My husband, John Dingman, inspired me to share about wood carving artistry culture. Even before he started making knives, John has always been an avid wood carver. It was a creative outlet where he could make anything he wanted. He carved out wooden knives, bowies, neckerchief slides, walking sticks, katana, broadswords, and battle axes. I’m pretty sure he has a PhD in wood carving. A regular plain edge paring knife is typically used for wood carving. Many wood carvers may use fixed blade or folding knives depending on the situation. Palm chisels (which have specialized edges and scoops) may be used for detail work. Just like a small paintbrush for detailed painting, a long and thin knife can get into tight spots on what you’re sculpting. Understanding three main techniques and practicing good safety, anyone can start basic woodcarving!
According to John, there are three main carving techniques: stop cut, v-cut, and paring cut. You use the stop cut to score a line and cut toward that line so the knife won’t go any further past it. This method is used for precision when chipping away material. The safety stops are established so that knife blade will stop at the pre-determined score. You are essentially control the depth of the cut. The next essential technique is the v-cut; A proper v-cut is performed by cutting a wedge into the wood using two diagonal cuts to create an angular indentation. Using this method is great to contour a piece of wood. Last but not least, the simple pear cut is executed like you are peeling a potato. You can pare slice out away from yourself and also slice toward yourself. Be careful when paring toward yourself because that’s where most accidents in wood carving occur.
There are books that will teach you all of the basic cuts and show example diagrams. You can also get step by step guidebooks that direct you from start to finish during your wood carving projects. Bill Burch known as “Scouting’s Whittler” of the Boy Scouts of America, made artistic caricature neckerchief slides. The crowd of Boy Scouts would gather around him while he whittled to watch as he made small blocks of wood come to life. According to my sources, it took him 20 minutes flat to make a detailed neckerchief slide. Wood carvers are few and hard to come by. Wood carving time-lapse videos by Viral Maniacs with various artists and projects let us see all of the detail that goes into making these unique pieces of art.
With wood carving it’s always important to keep your knife sharp. It’s not the sharp knife that’s dangerous, it’s the dull knife you need to worry about. The dull knife doesn’t cut very well, so you press harder, slip by accident, and cut yourself. The main sharpening methods and some additional honing techniques to keep your knives in tip-top shape are examined in a previous blog post of mine. When cutting with a sharp knife, cuts should be smooth and clean, with minimal effort. Always check the blood circle, with your folding knife closed or fixed knife sheathed and stick your whittling arm out to make sure that nobody is within arms reach. That way, if your blade slips, nobody else in your proximity will get hurt.
When it comes to wood carving, it’s always a better idea to use soft woods. The more minimal grain in wood, the better. If there more grain lines, it’s more difficult to cut through precisely and you may end up removing more wood than you bargained for due to the weakness of that section in connectivity to the rest of the wood. Wood carvers try to avoid these common pitfalls by planning the best way possible and adapting to the textures of the wood. To plan your project, draw a stencil or draw on the object to help create the profile. You have to really plan three dimensionally. Safety is dramatically increased by wearing a Kevlar glove in your holding hand. The Kevlar glove should be the first thing you purchase if you want to begin wood carving. If you can help it, always cut away from yourself. John advises to always have a first aid kit nearby and wear your Kevlar, as his many hand scars illustrate the accidents he experienced throughout his artistry. We can really appreciate the hard work that goes into these rare and eclectic artistries.
Thank you for reading! If you enjoy wood artistry, knives, and the great outdoors, I invite you to subscribe and leave a comment.