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Woodcarving Course

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Chris Knight

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I have just come back from four (not forty) nights in the wilderness - or at least as much in the wilderness here in the UK as one can find. I had to drive literally 7 miles for my mobile phone to work (vodafone that is), apparently Orange like Heineken reaches some parts Vodafone doesn't and a few locals with Orange had a laugh at my expense.

I was at Ewyas Harold (probably known to Trev the Turner) in deepest darkest Herefordshire which is actually a lovely place with the most amazing "Common" not unlike Ashdown Forest in character (and extent - only a slight exaggeration!). I got up there on night one - and found I could use my phone up there since it is really quite elevated but rain on the remaining evenings forced an early retreat to the pub, so my nearest and dearest were left in the dark as to my doings - regrettably there was little worth leaving in the dark so to speak!

My sojourn in Ewyas Harold was occasioned by a three day course on woodcarving with Chris Pye ( http://www.chrispye-woodcarving.com/index.htm ) who is a terrific carver but also a wonderful teacher and a super bloke to spend three days with. My interest in carving is very recent and brought about principally because I found the business of shaping wood for the rocking chair so demanding and interesting. I start(ed) from the point of knowing zero about the subject to now knowing a very little and being fascinated by it.

Chris was very keen to ensure I got what I wanted from his teaching but it is quite difficult to know and articulate what is wanted when one starts by knowing as little as I did. I knew I wanted to be able to decorate some furniture with a bit of carving and I would like to be able to carve a ball and claw foot for some pieces I want to make. I also want to be able to carve letters - so I can date my masterpieces of course (and maybe add a little relief carving of something or other that can be my logo!) However, he rightly realised that I needed a good grounding in the basics and this is what I got.

For those of us who are by now used to the mantra of the importance of sharpening, it is perhaps not surprising that I spent a good part of the first day on this subject - notwithstanding I am as familiar with the subject in "regular woodwork" as anyone. needless to say there was still a lot to learn. Carving tools are not the same as woodworking chisels and whilst I have no difficulty sharpening a woodworking tool, there is more to it when it comes to carving chisels/gouges because the shape of the tools is very important. It is very easy to have a razor sharp tool that is useless for carving because the shape is wrong - sometimes quite subtly. I did learn to shape and sharpen the tools I used and I am certainly going to benefit now in looking afresh at my usual woodworking tools.

With sharpening out of the way I started to learn how to hold the tools and make some basic cuts - I spent a longish time doing this and for any woodworker who fancies they know how to use a chisel, it is quite a humbling experience. Chris Pye was able to make crisp, clean curvaceous cuts with authority and ease whilst I struggled, fighting the tool half the time to emulate him. The hours whizzed by and even though I was on my feet from eight in the morning to six in the evening, I never felt really tired and never bored even though I was doing a lot of repetition.

Practice, practice, practice, is the real answer to acquiring a skill and woodcarving is no different. I used a block of Jelutong ( a mild, featureless wood, used a lot by patternmakers for precisely those qualities) to make endless cuts using a few different tools and ultimately letters and a couple of furniture ornamentation designs but I also planed the rubbish away quite a few times to start with a clean surface to do it all over again.

Chris has a wonderful talent for making this seem not only natural (and essential) but also fun - he really is a wonderful communicator with a tremendously artistic eye and an ability to spot a faulty shape in an instant but also the ability to overlook it if the underlying idea has any merit at all. A great design and poor carving beats flawless carving and a lousy idea any day in his book.

After the first two days of sharpening and practicing simple cuts I was able on the third day to copy a nice flower design following a stepwise system of basic cuts that I can see myself using (in modified forms) in many places on furniture and also to cut the basics of letters (the "I" and the "O") that pretty well form the basis for the rest of the alphabet in carving terms. I also brought home a list and sample cuts of the tools I need to carry on practicing by myself.

What I really have is a few basic building blocks that can be put together in a variety of ways to make a surprisingly large range of different things that I will definitely find useful in my furniture making. Beyond that I have acquired an interest in carving in a wider sense that may well lead me to do some carving for its own sake.

The cost of the course for the one on one tuition I had was extremely reasonable and it included a good lunch.
 

Alf

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Chris,

Sounds fascinating. You certainly went to the top for your tuition! Looking forward to the pics already... :wink:

Cheers, Alf
 

trevtheturner

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Just a few miles from me, Chris, about 25 mins. by car, avoiding the traffic jams! :wink:

Sounds as though the course was very satisfying and fulfilling. Looking forward to hearing how you progress, between rockers, in due course.

I enjoyed reading Chris Pye's website (thanks for the link). Very interesting - and tempting!

If you get back this way PM me and I'll buy you a pint, or two. :wink:

Cheers,

Trev.
 

