Different likes for different types of woodworkers. Elaborately figured wood is lovely on a cabinet. But kind of problematic for a carver. On the other hand, grain with no swirl or flare can leave you bored. So when selecting a board for carving, I look for a certain amount of balance; an attractive grain pattern without grain running in contrary waves or swirls.
Why avoid all the beautiful ripples, quilting, tiger, and birds eye patterns that look so lovely on a cabinet? Well, they obstruct the cutting and structuring of the carving. Tools run into them, snag, rip out, tear, and mangle.
I know you hear the legends of incorporating these into the carving, just like you hear the myths about studying the wood until you see what it wants to be. Hooey! I’m carving a commission for someone. I love that grain pattern in the cherry because it suggests water and cloud patterns in the sky. But I am carving a catboat, not an impressionistic masterpiece. I incorporate where I can, but that big knot? Firewood.
Firewood? Well, now we have another story. So much of the small cherry and ash wood that I carve comes out of the woodpile. And no, it’s not a matter of economy. It’s a matter of aesthetics. I run into beautiful wood that was not cut for commercial lumber for any number of reasons. I look over the pile while I’m stacking and select likely candidates for examination. These get tossed to a side, and later I open them on the bandsaw to see their potential. Out of this comes my blanks for spoons, some cutting boards, and a few for making into glued-up blanks for boat portraits. About twenty percent is useable, and the rest feeds the woodstove. Ash goes into the garden, so little gets wasted. Even sawdust winds up becoming mulch.
Mulch? Well, when I moved to this glacial remnant of a hilltop, the soil was as much gravel as loam. Over the years, compost, ash, charcoal, and sawdust mulch have turned the garden beds into actual soil for growing food.
Who’d have guessed that carving is a circular economy?