Wood carving is quite old type of profession. It is all about throwing away unnecessary parts of wood and what remains is the final result. That’s the simplest definition of wood carving.
If you are interested in wood carving, I am sure you used to wonder: where to get the lime wood from and what is the best wood? From which forest? How to store it and what wood to choose? How to dry it to avoid cracking or splitting and where to store it? What with pre-processing and sculpting? Using what and how to make a chisel? – these questions are the ones who novice sculptors ask themselves, and, either they gain experience through many years of practise, or just give up the wood carving.
I will describe here a couple of things and experiences I have gained over the years spent with a piece of wood and a chisel in hand.
The choice of wood – wood carving
The best lime tree grows in dense forest, on sandy ground. Then it has the least knots and branches, and wood veins grow evently and are stick together, due to the low ground moisture. After cutting and transporting you have to split the wood in half and debark it. If the lime was too long in the bark, it would chafe itself, and a layer of wood under the bark (after drying) will be really hard to process it later.
Why to split in half as soon as possible? If we do not, we won’t be able to control cracks, that of course will appear (but only at the ends, and they are these we cut off). The stuff for our carving store in bar forms, stacking alternately, and finally cover it. To make lime wood dry properly, it must be in the shade, in well ventilated place. Never in the sun! Thus, we’re waiting for at least 7 months, or even longer (depending on the section of wood).
Probably the best lime tree comes from the Holy Cross Mountains – it was even used by Veit Stoss when creating his work – the altar in Church of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven (St. Mary’s Church) in Cracow, Poland.
Chisel for wood sculpture
So, we already have a beautiful wood for carving, an idea, but we also need chisels, I would say a lot of chisels. I have about 200 of them, but in the daily work I use 50 with various shapes. Most commonly used are these straight ones, which I make of blades from metal saws, disc cutters and the rolling bearings. These made of blades are the best. The fastest way to make one is to shape it on a grinder, on soft stone, cooling them quite often in water, to prevent the material overheat. If that happens, the tool will be too soft and really difficult to sharpen it well. And as you know, the sharper the chisel is, the less chance of injury! In that case you use less power, and thus, you have full control over the tool.
Next thing: we sharpen our tool and shape it properly on the grinder. Then go to manual sharpening using various abrasive papers (I mean grain thickness), to do the final sharpening later. I use a wide felt roller and polishing paste (green).
After this job, I can shave myself using any such chisel, and a wood surface cleaved with it, looks like polished.