Ian Dalziel

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Hi Chris,
Sounds like you had an enjoyable few days away.
I tried carving a few years ago but got into power tools more and more and my chisels now seem to sit on the shelf gathering dust.
Your note has inspired me to give them a clean and sharpen.

Carving i found to be one of the most inspiring forms of woodwork

As a matter of interest what type of carving chisels did you get also what type of sharpening/shaping device did Chris use.

My carver tutor at the time used paper wheels in what looked like a standard grinder but it ran in the opposite direction, i have never been able to find another and the tutor i used has since passed away.

You put your 3 days with Chris over very well it sounded fascinating

Kind Regards
Ian
 

johnjin

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Hi Chris
Excellent. Well done, and the correct way to do something that you don't have too much idea about, but do have the inclination to learn. As Alf said you went to the top and got the best. I tried to guess the price of this course before I had a look at the site. I was way over the top. His prices for a 1-to-1 tuition course I felt were more than just reasonable. The Labour costs to get your car fixed, come to far more per hour and all you learn is not to go back there again.
Really pleased for you.

All the best

John
 

Alf

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Ian Dalziel":qmzhis15 said:
My carver tutor at the time used paper wheels in what looked like a standard grinder but it ran in the opposite direction, i have never been able to find another and the tutor i used has since passed away.
Ian, if you don't mind the switch being at the back, you can turn a standard grinder round, switch round the guards, and hey presto! Instant honing machine. Axminster also stock a Creusen reverse running grinder, but at a 100 smackeroonies... :( Or a hand-cranked grinder is very easy to reverse direction on. :wink:

Cheers, Alf
 

johnelliott

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Chris, great to hear that your course has gone well, and that you have got what you wanted from it.
Just one very small point, around here (North Wilts/West Berks) the Vodafone network works much, much better than Orange. I guess it's goes to show that polling other local mobile users before purchasing is a good idea
John
 

Chris Knight

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Trev, I shall certainly let you know, the next time I am in the area - if all goes to plan, I hope to have practiced enough to make another visit to Chris worthwhile in six to nine months - I look forward to sharing a jar or two with you!

Ian, I did not buy any chisels for the course, I had a couple of gash things but used his chisels for my practice pieces. He has hundreds of them and they are both old and new. The newer makes are Pfeil (he lectures in the USA a lot and most of his students have this make so it makes it easier to communicate if he has the same. He also has Auriou which he likes and others including Henry Taylor and Ashley Iles. Older chisels include Addis and Herring, the latter apparently are favourites. Chris also makes a lot of his own tools for particular jobs, mostly by modifying existing ones but also from old files and the like.

His sharpening gear includes lots of Arkansas stones both in bench and slip stones and for power sharpening he has a Hegner device I had not seen before which is basically a motor driving an arbor with various wheels mounted - both rubberised grinding wheels and felt and paper wheels for stropping. He does a lot of stropping by hand and uses a bench strop and a range of slipstrops for this purpose. I practiced doing it principally by hand on one of his Arkansas stones, one of my own and his slip stones. It was very educational to see how with a range of apparently similar stones, one could find that they would cut very differently.

I also learnt how easy it was to dress a stone to a different shape and today I have been butchering a spare Arkansas stone to make some different slipstone profiles. I am also going to dress my grindstone wheels to provide cambered edges that I can use for inside bevels. However, Chris's strong advice is to avoid power sharpening at first and I think he is right here. It is both very instructive and satisfying to sharpen with a couple of good benchstones and some properly shaped slips


Johnjin, as you say, his prices are very reasonable when you look at what you can spend far more on and not enjoy!

John, Yes, it is blooming irritating - I got Vodaphone because it works best in areas I knew I was interested in but of course, I end up going somewhere else!
 

dedee

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Chris.
Not sure which parts of the SE London/NW Kent you are in but
Bill Prickett ( http://www.sculpture-gallery.net/aboutbill.htm) runs very highly recommended woodcarving classes for Bromley Adult Education. He has a Wednesday evening session that takes all abilities - but book early if you are interested as the class fills up quick.
I think a local woodcarvers club use that sessions for an informal get togethers as well.
I have been once or twice with the missus (she had to stop when the twins got inbetween her and the workbench) and the projects being worked on were awe inspiring.

AndyP
 
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Anonymous

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Sounds like a very good course Chris. Hopefully your new found skills will help to make the second chair even better than the first (NOT POSSIBLE!!!)

Cheers

Tony
 

Adam

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waterhead37":jcpa9cwl said:
My sojourn in Ewyas Harold was occasioned by a three day course on woodcarving with Chris Pye
Lucky devil. :x

Adam
 
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