Here's My Woodcarving!
by Gary Herlinger
Click on any picture to see a larger version.
I started woodworking shortly after marriage as we needed furniture and had little
money. It kind of grew from there and a Christmas present of a set of carving chisels
expanded my capabilities. As usual, first efforts were crude and left a lot of room for
improvement. I've never taken any classes and learned the hard way of trial and error and
help from books.
Because we lived in the back woods of Massachusetts at the time, I was drawn to carving
the natural world of leaves, flowers and foliage. I was constantly striving for thinner,
more delicate carving to more closely approximate this genre. This led to a number of learning
experiences (disasters) as pieces shattered, cracked and broke. At first the carvings were
done with whatever wood was available from the local sawyer at a good price. Back in the
early eighties, cherry and hard maple (not the easiest of woods to carve) could be
purchased from him for twenty cents a board foot. They were unplaned and green but the
price was right. Eventually I discovered the joys of easier woods such as black walnut,
mahogany and basswood.
Ten years ago on a trip to England I discovered the carvings of Grinling Gibbons at
Windsor Castle. Seeing them made me want to burn everything I'd done so far. So my goal became
to someday attempt to come as close as possible to his incomparable carving. That day
arrived two years ago when I retired and finally had the time to try. No more
The result was over 350 hours put into carving a mirror frame. It is carved from
basswood over a natural edge base of spalted hackberry. It was done in sections with
layers over layers. And yes, two sections did shatter during the project and had to be
Finishing the frame proved a challenge. I had to spray the back of the underlayer as
well as pieces that extended over the mirror. To do this I carefully drilled a hole for a
long screw in each corner of the face in a spot between elements of the carving where they
would not be noticeable. This enabled me to place the frame face down and spray three
coats of one pound cut shellac on the back. Then shellac was sprayed on the front from
every conceivable angle.
The mirror and frame are currently displayed in the Avery Gallery on Roswell Road in
downtown Marietta, Georgia. To get it there without damage, a special box was built that
suspended the mirror and frame in space.
In addition to carving, I also build furniture and boxes and do some turning.
You can email Gary at
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