Beginning carvers may find this scale ideal.
SHOP OWNER: Bud Segl
LOCATION: Orwigsburg, PA
I began carving about 4-5 yrs ago because I became fascinated with a Bellamy guild hall eagle banner that I'd seen in the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. A friend gave me some basswood, offered a few pointers, and said to come back if I needed help. The short of it is that it turned out so well that it led to a carousel pig, a mahogany tea table, and now a partially completed carousel goat. None of these might be characterized as "beginners" carving projects, but I'd encourage anyone interested to try, mainly since they're ideal: they are big and don't require delicate carving skills, and each is largely mallet work. Besides, I've come to find it both satisfying and very relaxing to stand ankle-deep in chips after a good sculpting session.
The Bellamy Eagle held two fascinations for me: the linen-fold flag carving, and gold leafing. I had no idea that it would turn out as well as it did, but most of this was attributable to the relative ease of working at large scale, which, I believe, tends to encourage the beginner. The gold leafing is quite easy using patent gold and slow drying varnish. It typically requires at least two layers to cover seams and cracks which are inevitable when working with such delicate material. As for the eagle, I carved it in four separate parts, and then assembled. The wings, flags, and parts of the neck and body are the largest, the shield emblem was overlaid, the head was separate to make the carving of the blind side much simpler to reach, and the scroll banners completed it and simply hang from the bird on monofilament threads. Overall, the Eagle has a wingspread of 50", and the maximum assembled thickness is only 6-7".
Beyond having a basic set of carving chisels and some experience with furniture-type woodworking, the real key for me, I suppose, is that I have an engineering background and can visualize objects well enough to make these projects from very crude plans. The other thing which follows from this is the ability to scale the rough plans from photos. The actual carving is pretty intuitive, and, as mentioned earlier, because carousel and guild signs are actually made using rather large bold cuts, which don't require much finesse, they actually are well suited for an interested beginner. If "mistakes" are made, the design can absorb a re-cut in many instances. If it's a gross miscue, glue another block in its place and recarve it.
Egged on by my wife, I next tackled a carousel pig, which she loves to decorate seasonally. It now resides in our entry hall and is sturdy enough that the neighborhood children can ride it. The design is very similar to a Denzel pig, (Denzel, who became well known for his beautiful carousel horses, was one of the most famous of the whimsical animal carvers, adding goats, lions, chickens, ostriches, etc.). While I've not included pictures of the construction details for the pig, the shots of a goat which is in the works at present shows how the basic animal is assembled prior to carving, including the location of the internal pipe flange which supports the finished animal. The plans, which both began from scaled pictures, are vital in deciding how thick certain curved areas are in deciding how many blocks need be glued to provide the desired shape. If the bodies were solid, you might not be able to handle the object while carving. I also made a very large but simple "vise" from standard pipe clamps to support the body in convenient positions comfortable for carving. This has been a key, as the rough body weighs about 60 lbs, and doesn't have many flat areas that can be securely clamped. Also, the grain direction in the legs is critical to the strength and most appendages are made with the maximum grain length possible, with adequate flat surfaces for gluing each to the body. In the case of the goat, I left the legs, neck, and head removable for ease of body and leg carving. The other consideration was size. Both animals are half to two-thirds the size of an actual carousel animal, simply because they get too heavy to conveniently work on, and take up too much space when finished.
As for what caught my "something new to try" interest in the animals, most carousel pigs had wrought iron curlicue tails, but I wanted to try to carve one in tact. It was somewhat of a challenge, but not all that hard once I got started. The other thing I didn't especially care for was the rather garish painted finishes found on many refinished or reproduction animals. The pig is entirely stained with Behlenís aniline dyes and finished with Deft lacquer, except for the green painted harness and a little gold leafing. The interesting thing with this combination of finishes is that you can develop a wide range of visual textures because the dyes partially dissolve the lacquer and dry with varying degrees of mottling, some of which resemble pigskin leather. If you don't like the appearance, it can be easily wiped off, and you can start over. The glass eyes are readily available from Tohican Glass Eye Co, who specializes in taxidermy quality realism.. . . Bud Segl
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