Stone carving by Bob Burton

Bob brought in a comprehensive array of stone carving tools and explained the ways different tools were used on various stones and for different purposes

Some stones such as marble are hard and need sturdier tools. Sandstone (Red or Yellow), Limestone, and Slate are softer and may be shaped with a rasp and carving tools. Alabaster and Soapstone is soft enough to be carved with a penknife.
Added: Members had a go at carving some letters

Mick Illsley having a go


Jill Smith having a go.


Alex Smith having a go


Martin Haigh having a go


Netsuke by Nick Pantelides

Netsuke, pronounced netskey, is part of a simple device for carrying things when the Japanese male costume had no pockets – the costume was popular from 1600s to 1900s.

The netsuke may have started out as a simple object, but has become highly worked, and a prized wonderful small sculpture in a variety of materials – boxwood, bone, stone, ivory.   The good older ones are signed and highest price was set in 2023 at £860,000.       There are cheaper ones, but these may be plastic, with perhaps some ivory dust in the mix, or mass produced by laser carving.

As the carvings are so small, the work is traditionally carried out with small chisels, jewellers type saw with fine teeth, and the action is more scraping than cutting.  The work is finished with pumice or wet and dry paper.


Suitable materials are , boxwood, holly, cherry, apple, ivory, amber, whale tooth, soap stone, antlers, cow bone, walrus tooth, buffalo horn, bog oak, old billiard balls, and taqua nut.

Nick has developed work station that can be clamped on to a table top for this sort of work

I can even be used standing up.   Obviously with such small work, any sort of vice would be impractical


Power Tool Demonstration

Wood carving with Chainsaws and other Power Tools.

Talk and Demo by John Adamson and John Vaiders

Report byJill Smith 22nd June 2023.

John Adamson and John Vaiders gave  us an insight into the joys and dangers of using power tools fuelled by battery, electric or petrol. (Sadly, none of these are allowed in the club because of insurance, pollution, noise and dust.)

John Adamson spoke of the health and safety aspects of using these machines and the protective gear he wore when using his chainsaw. He told us of the dangers of working with yew and other toxic woods, especially not to breathe in the dust.

John A. explained how the various tools could be used to carve a yew log. Briefly, the chainsaw could cut the outside shape with  straight lines and some of the inside.     If the wood was not yew and the dust cancerous. he would use an angle grinder with an abrasive wheel to do further shaping the inside.    He thought an Arbortech wheel which fits on an angle grinder was too vicious and hard to control.

Power tools save a lot of chiselling but sometimes he felt it was good to slow down and use chisels because power tools could work too fast and not give time to develop the artistic side of the carving.

For more detailed power tool work he used a flexible drive shaft attached to his battery power drill. It looked like a larger version of a Dremel with bigger attachments..

For drilling holes or spaces in his carving he liked to use larger spade drill bits which have a straight bottom with a spike in the middle. The spike keeps the machine from ‘wandering’ into softer wood whilst making the hole.   Drilling a hole first makes it easier to hollow wood out, as it gives the waste wood somewhere to go.

After lunch we moved outside for a demo by both speakers.

John Vaiders showed us his safety gear and a battery operated chainsaw he bought in Lidl for £100.   He demonstrated his grinder and the many various attachments he had for it.    We were very impressed how the planing disc quickly smoothed the side of a log. 

The photo at the head of this article shows John Vaiders with our member Keith Salad checking how smooth the surface was. The grinder machine also had a “chain saw disc attachment” but John V  hadn’t used it because he had seen bad press reports saying people had lost fingers, etc whilst using it.  It was a later version of the Arbortech tool that JohnA did not like.

Nick Pantelides  showed John Vaiders how to form the shape of a large hedgehog using one of JohnV’s  finer cutting discs.

John Adamson then showed us the first cuts he was making into a yew log to help start Kim Winter off on her carving of an owl. They had studied the log and decided on how the carving would be developed. They had photos of owls to help them with the design.

