wood for carving

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wood for carving

Postby CvdC » 18 Mar 2008, 12:01

I thought this a topic we ought to cover as it had been mentioned in another context.
Jelutong is from Malaysia or that region at least (south east asia last time I looked). Now this region is notorious for unsustainable logging of rain forests. Although it is worse when they burn it for farming. At least with logging you get to use the timber. But do they replant the timber they cut down? This of course is both political and to do with forestry management.

The worst use of timber is to use it for disposable chopsticks, forms for pouring concrete and paper. I work on the theory that if you make something that lasts at least as long as it takes to grow the tree you are being sustainable. As long as they replant what they chop down that is.

Not using a type of timber is a vague protest but not a solution to the real problem.

There is a particular timber for every use. You cannot use any old piece of wood for any purpose. You have to match the wood with what you want to do with it.

In carving puppets you want a wood that is light weight, easy to carve in that it isn't too grainy, sands easily and is not so soft that it will not take the hammering a good Punch show will subject it to.
Jelutong is heaven sent when it comes to this. And luckily, for me, it is available. Which is not the case with Lime.

Now as far as I know Lime is a plantation timber and so every tree chopped down is replanted. The puppet you make from it will last as long as the tree will take to grow.

Where I stay in London is a short walk away from Moss Timber, so I went there last year. I asked them about Lime and how it compared with Jelutong. They said it was slightly heavier than jelutong but more durable.
So I wouldn't think Jelutong was ever a better replacement for Lime. Especially if you were willing to hollow out your heads.

As for price. For a puppet head you use so little I just can't see price being an issue. Time is what it takes to make a puppet, the cost of materials is not that great. The worst thing you can do is buy cheap wood that is heavy, hard to carve and may split.

Whenever someone cuts down a tree of any sort they need to consider whether or not the wood can be used in some way. A branch of fruit wood 4" thick will make a puppet head. Even the chips can be used to flavour a barbeque or smoke fish. But you cannot make a good puppet head from any old tree that is chopped down in your area. I mean you can, but it may not be worth the effort.

I like the story of Richard Codman making a puppet from driftwood but I certainly wouldn't if I had a choice to buy a nicely dressed piece of lime or jelutong.
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Postby Chris » 18 Mar 2008, 12:53

Wiki says:
Jelutong has been traditionally overharvested, and is a threatened species in many areas. However, due to its quick growth, hardy survival, and strong replanting efforts, its extinction is unlikely. It is a protected species in parts of Malaysia and Thailand. The tree is grown commercially for timber.


I think you are too dismissive of the question of cost Chris. You have a well paid job to support your hobby. To many in puppetry the cost of materials is very very relevant - and most of us find carving wood - well timber generally - very expensive.

In the case of Codman and the driftwood it wasn't a case of expense but rather of the inspiration provided by a piece of sea-sculpted wood. I understand that those who do carve from driftwood are inspired by the shapes they find, and that it is the serendipity of the found shape which dictates the final piece. But not an ideal way to make a Punch set I agree.
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Postby johnstoate » 18 Mar 2008, 13:29

I think that a point often overlooked in these discussions about wood and sustainable forests is the fact that the tree from which most pieces of wood are cut, is long since gone. Allowing the seasoning time to produce good quality carving timber free from splits, shakes and shrinkage, this may be as much as ten years. Since the tree is no more, surely there is a case for making the best use for it's remains? -If sales of a particular timber fall, since space in a woodyard is often at a premium, There is the possibility that older stock, which is not selling may be written off, and simply burnt to make space. Whether the tree was felled 'sustainably' or not is immaterial, it is just as dead.
And on a slightly differrent point, I notice fruit woods were mentioned, A word of caution if carving heads from fruitwood, - It is beloved by woodworm, So be sure to treat the finished carving with a suitable killer/preventative before painting.
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Postby Chris » 18 Mar 2008, 14:33

But surely once one dead tree is sold they have to cut down a live one to take its place and fulfill the demand?
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Postby johnstoate » 18 Mar 2008, 16:03

True, But I was thinking rather more in terms of specialist timbers like Jelutong. Given the thousands of cube feet in one tree, and the presumed limited demand, a bit like Iroko, as opposed to Teak and suchlike with wider usages. Don't get me wrong, I'm all in favour of sustainable woodlands, It's the more exotic varieties that I meant, of which there must be quite large quantities already 'In stock' to meet the limited demand from woodcarvers and specialist users.
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Postby lesclarke » 18 Mar 2008, 21:55

Elsewhere Eek said "In my never ending quest to start carving ... never ending because I'm terrified of starting .... "
..and he summed up what can be a real problem. Working on paper there is just the one dimension to deal with and even there the 'blank sheet of paper' can be intimidating. 3D work (where one is 'taking away' material, ie carving rather than 'adding' material' ie modelling) is understandably that bit more intimidating.
With graphic work one can make preliminary sketches to help one get nearer the final line one is aiming at, but initially carving seems much more definite and so more 'risky'
The risks are very much reduced by the process of accurately drawing guide lines on the block, taking things gradually and spending far more time LOOKING at it than banging chunks off it.
I've only ever carved two wooden heads, a simple ghost and a devil with separate nose, and the next on my list is a Punch.
So far I've modeled the shape and size in plasticene. I've been putting it off for quite a while and feeling a bit guilty, so when I recently found 3 pieces of timber (head, nose and chin) just about the right sizes I brought them from the cellar and placed them in the kitchen to make me feel even more guilty.
One thing that has given me some inspiration is that having carved a Punch head it may possibly have a longer 'life' than me.
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Postby CvdC » 18 Mar 2008, 23:03

