Carving lingo: study-sticks, rough-outs, go-bys....

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Blog entry by mpounders posted 02-21-2012 08:54 PM 11835 reads 4 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Good communication is important to the success of many things. But terms and acronyms used in one setting may mean something completely different elsewhere. I heard a lot of unfamiliar words when I first started carving and continue to broaden my vocabulary, thanks to friendly carvers around the world. It took me awhile to figure out that BLO referred to boiled linseed oil used by some as a finish! So I thought I would write a bit to explain a few terms used, that might be of benefit to a beginning carver or someone who is thinking about beginning! I AM NOT AN EXPERT…..(I just needed fodder for my blog).

Most carvings start with a simple block of wood. Blocks of wood have the potential to become anything you can imagine, as long as they are big enough. And you can glue them together if they aren’t. I recently saw a beautiful piece that was carved in 1876 and was made of five blocks laminated together. A nice 4×4x12 inch piece of basswood runs about $9

Most people like to use a pattern, either their own or someone elses, like these. There are patterns available on-line, in books, and some even use childrens crayon books for ideas. A pattern can be drawn, transferred, or glued to an appropriate sized wooden block. Many use a front and a profile drawing.

When that pattern is cut out on a bandsaw, you have created a blank. The whole idea of a blank is to efficently remove waste wood so you can get to carving.

Blanks still leave a lot of flexibility. These blanks sold by Jim Wilsford can be used to carve any one of the different animals shown. You generally want to leave enough wood when sawing around the pattern to allow for design changes or mistakes. A blank is generally carved into a more rounded form, removing corners and any saw marks. Blanks usually cost about $5 and up, depending on the size.

A ”roughout” is a roughly carved duplicate of an existing carving. Most of the excess wood has been removed, the figure is usually rounded, and it is ready for the detailed carving and finishing. Carving instructors use them for classes, so that they can concentrate on the finer details for instruction, and it is a way for beginning carvers to produce a piece that is similar to a master’s work. Roughouts allow a little flexibility, but not as much as a blank. Roughouts are a lot of fun, in some ways, and are a good way to learn certain aspects of carving. Many carvers prefer roughouts, just because they are easy and you can produce something that looks pretty good. Some people starting out don’t have a bandsaw or other equipment to make their own blanks. Older carvers may not have the desire or hand strength to waste roughing out a big piece. Rouighouts do cost more! It depends on the size, but ususally about $20-$40 is normal, depending on whose roughout it is!

A study-stick is an item that shows the progressive stages for a particular carving, such as this one of a female face (by Helen Gibson). It may also show multiple examples of a particular feature, such as eyes, mouth, nose, etc. They are usually resin or sometimes plaster.

A ”go-by” is a completed carving or example that helps you visualze what you should be carving. Somthing to go by, as it were! It may not be an exact duplicate of what you are creating. A reference cast is usually a commercial version of this, meant to provide exact details, such as this one for a baby chickadee. Bird carvers who strive for realism, often use refernce casts for beaks and feet, making sure every bump and detail is correct in their carvings.

You may also purchase kits for carving and the contents can vary. This kit for a bird includes a blank with the eye holes pre-drilled, a pair of glass eyes, metal feet, and a pattern for carving. But beware! If you want to make it look like the completed bird shown, you will need a woodburning pen, epoxy putty, a variety of paints, and a week or two of research and detailed photos of the particular bird you are doing!

So there are a variety of ways to produce carvings. I prefer to make my own designs, but I have also learned a few things from using patterns and roughouts by others. It’s all fun, it’s all good! So if you are concerned about your artistic abilities, try some of these other ways to get your feet wet! I hope this helps!

-- Mike P., Arkansas,

6 comments so far

View Dan'um Style's profile

Dan'um Style

14171 posts in 3952 days

#1 posted 02-21-2012 10:29 PM

excellent info … fun read

-- keeping myself entertained ... Humor and fun lubricate the brain

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2008 posts in 4374 days

#2 posted 02-22-2012 12:24 AM

way to go Mike, nice article.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2008 posts in 4374 days

#3 posted 02-22-2012 01:05 AM

You are quite a carver, well suited to teach like this. We are all appreciative of your talents and your desire to share your knowledge with the rest of us,

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Roger's profile


20923 posts in 2773 days

#4 posted 02-22-2012 01:07 AM

gr8 info Mike

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

View Brit's profile


7369 posts in 2811 days

#5 posted 02-22-2012 03:26 AM

Thanks Mike.

-- - Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3303 days

#6 posted 02-23-2012 06:04 PM

Thanks for the Good info Mike. It was interesting to learn some of the carving terms I didn’t know from before. Another thing that figure carvers might benefit from is showing them how to properly glue up a blank, so they will get the best carving surfaces and the least warping.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

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