John A. first showed the easier downward  cut using the chainsaw, when the weight of the machine helps with the cutting, The second cut was more difficult – an upward cut and that requires the carver to lift the machine against gravity and also push it into the log. Very hard work!










Here is a photo of John Adamson doing the harder upward cut on the yew log wearing his full safety gear – steel toe cap shoes;.chainsaw carver’s trousers which had 25 layers of nylon to stop any cuts; a high neck jumper to stop bits going down the neck; helmet with ear defenders and glasses or visor. On a colder day he would wear a woodturner’s jacket, with no dangly pieces and a high neck fastening. Sadly, after a jam packed day,  the demo had to stop because we had run out of time for today.

I was very impressed with the speed all these tools could remove wood, but was very aware of how fit and alert the user must be and constantly thinking of the dangers in using them.

Report by Gillian Smith

Scandinavian Style Carving by Nick Pantelides

Nick gave us another excellent  talk and showed some of his own work and some by the masters of the craft.   He explained that what had originally been a folk art had now become highly priced due to the strength of interest from Americans who trace their ancestry back Scandinavia.    Some of the famous carvers work can command over £1000!!

The folk art tradition continues and there is an excellent book on the subject in the club library –  Woodcarving in the Scandinavian Style by H. Reesal   Catalogue no 2.7.

One of the characteristics of the Scandinavian carving style is that all the work is done with a knife.   This restricts the size to between 4 and 19 inches.   Knives have to be sharp and Nick demonstrated how to sharpen a knife.   This included the new discovery of the use of Turps subs instead of oil one oil stones.  The Turps subs both lubricates and cleanses the stone when the stone is wiped after the sharpening.

Various shapes of knife were shown

The figures are usually painted.    To get authentic looking work, Nick uses diluted Acrylic which he tests on news paper.    If you can read the print, the thinness of the paint is about right.   Tourist quality carvings tend have full strength paint applied

Pyrography by John Adamson

John Adamson shared his experience of Pyrography.

In 2017 he was asked to carve a memorial plaque for the founder chairman of The Bunbury Watermill Trust.   The requested image of the mill was far too complicated to carve in low relief, so John suggested using pyrography. 

For this he invested in a very good quality pyrography set.

This year John purchased a beech cheese board in a charity shop because the  markings on the wood reminded him of the sky. 

Once again his excellent artistic skills came to the fore. He decided to balance the cloud scene on the right of the scene by burning a view of Stoodley Pike with its monument on the left. John then explained his thoughts of how to create a middle scene and a more detailed foreground.

John demonstrated how to set up and use his pyrography equipment, In the photograph you can see he had a test piece upon which he practised the depth and thickness of his “pen” before using it on the finished article. The markings were governed by the heat of the wire and the pressure used.

The very interesting meeting finished with a question and answer session and the opportunity for anyone to try his equipment.

Report by Gillian Smith

Therapeutic Benefits Of Wood Carving By Jenny Rudell

If you ever need an excuse / reason / argument for why you spend so much / too much time carving, here is the perfect scientific explanation.

Therapeutic Benefits Of Wood Carving

By Jenny Rudell of The Spoon Crank

Graeme Hamilton is working in Technical Studies and Counselling at Oak Bay Secondary School in Victoria, Canada. His master’s thesis from the Simon Fraser University is called “A phenomenological study of the therapeutic benefits of woodcarving”, and is the starting point of our conversation. It’s early morning in Canada and late afternoon in Sweden when we connect via Zoom.

Are you from Canada originally?
Yes, I was born and raised in Vancouver and now live in Victoria, BC, Canada. We moved here about seven years ago, a little after I wrote the thesis and finished my masters in counselling psychology.

So you are now working in counselling?
Yeah, but my background is that I’m a tech ed teacher. It used to be called industrial arts. I taught wood work and metal work.

As a woodshop teacher I always thought some really magical things happened when kids create something with their own hands and develop pride and a sense of accomplishment.

