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Notes from the Net

by F. Pierce Pratt


"Notes from the Net" is a column compiled from a few of the email messages posted to the WoodCarver listserver. In these messages are the tips, hints and other tidbits traded each day between WoodCarver participants. There are so many messages to choose from that it is difficult to select only a few to include in this column. Some editorial changes were necessary, but, for the most part, each message appears as originally posted and attributed to the sender. If you have a favorite post or subject that you would like to appear in this column, please email me directly <>.


From: Anthony J. Last <>

The only finish I use on basswood relief carvings is tung oil followed by a beeswax based wax. If your tung oil is unpolymerized you should cut it with a little Varsol. Coat the piece, using your hands, and let it soak for 5 to 10 minutes. Wipe off all the excess being careful not to leave any in the crevices. Using your hands adds a small amount of heat (body temperature) that appears to help in the 'take up' of oil by the wood. If your tung oil is pre-polymerized, it is less viscous and usually has hardeners added. Even so it needs cutting with varsol or paint thinners. I find that tung oil is one of the best sealers for basswood.

One trick with basswood is to wash it with a stiff brush and soap and water since it takes up a lot of oil from your hands and also dirt from natural handling. Not too much water to cause it to warp but just enough to remove the dirt film. After this you may need to go over the carving to remove any raised grain. Then use tung oil to seal it after it is bone dry.


From: Loren Woodard <>

If you use acrylic paint thin it down with water. You'll have to experiment with different colors because all work somewhat different. I generally add about 4 to 5 drops of paint to a paint tray of water (one of those acrylic paint trays, about a tablespoon). Since this is an acrylic wash the wood should show through. I let the paint dry for a day or two and then seal it with a mixture of boiled linseed oil. For small projects I dip the entire carving and let the goop soak in. For larger projects I paint the stuff on with a large wash brush. I use paper towels to gently wipe off the excess oil. Generally, I tint my linseed oil with raw umber and/or raw sienna to give the sealer a slight color. If you use this oil concoction you must make sure that the oil and paint are thoroughly mixed. The best method is to use an old blender. Make sure that you safely dispose of the wiping rags. The oil is subject to spontaneous combustion.

From: Adrian McKee <>

If you have detail you don't want to lose, try Berol Prismacolor pencils. You can apply them lightly or heavy, until they are a solid color. You can also thin them out with turpentine or turpenoid for a "wash" effect that looks like a watercolor. Clear acrylic can be used as a final finish when dry.


From: Robin Edward Trudel <>

Ebonizing Stain:  Get a glass container (like a mayonaise jar) Add 000 steel wool.  Fill to top with cider vinegar. 

In a week, filter the liquid (the steel wool can be used to make another batch) to get a dark brown stain. If you wait two weeks you'll get a rich black color. As you brush the solution onto wood, it will take a minute for it to achieve the full color.


From: Doug Rowe <>

I just came up with a new (to me) source of models and ideas for caricature carvings. I now collect the political cartoons from newspapers. News artists do an excellent job of drawing exaggerated faces with emphasis on those things that need exaggeration.


From: Barney Elking <>

Subject: Santa faces

The first thing is to make the mouth smile. The second is to raise the eyebrows. The third is to squint the eyes a bit and add smile lines around the outer edges. When in doubt, grab a mirror and smile. The image looking back will give you a lot of ideas. I find that the beard and moustache on a Santa make the mouth expression a bit difficult. The subtleties of a smile get lost in the hair. You might want to exaggerate the smile a bit more than usual.


From: Stephan Toman <>

To deal with fuzzies in basswood I have made a simple mandrel out of a quarter inch bolt, a washer, and a nut. I take a gray 3M Scotchbrite finishing strip and cut it into an equal number of rectangles about twice as long as they are wide. I fold the rectangle double, punch a hole in the middle with an ice pick, push it onto the mandrel, and tighten the nut. Using my Foredom, the square of Scotchbrite quickly rounds off. The abrasive is enough to wipe out the fuzzies without reshaping the wood. It takes a minute to get the feel for a proper pressure, but once you figure that out it solves the fuzzy cleanup problem pretty well. Be sure you use the grey 3M. Other colors tend to transfer to the wood. I know that catalogs carry pre-cut round abrasive pads, but these are much cheaper.

From: Kevin Crooks <>

If you are looking for the green pads, I suggest going to a rental store or a janitor supply place. A pad 1" thick and 20" in diameter will cost you about $6 and last a long, long time. I cut pieces of these up and use them with my Dremel to do polishing.

From: "John Groom" <>

I make up pads on mandrels similar to what has been described. But I use a rivet for a mandrel. Cut your squares from the pads. Get a rivet with an 1/8" shaft. Place a washer on rivet, poke the rivet through the pad, and place another washer on the other side. Gently squeeze rivet with a rivet gun until the pad is held securely but not hard enough to break the shaft off the rivet. You can make dozens of these up at a time and they are ready for use when you need them.

From: Les Hastings <>

I still use the mandrels that are made by Dremel, the split ones, solid and the tapered with the raised ridges. I use to hold the paper in place with small rubber bands. While carving in the shop after school one afternoon, one of the foreign exchange students was watching me wrap a pad with a rubber band. He disappeared, came back in about 5 min with rubber retainers for dental braces in hand. They are about 1/8" in diameter and strong as "H". No need for all the twists, just snap them on and the paper, fuse it, or whatever is held securely. Bands are available over the counter in drug stores.


