This section is from the book "Feeling Better? Amusements and Occupations for Convalescents", by Cornelia R. Trowbridge. Also available from Amazon: Feeling Better.
OF all occupations for the hands no other is so associated with the enjoyment of leisure as whittling. It has filled countless idle hours with content. The small boy shaving to bits with his new knife the first piece of wood he can lay hands on knows the joy of it. So do the old cronies in the village store who reduce sticks of kindling to splinters as they settle the affairs of the village and the universe. There is the good feel of the tempered blade cutting through the wood, the leap of the flying splinters, the texture of the smooth surface laid bare, the spicy odor of the shavings. Would you not like to send down to the cellar for a piece of soft pine, to have your knife looked up and to fall to making the pieces fly? If you want a purpose for this homely craft, there are all sorts of things to make.
A clasp pocket-knife of good steel is the only tool prescribed to Boy Scouts as essential for Knife Craft. The sloyd knife, a stout, straight handled one recommended to them, is needed only for heavy work and you will probably not want to use it so long as you are still in bed. A penknife may be useful for small details. The knife edge must always be sharp. To keep it so, have at hand an oilstone and a small bottle of machine oil. It is easy to get the knack of holding the blade flat against the stone in sharpening it and of moving it away from, not toward, the cutting edge. If you need a guard against cutting yourself, wear a heavy leather glove on the left hand. The apron counseled on page 3 will collect most of the splinters that fly.
Material for your projects should not be hard to find. Out of the cellar or attic may come broomsticks, chair rungs, curtain poles, cigar boxes, pieces of crates and packing boxes, shingles, kindling wood. If you are near a cabinet maker's or a carpenter's shop, a sawmill or a lumber yard, you can send someone to beg or buy odds and ends of boards of basswood, red gum, spruce, white pine, red cedar or the harder woods- cherry, walnut, maple. Apple wood has a very fine grain and takes a beautiful polish. If you are in the country, you may be able to get sections of branches or sturdy saplings with the bark still on them, their shapes suggestive of graceful or fantastic designs. Boy Scouts are taught where to look for such wood. They will tell you that it must be well seasoned before you begin on it or your handiwork is apt to split and warp.
It is worth while before you start any project to learn the characteristics of whatever wood you use-to shave a stick of it into splinters to learn how coarse or fine its grain is; to split it lengthwise to know how straight the grain runs; to cut directly through it; to make notches along it. To train both eye and hand, practice squaring a stick or making it round or triangular and of even thickness throughout its length. You can cut out squares, ovals and wedges.
One of the simplest articles of practical use is a paper cutter. Perhaps you have seen one of olive wood or mahogany or redwood bought from a native craftsman by some traveler to distant places. You will remember how skillfully its outline followed the grain of the wood, how good its proportions were, how sharp and even its edge. To make its equal will call forth your skill. You may find a bit of mahogany or rosewood from some broken piece of furniture or from the woodlot get a branch with a knot or twist in it that will give a good handle. Study the possibilities of the wood well before beginning and then shape every part with care, judging it repeatedly from every angle as a sculptor does with his work. After the blade of the paper cutter is whittled out, use fine sandpaper to get a smooth surface and a sharp edge, rubbing always with the grain of the wood. Finish with two or three coats of white shellac, applied with a soft cloth, letting each coat dry for twenty-four hours and sandpapering well before shellacking again. Steel wool may be used in place of sandpaper. After the last coat of shellac is rubbed off, finish with floor wax, well rubbed in.
Napkin rings can be hollowed out from cross sections of a branch or sapling two or three inches in diameter. Finish them also with sandpaper, a coat of shellac and wax.
If jack-knife carving appeals to you, the first steps can be simplified by having rough models sawed out of well seasoned white pine or basswood, known usually as white wood, an inch or so thick. It will require little muscular effort to carve the details. If you feel a need for further advice, turn to the chapter on Soap Carving, page 101, for the technique of all carving in the round. Several outlines for such figures adapted for carving in wood are given here. They can be transferred with carbon paper or on stout tracing paper to supply patterns for sawing. Notice the double headed arrows showing how the grain should run in the different designs to give strength. The animals can be carved in low relief or in the round. If they are cut in various sizes and done in relief, leaving the back side smooth, and are painted, they make an effective wall decoration. A small, headless brad, long enough to go into the wall, should be driven through each bird.
A toy requiring some skill but always welcome to a child is a carved rowboat. It takes time and patience to shape the keel and undercut the seats.
If you can get a straight-grained block of white wood or soft pine, free from defects or knots, you may have the ambition to try to cut out a loose ball. The cross section of the block should be one and a half or two inches square and the piece absolutely square for its full length of four or five inches. On a sheet of paper the exact size of the side of the block mark off accurately the width of the frame you wish to leave at the four corners and at the ends and also the section to be left in for the ball. Then transfer the pattern with carbon paper very carefully to all four sides of the block. As you carve, cut away the wood from about the ball in small bits, cutting across the grain at each end of the chip to be removed and leaving the ball still unshaped. Next carve out the ball, freeing it from the block and gradually rounding it but taking care to keep it large enough so that it will not slip out of the frame. Finally the frame must be completed by squaring its corners and edges but without enlarging its openings.
Loose Ball And Chain.
If you wish to go on to a still greater triumph of skill, work out these directions for carving a chain from a single block. They are reprinted from the excellent Boy Scout booklet, "Knife Craft," by permission of the National Director of Publications:
"To carve the chain you mark off your piece of wood exactly as shown in the drawing, Figure 13. Then cut away first the four corners of the block. Notch the block lightly on each face at every other ruled division line, then cut each notch in turn deeper and deeper, rounding the wood between them, until the outer circumference of the links appears.
"You next draw circles, or oblongs if your links are to be oblong, to define the inside of the links, and delicately cut out the wood inside the circles or oblongs until you have your links all formed but still solidly attached to each other. You need a very sharp and fine blade to get the links free from each other. It is at this point that many a chain is ruined. Always cut the crossway of the grain first so as to avoid splitting the wood, and cut slowly. Haste makes waste.
"When your links are free, chain fashion, round off each link on all sides to as nearly uniform a thickness as possible. This part of the job is worthy of your greatest care. Fine sandpaper will finish off the surface of your links and also of the ball and its cage. After the sandpaper, you can apply a coat of shellac or wax or lacquer. If you wish to, indulge your taste in colors."
The Art of Whittling, Walter L. Faurot. The Manual Arts Press, Peoria, Illinois. 1930. Written by a lover of the art. Wood Carving as a Hobby, Herbert W. Faulkner. Harper and Brothers, New York. 1934. Recommending this hobby for sedentary life, with detailed and sound advice.
Chip-Carving, Harris W. Moore. The Manual Arts Press, Peoria, Illinois. 1933.
Suggests many small articles for this simple form of carving. Knife Craft, Boy Scout Service Library. National Council, New York. 1929.