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carved Opinel knife handle

Carved Knife Handles

This knife handle was carved for a commission in 2011. The buyer gave me his own designs and I carved them onto the beechwood handle of a number 10 Opinel lock knife. The handle is 10.5 cm (41/4″) long. As this was the type of knife with which I learnt to carve, it ws very exciting for me and the whole carving was done using my own Opinel, which is also shown here.

 

Carved Opinel knife handle

 

The knife at the top is the carved commission. It’s easy to see on this image how much metal had been sharpened off the blade of my knife over the previous 21 years- both blades would have once been the same size.

 

carving an Opinel knife handle

 

The blade of the knife to be carved was extended and wrapped in thick card, to give more to hold on to when working. Work in progress can be seen below.

 

carving with an Opinel knife

 

…and here are two images of the completed handle, finished with a very light sanding and then linseed oil…

 

Beautiful carved Opinel handle

Un couteau Opinel sculpté

 

Here’s another, which was carved for a commission a couple of months later. The knife is an oak-handled EKA. The client drew a (very good) representation of his idea for me to carve, which includes his son’s initials, the sun and the moon.

 

carved oak knife handle

 

carved EKA knife handle

 

The next knife handle was carved in New South Wales, Australia way back in 1997. It was made for a very talented Spanish leatherworker named Guille. In exchange for me carving a walnut-handled knife that belonged to him, he made a pouch for my carving knife (shown below). He loved Celtic designs and so the knife has a celtic-style dog’s head on the pommel, with eyes made from inlaid reindeer antler beads.

 

Celtic knife pouch

 

I still have the beautiful pouch that he made for me to this day but after leaving Byron Bay I never met Guille again.

Here are two images of his knife:

 

carved celtic knife handle

dogheadknife2

 

If you are interested in these then you might also like a more recent commission to carve a pagan ceremonial knife handle from oak, which is discussed in a separate post.

 

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Friday Tembo sculpture repair

Repairing an ‘Ebony’ Sculpture by Friday Tembo

In January 2009, I was offered a commission to repair a sculpture by the late Zambian sculptor, Friday Tembo. The piece was carved from African Ironwood timber that had been darkened to look like ebony. Unfortunately, it had been accidentally knocked from a mantelpiece and had broken into several fragments.

Friday Tembo was one of Zambia’s top sculptors, who exhibited internationally. He was a personal friend of the owners and had given them the carving himself. It therefore had great sentimental value, particularly as he had since passed away.

It was a real privilege to be given the opportunity of repairing and restoring this strange, beautiful and interesting work. It represents a shaman in the process of transforming between the shape of a man and that of a fish.

 

repairing an ebony sculpture by Friday Tembo

 

This is how the sculpture was given to me. The small bag holds fragments which had been knocked from the fins.

 

Repairing Friday Tembo sculpture

 

Below are shown these same breaks after being repaired, retextured and then finished using the original methods that Friday Tembo would have used.

 

Ebony sculpture repair Bristol

 

The break shown below had to be reinforced with an internal metal rod to strengthen it.

 

ebony sculpture repair

 

The repaired sculpture, waiting in a friend’s workshop for collection by the client. The tools give an idea of the size of the piece.

 

Ebony sculpture by Friday Tembo

imaginary animal - crustacean

‘Velocivenator satiei’

What if lobsters or large shrimp had evolved into fast-swimming hunters instead of creatures adapted to a life mainly on the seabed. What would they look like?

 

unusual woodcarving of a crustacean inspired by Erik Satie

 

This sculpture, made between Nov ’08 and Oct ’09, is fairly closely based on macruran decapods (creatures such as lobsters and shrimp) and their cousins the stomatopods (mantis shrimp). Only wood and tagua nut, without any dyes or stains, has been used to make it. I enjoyed revisiting my old studies in Zoology to work out how a realistic creature would look.

 

imaginary creature- a hunting crustacean

 

All the woods used were either found after they had already fallen or are recycled material that would otherwise have been thrown away or burnt. They include:
Cocobolo and Pau amarillo from the scrap pile at a West Country wood merchants,

Juniper from a hill in the Lake District,

Mahogany from the counter of an old Post Office in Bow, London. My friend Molly was born in the flat above,

Cherry from the waste pile at a guitar maker’s workshop in Devon, from Highgate Park in Birmingham and also from a garden in Warwickshire,

Purpleheart and ebony scrap given to me by a cabinetmaker in Devon,

Tagua nut, an ivory-like nut that is a renewable rainforest resource from Brazil or Ecuador,

Holly and boxwood from Devon, courtesy of a tree surgeon friend,

Rose gum offcut from a builder’s skip in New South Wales, Australia,

Beech from the foot of the Totes Gebirge (‘Dead mountains’) in the Austrian Alps,

Black poplar and walnut offcuts from a woodyard in Bristol,

Almond from near a village named San Pedro in Almeria, Spain.

