In 2001 at the Axminster Tool Show I met Colin Hickman, a retired coal miner from Derbyshire. He was sat relaxed chatting to the public about Woodcarving . It was this meeting with Colin that motivated me to have a go! Talking with Colin was like passing the time of day with your “granddad”, not that he was ancient, just his manner and his passion for wood, carving and nature. He advised me on what tools to buy to get started, “don’t buy sets of tools ” he said, there will be some in the box you’ll probably never use! As soon as I was home, fired up with enthusiasm to carve I joined a local carving class. I was given a lump of mahogany band-sawn in the shape of a dolphin. The following week I returned the dolphin finished and mounted. The tutor asked me if I would like to transfer to the Oaklands woodcarving club at Lordshill. I soon discovered that the club had a guest speaker each term, a year before I joined, the speaker was a retired coal miner,Colin Hickman how spooky was that!
A year after meeting with Colin, I entered a stylized carving of a Treecreeper in spalted Elm and a relief carving of my coat of arms in Mahogany in the 2002 Axminster Tool Show at the Bristol & West showground, I won a gold for the Treecreeper and a silver for the coat of arms. The following year I tried my luck at the 2003 show, my entries were a stylized Nuthatch carved in Laburnum and a frog in Yew sat on a lily pad carved from a slice of Laburnum. The bird won me a gold and the frog a bronze, the prize money helped furnish my toolkit.
Recently on a visit to Spain whilst on the beach I carved an old “hobo” sat on a toilet, sleeping, a rat sits on the floor along side the usual fag ends while an old mop stands in the corner. The walls are covered in graffiti and phone numbers, a wad of newspapers on a string hangs from a nail in the door and a sign on the front of the door says “BOG OFF I’M BUSY”. It was carved for fun, to raise a laugh or two at exhibitions and hopefully promote carving as an enjoyable hobby. A lot of people have asked me where did the idea of an old man sat on the loo come from, well one of my ancestors was a hermit who lived in the New Forest in a hut, his name Brusher Mills, the infamous snake catcher, he died sat on the throne in the closet of his local pub in Brockenhurst. A bit of personal history to sit on my shelf.
I haven’t got a fantastic workshop, in fact I share it with the lawn mower and a couple of fridge freezers. Its compact, shelves on every spare bit of wall, crates of wood under the benches, bundles of sticks hanging from the ceiling, hooks in the wall and cobwebs but it is fully carpeted, every time we replace carpet in the house it normally get’s laid in the workshop so much so that I now need a machete to hack my way through the shag pile to reach the bench [joke], great in the winter. Up to a few years ago a mouse my other half named “Micky “, would often walk along the shelves and sit two feet in front of me watching me carve totally oblivious of any pending danger. Then Mickey took the mick and invited all his mates to share the new home, we were over run with the little blighters, but then we got Maggie, a Spanish cat we rescued from certain death, abandoned by her owners to survive on carrion and cockroaches, needless to say she lived with us in England much to the demise of Mickey and co. Sadly Maggie was the victim of a hit and run, right outside our house, at least she had a life of luxury for a few years .
As I don’t smoke and these days I might have glass of wine a week and I certainly don’t follow football. I can happily spend my pocket money on chisels, gouges and wood etc., so I tend to buy the best I can afford, most of my tools are Ashley Illes but I also have a mixture of Henry Taylor, Pheil, Flexcut, Kirschen and Hans Karlson.
Whittling with a knife is great fun, its easy to carry as long as it’s within the legal length and the blade is protected from damage [and cutting you fingers off !] all you need is a piece of wood, try lime [carves like soap] or as I did recently whilst in Spain, picked up a piece of driftwood from the beach and with a bit of imagination your away. There’s something so satisfying in holding a piece of wood in your hands and carving with a knife, you feel every cut as the blade pares through the wood, you really couldn’t get closer to the subject, all you need now is a porch and a rocking chair!
If your a keen but struggling wood carver, please take this advice and “Join a club “. You’ll get tuition, help from fellow carvers, motivation, inspiration, time out from the chores at home and have lots of fun!