Ever since watching Roy Underhill hacking up logs with a hatchet on The Woodwright’s Shop, I’ve wanted to try my hand at it. Last summer, after two ash trees on my property succumbed to the ash borer and had to be cut down, I had plenty of wood to work with. I made this carving mallet out of one section of a limb.
Carving mallets are cylindrical, and made for driving chisels and gouges through wood. The idea is to allow the carver to work without constantly looking at his or her mallet, since it doesn’t matter which direction it is facing. They are usually turned on a lathe, but I don’t own one, nor did I want to pay thirty bucks for a mallet I could hack out of a log in my back yard. What I came up with won’t win and beauty contests, but it’s strong, being made from a single piece of wood.
I love the idea of making something with a single tool. It’s one reason I’m also attracted to whittling. In this case, truth be told, I actually used two tools. After roughing out the mallet with the hatchet, I did shape it some with a draw knife. Still, making something with just two tools isn’t too shabby either.
You can find lots of good videos on YouTube if you’re interested in carving with a hatchet. Here’s a good one on carving spoons that I drew inspiration from. It’s amazing how much control you can develop and what you can make with not much more than a hatchet.
A while back, I came across The Little Book of Whittling, by Chris Lubkemann. It’s a fun book if you’re interested in whittling and woodcarving. My favorite part is that the author promotes using found wood including twigs and branches, and carving green, which makes for easier, faster work. One of my favorites of the projects in the book was this jumping fish, so I made one of my own.
The shavings suggest the splash as the fish comes out of the water. I mounted it on a cross section of ash from the same tree in my yard (now dearly departed, a victim of the ash borer).
The trickiest thing about carving with branches is dealing with the pith in the middle of the branch. When the tree is green, the pith is soft and spongy, at least it was with the ash and maple branches I’ve worked with. Fortunately I didn’t run into pith issues with this project, although the dark spot on the dorsal fin was due to a knot on the branch I used.
Green wood can crack as it dries, but fortunately if the bark is removed and the wood carved I’m usually able to avoid cracks. Finding the right piece of wood for a project like this takes a little work as well. I looked for a branch with the right amount of curvature and a smaller branch in the right spot to form the dorsal fin.
I finished this project in Danish oil after some sanding. I’d call it a paperweight, but there isn’t really so much paper in my life to hold down anymore. So I just enjoy looking at it.