A Small Eagle – A flashback Friday presentation from 2018

This eagle is barely eleven inches wide, not my smallest, but diminutive none the less. It’s a good miniature project for a woodcarver. Pine is great wood, but fine detail in small sizes are not its strong suit. Would this pop out at you in cherry, plum or box? Sure, but my objective was to do what was possible with a butt end from a #3 common plank. A piece of kindling in other words. Why, just because it was the middle of summer and I needed something to do while larger projects developed.
Like my 19th century antecedents, I created my design from pattern elements used in other projects. I then altered them to make a plan I liked.
This method of work from patterns was traditional. Patterns adorn the walls of my shop, as they do in small boat shops. If you are good at drawing feel free to do so, but the advantage of patterns is having a good record if you need to duplicate work. Patterns are also handy if you need to make alterations in a design.

The photos show the method of carving through to completion; except the gilding. I gold leaf but acknowledge that I am not a gilder. I’ll do leafing for customers, but I feel ambivalent about the effect of gold leaf. Under most lighting conditions leafing washes out the fine details. But, so many love to see a gilded eagle that presenting one without it almost automatically invites the question “why didn’t you gold leaf it?” I’ll cover this in more detail later in other posts. For now, I’ll say that I’d rather leave an eagle varnished, or tinted with bronze.

If you enlarge the first photo you’ll see the defects in of pine I am using. I once had a student who got mad at me because I didn’t carve everything in the very best quartersawn stock.  he also refused to believe me when I told him that White Pine had been the preferred wood for most figureheads carved in the northeast. It’s too soft and prone towards rot he proclaimed. I suggested that he research the issue, but he departed my class in a huff when he discovered that basswood was not my favorite carving wood. I wasn’t being perverse. Patterns, molds and carving blanks come to a shop from boatbuilders with imperfections. Normally they understand the needs of the carver for clear stock, but not always. Of course, you send back anything that’s too awful to work, but life is not perfect and even a hobbyist needs to learn to work with imperfection.

The important thing to learn from the first photo is this:  we get rid of those knots before carving, but their effects on the grain persist just like water currents around reefs influence our path through the water. We have to learn to compensate in order to make something beautiful. The same as in our daily lives.

3 Replies to “A Small Eagle – A flashback Friday presentation from 2018”

  1. That’s called ground work. You gradually work the surface with a progression of flatter gouges to approximate the flat surface. Then, depending on your available working surface you can use scrapers, sandpaper for planes to level it out. It can be tough to achieve in confined areas.
    Carvers hate it when people think that we just glued the carving on top.


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