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Author: Alistair Park

bespoke display stand

Bespoke display stands with carved inscriptions

Sometimes, I get asked to make display stands. The one above was for a set of three antique balls used to play the game of bowls. The oak stand really set them off nicely and I enjoyed carving two different inscriptions, one in a Trajan-style script and the other in one similar to Chancery.

inscription on display stand

I always use timber that has been sourced as ethically as possible, only using reclaimed tropical hardwoods and oak from well-managed British or European forests. Each is also finished with green baize on the underside.

The stands below were made for a stone sculptor, using reclaimed South American mahogany. The colour contrasts nicely with his carvings:

mahogany stands

Playground musical instruments

Musical Instruments for a Playground

St Werburghs Community Centre in Bristol have been redeveloping a car park as a play area and asked if I could make some ‘sensory structures’ for the area – which gave the chance to make musical instruments!

playground musical instruments

Researching how to make and tune them was a fascinating process. It was made a little trickier as I wanted to use reclaimed timbers to make some of the wooden parts. The larger companies around my workshop sometimes get deliveries of timber on bearers made from offcuts of sapele wood – a tree that grows in tropical Africa. Although many are reused by those companies when stacking timber for storage, it seemed a real shame to waste any of the used bearers by burning or throwing them away, especially as sapele is a great timber to use for xylophone bars. I’m very glad to have found a better use for the wood.

Playground xylophone made from reclaimed timbers

The beautiful locally-grown larch posts holding up the instruments were provided by Tom and the team at Roundwood Design.

The four instruments are:

A set of four tuned metallophone bars, made from discarded ends of scaffold pole. The limited space between the existing planters meant that the instruments could only be  a certain width. I also made the beaters to play the bars, using golf balls on aluminium rods.

met allophone made from reclaimed scaffold pole for playgrounds

A tuned xylophone was probably the most difficult thing to get right; especially as there is a certain amount of wastage when using reclaimed materials due to imperfections and damage in the wood. I’m very happy with how it turned out and would like to explore the idea further, perhaps by carving the bars into interesting shapes.

Xylophone for playground

The next instrument was made using stainless steel threaded bars and washers. The washers slide down the bars, making a sound a bit like a rain stick. It’s strangely fascinating to watch them as they move downwards, glittering in the sun.

Playground instruments play area

The final instrument is something I call ‘rattle poles’. These were turned from the sapele bearers, with a stick to play them that was also turned using reclaimed timber from a bearer.

wooden play instrument

Woodturning to make instruments

The two vertical sticks were the largest turned wooden items that I’ve produced so far. It gave me a chance to get my vintage Myford ML8 lathe fired up, which was great fun.

Woodturning on a Myford ML8 lathe

I think that the finished turned sticks look beautiful, especially against the rustic larch poles.

wooden sticks to play

It’s a lovely thought that these musical instruments will provide fun for children and their parents for many years to come. What do they sound like, you may be asking? There’s a Youtube video which will show you.

Carved wooden birds at Woodland Arts

These carvings of birds were made for ‘Woodland Arts’, an exhibition in Leigh Woods, Bristol in 2017. I like making new pieces to show in events like this one. Although it can be time consuming, it always gives an opportunity to explore themes that interest me but perhaps haven’t come up in my commission work.

I hadn’t carved a bird sculpture for quite a while, and the woodland setting for the show seemed to make them an ideal subject. Kestrels (as above) and nuthatches (shown below, poised to run down a tree trunk as they do) are both birds that interest me and that live around these woods, so they were the ones chosen.

Carved wooden nuthatch

For the bodies of each bird, I used European larch timber. These were timber offcuts from companies that share the area that my workshop is in. Larch isn’t particularly easy to carve with traditional hand tools, no matter how sharp they are, so much of the work was done with abrasive discs fitted to angle grinders.

woodcarving using power tools

This also gave the carvings a smoother, slightly abstract feel which I really like.

Nuthatch bird wood carving

The pale wood in the kestrel’s beak is hornbeam, taken out during building work at Bristol’s Southmead hospital.

