"Carving a Tree Spirit" #1: Face and Nose

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Blog entry by mpounders posted 12-24-2011 10:49 PM 36765 reads 16 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of "Carving a Tree Spirit" series Part 2: Beard and Eyes »

I took up carving because I was so impressed with a wood spirit I saw at a craft show, and I still work on them, even though other subjects have caught my attentions. Tree spirits and greenmen have been part of folklore and traditions through many ages and cultures. I have carved them as wall hangings, spoons, canes, and free standing pieces out of primarily found wood of different species. This tutorial will start with a small piece suitable for a cane or staff, but the techniques apply to a piece of any size. I will also do a little carving with some cottonwood bark toward the end.

So, this is a small piece of hickory about six inches long and about one inch in diameter. I am using a shorter piece for this demo, that I cut off a cane I just finished, and a small piece is certainly easier to practice on for your first pieces. You have to be really careful with longer canes and staffs, because you have to turn the wood upside down and in different directions in order to cut properly. This can be awkward with longer pieces and somewhat dangerous for lighting fixtures! Beware! I am using one of my favorite knives, the always sharp utility knife, and a couple of fmall gouges.

You want to remove the bark from an area sbout an inch tall and also remove the cambium layer underneath the bark. This thin layer underneath the bark is usually darker than the wide beneath, which can cause some undesirable effects with your carving. Since it would be the highest level, your carving would appear to have a brown nose and we certainly don’t want that! I have did a few carvings where I have used a branch growing out for the nose, but you have to be careful since the center of that branch is usually a different color and will give you that brown spot again on the end of the nose. A nice carving can really look bad when a finish is applied if you are not careful to carve past some of these upper layers. You just get too much variation in the face. Sketch in the position of the nose and the eye brows and the mound of the mouth. I’ll be cuttin off more later to make the beard and hair longer, but that will wait until we get some of the major details blocked in. I’m making the cleared area come to a slight point toward the location of the nose, in order to make it stand out. The Santa ornament I carved used the corner for this, so we are having to carve the corner for the nose into this round cylinder of wood. (but we won’t have to round it off later!)

I carve out the chip below the nose and above the nose to give the basic shape. This hickory is a lot harder than the basswood I normally carve, but it is important to get it deep enough to make it stand out properly. Most beginners are a little afraid about cutting too much off….so be sure and get it deep enough to give a good profile.

Draw your nose and eyebrows back in. Now, we’ll cut the forehead back down to the nose making a big shallow V shape. Draw your eye brows and stuff back when finished.

The low point of that V is where the center line of the eyes will eventually be. The area above that will be the upper eye lid and part beneath the brow. So now we will make the cuts on those lines. Stab the point of your knife deep at the corner of the eye and nose and keep the blade vertical as you make the deep to shallow cut from that corner to the bottom of the nose. You need to cut enough at the bottom so that the nose stands out good, but the cut at the corner of the eye and nose will be the deepest on the face. Slant the knife blade to remove the area above the eye to the corner of the nose. You’ll cut out an arch shaped segment, kinda like a segment of an orange, to form the shape of the upper lid, as shown below. Don’t be afraid to cut deeper in the eye/nose corner… will look better if you make it deeper!

Round of the tip of the nose to a ball like shape and slant the sides up a little for the wings of the nose. Round off the edges of the bridge of the nose and make sure that you have everything deep enough so that it stands out good from the face. Draw the top part of the wings of the nose and then remove a little v chip to define them. You can round the nose off and the thin the bridge a bit if it is needed. You can use a knife to cut the nostrils, but I used a little 2mm u gouge to take out a little semi-circle.

Now I reduce and round off the mound for the mouth. I don’t want it to look like the lips stick out past the tip of the nose, so I cut it back a bit. Now that I have some of the features defined, I decide to take off more bark around the bottom to give more of a definition for the area of the beard. More voluminous and flowing. I sketch in where I think I want the mustache and mouth, trying for somewhat of a wind-tossed look. I usually like just a buttom lip showing, more of a serious, pensive look. But this could change!

That’s all for now! I’ll post some more soon, as I am off for the holidays and plan to spend a lot of time in th shop! Merry Christmas!

-- Mike P., Arkansas,

8 comments so far

View MShort's profile


1798 posts in 4761 days

#1 posted 12-24-2011 10:55 PM

Thanks Mike !!! Looking forward to the rest of your blog.

-- Mike, Missouri --- “A positive life can not happen with a negative mind.” ---

View Roger's profile


21055 posts in 4147 days

#2 posted 12-25-2011 04:28 AM

very good Mike. nuttin like a lil carvin how-to fer Christmas. thnx. Merry Christmas to you & yours

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed. [email protected]

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5748 days

#3 posted 12-25-2011 05:40 AM

looking forward the rest of the series, off to a good start.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View nonickswood's profile


571 posts in 3730 days

#4 posted 12-25-2011 06:30 AM

Thanks Mike, Very nice!
Always wanted some good carving instruction.
Will be following.

-- Nick, Virginia,

View doordude's profile


1085 posts in 4326 days

#5 posted 12-25-2011 08:59 AM

thanks for the lesson. looks good so far,looking forward to the other lessons.

View Rustic's profile


3260 posts in 4939 days

#6 posted 12-27-2011 06:17 AM

Just found this thanks Mike

--, Rick Kruse, Grand Rapids, MI

View ~Julie~'s profile


623 posts in 4377 days

#7 posted 12-31-2011 06:14 PM

Cool… I’m behind on my reading online, so just found this and will try it out soon!
Thanks Mike.

-- ~Julie~

View carverdave's profile


8 posts in 3983 days

#8 posted 01-04-2012 03:17 AM

Excellent Mike!

-- Dave C. Wesley Chapel FL.

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