Wood grain, dryness

Get to know the grain of the wood, its direction and qualities. Grain direction makes a great difference in carving and construction. Grain direction should always promote ease of carving and structural integrity. In a nutshell, the long grain is your beam of strength and the easiest path for your chisel, the end grain is hard to carve and too short for strength, design to minimize having to deal with end-grain. Grain engineering is learned by examining other carvings or restorations, especially when in process, and at your carving bench. You will discover early on why carvers fancied the clear old growth woods.  We now must be more flexible and able to deal with things such as knots and edge glued boards in order to achieve the widths we need.  Note: Edge gluing will require you to have easy access to a small floor jointer, a 6 incher will do fine.

It is not unusual to find piles of planks and logs around a wood carvers shop or yard.  These pieces are curing, that is, drying. Slow air drying is the best way to prepare wood for working.  One can buy air dried wood although you must often do it yourself, dealers don't always know for sure how their wood was dried. Kiln dried wood more easily available yet is harder to carve and tends to dull the chisels faster, the quick drying has caused the cellulose fibers to harden-up their cell walls and this means more work for you.  As a rule of thumb, it usually takes one year per inch of thickness of the wood for it to properly air dry.  It must be stacked so that it will not rot, warp or get too much sun, the ends should be painted or waxed for sealing up, this promotes even drying.

Measurement system

As we know, the old English foot/inch system is generally used throughout the United States, but when talking to wood people about wood you will notice that they refer to the thickness of the planks in quarters (of inches). So one says "four quarter" for one inch thick wood, or six quarter for one and a half inch thick wood. Eight quarter is very common for carving most carousel animals. These woods do not remain at that original dimension after they are thickness planed. Allow at least one eighth of an inch to get the wood planed, if there are a lot of bad saw marks or the board is badly cupped, it will take more to get it smooth, though it is not always necessary to get one or both sides completely smooth from a planer, rough wood can be carved away in certain instances. Jointing at least one edge so that the wood has a straight edge to work off of is a good idea, you might be edge gluing it (explained later). You might even want both sides jointed and square for some uses. It is usually a good idea to have all of the boards planed to the same thickness so that you can stack them and interchange the pieces without problems, an 8/4 board will come to about 1-7/8" thick after planing. The length of the boards is usually 8', 10', 12' or 16', the longer the stock you have the better in order to group the animal parts more economically, thus, less wasted wood.

Before and After thickness and edge planing.


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