The dark wood used for the eyes and the beaks is a bit of Bristol’s heritage. It is a timber called greenheart, from offcuts which were given to me by a furniture maker friend named Jim Sharples. Jim had made a large bench to be placed near Bristol’s ‘Mshed‘, using wood from the old North Junction lock gates which led from Bristol Harbour to the Avon Gorge and then the sea. The huge trunk of tough African greenheart wood lay on the top of the old gates, to protect them from bumps by ship’s hulls. It was removed when the gates, which were fitted in the nineteenth century, were recently replaced. These small bits of wood are really pieces of Bristol’s maritime history.

carved wooden rabbit

Making the Jackie Collins Inspirational Woman of the Year Award: 2016 – 2018

This award is presented every year by the cancer charity Penny Brohn UK. For the last three years, I have been honoured to be asked to carve each one. All of them are different in design and a lot of effort is put into making each one special to the person receiving it.

In 2018, Jacqueline Gold was presented with the award. She is the boss of the Ann Summers chain of high street shops, which sell lingerie and other products to spice up people’s love lives. Her award references one of the company’s most famous products, which has a rabbit theme…

wooden rabbit bx

The wood used came from the Ashton Court estate in Bristol and the carving also has a small box included in the design, as the Trust wanted the award to be functional in some way.

carved wooden rabbit box

Here’s a photo of Jacqueline Gold receiving her award in May 2018. The image was supplied by Penny Brohn UK and is credited to Andre Regini.

Jacqueline Gold receiving the Jackie Collins woman of the Year award 2018

In 2017, the recipient was the perfume designer Jo Malone. Her new line of fragrances uses the scent of pomelo as its keynote and so I came up with some designs based around the leaves and flowers of pomelos.

Penny Brohn UK Jackie Collins Inspirational Woman of the Year award to Jo Malone

There were a few considerations that influenced the design of the award. Jo is a practical person, so it needed to be a useful object. It also had to be created from a piece of cedar from the grounds of the Trust’s headquarters, which I already had left over after making the award for the previous year.

Penny brohn uk award

The piece was also going to be engraved with an inscription suggested by Jo’s personal assistant: Passion, Resilience and Creativity.

A bowl was the perfect, practical item to make. Pomelo leaves are quite distinctive; they have a second pair of leaf lobes coming out from the stalk (or petiole) and so that was worked into the design. Most of the bowl was carved using power tools, as the cedar seemed easier to work with when using them.

carving a wooden bowl

I was very happy with the finished bowl, as were the people at Penny Brohn UK.

Jo Malone award

Apparently Jo also really liked the bowl and now has it on her desk. Here’s a photo from the ceremony, kindly supplied by Penny Brohn UK and used with permission:

Jo Malone

The first recipient in 2016 was Nina Barough, who founded the walks against cancer which have raised millions to fund research into fighting the disease. Her award reflects Nina’s love of flowers and it was carved from cedar that originally grew in the grounds of the Penny Brohn UK HQ. The piece also had to be carefully designed, to account for changes in the timber as it seasoned.

Penny Brohn UK award

Here is a photo, again with kind permission of Penny Brohn UK, of Nina (on the left) receiving the award:

Nina Barough

I feel very proud that these inspiring people each have one of my sculptures.

 

mythic garden dartmoor 2004

‘The Mythic Garden’, Dartmoor, Devon 2004

The is the single exhibition to date where I have only shown only stone carvings. The venue for the Mythic Garden was stunning: a large garden on the edge of the high moors that houses the national collections of birch and alder trees. Artworks were dotted throughout the space, so there was plenty of room around each one and a wide variety of possible locations to site pieces.

 

dsc03173

 

I don’t carve stone that often: to be honest, working with wood is really where I’m happiest. It was an interesting change though and I’m very grateful to have had the chance to put work into this lovely spot.

 

Galatea

Wood carving of dog

A carved wooden portrait of your pet

A truly personal gift; for someone else, for yourself or even for your favourite pet companion.

 

Carved portrait of a pet cat in wood

 

I normally carve portraits by hand from a good-quality photograph onto an oak plaque, then finish it with either wax (for use indoors), varnish or finishing oil. If you would prefer another kind of wood or even a carving onto something else, such as an object that your pet likes, get in touch and we can chat about what you have in mind.