I had been teaching for about 10 years and was starting to go through personal change and looking for a career change. I didn’t wanna become a bitter teacher. I did some self-reflection and personal work through counselling, and ended up talking to some of the high school counselors that I worked with and thought, this might be something I’d be interested in.

I did my masters at University of British Columbia and the thesis at the Simon Fraser University. I pitched the thesis idea to the admissions committee and they accepted me, and then I was kind of like, now what do I do?

Would you like to explain how you did the study?
When I started to do the literature review and research, there wasn’t a lot out there about counselling psychology and the benefits of crafts. There was quite a bit about art therapy. But that’s a bit different, you know… Everyone would have a different experience with that, but the way I look at crafts is that they are activities based on everyday living. There are artistic elements to it of course, but they primarily come from skills and activities that everybody used to do as part of life.

Art and craft used to be one. They were the same. And probably a couple hundred years ago, maybe before the industrial revolution, artists became specialists versus everyone being an artist.

To be honest, it was a bit overwhelming at times that this whole field of crafts and psychology is kind of untapped in academia, but let me back up a little bit…

I knew there had been programs where indigenous carvers were working with students and that wonderful things were happening there. So I thought, wouldn’t it be great to study that process and its benefits? I reached out to a couple of programs but didn’t hear back.

As I talked to some indigenous carvers, I realized that in the past, academics had sometimes come into indigenous communities and taken information without proper acknowledgement.

So I shifted the focus a little… Instead I decided on what they call a hermeneutic phenomenological study, which is a mouthful, but basically the phenomenological part means it studies the phenomenon of woodcarving, the lived experience of the person engaged in it.

Hermeneutic phenomenological research, as outlined by Max van Manen, basically looks at four areas of the lived experience: the lived time, the lived body, the lived space, and the lived relation.

Did you talk to different carvers, did you watch them?
Yeah. I developed some guiding questions and did interviews which lasted about 45 minutes. I just let the conversation go where it naturally led. Half the participants were members of a carving club in Richmond, BC, one woman and three men. And four of the participants were indigenous carvers. One of them was a professor at University of Victoria and a therapist and used carving in his therapy. I reviewed the interviews and looked for themes that came up, a process called coding in academics. I then categorized the themes.

You have identified six different benefits, grouped into four areas: carving time, carving body, carving space and carving relations. Would you like to elaborate on those concepts?

Carving time refers to that when someone is engaged in an activity which they enjoy, they can lose themselves in the moment, and that is very beneficial. I’m sure most of us have experienced it, whether it’s through sport or whatever. In psychology this is called Flow.

Carving body, refers to how carving can reduce stress, help us process emotions and promote positive emotions. Many carvers would say that as they’re carving, thoughts would come into their head about maybe an argument they had, or that they were stressed at work, and I think it’s similar to what happens in dreams. Sometimes we have these weird dreams and it’s just our subconscious processing the events of the day. People usually feel better after carving.

Two aspects in relation to Carving space came out during the study. Firstly, that woodcarving as an artistic activity is inherently therapeutic. This has actually been studied quite a bit in the arts therapy area. Secondly, woodcarving fosters a connection to nature. Especially when carving green wood. The carver becomes part of where the wood comes from.

Carving relations, refers to that carving provides social engagement and cultural meaning in one’s life. This can be a huge aspect for some, and for others it’s very small. In the carving club, they would meet and talk and get to know each other. Let’s say someone doesn’t know how to carve or sharpen a hook knife, then someone would share their expertise and both people would benefit. And that’s just a wonderful positive thing. We’re all on our phones today and disconnected. There’s a really powerful documentary that was done in the 70s about a community in Haida Gwaii whose cultural traditions of carving were almost extinct, and they were reignited through the raising of a totem pole. The documentary, Now Is The Time, is available to stream for free on the National Film Board of Canada website.

For many, their craft is a huge part of who they are and how they live their life.

This thesis is just scratching the surface and many of these areas could be studied further.

