Sounds Like

A part-time occupation of mine for years was teaching media and television production to students. The area of teaching the course that always provided the most significant issues was Copyright and usage rights for the music. With MP3 players, iPods, and streaming services, students could orchestrate an entire soundtrack to their lives.
But the concept of ownership of that music was slippery for them. “Mr.C. I paid for that music when I bought it from iTunes. Why can’t I use it as the soundtrack?” “Because you didn’t buy the music; you purchased a license to a copy of the music. You can play it on your personal equipment. To use that music on your video, you have to have the right to do that.” After a while, the kids grasped the concept. And I introduced them to music in the public domain and fee-for-use music. So much for the kids.

Adults had some similar issues. I had been asked to help out a parent edit a company video. Helping him shoot the video was easy. But, editing took up most of my instruction time. He wanted to create a piece for his company using a popular tune as a background. It’s a standard editing style. You edit to the tempo, transitions, and beats of the music. I asked him if he had rights to the music. He looked at me as though I was unclear about who he was and what his place in the universe was. “The call is already into Disney.”
With the students, I could overrule a wrong call after sweet reason failed. However, I was doing this project as a favor. I couldn’t tell the client to get out of my editing suite. He explained that his company had already called Disney about the rights, and I shouldn’t worry. I smiled, knowing what the results of a request to the Mouse would be. I tried to tell him how hard it would be to get a reply from them and how persistence could be followed by a nasty cease and desist letter. I knew at once where his son had gotten the slight sneer he affected.
His editing progressed, and I gave up on giving guidance. People need to fail on their own at times. The tempo of the edit was snappy and appealing. But as time wore on, there was no response from the Mouse.
The panic was beginning to set in. Finally, I was approached with the problem. The video was only going to be shown at company functions. Would the company be safe in using it without consent? He should ask a media lawyer if he wanted a correct media opinion. I had no interest in making myself vulnerable to suit. But informally, I said things had a nasty way of getting out of control with unforeseen consequences. One individual innocently uploading the video to Youtube could create a cascade of copyright infringement issues. Is there a way out of the problem, he asked?
I thought about it. It’s common to edit to a piece of music. Some editors have tunes they like to use; others edit to music licensed for a video. It’s not uncommon for the ground to wash from underneath you when negotiations fail. You have various choices: re-edit, have custom music written, or find “Sounds Like” music. Sounds Like approaches the tempo and sound of the original but with relatively low-cost fees for use, without infringing on Copyright.
That was that answer here. For a modest fee, the video was completed. I revised my pro bono standards to exclude freebies for friends, and I was happy to return to just teaching students.

Folk Guitar

As an experienced folk guitarist, I’d thought that teaching guitar would be easy. But of course, teaching is different than doing.
The pastor of the church, my fiance, and I attended talked me into it. He desired a non-religious community outreach program for youth. Folk guitar classes, he felt, would be ideal. Donations partially covered tuition keeping the expense to student low. I needed additional income with a wedding looming in my future. I agreed to teach the class.
I started with five students, but things did not go smoothly. My nemesis of the guitar class were the “Twins,” Hugo and Elise. I had assigned an old classic as the text we’d use. It was the book I’d used years ago to introduce myself to the guitar. I was familiar with it and understood that even years later, it could teach me new things. The problem was that to the Twins; it was boring. Rather than complete the assignment of the week, they’d get bored, not learn it thoroughly and skip on to the next technique or song. To a degree, I had sympathy with this approach. My dark secret was that I did this, too, when I was learning.
But as a teacher, it was disruptive to the other three students. The three “pluggers” would never be Dylans but worked hard at becoming technically proficient with the instrument. It was satisfying to work with students who, if not exceptionally talented, would learn and enjoy the instrument.
After a while, I feared the pluggers would become frustrated and drop out of lessons. That would leave me with less income and the Twins. Speaking one evening to a fellow guitarist who also gave instruction, he suggested giving in to the Twin’s desire to forge ahead and let them go until they succeeded, fell back into line with the class, or left. As a matter of technique, he also showed me some finger mobility exercises I could incorporate into study and practice time.
The pluggers found the mobility exercises entertaining and useful the twins baulked; they were not challenging. It was Paul, who had suggested the mobility exercises that came to the rescue. Paul had been my teacher when I had attempted to take up classical guitar several years earlier. Paul’s plot was to take on the twins for a genuinely challenging course of instruction.
Next class, I had a conversation with the twins and pointed out that such advanced students needed more challenging instruction. They preened. I suggested that Paul was always looking for promising talent and that I’d speak to him on their behalf if they wished. The following class, the twins were absent, but I followed their progress, or lack of it, during conversations with Paul. Paul told me that he had them practicing the Segovia Scales; I shuddered. Several weeks later, he assigned them some challenging Guitarra Rasconada exercises of Emilio Pujol. I groaned at this; it was the Pujol material that drove me crazy. Paul’s plot was simple – toss the Twin’s right into an accelerated course that included the hated mobility exercises, music theory, many many scales with variations, and challenging exercises.
About five weeks later, the Twins returned to my class eager to return to the beginning folk guitar’s less complicated world.


