IT is comparatively easy, with a little practice, to become a good wood-carver. There are few occupations that are more engrossing, and that repay better for the time spent in learning them. It requires, of course, a knowledge of form, and those who have already worked in clay will find this experience helpful when they are learning wood-carving.
It is not necessary for the wood-carver to go to any great expense in buying tools, for very few are needed. Several gouges and chisels, a mallet, and a clamp to hold the work in place on the table or work-bench, are all that are required. The worker must rely upon her skill rather than tools to get good results. It will be found that all kinds of beautiful carving can be done with these few tools. Some teachers recommend the beginner to try first on soft wood, but this is a bad plan. It is much better to begin by working on the wood that will ultimately be used, thus avoiding having to learn fresh methods when the hand is just beginning to be proficient.
The best and cheapest wood to get is oak. It is tough in texture, and consequently does not splinter when being cut. The grain being of firm consistency, it does not give way in unexpected places, but offers just enough resistance to make each dig of the tool tell.
It is best at first not to attempt designs that are difficult. Take a simple unit, a scroll, or any other easy pattern. If the craftsman understands freehand drawing, she can sketch the design directly on to the panel; but if she has had no previous training, she will have to resort to tracing the pattern on to the wood, either by means of a carbon or tracing paper. It is not always easy when cutting to see which is the part to cut out, so a practical plan is to shade with a pencil the parts that will be carved out, and then no mistake can be made. The drawing must be gone over with a dark, thick lead pencil.
Having successfully drawn the design, and after the panel is fastened securely to the table by means of the clamp, the wood is ready to carve. Take a gouge and work round the design, holding the tool in both hands, and making a sort of channel round the outline. Having made this, take the tool and begin to cut. Both hands must be used, one to press, the other for guiding the tool. It will be found tl>at the cutting is easy when following the grain of the wood, but that it is difficult to make the chisel sweep round a curve when the tool goes against the grain. If the wood is too hard to cut in these places by pressure, then the mallet must be used. The chisel must be held firmly to prevent its slipping. It is very important to keep the tools sharp; it is best to keep the sharpest one for cutting against the grain. The best workers use the mallet very little, preferring to push the chisel slowly and carefully, taking care not to remove too much wood at once. Little chips must be made, and at the hard places do not try to work quickly. It is wonderful how soon the hand learns to guide the tools round the curves. Do not attempt to dig to the full depth at once. Go lightly over the ground, and then go over it a second time.
When holding the tool one hand grasps the end, while the other is held firmly round the gouge or chisel, leaving only about an inch of tool visible, and thus preventing it from jumping away.
Do not try to do wood-carving with only the right hand. It is essentially a craft where both hands are needed for the same thing. The worker will soon find it is just as easy to use the mallet with the left hand as with the right.
Having cut the background out so that the design stands out clear and sharp, the worker must then begin to model the raised parts. This is where the skill comes in, for it is the most difficult and, at the same time, fascinating part of wood-carving. The advantage of having modelled in clay is now realized, for it is necessary to feel form in wood just as in clay. Proceed to draw on the design a line to represent the modelled edge, then take a gouge and scoop out the inside curve round each form, until it reaches the pencil line. Make clear, sharp cuts, modelling the edge until it is even and symmetrical. It is not necessary to cut down to the bottom of the background - about half-way is best. A chisel will be needed to level off the outer edge, care being taken not to chip the modelled edge.
After the beginner has made two or three panels, she will find she can do in half an hour what took her five times as long at first. Do not expect the first attempts to be of much value, except for gaining proficiency in carving. They are sure to be crude, and afterwards, when the work done is really worth while, there will be a feeling of disappointment that any but the best has gone forth. Some workers feel discouraged because their first productions are not things of beauty in themselves. Of course they are not. All true art requires skill, which only comes by practice, and by cultivating the capacity for taking pains.
Good wood-carvers are often found among children. I have seen work of boys and girls of eight years old at the Public School of Industrial Art at Philadelphia, that compares favourably with that of many adults. There is a freedom and spontaneity about the work which always distinguishes the child trained on Liberty Tadd's methods. This consists in training both hands equally, and in teaching the children to draw, model in clay, and carve. The pupils work in each of these studies for a short time, changing from one to the other in an afternoon.
Wood - carving can be used for a great variety of purposes. Our illustration of a book-rack shows original and yet easy carving. It makes an extremely simple object for a beginner to start on. This book-rack was made by a young girl in the Art class of the Young Women's Christian Association of New York.
The other illustrations show more ambitious work done by various pupils at the School of Industrial Art at Philadelphia. Not only have they designed the furniture itself, but each piece of carving has been designed and carved by these young students, many of whom have made the furniture as well as carving at the evening classes after a hard day's work.