I’ve been making a crossbow over the last few weeks as a kind of intermediate step towards building the ‘big one’ – no pictures yet but I’ll post some before long. The prod is roughed out of a piece of yew and is going to receive some horn nocks before I sinew it, the tiller is roughed out of a not very promising piece of apple but I think it will end up as something really lovely. Work has been delayed as my local joiner promised to re-saw my buffalo horn for about 6 weeks but then kinda let me down, When I collected the horn they pointed me to a nearby unit where lurks a green oak worker but, and God is very good, the guy there -Rhys – is so much more than that – he’s also a tool maker and blacksmith and I needed to find a blacksmith to forge the metal-work for the crossbow. He also does a rather fabulous bearded carving axe, best balanced axe I’ve ever seen, so, Christmas is coming and its time to start saving up…
We popped out for lunch, as you do, on the weekend but the garden centre didn’t let dogs in the café and as it was pouring down, lunch outside wasn’t an option so we wandered down the road toward Newport and stumbled on a place new to us, the Dragonfly. We had an excellent lunch (highly recommended) and nicely lit, hanging on the wall right behind the table, was a beautifully carved door panel. I’ve seen the pattern reproduced several times over the years but never an actual carving. It would pay any student of carving to study the piece as the technique is outstanding, although I was taught never to stamp the background. Stamp is what you do with your feet, backgrounds should be smooth or lightly tooled…
Over Christmas I managed to grab a few hours here and there and whittled this little group from a holly branch, just as a bit of fun. The owls took maybe 3/4 hour each, but the mouse took a lot longer – like 6 hours longer, but in my defense I’d never carved a mouse before. The mouse is smaller than a £1 coin, at about 1cm across. I haven’t put a finish on yet, I’m still trying to decide whether to add some colour to the mouse, or leave him white.
I found this sweet little figurehead upstairs in the Victoria Inn in Salcombe, South Devon (highly recommended by the way). I really don’t know if its a restoration, reproduction, or new carving but I do know I really like it, the tilt of the head just gives the whole piece a lift. I did ask the staff for any information about her but I’m afraid they were none the wiser.
Travel tip, do not go up the funicular from the river to the palace in Budapest, its a tourist trap, and a very expensive one. Go one stop down the tram railway and ride the escalator in the palace gardens behind the ladies gate. The gardens are beautiful; the entrance buildings are stunning. Right by the escalator is a little water spout, a bear in the Bavarian (I think) style. The more you look the better he gets, the modelling is stunning. These photos should be enough for any half decent carver to develop a pattern from.
This little guy pushed me a little bit, I tried to carve him entirely with the chain saw, except for the eyes. I’m pretty happy with the outcome; he looks a lot better in real life than the photos; makes me smile when I walk by. My daughter painted him and I think she did really well. The carving stands about 16″ high, is from birch and painted with acrylics.
This was a really fun-yet-frustrating project. Opinels are great pocket knives with very sharp straight-ground blades perfect for whittling. The beech-wood handles, I find, are not so great, being a little too short for my comfort. Searching t’internet revealed many people customise their Opinels, so I thought I would have a go.
Taking the knife apart is straight-forward but needs some moderate amounts of force. Be very careful driving out the pivot-pin, it is very easy to bend (but don’t ask me how I found this out).
Once the knife is broken down, use the handle to take your measurements for the replacement parts, not the metal collar. The metal collar is designed to squeeze the cheeks for the blade-pivot closed just the right amount on the blade and both prevent it from wobbling when open, and to apply a small amount of friction when opening and closing. Therefore, the wooden cone the metal collar fits over needs to be made fractionally over-sized; again, please don’t ask me how I found this out….
Carving the handle was a lot of fun, and luckily I had kept an old broken knife whose snapped blade proved to be the perfect graving tool for cutting the knife slot. I used some off-cuts of buffalo-horn and a small chunk of holly ( Ilex Aquifolium). One of the joys of a project like this is the chance to use up some of those tiny off-cuts you couldn’t bare to throw away – the total length of the handle is only 10cm ! On my screen, the first image is the actual size of the knife.
Being a glutton for punishment, I decided to try some scrimshaw but I couldn’t find any on-line tutorials for engraving on wood. I took the finish down to 400-grit then burnished the holly with brown paper and marked up my design. I scratched in the pattern with a spade-drill bit I sharpened to a needle-sharp point. Note, very little pressure is needed to do the actual engraving. Now, the difference between antler/ivory and wood is the fact that wood grain sucks up liquids, while these liquids just sit in the scratches in antler/ivory. Finding the best ink was a challenge. Paint just ran through the grain and made an unholy mess, so did all the ‘runny’ inks. Charcoal was not dark enough, nor was soot. Eventually I found a fine roller-ball pen that uses a ‘sticky’ ink that worked tolerably well. Of course, being a water-based ink, I couldn’t use a water-based finish as it would wash the ink into the wood-grain, but Danish Oil proved perfect for the task.
Apologies for the awful photo quality