For the first time, I walked to the front of the classroom. Carefully set up my pocket watch where I could track the time, sipped my tea, and addressed my class. I was teaching anthropology.

In 1963 I had been expelled from high school in New York. I spent more time in the coffeehouses of Greenwich Village than in class. Present any of my colleagues from the 1960s with a photo of me in front of a class teaching; they’d have told you it was absurd, laughed, and walked away. But, there I was in a tweed jacket, khaki pants, blue oxford button-down shirt, and regimental striped tie.

A friend had accepted another position, and she recommended me to replace her at the local college as an adjunct professor. The nursing students had a social science prerequisite for their degree, and anthropology was one of the available courses. My friend maintained that I had the edge over other candidates because I had worked in an operating room, and was familiar with the needs of professionals working in a health care setting. It was true. After grad school, I had been unable to find work as an anthropologist. My answer to new found poverty was a retreat to the operating room for almost two years. Scrubbing, as an OR tech was something I had felt was safely behind me. I had never seen it as a gateway to Academia. I was a maritime anthropologist on his way back to coastal Maine.

But soon I was to be standing in front of a class. Then it struck me. I could do anthropological fieldwork. I knew the material and approaches in all four quadrants of my discipline. I did not know how to teach.

My training had included extensive training in ethnography, analysis of data, sociolinguistics, archaeology, physical anthropology, and lots more. Truthfully many of my professors at grad school had no idea how to teach. One professor’s lectures were bound in leather with gold leaf on the binding edges. His delivery was as restricted as his notes. Never varying.

As sometimes happens to me, I found the answer in a dream. I was back at 232 Bay State Road. Boston University’s Department of Anthropology on the first floor. Buried in the back, my advisor’s office was barely more than a large walk-in closet. We frequently would spend an afternoon discussing everything from how to brew a good cup of coffee to anthropology. At the time, I did not understand my good fortune in having access to such a generous person as an advisor. Usually, it was here are the office hours, make an appointment with the departmental secretary. In my dream, we were sitting back having a leisurely smoke of some very illegal Cuban cigars I had procured from a Canadian friend. I asked him bluntly: how do you teach? ” Wes, It’s all presentation, orchestration, and knowledge. The knowledge you have. Just work on the presentation and orchestration. You’ll do fine. I taught you.”

When I woke up, I realized he was right. That weekend I made notes on everything I remembered about his presentation and how he orchestrated his lectures. Then I studied my notes, practiced gestures and mannerisms, and pulled together a suitably Ivy League wardrobe. 

On Monday, I patterned my appearance on his; the walk to the desk, setting up the pocket watch, and the style of greeting the students. After a while, it flowed naturally. 

I’ve taught anthropology, woodcarving, media, and television production to adults, high school students, and even middle school students. I eventually grew into my style. But, it began in that cramped office, where I learned the basics of teaching: presentation, orchestration, and knowledge.

For Beginners

I’ve prepared some materials for beginners, which I hope will make the first steps in carving easier, and help to make you a more successful woodcarver.

Please bear in mind that without attention to safety woodcarving can be dangerous. Always use protective goggles against flying chips, be careful to plan out cuts so that you don’t cut yourself. If a cut looks unsafe, it probably is; reposition your work for safety. 
Consider taking a course with a carver at either an adult education center, or at one of the many exceptional craft education centers. Safety comes first. Personal protective gear for carvers includes safety glasses, finger guards, cut resistant gloves, and an anti-skid surface on which to place your work.

Tools for carvers come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and qualities. When I was getting started, it was easier to get badly cheated on carving tools. They were hard to find, and sometimes of very indifferent quality. I was lucky and unlucky: my first set was an old Millers Falls set that is no longer made; my second set was an expensive full-size set of truly awful English tools. When the whole kit was stolen in Philadelphia, I was heartbroken at the loss of my Millers Falls tools and grateful that those terrible English things had gone on to a more deserving owner.
Your decisions on tools have long-lasting effects. Take the time to do it right.

Tool kits:
The Sayres tool kit. This is a compact, and versatile toolset available from the Leigh Valley website. Lee Valley has these available pre-sharpened ( which I advise strongly).
3/8″ 60° parting tool
5/8″ #5 gouge
3/8″ #7 gouge
3/8″ #3 gouge
1″ #3 gouge
This kit around $ 259 at the time I am writing (2019). Yes, good tools are not cheap.

I mostly use Pfeil ( Swiss made tools). Here is a basic tool kit that I’d take traveling if I needed to do some necessary work.
I have given you the sweep and size of the tool. You can purchase these tools online from Woodcraft Supply.

