off our carving season at this show. We customarily take a Winter Sabbatical from teaching and carving. Each year, we customarily commence our first class project on the Saturday following this show. We’re ready to go. Tomorrow at this show, I’ll function as a judge. That means that I am ineligible to compete in the carving competition. Let’s see how that goes. You’ll surely hear about it here.

Happy birding and carving, Bill


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