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Wood Carving for Beginners

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Old 01-22-2010, 05:40 PM
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Default Understanding Wood Grain Patterns

As a novice wood carving student, my experience to this point has been basic relief carving. As with most neophytes, I am unsure about how to handle the wood grain. My problems are: 1) identifying the grain direction; and 2) presentation or orientation of my carving tool (in relation to the grain) making cuts so as to avoid tearout. Working in confined spaces with the tool often forces some compromise in the tool orientation. Anyway, this is my biggest challenge to this point. My carving to this point has been in pine and aspen. Are there any really good references addressing these topics? Bob
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Old 01-22-2010, 05:50 PM
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Default Re: Understanding Wood Grain Patterns

I found from watching some folks that they loose track of how the grain runs when first learning. It really get easier as you carve more.
I encourage drawing a line on the surface to help you remember which way it runs, and as far as up and down through the wood in its depth, as with pine, it just takes practice and listening as well as feeling how the tool goes through the wood. That gets not only easier, but kind of natural with practice.

Another tip about tear out is to keep the tool you are using, whether it is a gouge, or a V tool with the outside edges of the cutting tool above the surface of the wood. If you are using a narrow 5 sweep gouge, for instance, and the edges of it slip into the surface of the wood, it's gonna tear...if you're careful to keep it above the surface, it carves instead and you can control it.

I use big gouges with a mallet when roughing out, and my favorites are deep gouges, even a veiner that is shaped like a U. That keeps me in control instead of the grain of the wood.

Always, the sharper the tool, the less the orientation is worrisome as well. I use my skew to get into tight places a lot, and hooked V tools for others. That is where the "collection" of tools really gets fun. I hope to get my hands on a Ray Gonazles hooked skew soon.

I hope some of this helps.
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Old 01-23-2010, 06:30 PM
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Default Re: Understanding Wood Grain Patterns

Hi! Did you ever notice that on the flat wider side of a board there appears a circle in the grain and then the circles get bigger? Maybe it's elongated and not so much circular. Artists draw wood grain this way. Each "circle" is another growth ring of the tree it came from. There are 2 ways to approach this, 1. if the circle represents the high point in the annual rings( a hump so to speak) then you should be able to carve away from the circles center. 2. it also can be a depression( like in a bowl ) and then you should be able to carve from any direction toward the center of the "Circle". If you want smooth cuts when carving across the grain, rotate your gouge towards the center of the "circle" as you push the gouge through the wood.This also works if you twist the gouge as you pound with a mallet. Thor is also right, do not let the corners of your gouge go below the surface or you'l " Gouge " it and tear the grain. If your board is sideways to the rings of growth just feel the cut shallowly and see if the wood is splitting, or cutting cleanly. Good luck! Be creative in your thinking! Doc
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Old 01-23-2010, 08:12 PM
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Default Re: Understanding Wood Grain Patterns

Hi Robert:

First of all, the commenters above have pretty much covered the subject and offer good suggestions.

Different woods have different grain characteristics. Pine, other than
Western White Pine is heavily grained and difficult to carve across grain. Aspen is easier. Pine it is probably one of the easiest woods to see the grain so that fact helps a lot. Aspen grain is also apparent but not as apparent as pine. There is nothing wrong with carving across grain but depending upon the wood, it may be more difficult. Carving across grain provides you with an affect that you may want. Try it both ways on a practice piece and see what I mean.

Once I heard a North Coast Native American carver say that the wood talks to you and will tell you which way to cut. At first, I smiled at this but it is, in fact, true. When you are carving with the grain, your cuts are smooth flowing, but the minute you carve against the grain, you feel resistance. That resistance is the wood telling you that you are going in the wrong direction. As suggested above, consider placing a line both on the top of the piece and on the side (if possible) to serve as a reminder of the grain direction. With good sharp tools, going against the grain is much easier and may not cause ripping or tear-out. If you are carving across grain on purpose then put a roll into you cut... producing a slicing action. You might check out my blog at White Eagle Studios and look at an article I have there titled "Achieving Clean Cuts" or the like. It may prove helpful.

Another trick if you are carving across grain on purpose is to apply a solution of 50/50 rubbing alcohol and water. It allows easier cutting and dries without raising the grain or otherwise disfiguring your piece.

In the end, practice makes perfect and you WILL get there for sure. Good luck to you,

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Old 01-24-2010, 11:11 PM
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Default Re: Understanding Wood Grain Patterns

Oh Yes!Keller is right! And I forgot... The reason the "Circle comes up is because a growth ring has been cut in to. Immagine the end of a board. You see a "hump" of rings or a "U" of rings from the annual rings, depending on how you look at the end of the board. On one side the "circle " will want you to carve away from it's center, on the other, towards it's center. The sides will tell a story too. If the board was cut at a slight angle the lines will go down it's length at an angle. Like mr Keller says, take a cut and see which way it tells you to go. You'll know right away!! Doc
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