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Here's My Woodcarving!

by Gary Herlinger
Marietta, GA

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 excuses.

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 recarved.

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 garyherlinger2@gmail.com .

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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