Can you make use of this in therapy? You mentioned someone who does.
Yeah. First I’ll just mention a key piece that I read in your interview with Daniel Clay. I really like what he said about that human beings are animals that are wired for and meant to create with their hands. I think that’s a fundamental piece to this whole idea of the benefits of crafts. Over the last couple of years, I’ve started getting into private practice with counselling and I still work in education as a high school counsellor. But yes, I think there are huge benefits to it. It doesn’t have to be woodcarving, it can be other activities too such as cooking.

About five years ago, I was at a high school teaching jewellery making. You could feel the vibe of contentment while working away. It was magical.

What do you say to people who feel like arts, crafts and sports are takinging up too much time in the curriculum, that we need to focus more on maths and English and those traditional subjects?
Usually, it comes down to money. We live in a more competitive society. Students have to be more academically capable. I think maybe there’s a piece to that, but I guess my question is, what is the purpose of school?

Are you creating a bunch of little workers, or are you creating citizens?

I think the Greeks, and indigenous peoples and all societies have had to face this question, what is the purpose education? Here in Canada, a lot of students will go into engineering at universities, but they’ve had no exposure of using a tool or they don’t know how to use a tape measure. They’ve never cut a piece of metal.

What I would ask people that are posing that question is, I would ask them to reflect, deeply, on what their rationale to get rid of creative subjects is. The cynic in me would say it really comes down to money. As a tech ed teacher, we are the most expensive program, having all the machines and stuff.

I think there’s a big resurgence of people going back to traditional activities for their soul and their spirit and reconnection.

What do you think can be done in society, by individuals and by professionals, politicians, and corporations to learn about the positive benefits of engaging in craft?
It’s a big question but a good question. I was looking at possibly doing group carving with focus on personal development and therapeutic benefits. Dr France, who was one of the participants, did it to help with residential school survivors*. They would carve, but at the same time, process their grief and trauma of past experiences. It creates a space where people can talk. Especially boys and young men often find it difficult to talk about their emotions, and so when you’re actually engaged in an activity it loosens up the tongue.

In Canada we’re very fortunate in so many ways. We’ve got a great government, but COVID has shown that it’s not able to pivot and adjust to rapid change. So I think the answer is in community, at a grassroots level and then we can inform and tell government what we need. I don’t think it will happen from the top down. I think it will happen from the bottom up.

Personally, I have to look at my life and what my priorities are. I’ve got 20 things on my To Do List and I’m not gonna get them all done, and it stresses me out. And this is not good. So if I choose five of them and really lean into and make time for them, that’s what’s important. I mean, our lives today are so busy and it’s easy to get lost.

When it comes to policy and government, how do you measure this stuff? If we give you $1,000,000 to carve 100,000 spoons, how do we know this is going to benefit our country?

It’s hard to measure the benefits of crafts in society, which maybe is one of the problems we’re dealing with. My wife and I were talking about capitalism, and we feel that society is at a point where growth is no longer beneficial. We have a finite planet, but we are caught up in the growth mindset.

I deal with young people in the school and ask them, what interest do you have? They respond video games and doing stuff online. I’m like, well, what else, what brings you out of the house? But they don’t. It terrifies me that they haven’t had the opportunity to discover these enriching experiences.

What are parents’ responsibilities in relation to this? What can parents do?
God, Jenny, tricky question! Should parents try to do anything? Well, of course they should. I’m coming from a place of privilege where, you know, I have a decent income. My wife is able to go back to school. We have time.

We have the privilege of time because of our privilege.

There are families where both parents are working 10 hours a day, and they come home exhausted. And so they put their kids in front of the TV because that’s the best they can do. Though in Canada, there’s talk about more access to early childhood childcare. Really, it’s a community thing. Like if parents are so exhausted that they can’t do it themselves, where in the community are the people that can step in to do it? The bottom line is that we need to be in this together, and at least in North America we have this “I need my piece of the pie first” mentality and it doesn’t serve us well and it doesn’t bring happiness. There’s a point where, yes, having more money can bring happiness. But there’s a point where it doesn’t bring gratification anymore.

