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Let’s Do Some Bark Carving ?

common geometric knives

The article was prepared as help for beginners in woodcarving faces in the bark.

Mostly the bar is gathered from Balsam Poplar or Cottonwood dead trees. Because of hard peeling the off living trees. When I go to the forest to collect bark for my projects, I noticed that the top of the suitable tree is out for a long time ago and wood can be very soft because it has many types of decomposition. That’s why it’s obvious that bark is less prone to rotting than the wood. A living tree is not so susceptible to bacteria. Finally, the bark will go down to the ground and you can be lucky if you find suitable bark just on the ground.

I noticed that the thickest bark I have found near the watercourses. When I started my woodcarving hobby, I took all the pieces of bark, which I could find. But not all bark can be wood carved because it’s very dirty, spongy or wet. As I am more experienced now, I make some bark tests before taking it to my home. I try to carve something in the bar and only after that, it can be taken home.

Carving faces from the bark is not a new style. It means that if you have a wood face of the good spirit, your home is safe from bad spirits. The tradition has its history about hundreds of years ago. The most interesting thing in the bark carving that there is no patterns. You can follow only some general techniques and methods because the bark doesn’t have equal shape and size. Every carver develops his or her skills practicing make from different barks amazing projects.

I have developed my wood carving skills reading a book “Carving Faces In Driftwood”, which was written by Master Carver Harold Enlow and made so many of my own trials and errors. The interesting thing in bark carving is that there are no mistakes, only conditions and carver tries to adapt to them. I know some carvers who tell me that they can see their finished project even in the raw bark.

Anyway, for me, bark carving is the most interesting type to try making interesting projects. To start the amazing bark carving just see pictures and read the notes below.

I have carved my entire face projects using only one sloyd whittling knife. I am pretty sure that almost all cuts can be made only with one knife. It’s obvious that the work is much easier if the carver uses great specialized carving knives.

The tool that I used for my projects you could find in the picture. I agree that there are so many tools, which you can use for your projects, but the most suitable for me are the ones I used and indeed the ones I refer to in the instructions.

There are:

  1. Wire brush
  2. BeaverCraft Sloyd Knife for whittling carving
  3. BeaverCraft Hook knife
  4. Bark drill (homemade)
  5. BeaverCraft Wood Carving Set of 8 Knives (Small whittling knife, Bench knife, Chip carving knife, Small detailing knife, Small cutting knife, Beveled knife, Spoon carving knife 25 mm, Spoon carving knife 30 mm)
  6. A set of 3 sweep gouges at 5/8″, a #3, #5, and #8 – and a 3/8″ V tool at 70 degrees
  7. BeaverCraft Sharpening Wheel
  8. HB pencil

You definitely should check the BeaverCraft tools. They are sharp right out of the box and stay sharp for a long time.

set of geometric knives

You can see in the picture piece of the bark, which has been ripped off a dead tree. The bark is about 14” long, 4.5″ wide and about 3.5″ thick. Pay attention that the front is a little bit cracked and has a mottled looking. First of all, you need to prepare the bark for carving. Wipe off dust and other foreign objects that may be on the front of the bark. Use a wire brush for this work.

Carefully smooth the back as much as possible. For this purpose, I use my old jointer. To make a wall hanging just hang the flatness on a nail on the wall, step back and look at it to find hiding faces there.

wood bark carving photo 1wood bark carving photo 2wood bark carving photo 3

First of all, carve off some pieces of the front bark with the hook knife. Try to keep a peak going down to the middle part of the bark piece. In the end of the carving, the top of the peak will close to the tip of the nose.

Not necessary to be a drawing master to create a good bark spirit. See how it looks at picture #3. You may want first to practice your drawing skills on the piece of paper. When the surplus bark is away from the front bark part, take your HB pencil and make a drawing of some curved lines. The lines show how will be looking nose, eyebrow areas, forehead, cheek, and mustache. Draw the nose bigger than you want to do.

Picture # 4. Carve a groove over the face squiggle with the help of a big V tool.

Pictures # 5, 6, 7. The next steps are carving out the eye cavities, brow, nose and cheeks. For this purpose is suitable to use tools number 3 and 5 from the list above. A bottom lip needs to be added too. Carving the mouth can be easier with whittling sloyd knife. Just look at the mirror to your nose and you’ll notice that it sticks out from the rest of the face. Make it does. The most common mistake, in my opinion, there are many faces, which are too flat. That’s why try to make some depth to the face. All part of the face should be much deeper than the tip of the nose.

Draw lines, which show the top of the eyebrows and the outlines of the eye mound. Pay attention: not the eye, but the eye mound. If you carve the forehead too low on the face, just draw a squiggle a little higher and re-carve the forehead. Use again the big V-tool to carve the lines. Round the eye mounds with your whittling sloyd knife.

Will be great to work more on rounding the cheeks, bottom lip, mustache and on the beard area.

Pictures #11, 12,13. Work on the eyes.

We have just shaped the eye mounds. Draw an upper and lower eyelid over each eye mound. For this purpose use the small V-tool. It should be looked like rough eyeballs. Use your whittling sloyd knife to split off a three-sided chip from each eyeball.

Some bark carvers like painting the eye pupil after shaping the eyeball, but I am always carving eye sockets. Depends on the look of your spirit face, they can be placed on the bottom, top, right or left sides of the eyeball. On the picture #14, I draw the suitable location of the eye sockets with a pencil. Make a slightly curved neckline with your whittling sloyd knife on the inside of the drawn lines. Look at picture #15.

To make the nose smaller, just use again your whittling sloyd knife in combination with some rounding and molding cuts.

Before starting hair texture, look at picture #15. To make hair better, use different tools. First of all, use a small gouge, after that use the larger V-tool. Make different levels of the cut hair and make curved lines.

On the picture #16, you see the finished carving with some wrinkle lines in the forehead and under the eyes. You can shape the nose and nostrils with small sweep gouges. Also, you can sand the lip, cheeks, the forehead and nose eyeballs.

The picture #17 shows the varnished carving on all surfaces with two layers of Benjamin Moore. Just an hour low luster varnish.

wood bark carving photo 4wood bark carving photo 5wood bark carving photo 6

wood bark carving photo 7wood bark carving photo 8wood bark carving photo 9

The main method of bark working is roughly pencil sketch the shape and approximate location of the face’s parts. After that carve around these parts and when define and give shape them by carving away some bark parts near. Don’t forget to sketch nose, mouth and other parts larger than in your opinion they should be. Your tools will help you rounding and shaping face parts and reduce the sketched size. Eyes can be painted or carved. Usually, sanding can be done on the bottom lip, cheeks, forehead, and nose. Use V-tool for working with the mustache, beard, and hair.

The carving is finished with two coats of a good low luster varnish. You can also use oil based product as “Benjamin Moore; One Hour Low Lustre Clear Varnish ” or water-based varnishes as Delta Ceramcoat, satin and/or matte; also Jo Sonja’s Matte Finishing varnish. Never stop at one carving, analyze your work and continue carving your new projects.
wood bark carving photo 10wood bark carving photo 11wood bark carving photo 12wood bark carving photo 13wood bark carving photo 14

wood bark carving photo 15

The reference material used in the article can be viewed here:

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