We use Western Red Cedar for the carvings. Described as “One of the most magnificent conifers in Pacific Northwest forests,” western red cedar flourishes along the coastal fog belt from Alaska to northern California.
One of the lightest wood of the conifers, soft in texture and easily worked yet having good tensile strength between the fibers, it is one of the most durable woods in the world. Western Red Cedar is the species from which roofing shingles, decks, and gazeboes have traditionally been made. It is resistant to mold, moisture, and insects, plus it does not swell, shrink or warp excessively despite changing climate.
For our art in particular, the beauty of Western Red Cedar is the varying color of the wood. Some pieces are dark, some light, and some vary from one tone to another within the same piece. Cedar is light colored at the newer ‘sap’ wood and darker at the heartwood or center of the tree. Some boards contain both sap and heartwood, giving us the wonderful two-tone effect. While we do have an idea that the wood will be light or dark, we never know the true color until that final step of Oiling.
From the Pacific Northwest, the cedar is milled into 1 inch by 12 inch boards that then travels to Lucus Cedar in Willis, TX. (Well, the wood travels all over, we just pick up ours here at Lucus) They let Coop pick through the boards one at a time. He looks for color, lack of warping, placement of knots (while clear wood - no knots - is a wonderful thing, it is also more expensive). He knows how he can place the knots to avoid the knots, or in some cases, how to use them to effect. (That is…He knows how he can place the shape of the carving to avoid the wee whorl pattern from branches…)
Depending on how much wood we get, we either load it up into the van, or have it delivered. Because we usually get green wood, wood that has not been kiln dried, we take the boards and stack it them with 1 inch x 1 inch sticks called dunnage in-between each board. This allows air to flow between the boards and aids in the drying. When the stack is finished, we put something heavy on top so that the top boards don’t curl. We have to work quickly, you can see in the picture some of the top ones are curling already!
Coop picks a board based tone if he is going for a certain shade and spacing of knots in relation to what he wants to carve. He then measures the space he needs to layout the design (imagine spending all the time getting part of the design drawn out and there isn’t enough room on the board for the other side of the knot…) On Geometric Designs, the design is drawn out with a compass and ruler. This is all of our Crosses, Pan Chang, Longevity, Discovery, Trinities and Triquetra, etc.
The symbols that are not so geometry based, we have made templates. When a template is used, depending on the angle of the pencil and even the sharpness of the lead, the lines don’t always match up. Before the wood can be cut, the design has to be gone over to make sure the lines will flow from one side of the weave to the other. (OK, Katrina has to redraw everything…Coop is a master so he can eyeball it…) This extra step keeps the lines from getting fat, then skinny, then fat…
Then, the 2 dimensional blanks are cut out. Where the “space” in the carving will be, a 1/8th inch drill bite is used to create a hole. It is brought to the scroll saw, the blade threaded through the hole in the wood, the top of the blade is attached to the upper arm of the scroll saw and cutting begins! When the wood of the hole is totally cut, the blade is detached from the upper arm, the scrap piece tossed out of the way and the process begins again on the next hole. If we are creating a custom piece that has a dimension greater then 21 inches, a jigsaw is used instead of the scroll saw.
Depending on the piece, a router (a.k.a. a screaming banshee from the 9th level of the noisiest Hell imaginable ~ Katrina’s opinion only) is sometimes used to round the outside edges. When a piece is too fragile, it goes directly to the carving bench.
Coop then uses a rotary tool…We’ve upgraded to Foredom for carving but still use the Dremel once in a while with the cutting wheel to score in lines on certain pieces. With a fine grit Saburrtooth dove tail bit in the Foredom Rotary Shaft tool, the shaping and creation of weave is done. Some designs require large parts of the surface to be shaped, an angle grinder with sanding disc is used on the large areas.
The carving creates the 3 dimensional shape but leaves a pitted, gouged mess. The final phase of the carving is the sanding. We use handheld detail sanders made by Festool for the 3 sandings. The 80 grit sanding is the final phase of the carving process as it removes the nicks and gouges from the carving tools, and finishes the shaping of the weave.
The 120 grit further eliminates and smoothes out any scratches or dings. Finally, the piece is sanded with 220 grit. With each consecutive sanding, the grain of the wood becomes more and more visible. The 220 phase is when each grain line becomes sharply visible and distinct and the carving is fully ready to accept the oil finish.
We use Watco Danish Oil (Natural), a blend of linseed oil, tung oil, and carnauba wax, to seal the piece, bringing out the grain and the color. The oil is a natural finish, so the wood will dry out during periods of low humidity. We recommend rehydrating the wood with the product known as Orange Glo, although any quality wood oil will work. If you prefer a more matte finish, oil only occasionally, if you prefer your wood carving glossy, you can oil more frequently.