Looking back on my own life, I remember a school field trip where we went to the Museum of Anthropology and met some elders from the local community, and they showed how they traditionally used to cook salmon in boxes with hot rocks, and also I remember as a kid seeing how wool was spun and how candles were made. I was fascinated with this stuff. I loved it. Those were highlights of my childhood.

You may contact Graeme on or via his Psychology Today profile.

Therapeutic Benefits Of Wood Carving By Jenny Rudell was originally posted on Sep 5th 2022 on The Spoon Crank


Finishing by Nick Pantelides

Nick prefaced his talk by saying that Finishing was a big subject and today he was just covering Finishing for Beginners.    A full talk on the subject would take about 3 hours.

There are a few basic premises.

Sharp tools = Less finishing problems.   Poor care of the grain shows up when stain or polish is applied. Finishing takes as much time as carving.

There are various ways of smoothing the wood. Whatever method is used, the smoothing should be in the direction of the grain and not across it.

Dremels are quick but not easy to get into difficult corners.
Glass paper or emery paper can be shaped to the curve of the carving.   You need to go down the grades from the harshest to the smoothest (that is smoother than toilet paper).   Keep the worn out bits as they are soft and flexible and may come in handy one day. Emery paper lasts longer than glass paper
Scotsbrite make industrial abrasive pads that are strong and last a long time see  Scotsbrite .
Wire wool is effective but careful cleaning of the wood is needed before oiling or polishing, as any bits of metal left on the wood will rust in time.
Powdered pumice can be applied with a cloth or Polystyrene. It comes in various grades.

Polish or oil
There are lots of different products on the market. Nick has experimented with Danish oil for a long time and knows how to get the best out of it. If members want to use other products, he advised that it is tested on scrap wood before using on a carving.
Before any finish is applied, the work should be washed. This removes the grease that has come from the carvers hands, and raises any fluffy bits of grain that the smoothing has pressed down. Apply danish oil with 2% turps thickly and when dry the fluffy bits will be standing proud of the work and stiff with the oil. They can then be easily sanded off.
The number of coats of danish oil depends on the finish required. Be careful to remove any excess from grooves and hollows with a dry brush.
Colour may be added to the danish by adding small amounts of oil paint. Test on scrap wood to see if the right effect is likely to be achieved.
Finally apply a coat of wax to the work

For Scandinavian style work which is usually painted, test a thin coat to newspaper. If you can still read the print, the thickness of the coat is about right.

For spoons that are going to be actually used with food, leave spoons in boiled whole milk for 2 days. The treatment is not effected by any washing up .

Below is a copy of Nick’s handout

Staining and Finishing Woodcarvings
Most convenient to use Wood Dyes (Rustins, Colron, Liberon). These are stains available in a range of shades which can be blended or thinned with white spirit.
Apply first to raw prepared wood as they will not penetrate a sealing coat. Remember that end grain takes stain much more readily, so use diluted stain or pre-treat end grain areas with thinned sealer to reduce absorption of dye.
If polyurethane varnish or oil is to follow, leave ample time (several days in a warm place) for stain to dry out. Otherwise, carving will remain sticky.
When staining a carving, areas which need to be unstained can be blocked first with cellulose sanding sealer (dries very quickly) and any stain in the wrong place can be wiped off with a rag dampened in white spirit. Alternatively, stain which has bled into the wrong area can be carefully chiselled away to expose unstained wood.
Sometimes, a deep knife cut along a stain boundary will stop the stain bleeding across.
Applying the Finish:
Cellulose Sanding Sealer (CSS) is a useful tool in the carver’s armoury.
As mentioned, it can be used as a stain-resist where differential staining is required.
Where carving problems arise with short grain or soft patches, the application of one or
more coats of CSS, thinned with cellulose thinners to increase penetration, will harden up the wood, making it much easier to carve. Always bear in mind however that wood treated this way will not subsequently take stain like untreated wood! (Superglue an also be used for this this purpose.
A primer coat of thinned CSS (+10%thinners) is a good start before waxing or PU varnish application and will speed up drying of the first coat of PU, especially on stained wood.
Polyurethane clear varnish is a good durable finish but should be thinned down (+10% white spirit) to avoid a treacly appearance. Satin and matt versions are available and often more suitable for carved work.
For exterior work, select a varnish with UV inhibitor and flexible build to minimise cracking (e.g. Rustins Flexterior varnish)
Oil finishes are easy to apply – wipe on, wipe off at increasing intervals, and give an attractive appearance. They often enhance the grain of the wood, so make sure that this will be acceptable in the finished carving.