# 5 sweep – 20mm
#7 sweep – 20mm
#7 sweep fishtail – 14mm
#8 sweep- 25mm
#11 veiner- 7mm
#12 V-tool – 8mm
#1 Skew firmer – 16mm ( a chisel beveled on both sides)
I have been satisfied with my Pfeil tools, and have used many of them for over forty years. If you needed to cut the size of the purchase initially, you could eliminate the veiner, and one of the number 7 gouges.

Either of these tool kits can be added to, but Sayres kit cannot be subtracted from. This is a very flexible assortment of tools for carving, and with your knife, it is a good foundation tool kit.

Knives are very personal. If a knife is not comfortable to hold, it’s irrelevant how good the design or steel is. To start with you’ll need one knife: a curved back, straight-edged chip carvers knife ( sometimes called a sheepsfoot shape.
A couple of things to remember:
Don’t buy a stainless steel carving knife. Stainless steel will be hard for you to restore a really sharp edge on. Stainless is also brittle. You don’t want a blade snapping the first time you put a bit of pressure on it. The vendors I have listed will have a wide variety of knives available. Avoid folding knives, utility knives, knives made for modelers work. I advise chip carvers knives. Avoid thin blades. although most of mine come custom made from a smith ( Mudd Sharrigan in Wiscasset, Maine) I also have many from Murphy Tool, and from Lee Valley

Additional Tools:

Things you’ll need which are probably around your home:
safety glasses; ruler; number 2 pencils; transfer paper (carbon paper for transferring designs); erasers; nail or vegetable brush- for cleaning out dust and chips; box or case to hold your kit,
Ceramic stones: pocket size extra fine and fine
Importantly, you’ll need something to keep your work from slipping around dangerously. A piece of work that moves while you are cutting is a danger to you, and you may see hours of work ruined. A few clamps are of use for securing work. I also use anti-skid materials like drawer liners and carpet backing. Look at my post on carvers hooks for how to make a portable work surface. You will not be the only carver to start out on a table or countertop.

What brand tools to buy:
I buy from Pfeil (Swiss made Tools), Henry Taylor, Warren, Harmon, Murphy, Addis Brothers and whoever else has what I like and want.
Reputable companies include those above and: Sorby, Stubai, Ashly Isles, Two Cherries, and others.
Not all tools made by a manufacturer are of equal quality. Sorby makes fantastic turning tools. But I don’t care for their carving tools. Pfeil gouges are my preferred manufacturer for gouges, but I would not use their knives. This is a personal preference.

What to expect from a tool manufacturer:
Most of the time, the tools you order will arrive and be fine right out of the box. But you should be aware of a few points:
1.) Many manufacturers sell tools ground, but not finely sharpened or honed. For beginners, I recommend that they get their tools honed and ready to use by the company they are ordering from.
2.) All manufacturers use mass-produced handles. Some of these are very good, but others are awful. Watch out for too much finish on these handles. You may need to take a bit of steel wool to them and knock off a bit of the gloss and excess. If you don’t do this, the tool might slip in your hand, or give you blisters.
3.) Gross defects. You probably won’t find any, but look for misaligned handles, unevenly ground bevels and any other sloppiness. Send the tool back. It’ll take too long to fix the defect, and you paid good money for a useable tool.

An online search will show many tool vendors. Not all are reputable. Among the ones I deal with and have found trustworthy are:

Woodcraft Supply – one of the premier tool dealers for carvers and woodworkers in general. Source for Swiss Made Pfeil tools

Woodcarvers Supply, Inc. – This Florida based operation has a good selection of supplies for carvers. Sourceõ for Henry Taylor Tools.

Lee Valley/ Veritas – The Sayres tool kit is available through these folks – pre-sharpened. I’ve had some good experiences with their service and tools. There is an emphasis on hand tools which has been declining in the offerings of other retailers.
Reading list:

One of my favorite carvers, Ian Norbury, has pointed out that many woodcarvers don’t read works on the craft. The mystical experience of staring at the wood is overrated; it has less to tell us than the accumulated wisdom of skilled carvers. Read.
The first two books mentioned are essential to marine carving. The others are general carving texts:

Jay S. Hanna – The Shipcarver’s Handbook, WoodenBoat Publications, Inc. 1988. An excellent book for the beginner and advanced carver. This is the text for our course.

David Hassell – Woodcarving Decorative Signs and Eagles. Tiller Publishing, 1997. While he shows a different approach to letter carving than I use his book is one of the most valuable resources for marine carvers available.

These are some excellent beginners text works:

Charles Marshall Sayers – The Book of Woodcarving: technique, designs, and projects. Dover, 1948 – Dover edition – 1978.

Richard Butz- How to Carve Wood: a book of projects and techniques. The Taunton Press, 1984.

These days the issue of a book being in print and available new is less of an issue than it was ten years ago. All the titles I’ve mentioned are either in print or are available at many used book sellers; the internet is your friend.

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