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Armchair Naturalist - An introduction to woodcarving

Thursday, 23rd April 2020

Nature is oblivious to the current pandemic coronavirus which is affecting the world's human population, in a way that we could not envisage some months ago. Whilst handshaking high fives, hugs and socialising are off-limits to us, nature is exactly the opposite.
Robin wood carving

Being springtime, birds, animals, insects are pairing up, and taking advantage of the warmer weather and extended sunset times. From the dawn chorus (where birds sing to mark territory and so attract mates,) through to darkness, spring is a hive of activity.
 
Nuthatch wood carving

Other than key workers, (who we all owe huge respect and admiration for their dedication and tireless work in the most demanding conditions) we are, if we are lucky enough, to have gardens and enjoy nature, at first hand, possibly more than ever before. For those without gardens, then our daily permitted exercise regime allows us the same opportunity. For those residents in care homes, or housebound, then window watching or documentaries on wildlife are a way of keeping in touch, so helping to stem boredom and assisting with mental stability.
 
Wild bird wood carving

Once all the decorating, garages tidied, gardens spic and span etc, are done, and with time on our hands, what can we do to get closer to nature, and keep our sanity intact. One suggestion maybe is to carve out some nature. Before I tell you a little more about my hobby, however, let's just look at this short poem:-
 
If you want a hobby that is good,
Then sit around and carve some wood,
Although it might seem quite absurd,
We usually try to carve a bird.

The first question normally asked is, do you have to have some experience of art, crafts, or woodwork related experience? Most definitely not; my background is far removed from any of the above. When I was 15 I signed on in the Royal Navy as a boy seaman. For the next 12 years, I had no association with wood whatsoever (other than on leave.) In my next profession (30 years in the fire service) the only wood I came into contact with, was the burning type!!!
 
Robin on a spade handle

The next question is what tools, and materials do I need. Well, very basic tools; a small sharp knife, (a carving chisel is also useful,) sandpaper, a coping saw or (band saw if you have one) A selection of acrylic paints, a sealer, and gesso (an undercoat) and a brush (if you want to colour the bird) a pyrography tool (if you want to create feathers on it.) The final requirements are reference material, in the form of a pattern and photographs. Many carving books and carving magazines include these and some contain step by step instructions. Glass eyes, and pewter legs for all types of birds, are readily available by searching on the net. The wood that is most commonly used is Lime, or any of the close-grained woods such as fruit woods, apple, pear, plum etc are acceptable. Jelutong (a wood from Asia) is also very good and accepts paint very well. (Note, in the present climate, mail order is the only way of obtaining wood) trolling the net will identify these stockists.
 
Longtailed tit

If any armchair enthusiasts gain a bit of inspiration from the accompanying pictures and think they would like to take the next step, then the best advice I could give them would be to join a club. The BWA (British woodcarving association) and the BDWCA (British decoy wildfowl carvers association) are such organisations to consider (there are others of course) and by joining such groups, advice on any aspect of carving is readily and willingly available. Obviously, at this particular moment in time, this is not possible with current isolation requirements, however, there is nothing to stop interested enthusiasts, googling secretaries of the above associations, and finding out where regional groups meet and when. In the meantime keep safe and enjoy nature.
 
Great tit wood carving

Written by Peter Nash

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