Posted by: woodbeecarver   in Carving Projects

Old Sawdust is a carving representing an old wood worker who represents the old days of working with hands guided by the accumulated experience of working with wood.  He is holding a plane, a saw and has a pencil in the pocket of his apron.  Each of those tools were essential for hands on craftsmanship.  There are lessons to learn by listening to old timers who tell of what was learned in the experience of doing.  Lessons that contemporary wood carvers can apply to the carving experience since much of carving is done by hand (with apologies to power carvers).

The Plane was an ancient tool that evolved over time in its development of the mechanical design of the plane for it most efficient use.  Such things as the angle of the plane iron in the frame of the plane and how far it should extend through the mouth of the plane. The same holds true for the angle of the bevel sharpened into the plane iron.  Next came the experience on how the plane was guided while in use to smooth and level the face of the wood.  A straight forward thrust of the plane across the face of the wood would shave off a thin shaving of wood.  But if the plane was held at a skewed angle in the forward thrust, the shaving came of easier and slicker due to the slicing action of the skewed cutting edge of the plane iron.

The simple lessons of the plane can be applied to the carving experience of hand guiding the carving tool through the wood. The angle of the bevel on a carving tool effects how it slices through the wood. A narrow bevel that goes from cutting edge up to the back edge of the knife blade (flat grind) caused the cutting edge to enter the wood at a lower angle, slices quickly due to its narrowness and takes a longer slice to roll out of the slicing action. [excellent for basswood and butternut].   A steeper bevel that goes part ways up the side of the blade creates a wider bevel causing the cutting edge to enter the wood at a higher angle, takes more effort in the slicing action due to its thickness while the roll out is quicker due to the shorter pivot point at the top edge of the bevel. [excellent for hard wood like walnut and cherry].  Whatever the angle of the bevel, skewing the cutting edge in the slicing process makes a slicker slicing cut.

Comparisons in plane language ~ the cutting edge of the iron in the block plane sits at a lower angle in order to slice across the grain and in burl (twisting) grain.  A smoothing plane’s cutting iron is at a higher angle in order to make sliced shavings with the grain.

The Law of the Saw: The saw is a cutting tool that is made up of a row of sharp teeth that works as the saw is moved through the wood in a slicing action. The size of the teeth per inch determine the fineness or coarseness of the cut.  The smaller the teeth means more teeth to the inch and creates the finest cut. After each saw tooth was sharpened, each tooth was “set” by bending each alternating tooth one way and the other alternating tooth bent the other way.  This created a “Kerf” groove in the wood as it passed through the wood whereby the set carried the saw dust out at the end of each forward and backward slicing action of the saw.

The law of the saw applies to the carving tool in that the cutting edge of the carving tool is made up of microscopic teeth made during the sharpening process.  It is these teeth that separate the wood during a slicing action.  Sharpening begins with a course abrasive, stone or diamond plate and progressed down the line of finer and finer abrasives to the finest.  A burr edge has been formed during the process which is rubbed away during the stropping process.  Stropping polishes the microscopic teeth and the side of the bevel to create a slick and smooth cut using the slicing action.  The teeth of the cutting edge separate the wood fibers and the polished side the cutting edge burnishes the wood to create the slick surface.

“Sharpen your saw,” was a law of necessity for the Old Sawdust woodworkers before the days of electric and power tools.  The Old Sawdust realized that a sharp saw made work easier while a dull saw was very exhausting.  So, at the end of the day, the wood worker would add the chore of “sharpen your saw,” so that when he began the next day’s work, his tools were ready to go.

“Sharpen your saw” was a catch phrase for all other cutting tools that needed to be sharpened.  Sharpening was simply an extension and vital part of the process of doing the wood work.  In like manner, sharpening is an extension and vital part of the carving process.

The only way a carver learns to sharpen is to actually do it by keeping in mind that it is a “practice to learn” process that the more one sharpens the easier it becomes.  During the “sharpen your saw” learning for carving tools, the carver learns how to adjust the bevel to slice more effectively, learns how changing the shape of the tool makes it more efficient and the time in learning the art of sharpening the tool fits the hand as a familiar extension of the hand guided by the creative mind to carve in the most efficient way possible.  The carver learns to “feel” the sharpness while carving and knows what to do to make it “feel” better.  The carver will learn when it is time to tune up the cutting edge by stropping and how often to do the stropping.  When the tip of a blade breads off, the carver will know how to make the needed adjustments to get the tool back in carving shape.  Doing all this by hand prepares the carver to extend the guiding of the hand in the carving process.  Sharpening and stropping is never a waste of time because it is simply a part of the carving process.  Not to sharpen on your own is the cheat yourself out of the part of carving that makes it all possible.  Learning to sharpen is a way to pay yourself in the pleasure of carving with a sharp tool.

The common pencil is the third essential tool for the Old Sawdust and for the carver as well. The pencil draws a pattern or plan on paper and helps in the layout on the wood with guidelines of proportions, landmarks and designs. A pencil mark becomes the focal point of the imagination to guide the cutting tool on its creative path.



The four photos above show the beginning stage of carving Old Sawdust.  The horizontal lines drawn in red indicate the Rule of Three body proportions: Shoulder to Waist; Waist to Mid Knees; Mid Knees to Bottom of Feet. Key landmarks are drawn within their horizontal lines on the four sides of the block.  Notice that the base has already been carved with a notch groove around the four sides.  Also, the early form of the head has been roughly shaped which has also established the shoulders.  The two knives were the ones that did these preliminary shaping cuts.


The left photo above with the blue handled Buzzard knife shows the beginning stages of sculpting or roughing out the body portion of the figure.  The Buzzard knife with its cutting edge extending around the round tip of the blade allows for making scoop sculpting cuts much like a shallow gouge would do. The photo on the right shows the progress that is made by separating the leg and the saw and establishing the feet.  Also, the head has received plane and angle slicing cuts.  The two knives in the phot were used for these finer sculpt-shaping.


Progress continues with the plane and saw being carved to basic shape in preparation for detailing at a later stage. The two knives with smaller blades were used in making the precise cuts.



The four photos above are a panoramic view of all sides of the detailed carving that is almost ready to be colored with the artist oil paint thinned with boiled linseed oil.  The knife used for the detail carving is included in the photos. The final photo below has Old Sawdust resting his head on the Viper III knife handle in order to view the carving at an angle to be able see the detail a little better.  The eyes and the knob on the plane adjusting the blade have been soaked with super glue to strengthen the wood fibers.  Study this final photo for the various highlights of the details of the carving and then scroll back up to the first four photos at the top to study the painted versions.  As Yoga Berra said, “You can observe a lot just by watching,” and that is perhaps the best tool when it comes to carving.





This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020 at 12:31 pm and is filed under Carving Projects. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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