Celebrating 50 years as a Wood Carver.
My career as a full time artist started over 50 years ago as a painter, sculptor, and ceramic artist. It took 3 years before I found my passion in wood carving, even though I still toy with ceramics. My last exhibition of paintings was in 1970. Immediately after leaving College, I met an old lady at my first exhibition who told me her father was a wood carver and she would sell me his woodcarving tools if I was interested. So I bought my first set of carving tools in a nice wooden box, along with a sharpening stone and a mallet.
The steel was of first class quality. For the first few years, my carvings were with mallet, chisels, and hand sanding. First with 80, followed by 100, followed by 150, and finally with 220 grit. Carving and finishing was time-consuming and laborious, foam sanding pads came on the market and helped to improve the finishing.
It was at a wood show in Canada that I first saw electric tools for wood caving. I bought an angle grinder, a band saw, a Makita 12″ electric chainsaw without a safety kick-back bar. This chainsaw is one of 3 that I still own, the other two are a 14″ Stihl and an 18″ Stihl.
These chainsaws were great for cross-cutting logs, removing sap and rough carving. The 14″ Delta band saw was a work horse, cutting boards from short logs, cutting shapes and trimming unwanted wood. All major shaping was done by the 4″ or 4 1/2″ angle grinder. I have always kept both in the workshop. The 4″ for its lighter weight and smaller surfaces and the 4 1/2″ most of the time.
The chisels were used for areas where the angle grinder could not reach. The angle grinder looked like it was designed for my organic forms and sure saved me hours and hours of labor on sculptures, trays, bowls, fish and birds.
I normally do not allow visitors in the workshop when I am working, mainly for safety reasons. Unnecessary distractions could lead to accidents. The disadvantage of the angle grinder is dust, fine dust. For this, a quality dust mask was necessary. I still own a dust collector from my old high ceiling studio but my current studio is a remodeled 40 foot container. The ceiling is too low for the air-bag. An assistant was hired to help with labor and hand sanding. In the early years, a piece of broken glass was used to scrape the wood surface prior to hand-sanding, I learned that from a friend who was a wood turner.
One day a young man visited the studio on the pretext that he was visiting my assistant. He came regularly for long hours and many times. I did not like it but I did not protest. After many visits over a period of about a month, he announced that he was opening his own carving studio and he would copy my technique, which he admired. Today, he has a vibrant production, mainly small craft items and his work is available in select retail stores. He is now creating free-form sculptures. He is an excellent copier.
It was at another Canadian wood show that I discovered the Dremmel tool, the die grinder, and the 3M sanding rubber disc pad. What an interesting tool for sanding and fine finishing, helping to get rid of sanding marks and a mighty time saver.
There was an issue with the design, the sanding discs were self-adhesive, with the heat created from the friction, the sanding self-adhesive pads did not last for long and it became an expensive routine. It was not long before 3M discontinued the sanding disc pads. I was able to find two cases in a country hardware store in the USA and bought them. I redesigned the disc pads and still use them to this day, giving me an enviable silk smooth finish and saves me many hours of labor.
There was an incentive group visit to Anguilla and I was asked to make 75 leaf trays for them. I was able to speak to one of the leaders of the group and I informed them of the flaw in the disc pad. I was informed 3M had discontinued production and the production line was already dismantled.
Some changes were made to the transformed disc pads which means the 20 I have left would last much longer, about twice as long. The sanding disk is one of the most important tools in my workshop today. I wished I would have been able to sell the idea to 3M and save woodcarvers a lot of time by preserving a precious but wasted invention.