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Friday 27 March 2015

Making plinths for stone sculptures, running carving workshops and emergency while-you-wait lettercutting!

There have been a lot of different, smaller jobs going on recently, as well as finishing off the huge Downs bench (which is very exciting).

First off, I have made three sculpture bases for a commission:

The bases were shaped from Honduran mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla). Once very popular in woodworking, this species is consequently endangered now in many areas and Brazil has banned export of its timber. Illegal logging is a threat to the existence of some Swietenia species such as this one and is a massive and very real problem.

I have to say that I wouldn't buy or use this timber unless it was absolutely, definitely recycled. The timber used in these bases had been left lying around unwanted for years by at least three previous owners and was in danger of being thrown away. I was very content to utilise it in those circumstances, but it seems important to mention the issue here. Woodworkers in the USA and UK are the main market for mahogany and so it is directly our responsibility to source materials like these carefully.

Yesterday was very happily spent teaching volunteers at the Tree Life Centre in Kingswood, Bristol.

The centre is run by the Trust for Conservation Volunteers and sells native trees and plants. We have been carving 'way in' and 'out' marker posts as well as oak signs for their Open Day on the 10th April that show different areas of the site. The volunteers came up with some great designs for them and I think that the signs look fantastic.

 I'm really looking forward to another day's carving there with visitors to the Open Day.

One other interesting job recently was a new kind in my experience: while-you-wait lettercutting! The people who contacted me had a very small, specific period of time in which they could drop by my studio and have a wooden object engraved. Luckily, I could stop by after running some workshops and managed to do their lettercutting for them while they waited at the studio. It was nice to be able to help them in such a tight time schedule on a piece that was obviously very important to them.

Image by C.S.

Thursday 19 March 2015

Teaching woodcarving to young people at the Tree Life Centre in Kingswood, Bristol

The Tree Life Centre is run by the TCV (Trust for Conservation Volunteers) and is situated at the back of Grimsbury Farm in the Kingswood area of Bristol. The centre is looking to get local groups more involved, so that they can benefit from the resources it has to offer. As part of this, I was invited to run some woodcarving workshops there yesterday for children from various local schools.

teaching woodcarving

It was a lovely day, just right for early spring; clear and sunny with daffodils nodding all around us.


The young people, some of whom had learning difficulties, really seemed to enjoy the chance to try a new activity. There were some promising young carvers amongst them too!

child woodcarving

Wednesday 18 March 2015

Giving presentations and ideas generating workshops at the St Monica Trust retirement home in Bristol

The St Monica Trust runs several retirement and nursing homes around the Bristol area. I have been asked to carve some sculptures for them to commemorate a grand and well-loved old cedar tree. It grew in the grounds of the Cote Lane site but had to be felled for safety reasons.

st monica trust bristol

As part of the process, it seemed important to give the residents a chance to say what they would like to see carved from the timber of the old tree. So a couple of days ago, I visited the Cote Lane site and gave three presentations to do that.

After a presentation about the history of woodcarving and the different ways that it is done around the world, there was a brief demonstration of relief carving and then a chance for those attending to give their ideas for sculptures. There were also some examples of different kinds of timber and some of my previous work there, to help set the mood for thinking about things that are carving related.

There were plenty of good ideas put forward and those attending (some of whom are keen woodworkers themselves) hopefully enjoyed the day as much as I did!

Monday 9 March 2015

Spoon carving in the sunshine; running a workshop with young people at Boiling Wells in Bristol

It was a beautiful day last Friday - the perfect day to carve a spoon!

boiling wells

I was invited to teach spoon carving to a group of four young people who aren't getting along with conventional education. They could choose from a variety of different timbers (including holly, cherry, lime and sycamore) and also had a range of tools to try; various shapes of axe, different styles of knife, hook knives and spoonbit gouges.

Of course, they were shown how to use all of the tools safely before getting stuck in with them.

There were some very nice spoons made by the end of the day, they just needed a bit of finishing off to be done at home.

Anna and Bill, staff at the St Werburghs City farm, also couldn't resist having a go at carving in the sunshine themselves.

All in all, a great way to spend the day!