 

hunting lobsters

 

I like to imagine this piece being a specimen in some strange Victorian naturalists’s study. The title means ‘Satie’s fast hunter’ in Latin. In 1913 the composer Erik Satie, who had a taste for the humorous and the surreal, wrote a piano piece about the desiccated embryo of a hunting crustacean.

carved wooden bird skull

Predator Bird’s Skull

After making a few ‘Metainsects‘, I started to think about what kind of predator would adapt or evolve to feed on such ornery little beasties. What would they look like?

 

carved wooden bird skull

 

With an anatomy-themed exhibition coming up, I started to carve a bird’s skull, but one that would eat tough, large and potentially dangerous insects. The skull is quite chunky and crested, so the bird would almost certainly be flightless but probably a good runner. It has a large braincase, so would be smart. The whole skull is about 25 centimetres (approx. 10 inches) long.

 

wooden bird skull

 

The nozzle on the beak would fire a sticky mucus that would disable the defences of the prey. This is adapted from a similar system used by a seabird called a fulmar, which shoots foul-smelling secretions at potential attackers from a similar nozzle over it’s beak. The large beak would then be able to pick apart the prey.

The skull part was carved from a single block of sycamore. The beak and nozzle are carved from a piece of English boxwood. The stand is stained oak and bamboo.

I really enjoyed carving the ‘Predator bird’s skull’. It gave a chance to revisit my studies in Zoology and the anatomy of this skull is based on those of real birds. The different bones shown ‘fused’ to form it match those in nature, albeit with some features (like the crest of bone) added or changed.

Metainsectivore

This sculpture was made in July 2013, to be exhibited in a show called ‘Inspired’ at Ashton Court in Bristol, UK. It represents a mammal that would feed on the hybrid insects depicted in the ‘Metainsecta’ series that I’ve been working on for a few years. Other sculptures on this theme are also shown in this website, including the ‘Predator Bird Skull‘, the ‘Mechanical Insects‘ and the ‘New Mechanical Insects‘.

 

metainsectivore - an imaginary mammal

 

There was a bit of pressure to make a good job of this carving, as one of my fellow exhibitors at ‘Inspired’ was the very well-known furniture designer and maker, John Makepeace. That’s his table and chair next to my piece in the exhibition.

 

Inspired exhibition at Ashton Court

 

The entire sculpture is made from found and recycled timbers. including the eyes and whiskers. I wanted it to look like a Victorian taxidermied specimen, with the same kind of dramatised pose that such exhibits had.

 

carved wooden hands

 

It appears to have been surprised in the act of going to eat the ‘metainsect’ pupa hanging from the branch.

 

Metainsect DARPA HI-MEMS

 

The design took elements from real, existing creatures and put them together to invent a new one: features of cats, quolls, tarsiers, foxes and anteaters have all been included. A lot of thought went into what this creature would look like and why: for example, the strange long, narrow muzzle allows it to pick apart prey, while keeping vulnerable parts of the face a good distance away.

 

 

Imaginary creature-speculative evolution

 

If you would like to find out more about the designing and making of ‘Metainsectivore’, there are more in-depth descriptions posted on my blog, which you can visit by clicking on these links: Designing and Making. There is a link on the blog to bring you back to this website.

scorpion fly sculpture meatinsecta speculative evolution

The ‘Metainsecta’ series

These sculptures were inspired by research into creating insect/machine hybrid creatures for military use, currently being conducted in the United States by the government-sponsored organisation known as DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). The project is known by the acronym ‘HI-MEMS‘ (Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems).

 

scorpion fly and other HI-MEMS beasts

 

The aim of the HI-MEMS project is to install devices into insects during the pupal or larval stages of their development, allowing them to be used in military surveillance ( and presumably attack) operations. Although many entomologists are very sceptical about the chances of success, billions of dollars have been allocated to fund this research. All of the sculptures use design elements taken from existing insects, combined with a bit of theatre, to explore what might happen when humans interfere in this way with creatures that have existed for a lot longer than we have.

 

Wooden insect sculptures

 

Given the short lives and the amount of offspring that insects can have, I’d imagine that it would make more sense to implant tiny nano factories that could replicate themselves as well as producing the devices to be implanted, rather than the devices themselves. These would then be passed down through the generations. However, such technology would be very difficult, if not impossible, to control in the outside world. If both insects and devices evolve and change; for example, by devices moving into other creatures through the food chain, what would happen? What creatures would evolve to feed on them?

 

Metainsecta chainsaw beetle

 

osteotome beetle

 

I imagine this insect to have been developed to be attracted to and to cut up calcium-rich cement, so being used in swarms to take out bunkers and other defences. When there are no more bunkers, it would cut up bones.

Not all of the metainsects are for military purposes though. This is the record-playing ‘Gramophone weevil‘.

