Our February demo was unusual in that we had asked one of our members, Ricky Cole, to give a demo of his wood carving rather than the usual woodturning demo. Ricky started by showing us some samples of his work, ranging from relief carvings to carving animals and other figures in the round. He also brought a few photos to show us some of his chainsaw carvings - all too large to be brought with him
He then explained that carving, unlike turning, is generally a very lengthy process - taking days rather than hours to complete. He had therefore decided to use his green-woodworking skills to show us how to make a fan bird from a single piece of wet wood. Fan birds are thought to have originated in Russia and Scandinavia. They were hung from the ceiling so that they could move in any breeze and were thought to bring good luck.
He explained how to cut the piece of wood, approx. 8in x 2in x ¾ in. from the outer rim of a recently felled tree. Trees with a minimum diameter of 18 inches are best, as it possible to obtain a piece with parallel straight grain from these. Any slow-growing tree with fairly close grain is suitable - e.g. Scots pine. He had preserved the pieces he was using by freezing them, and then soaking them in water for the previous couple of days until ready to use. First he shaped the feathers for the wings with a 2in flat chisel using a shaving horse to hold the wood. He drilled a small hole in the top of the feather section to make the feathers more appealing.
Next came the awkward bit - using a small drawknife to rive the wood to obtain the individual feathers of approx. 1mm thickness. Next he shaped the body and some of the head of the bird, making the hinge joint where the feathers meet the body even narrower (2 - 3 mm). He kept an extra piece still attached to the head of the bird so that he could hold it in the vice while riving the feathers.
Then came the amazing part where he bent back the feathers, moving them to the right and left alternately while interlocking each with the previous feather. He left some feathers to be interlocked separately to form the tail. To complete the carving, he held it in the vice and used a coping saw to cut the head out roughly. This operation required the services of 2 members to hold the rather wobbly workmate steady! He then used a smaller chisel to shape the head and a small gouge to make eyes.
Afterwards several members enjoyed a go at making each section of the bird, as Ricky had brought along several birds in varying stages of completion for members to attempt on their own. One member, after several failed attempts to rive the wood summed up the feelings of many by saying: "You bugger, you made it look so easy!" Thanks Ricky, for a really great demo. We finished with the usual wonderful spread from Lorraine Rea.