Saturday, October 27, 2007

Finding your Knots

I get so many questions from new carvers at my E-bay wood carving store about where to find the resin knots for my wood sculptures that I thought I would do a small section on locating knots. This picture was taken at about 4000 foot elevation in northern Ca. near the Feather River. Between 3500 and 5500 ft is usually the best elevations to look, although their are no set rules. It's like finding gold. Some days it can be very hard to find them, and when they say gold is where you find it, it's a lot like that, it can bring a rush of excitment when you find a good spot! You can see I have my backpack on, as sometime you can not drive to the site and have to pack in to get them. The fallen tree to my left is the type of area you will be looking for. This happens to be an ancient old fir tree that is mostly rotted away. It has been lying here for at least 50 years or more. Part of the tree that is still above ground level is still partially intact and the knots are still attached to the tree. Most of those can not be harvested without cutting them off.

The best spot is the area where the tree has become partially submerged over the years by over growth, fallen leaves, pine needles and earth where the main part of the trunk has rotted away leaving only the resinous knots, the only part of the tree able to survive the termites and soldier ants. You can see my best buddy Ben to my right. He's helping me sniff out the best ones...he's got a nose for those things.

The knots used in my carvings are Never taken from live trees and in fact you could never get the natural cone shape effect that you see on many of the knots without the slow deteriorazation of the main truck from the branch. Each ring on the cone represents one years growth as the knot gets smaller and smaller to become pointed on one end.

In my carvings I use only Pine and Fir knots. Some types like the digger pine are not suitable and do not contain enough resin.

Hopefully you are not parked to far away from the truck and get several backpacks full, before the end of the day. On good days you may be able to find some good spots right by the road and just load them up. Try old logging sites and mountain ridges, and watch out for trespassing signs and be carefull to stayout of somebodys pot garden or you might not make it home!

Here are several piles stacked outside my wood shop...

Friday, October 12, 2007

First Carving (Part Two)

Here I have changed tools and started working with a rounded bit under the eye brows and the top of the eye lids. I have gone a little deeper and slightly smoothed out the top of the nose bridge.

If you look closley you can see here how I have now cut around the sides of the nostrils rounding them. Also I have smoothed out the cheeks and have clipped off the front of the nose to give it more of a rounded appearance.

Now I am checking with my best buddy Ben to see if he approves...he usually get me a bark or waggs his tail for me to continue.

In this next photo I have cut into the nostrils to put in the breathing holes. Then the top of the mustache is rounded and cut a little deeper smoothing off to each side from the center, and downward towards the neck. I have also left an area under the moustache for a mouth, or lip. In addition I have grazed the top of the forehead with a couple of wrinkle lines.

Now I have begun working on the eyes, which seems to be the hardest part for most beginning carvers and it can take many trys to get them right fortunatly you can most alway cut deeper if you make a mistake. First I cut the lid area being careful not to cut any of the area underneath till I have determined there exact size. Here I sometime take a pencil and draw in the pupil to check the expression and make sure it is what I want. You may have to erase it and move it several times. When you get the placement how you want it, cut slowly and carefully, just a little at a time. When you are happy with the results then you can round out the bottom of the eye and taper it appropriately.

I have also cut lightly above the eye brows and slightly down the top of the nose

Now the hair and moustache are rounded out and detailed. I have also cut deeper around where the forehead and hair meet to accentuate and make it easier to see.

I have gone over this all very breifly as to just help you get an idea of the sequences involved and to help get you started...which is the most important part...just get started.

If you get a chance you can look at or purchase some of my other knothead carvings at my E-bay Store and Auctions at

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

First Carving (Part One)

To get started I'm not going to get into the safety aspects of wood carving, except to say that I still have all my fingers and that some of my techniques might be considered dangerous, so be carefull. This first picture is the completed carving. I am going to show you how it was made from start to finish.

It started with this raw knot which was gathered above 5000 ft elevation in the forest. I will discuss collecting these in a later post. After it is smoothed out on the back side it is attached to the table with plumbers tape and screws. It must be held tight so it can not move.

I need to determine the amount of working space I have for the face, hair and beard, so I start by cutting a basic outline, shown in the next picture.

Here I made my first few cuts to take a look at the condition of the resin underneight, making sure I have left plenty of room for the hair. I have also made sure to have carved deep enough to get past any of the old exposed surface wood.
Next, I need to do the same with the hair area, which is shown in the next photo.

In the picture to the right, I have continued to cutt through the surface area of the hair to get to the clean resin underneath. I have also cut deeper in the facial area trying to maintain the basic shape I started with.

At this point yo are ready to start laying out the basic charactoristics of the face. You may wish to use a template, or first lay it out in pencil, but after several hundred carvings you will find your best creativity will come from just doing this carving I am starting with the eyes and working down the face...Some carvers start with the nose. After you do a few you will find it best to try many different techniques.

Here I have cut deeper in the nose bridge area and clipped the nostrils in an upward V shape and cut a basic mustache and mouth. So far I have used only one tool, a large die grinder with a large router bit. The face is still very rough. In the next Part I will show how to bring out the details and make the face more realistic. If you get a chance you can see or purchase some of my knothead carvings at my E-bay Store and Auctions at WoQQsspagenameZMEQ3aFQ3aSTQQtZkm