Chris your argument above is rubbish. How poor can you be?
If I refer to this site:
http://www.greatart.co.uk/WOODFORCARVIN ... ools-1.htm

I note that the cost of a piece of Lime suitable for a puppet head is £3.15

What makes it costly is to buy the tools and if you put a value on the time it will take to carve it.

And Les I will tell you the secret of carving in 3D - Think in 2D and just round off the corners.
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Postby Chris » 18 Mar 2008, 23:33

Chris vdC
You may not agree with me, but I don't talk rubbish.
Firstly I didn't say that I couldn't afford wood - its food I can't afford.
I know I'm one of the luckier ones and there are many on a tighter budget than I am. Even so for most of my life I have had to count the cost of materials quite carefully, and not been able to afford the ideal and often had to use second best. And puppeteers with a wife and family to support must find it even harder.
It's facile to say "how poor can you be?" and give an address for a piece of wood costing £3.15
Lets ignore the fact that I couldn't carve a Punch head from a piece of wood measuring 7" x 4" x 3", but just note the fact that the actual cost would be £8.65 because there is an extra charge for orders under £25.
Then I don't know about you, but when I started carving I didn't get a successful head out of the first piece of wood I carved. I made many abortive attempts - it would be quite a lot of £3.15s for the one head. But I need more than one head to make a show. The costs mount up.

My original statement was simply "To many in puppetry the cost of materials is very very relevant - and most of us find carving wood - well timber generally - very expensive." I would hardly have thought that controversial. Why would you want to deny it?
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Postby CvdC » 19 Mar 2008, 00:00

The original point I tried to make was that in the whole process the cost of materials is not the most expensive aspect of puppet making. To skimp on the purchase of good wood is a false economy. However you look at it 3 quid is not a lot of money to pay for something you will spend hours working on.
A puppet head is typically less than 7" long. 4" is ample for depth or width. I admit 3" is pushing it. Of course you would have to add the nose and chin. But that is what you would expect to do anyway.
If you were to order enough for a set of puppets then your order would be above £25. Plus I am sure this price is more than you would pay for an off cut from Moss timbers.
Me thinks that in order to constantly construct a contrary argument in all circumstances you come up with the most outrageous quibbles Chris.
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Postby Chris » 19 Mar 2008, 00:14

Of course you do.
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Postby CvdC » 19 Mar 2008, 00:17

a witty and incisive repost. :roll:

I just think that someone could think they were doing the right thing by finding a piece of discarded pine in a rubbish skip and taking it home to make a puppet head. Even though they would be recycling and saving £3 or £4 this would be a mistake. The wood would be hard to carve making the work difficult and the end result disappointing. The head would also be too heavy to use. So in the end you would have diminished all the advantages.
I know this from having made the mistake myself.
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Postby Miraiker » 19 Mar 2008, 10:31

I've been reading this topic with interest and have to disagree with you Chris (vdC) about time being the largest expense.
This is only true for those who are making puppets to sell on to others - and that is a small minority.
Most of the Punch profs who decide to carve their own Punch and possibly other figures are doing so for their own use and the pleasure of performing with their own work. They don't turn work away to spend time carving or give up the day job - it's spare time that they chose to spend this way. Like the man who spends 2 years creating a ship-in-a-bottle, he doesn't put a monetary value on the time that went into it.

On the choice of wood, 'Essential Woodcarving Techniques' by Dick Onians
describes Jelutong as a wood which
"carves very easily but sharp edges and other fine details crumble easily"

The first Punch I made, I was lucky enough to be given a piece of lime for the purpose with some excellent advice. Lovely wood!
I can't imagine using anything else now.
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Postby lesclarke » 19 Mar 2008, 11:05

The Devil I carved was pine and the added nose was in oak.
If carving a Punch in Lime, can the chin and nose be also in lime or is a tougher wood required?

When I converted my small Quisto Devil into a replacement Policeman, after stripping the head I took it to a local woodworker and he thought the wood was Pear, it did smell of pear. Does Lime smell of lime?
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Postby Professor Eek » 19 Mar 2008, 12:35

Les summed up my fear of starting perfectly above.

It's the "oops - I've made a mistake - no I can't fix it" fear.

I'll have to bite the bullet one day and all the above information is useful - so thanks for all contributions and hints and tips
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Postby Miraiker » 19 Mar 2008, 20:36

Les,
Lime is fine for noses and chins. I have done some in oak but it's tough work and I'm not convinced it's worth it.
Lime is a strong wood and as long as the grain goes the right way and the nose is set in properly, there should be no problem.

Lime doesn't smell of lime, it's a funny, musty sort of smell.
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