 

wood carving portrait cat

 

I can carve an image of any kind of animal and, even though I can’t know them as well as you do, it will be a lovely reminder of them for you.

 

carving of gun dog

Teaching woodcarving to individuals and small groups at their homes or at my beautiful studio in Bristol

Individual Tuition

As well as giving tuition to larger groups and at schools, I really enjoy teaching individuals and small groups in my own workshop. It’s great to see what people choose to make when given the timber and tools and a chance to have a go.

teaching woodcarving in Bristol

They also get the chance to learn with a qualified and insured tutor who is one of the most experienced carvers currently working in the area. I am experienced in and can teach all kinds of carving, large or small scale.

Woodcarving tuition in BristolLearners can use a wide variety of my own tools; from tiny gouges, through knives and axes to power tools. I try to give the important information that allows someone to be able to buy and maintain their own tools and continue carving at home.

If you have a woodcarving idea, I can probably help you to make it.

 

 

 

Will Barsley spent two days learning with me in 2013. He is now studying woodcarving at the City and Guilds College in London and writing about carving in publications and on his blog. Will has thanked me for the tuition that started him on his career, saying:

‘Thank you so much for today and last week for that matter. 
Have really enjoyed the lessons and is so nice to have the opportunity to work with all your tools. ‘

‘you were my first tutor and really helped stoke the fire of my interest in becoming a wood carver.’

Will Barsley wood carving

 

teaching woodcarving for a stag do

Teaching carving for a stag do

For those who may not know what a ‘stag do’ is, it is a tradition in Britain for a man who is about to be married to get together with his friends (usually, but not always, male) and have a party. The ‘hen do’ is the woman’s equivalent. They are often marked by a lot of drinking!

As a twist on the usual festivities, one group came to my studio to learn to how to carve. Two people learned how to use axes, knives, drawknives and other green woodworking tools to make spoons.

stag do woodworking

The others learned how to carve relief carvings in oak using a variety of traditional tools.

woodcarving

I thought that it was a really nice idea, getting together to learn new skills with friends at this time. Everyone seemed very happy with the work that they produced too. If this idea appeals to you, feel free to get in touch.

green man

teaching woodcarving at schools in Bristol

Teaching carving to young people

I’ve taught woodcarving and woodworking skills to groups of children and young people for many years and really enjoy seeing them learning the practical skills involved, so that they can use the tools in a safe and efficient way.

Previous groups have included youth clubs, schools, young people with learning difficulties and groups who were having problems at school as well as passing children in parks and festivals. Pretty much all possible kinds of young learner!

I also hold an enhanced DBS check, as well as being a trained forest school leader.

 

 

Lawrence weston city farm

 

Previous commissions have also included cutting up pieces of a beloved oak tree that had to be felled at Braishfield primary school in Hampshire, then teaching the pupils and staff to carve their own artworks to take home using the timber.

 

Teaching woodcarving to children and young people

 

I also spent four and a half years working with disengaged young people and groups with learning difficulties at the Boiling Wells nature reserve run by St Werburghs City Farm in Bristol. We covered a huge range of skills, ranging from firelighting and traditional woodcarving to designing and building new structures on site.

 

teaching young people woodcarving in Bristol

green woodworking course bristol

Carving, green and general woodworking classes

I have over twenty two years of carving experience and have been teaching woodworking classes to people of all ages for over ten of them. It feels great to share my passion for and knowledge of the subject with others. I have experience in teaching not only woodcarving, but also the specialist skills needed to work with unseasoned ‘green’ wood as well as more general carpentry and joinery techniques.

The picture above shows one of several green woodworking courses that I ran at Boiling Wells in Bristol, in partnership with St Werburghs City farm and with funding from the Radcliffe Trust.

 

green woodworking and carving in Bristol

 

Nowadys, I often teach one-off days rather than courses, for groups of six to eight people at a time. Learners will be taught so much in the day that it is frequently enough!

Unlike some other tutors, I don’t just teach what is needed to make a particular object. Instead, lessons focus on what tools to buy, where to get them, how to use them safely and efficiently and how to keep them sharp, if necessary. That way, if a student wants to continue after the session, they have all the knowledge and skills to do so in whichever direction they choose. Get in touch if you’d like more information.

 

Bristol woodworking classes