In learning to carve wood it is a very good plan to start with a few basic shapes, if you have been inspired to start carving by seeing some elaborate piece of ornament, put this out of your mind for the time being and devote yourself to perfecting some of the following simple exercises.
As a first exercise in the round attempt an egg, or perhaps a cylinder, or cone. The actual carving of such shapes need not be a lengthy process, but in the course of making them you will learn some fundamental truths about wood and tools. You may prefer to carve an asymmetrical shape such as a lamp base.
The egg form - large end uppermost - is recognized by the sculptor as a basis for the design of the human head, and if you manage to carve it you will be well on the way to carving a head in the round.
Whatever shape you choose, draw it clearly on the block of wood. Then saw off the unwanted corners, or roughly round the shape. The bow saw can be used for sawing curves. Secure the block to the bench. Commence cutting with a gouge of medium sweep or curve 1/2 in. to 3/4 in. in size. Think of the sections of the form as you carve, working all over the shape; avoid making arbitrary holes in the surface. Keep to one gouge for some time. This will help you to carve consistently.
The spiral is rather more difficult to carve, but is good practice in carving concave forms. For this exercise you should buy a 2 in. or 3 in. dowel from your local timber merchant. The drawing can be assisted by pinning a piece of string at the top of the dowel and winding it round spiral fashion. Draw a line along the string. Using a near flat gouge make a sharp cut on each side of the line at approximately 50 degrees and 1 in. deep.
Now cut a groove with a fluter or deep gouge in a central position between the lines. Work down from the first cuts to the center groove by means of a shallow gouge. Spiral forms are fascinating to carve. The curves can be various or graduated, and the wood could be of asymmetrical shape. It is not always easy to visualize a form such as a spiral in the round and a model can be quickly made in plasticine and would be a useful guide
I advise a broad treatment for the beginner but you may be forced by circumstances to work small, or, on the other hand it may be your natural inclination. In this case toy-like carvings can be made from odd pieces of wood, dowels, old tool-handles etc.
A nursery mobile may be made from small carvings. The arms of the mobile can be made from cane; this is light and easy to drill. Strings, wires and split rings can be used for the attachments. The general pattern of a mobile will work well but you must adjust the design and balance to suit the weight of your carvings.
You should start making the mobile from the light end. If you use strong silk thread for the strings the objects will move freely. With wire the movement is more restricted and double rings at the junction with the cane will help. Some patience must be exercised but experimenting with mobiles is a fascinating occupation.
Start small with some of the projects listed, and you will soon be proficient enough to embark upon more ambitious ones. Just get started!
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