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Here's My Woodcarving!

by Michael Sweet
University Place, WA

Click on any picture to see a larger version.

Shown below are photos of a Totem pole that I carved. A client wanted me to carve this from a pole he saw in British Columbia, Canada. We bought a piece of Western Red Cedar, about 11 feet long by 32 inches in diameter.

Here is the pole after it has been stripped of the bark and about 3 feet of the total length removed – leaving an 8 foot pole. The ends are painted with a Zinsser paint to prevent checking. The pole was incredibly heavy and we had to back a truck up into my small garage and tie a climber’s rope around the pole and connect the other end to a steel banister leading down into my shop. We then pulled the truck away and let the pole rest on supports set up on the garage floor. Because of the sheer weight of the pole, the truck went forward about 6 feet, stretching the rope before the log even budged.

Here is the image drawn onto the pole. The image is that of a Watchmen and it is at the bottom of the pole. I had somebody chainsaw an 8" section off the entire length of the pole. I then hollowed out a good part of the pole so that it would reduce the weight and limit the checking. The hollowed out section cannot be seen from this photo. I used mostly Native American hand tools to carve: three curved knives and a Sitka straight adze. I also used a large slick and various European hand tools. No chainsaw was used carving this pole.

This photo shows the top of the pole, with a sketch of the grizzly bear with its paws around the watchman’s hat.

Here I am working on the carving. I am using European chisels to establish a line. I had to make the mallet for when using the slick. The mallet is made out of curley maple and has proven to be a great tool.

Now the pole is mostly cut out. I went a lot deeper than this preliminary cut – probably 2.5 times this depth. The smell of the garage at this time was awesome. A neighbor wanted all of my bark shavings because his wife liked the smell. It was a huge pile of beautiful strips and shavings.

This is the pole completed and delivered to the client. It was suppose to have a small Grizzly cub at the top between the ears, but the client decided to leave it off. The paint is a combination of acrylic and milk paints. I buffed it up with some Irish setter boot polish which contains carnauba wax, beeswax and pine pitch.

I was really proud of this carving especially since it was my first (and only) totem pole. I purchased a Gransfors hollowing axe from Highland Woodworking a few years back and hope to use it on the next pole I carve. My wife was in Japan recently and brought me back a curved knife with a bamboo handle. I have carved many masks before the pole and since my wife got me a new knife I am working on another one. I also carve caricatures, animals, and Santas out of cypress knees etc. (Among other things.) I am an avid woodworker/woodcarver and am obsessed with wood.

Shown above is a photo of the original pole located in Horseshoe Bay at Centennial Park in West Vancouver, Canada.

You can email Michael at anthony12652@comcast.net .

Would you like to see your carvings in this column? We invite you to SEND US PHOTOS of your favorite woodcarving projects along with captions and a brief history of your woodcarving. (Email photos at 800x600 resolution.) Receive a $50 store gift card if we show your carving work in a future issue!

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