WoodCentral's video reviews

Figure Carving,
Scandinavian Style

with Harley Refsal

Pinewood Forge: 2004
DVD, 90 min., $24.95



Figure carving is a favorite form of folk art in many cultures around the world, each with its own tools, styles and techniques. In Scandinavia, the traditional carving style was called "flat-plane" carving, in which the surfaces of the figures are made up of relatively large, intersecting flat planes, usually carved with a single carving knife. Tool marks are left in the carving, and very little, if any, rounding of contours is done.
    The two photos of carved caricatures below illustrate the difference between flat-plane carving and a more typical American figure-carving style. Note the differences between the legs and feet of the flat-plane Eisenhower figure compared to the legs on the cowboys in the other photo. Both treatments involve flat facets, but the facets of the cowboy figures are carved in more of an octagon shape to simulate roundness. Both styles are considered caricatures.


    This DVD by Harley Refsal guides beginners, intermediates and expert carvers through the process of flat-plane carving in the Scandinavian style. Refsal, an Associate Professor of Scandinavian Folk Art at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, is an internationally recognized figure carver who specializes in Scandinavian flat-plane carving. Born in Minnesota, he speaks fluent Norwegian and has traveled and lived in Scandinavia. A member of the Caricature Carvers of America, Refsal was awarded the Order of St. Olav by the King of Norway, in recognition of his efforts to reintroduce flat-plane carving, which had been a dying art, into the United States and Norway. Over the years, Refsal has taught flat-plane style carving to thousands of carvers through classes and presentations in the United States and Scandinavia.

    The DVD covers everything from wood selection through final painting, with a strong emphasis on safety. Topics covered in the 17 chapters include:
  • Band sawing a blank
  • Drawing cut marks
  • Carving in the flat-plane style
  • Carving buttons
  • Carving eyes
  • Painting
  • Sharpening
  • Safety
    The production quality of this video is excellent. The techniques are very clearly photographed and the lighting and audio are both very good. All the steps and procedures are clearly depicted.

    Overall, I feel that this is an outstanding video on on a style of carving that not many carvers emulate, as the techniques are somewhat different from what most American carvers are used to. I was very impressed with Refsal's skill and the long flat planes he was able to produce. Though I will probably not do much of that style of carving, I enjoyed the video and did pick up a few tips I can use. Anyone interested in flat-plane style carving -- or any type of carving using only a knife -- should find it very informative and useful.
. . . Doug Ridley