Acrylic varnishes are increasingly popular for Health and Safety reasons and there are some good weather-resistant types available which are suitable for outdoor carvings.
Acrylic paints can be used, then over-varnished to give improved weather resistance.
French polish is not particularly suitable for carved work and does not seem to be used very often.

Cellulose Sanding Sealer. – Solvent – Cellulose thinners
Polyurethane varnish – Solvent – White Spirit or Turpentine
Shellac (French Polish) – Solvent – Methylated Spirit
Acrylic Varnish (gloss, satin, matt) – Solvent – Water
Oils (Danish, Tung, Linseed, etc – Solvent – White Spirit or Turpentine

Wax Polish can be applied on top of any of the above finishes or used alone.


Talk on Chip Carving

Gill Smith had expressed an interest in doing some chip carving and John Adamson had brought in some examples

John Adamson gave us an impromptu talk on Chip Carving.    It is not a style of carving he favours, but in 1999 he was an impoverished exchange student in Richmond, Virginia and was offered a free day out to learn chip carving by the local woodcarving group, so he took up the offer.    The organisers had already marked out the squares on the wood, so the most difficult part had been done.   That day he produced the carvings above and hoped that it would be the last time he had anything to do with chip carving.

But Back in 2019 the club had a talk on chip carving by Murray Taylor  (see    This opened John’s mind to the possibility that chip carving could be something other than finicky carved triangle.       At the same time he had been introduced to Myrioramas, and which he combined with those little Christmas presents we used to get where you slid squares round to make a picture, and produced a  chip carved myriorama.   see

and see

Visit by local Councillor Shahid Mohammed

The councillor came, seemed very impressed, and took photos of the club’s activities.   The photos have been put on his official website along with this comment. :-

I’d like to thank Zahir and the Lancashire & Cheshire Woodcarvers group for inviting me to one of the sessions today. They truly are a group of very friendly and talented individuals, I’ve attached a few pictures of some of their brilliant work. Although there are also folk with varying levels of skills – so you don’t have to be a master craftsman to join in.
They meet at the Rochdale Ukrainian Club, 15 Mere St, Rochdale OL11 1HJ, every Thursday from 10am till around 2pm.
So if you fancy getting into wood carving, pop along to the Ukrainian Club on a Thursday and they’ll be pleased to welcome you. You can also borrow some tools to get you started if you don’t have your own.
It is great to get free advertising.   Thanks to Zahir for promoting some local interest.

Choosing Chisels by Nick Pantelides

Nick talked about all the chisels that manufacturers hope to sell to carvers and the ones that members new to carving need to buy.   He had a chart of all the chisel types and described their uses.

Chart of chisels

The chisels actually needed depends on the type of work being done, but with a bit on ingenuity most work can be carved with a basic set.   Cheap chisels are usually not worth buying as they lack the qualities that a good manufacturer achieves through the final processes after the shaping of the tool .    The tool needs to be hard at the cutting edge and get progressively softer towards the handle prevent snapping.   Cheap tools are either too soft at the cutting edge and will not stay sharp or too hard and break easily.    Good tools are expensive but fortunately there are car boot sales and 2nd hand markets where good old tools are sometimes available.