Sunday 8 March 2015

More of Peter Gabbitass' great grandchildren come to see the Downs bench

After the visit by John in February to see the image of his great-grandfather Peter Gabbitass carved into the Downs bench, I have now welcomed three more of the poet's great-grandchildren to my studio to see his portrait.

A couple of weeks ago, Heather, Steve (aka Michael) and Heather's husband Fred came to visit.

They told me how Peter Gabbitass was a carpenter and joiner before deciding to become a poet and that the the Windsor chairs that he made at his workshop in Worksop, Nottinghamshire are now very valuable and sought after. Although he was not a rich man when he died, he left the money that he had to his gardener.

Last week, Eric and his wife Stella also dropped by. It's been real pleasure to share the carving with members of the family and to hear more about the man himself from them.

Wednesday 4 March 2015

Meeting Hans-Joachim Seitfudem, master woodcarver from Bavaria, at my studio

Yesterday, my friend Jo Seitfudem brought his father Hans-Joachim to visit me at my studio. It was great to meet him. Hans-Joachim is a master carver in Bavaria, with clients who have previously included the Vatican.

hans-joachim seitfudem

Although Hans-Joachim speaks very little English and my German is very poor, Jo could translate and his father was keen to look around the workshops at Bower Ashton and to see my woodcarving tools. It was easy to see that the wood dust and tools were getting him itching to do some carving himself! He also noted how he likes older British-made carving tools such as Addis and Herring Bros.

My Opinel carving knife felt too large in his hands though; Hans-Joachim said it felt 'dangerous' to him when he used it after his own, smaller carving knife. He also likes to have the cutting edges of his V-tools swept back from the tip, whereas Jo and I prefer them to be square to the tip. Carvers generally do seem to develop a strong preference for how their tools should be shaped. Many experienced carvers that I've met don't lend out their personal carving tools for this reason - breakages and bad resharpening can ruin friendships (although I don't know if Hans-Joachim feels that way).

Hans Joachim said some very kind things about the carvings on the bench for the Bristol Downs that I've been working on recently. He also liked the 'Predator bird' sculpture that he saw in my portfolio.

It was a very enjoyable afternoon and it was very interesting to hear what Hans-Joachim had to say thanks to Jo's translating. I just wish that my German language skills were better!

Making a carved wooden brooch with a celtic design, to be worn as a kiltpin

A kiltpin is traditionally worn pinned to one corner of the front of a kilt. It's not supposed to go through both of the layers of material underneath, as this would make the kilt move badly and could possibly damage the material. Instead it is more of a decoration on the kilt's apron (the flat, unpleated part worn to the front).

The origin of wearing a kiltpin is thought to go back to Queen Victoria using a hat pin to secure her kilted skirt on a windy day. I had made a sgian dubh (the knife carried in one's sock -called the 'hose'- with a kilt) and wanted to make a matching kiltpin to go with it. Obviously, it had to be carved too!

The kiltpin is 50mm (2") in diameter. The yellowish wood is box (Buxus sempervirens) wood, which I picked up whilst out walking in Gloucestershire. Box is a native tree in Britain and a traditional use for the timber is in wood engraving plates. It was the ideal wood for the kiltpin as it is very tough but carves well and can take a good finish. You can see the piece of found wood with the sanded start of the kiltpin in this picture:

It is inlaid with laburnum from the garden of the house that I grew up in - the same wood used to make the handle and sheath of the sgian dubh. Apparently my father would hang a hammock from this tree for my mother to rest in when she was pregnant with me.

There are also three pieces of solid silver inlay and the central setting is a piece of microgranite that originally came from Ailsa Craig. This interesting stone is also set into the end of the sgian dubh and you can read more about it here.

The boxwood was sanded to shape to begin with. The stone to go in the centre was then ground to shape with diamond burrs and polished.

Once the position of the stone setting was known, marked and hollowed out then the rest of the design could be drawn on with a pencil...

... before being carefully carved using my Opinel lock knife. No tricks for that part of the process, just a lot of practice and a sharp blade! The holes for the silver inlay were drilled and then the stone and silver were fixed in with two-part epoxy.

The pin on the back was fixed on using epoxy and three small brass rivets to give extra security.

Here's the kiltpin with the sgian dubh. If you are interested, I would consider commissions to make similar ones. Now I'm looking forward to seeing the knife and pin being worn with the kilt!

sgian dubh and kiltpin