 

gramophone weevil

 

 

wooden rabbit carving

Sign for Rock Meadows Housing Development

This cedar log was carved as a sign for Rock Meadow, a housing development of affordable housing in the Forest of Dean, in Gloucestershire. It shows animals and plants found in the local area, including orchids, wild daffodils, a shrew, rabbits and dormice.

 

Rock Meadow housing sign

 

There are also carved rocks on it, reflecting the name of the development. The bottom of the log, below the band of carved ‘rocks’, was uncarved except for slots as it was to be sunk into a concrete base when fitted on site. Cedar is a durable timber, so the sign will hopefully last for a while outdoors.

 

carved cedar log

 

How many animals and plants can you spot in the photos?

 

carved cedar sign for housing development

 

 

‘Woodlands for all’ project 2008

This project (with limited time and budget to complete it) was carved during May 2008 for the ‘Forest of Avon Trust‘, an organisation in Bristol that seek to promote the use of local woodlands in environmentally sustainable ways.

Four posts were sited at Jubilee Stone Wood near Backwell, on the edge of the Mendip Hills. Four others were fixed in at West Tanpit Wood, near Lower Failand and across the Avon gorge from Bristol. All eight posts were shallow-relief carved using long-lasting sweet chestnut logs, with designs chosen by young people and people with special needs from the area.

West Tanpit Wood

These posts stand a bit over 5 feet (1.5m) tall and mark a short circular route through the woods. If walking in early summer, the woods suddenly turn from being carpeted with the white flowers of wild garlic to the deep blue of native British bluebells – very beautiful indeed.

 

West Tanpit woods

 

A bird called a Dipper (which can sometimes be seen running about in the stream next to this post)

carved wooden dipper bird

 

Bluebells and Bumble bee

bluebells and bumble bee

 

Fern by a stream (before leaving the workshop)

wooden carved fern leaf

 

Oak leaves, acorns and a logpile, symbolising the two halves of the wood- native deciduous trees and commercial softwood plantation.

 

carved marker post

 

Jubilee Stone Wood

 

Jubilee Stone wood

 

Early Purple Orchid with Silver Washed Fritillary butterfly

carved orchid and butterfly

 

Robin singing on Ivy (before leaving the workshop)

carved robin and ivy

 

Sunset over Nailsea- the view next to this post

jubilee stone wood post

carved wooden owl face

The Owl and the Woodpecker

This sculpture was carved for the former Lord Mayor of Bristol, Geoff Gollop, and his family in 2009.

 

owl and woodpecker

 

A much loved Robinia tree had to be cut down in their garden and they wanted to turn the remaining stump into a sculpture so that they could continue enjoying it. Making this culture involved using a range of tools, from chainsaws to traditional carving gouges and chisels.

 

carving an owl in wood

 

After discussing a few ideas with them, they decided that they would like the two life-size birds, with a pattern going up the trunk. To make the woodpecker’s legs stronger, I carved them from two wooden pegs that were firmly fixed in. This meant that the grain direction made them less likely to snap.

 

carved wooden woodpecker

 

carved wooden owl

 

I like the idea of the slightly indignant owl being woken up by the busy woodpecker and I think that the owl’s face captures that.

 

Self portrait 2013

This was carved from a piece of a big Lawson Cypress tree that was cut down next to Ashton Court mansion in Bristol. The work was part of a landscaping scheme, but was very controversial at the time. It’s nice to think that some of the timber has gone to a creative use instead of rotting away.

Ashton Court big trees

 

I’d wanted to try carving a self portrait for a while, as it’s a real challenge for a carver to get right. Using a piece of such an iconic Bristolian tree also reflects my affection for my adopted home town. After milling it into usable pieces on site (with permission), the timber was also being used in many projects that I was working on at the time.

I got the chance to make a self portrait with an exhibition called ‘Cornucopia’ at the Grant Bradley Gallery in Bristol, UK in 2013. Portraits are pretty tricky things at the best of times, but self portraits show a bit more of your ‘soul’. I suppose that’s why so many artists have had a go at them: it’s a real test of skill and technique. However, on the plus side, the model is always there and works for free!

 

carving a self portrait

 

Many people just show a face-forward, neutral expression when attempting this kind of thing but that seemed a bit easy to me, so I decided to wink instead. Or perhaps it’s a grimace? I’ve always been very impressed by the character heads made by Frans Xaver Messerschmidt and carving an expression seemed a natural thing to do.

 

self portrait 2013

 

The sculpture is about 24 cm (9 1/2 inches) high and took a little over 42 hours to make. The soft timber wasn’t easy to work with and sometimes powered abrasive tools (like a Dremel multitool) gave better results than chisels and gouges. no matter how sharp the latter were kept. I’m particularly happy with the way that the expression turned out, which the grain of the timber helps a lot.

The sculpture also captured the perspective distortion from the reference photos – the face (which was closer to the camera lens) is exaggerated while the ears are reduced to almost disappear behind it. I like the effect- it’s a caricature and it reminds me of some portraits by the artist Chuck Close that I’m fond of as well.

 

self portrait