I’ve been addicted to the Woodsculpting show on DIY for the last few weeks. After a few episodes I decided that I would try my hand at carving something myself, so I did what I always do in such cases — I went to my dad’s place. He always has something interesting lying about and this case was no exception. I returned home with a knurly stick with the intention of making a cane or short walking stick.
I have never carved wood before. A soap dog in Cub Scouts and some clay modeling experience were the only things in my past to give any kind of direction. Soap, of course, carves nothing like wood, and clay is an additive process which was the exact reverse of what I was going to do. But dad said you can’t screw this up; the wood will tell you what’s under there and you’ll know what to do.
So, without further delay, I began to do just that. A trusty knife and about an hour and I had skinned the stick, made a terrific mess and gotten a better feel for what I was doing.
It was then that I noticed that the middle looked a bit like a snake. I thought I could probably pull a snake out of the wood if I was careful, so that’s exactly what I set about doing.
A few more hours of finding my way with a chisel and a little Dremel work, and I made rough cutout of a snake tail and started to get excited about it. At this point I managed to forget what I was shooting for — a cane — and started making a snake on a stick instead. I’m pretty sure this isn’t how it’s supposed to be done, but screw it: I was having fun.
Next came the head, which involved a lot of shots with the chisel and a bit of cleanup with a Dremel. I was having so much fun in fact that the snake started growing more tails. Before I quit that day my serpent was sporting three of them that wrapped around the stick. Since this is relief-style cutting I had to remove tons of material from around the tails to make them pop, which wound up taking off about a quarter of the stick’s actual remaining mass by the time I was done.
Once happiness was achieved I slapped on some natural Danish oil to get the full effect. Most folks would call this the stopping point — I couldn’t bring myself to. Once it was “done” I kept thinking it was indeed very nice looking, but now all my carving effort is a little lost in the wood.
What this project needed was paint — entirely unnecessary paint. So as long as the project was an experiment anyway I decided a few new painting techniques I’ve been itching to try would be just the thing, a little splotch of scales, some masking and voila — painted-demon-serpent thing.
Dad gave me one more piece of advice before I left his place with my rough stick that turned out to come in very handy. I shall now dump that pearl on to you: “When in doubt, shellac the hell out of it and call it done.” That sounded like a great idea to me.
I have no fantastic techniques to pass on, and no great mysteries of the secrets of carving were uncovered. I took a perfectly good cane in the rough and turned it into rather a useless piece of wood with a very shiny demon snake thing carved into it. I can say I had a blast doing it and plan to butcher another hunk of wood in the same type of manner as soon as I can get my hands on one.
Carving is a relatively cheap and very addictive way to spend time in the shop. There is most likely a right and wrong way to do it and I won’t insult real craftsman by calling myself a carver anytime soon, but as a first attempt I think it went great. I managed not to mutilate any valuable parts of my anatomy and came out the other end with something I enjoyed making — win.