Monday, November 3, 2008

Chip Carving

I took a chip carving class this weekend at Olde Mill Cabinet Shoppe with master carver, Wayne Barton, who studied all disciplines of carving in Switzerland, has won both national and international awards, is the author of two chip carving books, has appeared on both The American Woodshop and The Woodwright's Shop, and is a very entertaining and affable man.

Wayne not only taught us several techniques and patterns, he discussed wood choice, finishing, tools, sharpening, design considerations, and the characteristics that indicate a well executed chip carving.

Wood: Basswood, butternut and white pine.

Finishes: Spray-on, satin polyurethane for a natural finish, and General or Bartley gel stains for a darker finish.

Tools: Wayne developed carving knives that are made from high carbon steel, which hold an edge longer than knives made from high speed steel. They take longer to sharpen, but work much better. He sells his knives on his website.

Sharpening: Wayne recommends ceramic stones, available on his website. We used them in class and they are small enough to fit in your hand, easy to clean, and remain forever flat. Wayne's pearl of wisdom: "The world has been made with a sharp edge."

Design: Wayne is influenced by gothic architecture and European cathedrals. He designs his pieces with attention to visual rhythm, negative & positive movement, spacing, balance, contrast in size, variation in line, and focal points. Diagonal lines represent movement & energy. They are lines in transition, as opposed to horizontal and vertical lines, which are stagnant.

Good chip carving: Has single facets and sharp ridges, and does not have little remnants stuck in corners. It is clean and crisp.

We spent several hours sharpening our knives and working on techniques. Chip carving is more fun and relaxing than I had anticipated and the design possibilities are endless. According to Wayne, it's the oldest form of carving, and has found its way into all countries and cultures.

The last two photos are my practice boards along with the two knives we used in class. The knife on the right is the workhorse and the knife above the board is used for decorative stab cuts— the only tools you need if you want to include chip carving in your projects.

During class, Wayne played CDs of various types of music including classical and opera performed by people whose names I can't pronounce, and threatened to play polkas if we got out of line. What an incentive to be studious!


Anonymous said...


Absolutely gorgeous work by Wayne Barton - and YOUR practice boards show you are getting there quickly!!!

Sandy looked at these and *wanted* to do some in the very near future... ;-)

Thanks for the push!

Metalworker Mike said...

I'm a bit confused by the concept of a carbon steel knife taking longer to sharpen than an HSS knife, and holding an edge longer. Is it possible that you have that backwards?


Kari Hultman said...

Al, I highly recommend his books and knives. He also has a dvd for sale and I would bet money that it is excellent as well. Tell Sandy to go for it!

Mike, I double checked and it says "...high carbon alloy steel tempered to keep its edge razor sharp for hours of carving." I can tell you that it did take a very long time to sharpen the workhorse knife and it did hold its edge for a long time, but I know virtually nothing about metal, so I can't say for sure that it's harder than HSS. I'm only repeating what he told us.

Metalworker Mike said...

The website just says 'alloy steel' which says nothing about it... steel *is* an alloy, so it's like saying 'a four-legged breed of cat'. I mean, it doesn't narrow it down much.
Another thing that is weirding me a bit is how his 'ultra-fine' ceramic stone is 1800 grit. I've got an 8000 grit ceramic stone, and you can get them a lot finer than that (30000+ grit).
However, maybe it's something that just doesn't translate well, or maybe I'm just too tired to clue in after a 15 hour day at work.


Anonymous said...

re: HSS vs High Carbon Steel

Both of these steel alloys can be hardened to quite a range on the Rockwell scale. For metal working, HSS performs better than high carbon (of the same Rockwell hardness) because it works well at the high heat levels of fast turning edges. High carbon degrades too quickly for these high heat applications.

For woodworking, and other low heat applications, the high carbon steels, such as A2, are being tempered to higher hardness than their HSS counterparts. I don't know, but suspect that the HSS tempering to lower hardness is probably part of standardized industrial practice intended for the high speed high heat tools, and left unchanged for simple woodworking tools.

The extra Rockwell hardness is why the high carbon tools hold an edge longer.

Now, about those carvings: Fabulous! Visiting your blog is dangerous; it has introduced another art which I would like to learn. ... so little time and so many wonderful things to do.

Thanks Kari!

Kari Hultman said...

Thanks for clearing that up about the tool steel, Bob!

One of the things I like about chip carving is it's something you can take with you on vacation, like whittling. So when your traveling companion prefers to go shopping, you can chip away the hours instead. ; )

Anonymous said...

Nic work Kari! I guess I know what you'll be practicing at the York show while I'm busy setting up? ;)

The Great Ethan Allen said...

Wonderful carvings! I totally enjoyed your write up! Are you planning a future chip carving detail for one of your next projects? I can't wait to see..

Shazza said...

Beautiful stuff Kari - thanks for sharing.

Your practice boards are great!

Now that is the kind of woodworking I could get into.

Anonymous said...

After watching one of Wayne's videos, I think I understand the cuts I see in your practice boards. Very nice work, BTW!

One question: Are those straight lines on the right half of the lower board free hand, or assisted with a straight edge?

Thanks again for bringing us beautiful work!

Kari Hultman said...

Scott, great idea! I'll bring my carving knives along and you can set up our booth. : )

TGEA, I'm thinking about reproducing one of my Swedish grandma's rosemaling plates in chip carving. I think it would translate well. I'll be sure to document the process!

Shazza, you can do this!!!

Bob, everything is cut freehand and my lines only look straight from a distance. ; )

Anonymous said...

As usual, Kari, great stuff. Thanks, Mitchell

Anonymous said...


What does Wayne charge for his workshops?


Kari Hultman said...

Stephen, the 2-day class at Olde Mill was $300. I don't know if that's a standard cost or not for his classes. You can email him at: for more info.

Ethan said...

So basically, Kari, you're saying it IS something you can take with you?


Actually, that's a great thought. I tend to sit in my truck during my lunch breaks at work, listening to the radio or enjoying the sounds of the birds in the wooded area or even catching 40 winks... It would be fun to sit out in the parking lot, the back door of the truck opened, chip carving for 60 minutes.

Something to consider, anyway!

Kari Hultman said...

I'm with you, Ethan! :o)

Anonymous said...

I took this seminar as well last weekend. Kari - great writeup and pictures.

Wayne has some very entertaining stories in addition to providing a wealth of chip carving knowledge. Any future students, ask him about the circus or a certain artifact at a Swiss museum.

And as mentioned above, heading out to your car and chip carving is an option as that exactly what I did with my lunch breaks this week as I practiced what I learned. I was initially concerned with trashing my car with chips, but it was very easy to dump the chips as I went into a trash bag - of course I am not too concerned as my car is 15 years old.

Kari Hultman said...

Brad, you'll be all set for the advanced class this spring! Chip carving in your car would be a cheap way to get that fresh cut pine smell that everyone loves in car air fresheners. haha

Anonymous said...

Nice post.One of the things I like about chip carving is it's something you can take with you on vacation, like whittling..

Anonymous said...
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George J Constance, Jr. said...

Gonna need some chip carving video how to! Gorgeous stuff!

Response39 said...

Wayne is a great teacher. I've taken his class at John C. Campbell folk school. You learn a LOT. The only down side is if he finds out you don't like accordion music...he has a lot of it and will torture you for hours!