The WOOD BEE CARVER is primarily a knife carver who has developed a style of carving called “Whittle-Carving” to imply carving using only a knife. The most efficient use of a carving knife is to utilize a slicing cut as often as possible. A slicing cut is similar to slicing bread, slicing steak or the action of the guillotine’s skewed blade slicing as it slides down the track of the guillotine. The cutting edge of a knife is made up of very small cutting teeth similar to teeth on a hand saw and it is these teeth when used in the slicing action that separates the wood fibers for a clean cut. Using the knife blade with a wedge cut crushes fibers before the edge cuts the fibers resulting in a fuzzy and cloudy surface. A slicing cut creates a clean and slick surface. The scimitar blade shape with its curved cutting edge slices in both the push and pull stroke. It can also make slicing cuts upside down and sideways as well as right side up. The concave shape of the back of the scimitar blade allows for reaching into tight areas where another blade shape would be impaired.
Soft Whittling is using a “slice and roll” cut to create soft lines rather than the “flat plain” cuts that are so often associated with whittling. The slice and roll cut replaces the “stop cut and slice to the stop cut” which creates a “hard line” on the wood surface. The slice and roll cut shapes the wood with an imitation of a gouge cut while carving during the carve to form stage as well as creating soft wrinkles in clothing and waves in hair and beard surfaces. Using a knife with a curved cutting edge is best for doing slice and roll in both the push stroke and pull stroke because either direction of the stroke produces a slicing cut. The common bench knife with its straight cutting edge of a wharncliffe blade shape is sometimes hindered because of the straightness of the cutting edge. The straight cutting edge relies upon making stop cuts followed by a slicing cut to the stop cut. Such cuts create hard lines or hard whittling cuts.
The WOOD BEE CARVER’s blade design was developed over years of trial and error of what blade shape lends itself to a slicing cut and creating soft lines in the carving process. Four knife makers are recommended who make knives with the blade designed by the Wood Bee Carver. Each knife maker makes excellent carving knives and each is as good as the others. Each makes blades with a different high carbon steel and process but each produces an excellent carving knife. It becomes a matter of personal choice on the part of each carver as to the choice of knife.
The WOOD BEE CARVER designed blade shape is a curved up cutting edge that meets the concaved back edge that angled down at a 12 to 15 degree angle in the scimitar blade shape. Another feature in this design is an extended tang between the handle and the beginning of the cutting edge to allow for greater maneuverability and longer reach. This blade design is in the Helvie, Lyons and Murray knives. Dunkle knives are an adapted design of John Dunkle to simulate the Wood Bee Carver blade design.
This tutorial posting on the subject of “Soft Whittling” uses the Dave Lyons WBC – 1 and WBC – 2 knives for the sake of consistency throughout the posting to eliminate any confusion. Each of the other knives accomplishes the same results. A wharncliffe blade shaped knife will also appear in some of the photographs for comparison purposes illustrating how a straight cutting edge is impaired in making some cuts.
Keep in mind that this tutorial is about carving only with a knife for the entire carving project. For carvers who use a knife only as a secondary carving tool, some of the cuts and procedures may appear to be awkward. Like any other aspect of carving, the more one does the better the results, so to learn to carve using some of these suggested procedures will require practice. The more a carver uses the carving knife the more it becomes second nature and an extension of the carver’s creative imagination.
The presentation of this tutorial as are all tutorials in this blog is intentional to allow for the reader to use one’s imagination and try to picture in one’s mind what is being described. Carving from a square block of wood or on a round surface of a tree limb or walking stick or cotton wood bark requires using one’s imagination. Carving from a rough out, a sawed out blank and following a video leaves little to imagination which makes carvers copiers rather than creators of their own design and style.
Every cut should be a slicing cut with the simplest being the removing of wood like peeling an apple. Then there are additional particular slicing cuts to be utilized. Soft Whittling limits the stop cut followed by the relief angled cut which creates hard line and flat play surfaces. The more efficient and cleaner cut is cutting a notch which is using as much of the cutting edge as possible in a slicing action in two angled cuts that meet at the bottom of the first cut. A notch is simply a way to open up the surface of the wood to allow for follow up cuts to have a place to begin to continue shaping the wood surface. A notch is basically a trough or a ditch to allow the knife blade an area to continue the shaping process. It should be remembered that “there is not one cut to end all cuts,” but rather such a cut makes room for further cuts to be made.
The next important combination of cuts is the “three cut triangular” cut to produce an opening like an inverted pyramid. It is like digging a hole in wood so that there is room for the knife to continue on its way of shaping the surface of the wood to desired result. A three cut triangular cut is utilized at the junction of the bridge of the nose and the eyebrow to create a hole so that the eye mound can be shaped. A three cut triangular cut outlines the outer edge of one side of the nose nostril followed by the second cut for the beginning the groove of the smile line. The third cut comes up from the mouth mound area to relieve the first two cuts and thus this hole has created the beginning shape of the nose nostril, smile line and the upper dental curve. When these cuts are repeated on the other side of the nose then this allows for half the nose to sit on the upper dental curve and one half of the nose extends off the face. Most importantly these two triangular cuts begin the shaping of the upper dental curve so that when the smile line is extended down toward the lower jaw with a trough or ditch notch that will allow the knife to shape the mouth mound and jaw into a horse shoe arch. This is how to avoid having a flat face.
A third important slicing cut is to create a surface that mirrors the effect of a gouge with a dished out soft and wide trough. This is the slice and roll cut that begins like an ice skate with the cutting edge standing almost straight up on the surface of the wood and as it is gently pushed forward, the knife is twisted in a rolling action allowing for the cutting edge to grab a slice of wood as it rolls and slices forward to create a gouged out soft surface. Such a cut can only be created with a curved cutting edge and could not be done with a straight cutting edge. This is how soft wrinkles are created in clothing, or waves in hair, beards and mustaches or for coat tail to flare out as if blown by the wind. This is how the curve underneath the bottom lip is formed in three cuts. The first begins at the corner of the mouth at the outer end of the notch for the upper and bottom lip opening with the cutting edge pointing towards and pushed toward the middle of the chin in a rolling action. This is followed by doing the other side and finally slicing and rolling a cut across the bottom of the bottom lip. Wrinkles in the forehead can be created with this same ice skating cut ever so lightly so that the cutting edge barely grabs a sliver of wood to create a soft wrinkle. The snot trough or Philtrum is formed as the very tip end of the blade is sliced towards the middle of the nose while being twisted at the same time. All of these cuts take practice.
The photographic tutorial that follows will help give meaning to the written description above and to get a greater understanding may require rereading both the written description as well as studying the photographs over a few times. The first series of illustrative photographs will cover the basic concept of Soft Whittling using a scimitar shaped blade with an extended tang. The last series of illustrative photographs will offer instruction on carving a face. The final four photographs are of the completed carving with a monochrome finish of artist oil paint Raw Sienna and boiled linseed oil followed with a protective coat of Deft semi-gloss brushing lacquer.
(CLICK ON PHOTOS TO ENLARGE)