Workshop Mishaps: Accident-Free WoodcarvingComments (0)
This article is from Issue 40 of Woodcraft Magazine.
My fascination with carving stems from my Boy Scout days when I received my first pocketknife. Unfortunately, it’s been an activity fraught with hazards. Recently, I endeavored to shape a series of small animals “in the round,” using palm-sized pieces of scrap wood. For this, I bought the four-blade whittler’s knife kit, figuring it would do the job. To reduce cleanup chores, I set up on the patio with a Cardinals baseball game on a small TV to keep me company and popped a cold one. Things were going well as I roughed out a dog shape from a piece of red oak. But by the third inning, my hands grew tired as the knife lost its edge, and making chips required more effort. Then, in a split second, the session came to a painful halt when the blade skipped over the wood and into my thumb. I grabbed an ice cube from the beer cooler, pressed it against the cut, and wrapped both with a towel for my trip to the hospital. In spite of my stitches, my interest in carving remains. Only now I want to prove I can do it safely, but I need help.
John Severdija of St. Louis, Missouri, could have avoided seeing red had he stuck to a few basic woodworking rules in addition to some very specific carving techniques. The basic rules are easy: avoid distractions, such as TV and alcohol. As far as carving strategies, holding a small workpiece with unprotected fingers is simply asking for it. And that’s just a start.
When a carving knife slips on the wood, it sometimes indicates a dull blade. John didn’t say he kept a sharpening stone in easy reach, but frequently honing the knife helps maintain a razor-sharp edge. Here, it seems, as John applied more pressure to cut with a dull edge, he increased the risk of blade slippage.
John also could have chosen a better carving wood than red oak. It features a wide grain pattern that can split off, unlike a soft, tight-grained wood such as basswood. This wood lets you cut cleanly both with and across the grain, while allowing for carving fine details.
When John adopts these tips, he’ll reserve his cutting for wood only.
- If shaping rough-outs, remove as much waste as possible on a bandsaw or scrollsaw before carving.
- Keep knives super-sharp with regular honing.
- Pay attention to grain direction, and plan your cuts to avoid carving against the grain.
- Use a carver’s vise to firmly hold a carving at any angle, reducing the danger in manual holding (Woodcraft #144743).
- When manually holding a workpiece, protect your holding hand with a Kevlar carving glove (#06I63). To keep your other thumb safe from knife slips when performing pull cuts, use a thumb guard (#16V24).
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