From: Patti Landmann <>

A fellow in my carving club gave a brief talk about the social benefits and drawbacks of carving. He contended that it was worth the effort to find a way to be among the family. He went to a local surplus place and bought one of the tables they use in hospitals. They have adjustable height, pivot, and have a recessed tray for supplies or tools. Some had electrical outlets. They are stable but not topple proof. He covered one end with non-skid material to keep tools from rolling off and not dull tool edges. He said they are easy to find and cheap.


From: <>

In Scandinavia we usually use liquid paraffin for wooden spoons, plates and things that will be used in contact with food. You can use the item as soon as the paraffin has dried into the wood.

But linseed oil mixed with 1/3 turpentine is a better choice since it hardens the wood while drying. However, you must wait 6-8 months before using it for food. Properly done linseed oil is not dangerous, but the turpentine is.


From: George Farrell <>

If your basswood logs are cut into about 2 foot sections, split them about 2 inches to each side of center. This will yields 3 sections. The middle section (containing the heart) should also be split about 2 inches to each side of center. Discard the heart. The two half moon sections should have about 2 inches taken off from the points of the half moon. These are also discarded.

Remove the bark if you can. Paint both ends of each piece with molten wax, shellac, latex house paint -- anything that will slow the drying from the end. The reason is that you want the moisture to be released as slowly as possible from the ends so internal stresses due to shrinkage can be relieved before the blocks crack. To know when the wood is ready to use, take a 3X5 card, staple it to one of the pieces, weigh the piece, and mark the date and the weight on the card. Repeat this weighing and recording each month.

The weight will drop off rapidly at first and more slowly as the months go by. When the wood no longer is loosing weight, the wood is dry. If you do not have a kiln, and if you have the space, the best way to dry the wood is to stack the blocks in an unheated garage with 1x1 stickers between courses so that moisture cannot be trapped between blocks. After most of the initial moisture has left the blocks it would probably be safe to enclose the stack hermetically making sure that there is a dehumidifier in the space with the wood. It might also help to have a small heat source in with the wood with a thermostat set to maintain a more or less uniform temperature of about 80 degrees F.


From: Laurie J. Lundell Gmyrek <>

When executing fine burned detail and texture, the mere handling of the piece can damage it, through transfer of hand oil and moisture. Personally, I do not seal my pieces until I am completely done. To avoid transferring hand oil and moisture, I wear a thin, but absorbent glove on the hand that holds the bird.


From: Vic Kirkman <>

The purpose of burning the realistic bird is to receive the paint and reflect its hue as a real feather looks. It has to look soft. Don't push your pen into the wood, but have it so sharp that you can pull it through the wood using a temperature that leaves a light honey color to the wood, keeping every line the same depth and consistently parallel. Basswood will not allow you to do this. You must use Tupelo if you want to get this fine enough. The paint, whether water or oil based, will not work right if the surface texture is not prepared right. You would be better off just to paint a slick form realistically than to try to paint a surface that is not adequately prepared.


From: Jo Craemer <>

These small air turbine hand pieces are great, but they are luxury items for when you have everything else. They are wonderful for REALLY, REALLY fine, final detailing. They run bits the same size as your dentist and are not suitable for bulk removal of wood. They work at ultra high speed (up to 400,000 rpm) but very low torque. Cutting with them is purely visual. If you press hard enough to feel the wood, you just cut all the way to the other side.

You don't so much "carve" with them as "draw" with them, removing the wood as though you were able to "evaporate" wood with a very fine pencil point. It's great for very fine detail work like undercutting the feather ripples on a hummingbird.


From: Laurie J. Lundell Gmyrek <>

You can bring those bits and burrs back to life! When power carving, especially on hardwoods, resins and burned wood can clog up your bits and burrs, leaving them useless. I take my bits and place them in a glass or ceramic container (old coffee mug). Then I spray them with an oven cleaner with a high "lye" content until covered completely. Wait about 5 minutes, swishing the container a few times, to insure all surfaces are covered. Thenrinse your bits with warm water using a tooth brush to get into the crevices.

Thoroughly rinse and dry the bits. A shot of WD-40 doesn't hurt either. Wipe off the excess, and your bits will be like new!


From: Ivan Whillock <>

To sharpen an inside bevel I use a tapered gouge slip stone. To hone an inside bevel, leather loaded with honing powder and wrapped around a dowel works well. In a pinch you can use cardboard from the back of a tablet instead of leather.


From: Cliff Pitner <>

Try using a piece of brown paper sack on your finished pieces after all sanding and cleaning up and you will be amazed at the finish of the wood before applying your color or stain. Just go over it like using a piece of sand paper.


From: Ivan Whillock Studio <>

Gesso is a paste made by mixing glue with plaster of Paris, gypsum or whiting that is used as a base for painting on canvas or wood. It is useful for several kinds of applications because it can be textured, sanded smooth, or carved. It can be applied thick (if it is to be carved or used to fill cracks) or thinned with water for a thin, smooth coat. Gesso serves as a good bond because it is absorbent for both oil and water based coatings.

From: Laurie J. Lundell Gmyrek <>

Gesso is used not only for canvas priming, but it is also used on carvings. Once you have sealed your piece, Gesso is applied to prepare the surface for accepting paint and giving it some "tooth". Sealing the surface before applying will keep the wood from accepting the moisture from the Gesso and raising the grain.

From: Davey Schmidt <>

Here's another interesting use of gesso if you want a gray basecoat, for example, on a timber wolf. After burning the fur with a very hot tip, paint the fur with gesso and while wet, scrub the fur with a tooth brush. The gesso mixes with the charcoal and produces a nice shade of gray for your basecoat.

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Thank you, Pierce Pratt, (918)661-9703, fax(918)661-0243
slowmail:F.P. Pratt, 1290G Plaza Office Bldg., 74004, Bartlesville, OK