A carved lid box for my Daughter who loves Orangutans #5: Tools and Rules-Part 2

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Blog entry by wyeth posted 12-17-2009 03:14 AM 1591 reads 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 4: Tools and Rules- Part one Part 5 of A carved lid box for my Daughter who loves Orangutans series no next part

Here are some of the rules I have learned for carving small objects – i.e. those that are small enough to hold in your non-dominant hand while you use a sharp carving knife of some kind. In my case this was the Vesper knife I had purchased.

  • The knife must be sharp – a blunt tool is a dangerous tool.
  • Cut away from your body parts – it is almost always possible to hold the object in such a way that the knife is cutting away from you so that any slip of the knife will shoot off harmlessly into empty space.
  • Use the thumb of your Holding Hand as a fulcrum – the Thumb can then be used to push the knife blade into the cut and at the same time the knife handle becomes a lever allowing you to rotate the blade through the cut with great strength and control.It is usually best to place your fulcrum thumb pad on the back of the knife handle just near its junction with the blade. Sometimes you may put it on the back of the blade but that is less comfortable.

Here is a picture that attempts to show what I mean.
Knife hold for small object carving

  • If you have to cut towards yourself you must control the blade with the holding thumb- The picture attempts to illustrate this. The very important thing is that the Thumb of the Holding Hand must never stop guarding and controlling the blade.Otherwise an uncontrolled slip can do you serious harm.
    Thumb as guard

Note – do not have your thumb pad against the cutting edge of the blade or you with end up with a lot of shallow to deep cuts in the skin of your thumb pad. Have the thumb pad firmly attached as if glued to the handle of the knife just clear of the blade. This gives you the best chance of not slipping the blade into your body.It also gives you a lot of control over the direction,depth and speed of the cut.

  • Always cut with the grain – or across the grain of the wood but never into the grain. Cutting into the grain will almost guarantee chipping , splintering or splitting the wood. This is of course more of a problem with some of the more “difficult” types of wood.
  • Never cut with the tip of the knife buried in the wood – If you can not see the tip of the blade it can suddenly surface anywhere and possibly into some part of your body.

Now larger pieces are usually screwed down or clamped in some way to a work bench – and there are all sorts of purpose made carving clamps. Simple jigs can also be made for individual pieces . Most of the above rules still apply – but for the orangutang carving the 2 pieces were small enough to hold comfortably in my left hand ( as I am right handed) and I have used a knife carving approach.

Here is another preview of the orangutang.
Orangutang head

Next we will go in to more about the specific shaping of the orangutang

-- David Australia

3 comments so far

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3331 days

#1 posted 12-17-2009 11:22 AM

Good tutorial and excellent work David. Even though I know that what you are doing is wood carving, I have always likened that type of carving to sculpture. Most people can learn relief carving even if they have to use other’s patterns while what you are doing requires artistic talent and a good eye in addition to technical expertise. The orangutan looks wonderful to me. Since you are fairly new at this it will be interesting to watch your progress.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View wyeth's profile


135 posts in 3225 days

#2 posted 12-17-2009 03:26 PM

Thanks Mike – for your interest. My 23 year old son rang me today after seeing some pictures from this series on Flickr. Says he loves the expression on the face of the orangutan and wants one himself for a door knocker! I guess I’m not really sure what I’m doing but its fun to try out new skills.

-- David Australia

View wyeth's profile


135 posts in 3225 days

#3 posted 12-17-2009 04:04 PM

Thanks Notottoman,
As this is the first real wood carving I have tried I cant say I’ve made any clamps yet – these two are both hand held pieces but who knows what will be next – maybe a rocking horse for grandkids? The bit of wood is the finished orangutan hand that I just used as a prop to illustrate the point but it is a wood called “yellow wood”. I got a plank of it from the local woodworkers club. They said it was some sort of Australian wood? p.s. it has already had some wood hardener coated on hence the shine and colour.

-- David Australia

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