Pocketknife carving is a lot of fun!
Though I’ve carved many realistic and exquisite Powertool birds and animals through the years, I must admit that I derive more pleasure from creating critters - even if they have a more 'folk art' look - with nothing more than an ordinary jackknife. I've found through the years that there are many people who admire the folk-art look as much as I do.
There are other reasons why pocketknife carving appeals to me so much.
For instance, I've always appreciated the knowledge and skill it takes to do things ‘the old-fashioned way” and I'm proud to be in a small minority of people today who are carving wildlife without 'power' (electricity).
Being able to keep the knife razor sharp and knowing how to handle it safely are two valuable skills, in themselves, that I prize.
There’s also a lot to be said for the quietness and cleanliness of carving with a knife. Powertool carving may be safer and easier, but it comes at the cost of noise and dust.
Speaking of cost, Pocketknife carving costs a lot less than Powertool carving. Rather than the prohibitive initial expense of purchasing power equipment, the many different grinding bits, and the vacuum equipment needed for Powertool carving, a person can start making pocketknife carvings for the price of a good-quality knife and the means to keep it sharp.
With Pocketknife carving, I am free to carve wherever I may be because I'm not dependent upon electricity.
And Pocketknife carving doesn't take up much room. I need only a small chair and table by way of accommodations; and a small plastic toolbox is big enough to contain everything needed to do many hours of pocketknife carving. In fact, with my jackknife in one pocket and a piece of wood in the other, I'm all set to travel anywhere I'd like to go and enjoy some Pocketknife carving!
Perhaps, most of all, I derive a lot of personal satisfaction from knowing that I'm using nothing but a common jackknife to turn an ordinary block of wood into a valuable artistic treasure.
I limit myself to carving birds and animals - mostly songbirds of the northeastern United States. Each ‘critter’ is entirely hand-carved out of Basswood, a common hardwood which can be found in the temperate zone around the world. Basswood is favored by woodcarvers for its relative softness, lack of resin, uniformly straight grain, ability to hold great detail, and its strength.
According to my self-imposed rules, I allow myself to use only two tools to carve with: a sturdy Buck 307 Jackknife for the heavier work, and a lovely Warren Cutlery knife with a #20 convex blade for the finer detail work.
Another self-imposed rule is that no sandpaper can be used on the carving. It is one of my objectives that the facets left on the wood’s surface by the knife remain on the finished carving.
I want every part of my carvings to be hand-made.
The eyes of my Pocketknife carvings are carved in place, painted, and given two or three coats of high gloss.
Bird legs are various gauges of wire which are glued deep within both the body of the carving and within the bird’s perch. The toes are also wire, of a lighter gauge, which are bent-to-shape and then epoxied in place before being painted a realistic color depending upon the species.
The carvings are hand-painted using ordinary brushes and acrylic paint and are then given a spray coat of fixative. (Though the paint I use is advertised as being color-fast, it is recommended that carvings not be placed where they receive a lot of direct sunlight. Should they need dusting, it will be found that a small, soft- bristled paint brush will do the job safely and well.)
I usually carve six of the same songbird species at a time if it is a small subject, as this has proven to be the most efficient use of my time. Though very similar, no two carvings from any one project are exactly identical. For one thing, if the carving has a turned head, I carve three "rights" and three "lefts", each time. This, plus mounting them on widely differing natural bases - no two alike - ensures that each carving ends up with its own unique appearance and appeal.
It is easiest to carve species in ‘straight’ poses, but despite the increased difficulty inherent in carving ‘across the grain’, many of my carvings are deliberately designed in more 'curved' poses, making the finished carving look more alive and animated. Deviating from the straight grain is a frontier I am continually exploring and enlarging. It adds excitement and anticipation to my work.
I usually have from two to four projects going at a time in various stages of completion so that I can begin each day - when I'm more apt to be at my best - with the fine, demanding work of a project nearing completion, and change to less intensive work on projects which are not so far along as the day progresses.
I keep a careful record of my time, and my pricing relates to the number of hours it takes me to make the various species. Each finished carving is numbered, signed and dated, and a record is kept of its final destination. Thanks to a few select stores, and many fine customers, my carvings find happy homes around the world.
Every time I carve and paint a bird or animal, my appreciation for the One who originally designed and created such incredibly beautiful and amazing creatures increases.
Over the years . . . ,
learning more about the ‘critters’ I love to carve,
building my own collection of species,
spending many peaceful hours, pleasantly absorbed in creativity,
making extra income,
teaching carving classes,
helping others learn to carve,
meeting other carvers,
and making many fine friends,
have all been special side-benefits to me of Pocketknife carving.
The trusty Buck 307 jackknife I've used for 40 years.
My delightful Warren knife with its #20 convex blade.
A Poem written for me by Jim Burrey.