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The Woodworking Guide - Woodcarving

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Woodcarving is a form of woodworking where you carve the wood using a cutting tool. It can be used largely in sculpture or ornamental decoration of wood. The making of sculpture in wood has been extremely widely practised but wood sculptures are subject to weather decay, animal damage and fire, so some do not remain as long as sculptures in stone and bronze may. Wooden sculpture remains largely a hidden element in the art cultures in the historical development of cultures. Wood, however, has the benefit of being easier to work on than stone, as it is light, susceptible to fine details and can even be worn or carried.

Wood is known as a anisotropic material, meaning it is not equally as strong in all directions. This is why working with wood requires so much skill, especially in wood carving as the sculpture needs to get to know the piece o wood they are working on. For this reason, different types of wood suit different projects. The grain of the woof is the direction in which the wood is strongest. It's wise for the sculptor to work the design around this so that the most intricate parts of the design sit nicely along the grain of the wood rather than against. This reduces the risk of splinters and fractures when working with the wood and whittling it down to the desired effect.

The process of sculpture

When a wood carver sets about a new project they would first have to choose the chunk of wood they were to work on. It needs to be roughly the same shape as the project they are intending and the type of wood is also very important. Hardwoods and more difficult to actually carve and shape but are able to withstand more hardship. Softer woods may be chosen is the sculpture is intended to have a sheltered life indoors and means it may be easier to manipulate in the early stages. Once the block of wood has been chosen, the woodcarver would then start on a shaping process using gouges. A gouge is a curved blade that can remove large sections of wood at once. This is dependent on the size of the sculpture though, as a smaller piece may require just the use of a knife and a sculpture intended to be larger will require the initial work of a saw.

Once the initial shape is achieved, the woodcarver will then set about to work on their sculpture with the woodworking tools to achieve the finer details. Many woodworkers would leave their work at this stage, with a 'tooled' finish but if the desired end surface is expected to be smoother the files, rasps and sandpaper would be used to finish of the sculpture.

Wood is a versatile material and can be finished in various different ways with a variety of natural oils. Oils such as walnut and linseed oil protect the wood from dirt and moisture, encouraging it to withstand the test of time. Varnish can also be used, but often in the case of wooden sculptors varnish causes too much of a reflection of light from the surface confusing the form to observers. Woodcarvers refer to this has the 'toffee apple effect.' Wax is another form used to finish off a wood carving which can also be used to protect the wood