am a product of my parents. In me, I can see some traits which I get from my mom and some things I get from my dad. I attribute my woodworking abilities to my dad. His name is Jack Branch, and he has been doing woodworking in some form for as long as I can remember. He has designed and built a number of things: furniture, the picnic table and benches out on the screen porch, the cabinet which housed my stereo system – and there were plenty of other things he made as I grew up. Over the past decade, he has developed into a very skilled woodcarver.
I visited his home and workshop yesterday, and I have to say that my dad is very fortunate to have such a gigantic space for a workshop. The basement of his home is large enough to fit six cars and has a ceiling height of at least 14 feet. His workshop is a magical place full of sculptures and caricatures. I hope the photos below convey the nature of his shop… (click the photos to enlarge)
Some might say his bench is a mess; in fact my dad started cleaning up his shop as I got out my camera. I asked him to leave it alone so I could capture the shop of a carver as is. There were carvings in various stages of completion everywhere…
His journey as a woodcarver began decades ago when he won a duck decoy as a sales award. For fun, he recreated the decoy, as he says, using crude tools. Some additional carvings were created somewhat sporadically after that, but in the last ten to fifteen years or so, carving has become his passion.
Fortunately for him, my dad ran into local sculptor Ira Chaffin and the two developed a friendship. Ira is not only a friend, but my dad considers Ira his mentor as well, frequently taking classes where my dad gets one-on-one instruction and advice. In addition to Ira, my father counts Gary Falin as a key figure in his development as a woodcarver.
He is also active in Tannehill Woodcarvers, a local woodcarving club which draws nationally known carvers as speakers and teachers.
I asked my dad what he considers his best work to be. He mentioned a scultpture in his home: “Lady” – he has also carved two carousel horses and three carousel horse heads. Typically, 400 hours of work goes into one of his carousel horses.
Two or three of the items below are not my dad’s carvings, rather cherished carvings by other talented carvers; but most of what you see is his work…
Whats on the bench, etc.
I asked him what he has been working on most recently – “little small wizards, little small mountain men – just really little small things; also shelf elves, things like that.”
As far as tools; his most important tool is a simple carving knife. I was somewhat surprised by this because he has a very complete set of nice carving chisels – by his estimation, something like $3,000 worth of carving tools. Most of my dad’s work is hand held while sculpting, and for that a simple knife is best. For larger work, his mallet and chisels come into play, but hand held work is what he does most frequently.
Sharpening is obviously very important and for this skill, David Cummings has taught him many things. Also knowing how to paint a finished carving is very important. If you look closely at the finished work in the images above, painting a carving is very intricate work.
Imagine though the skill required to successfully sculpt a woodcarving. I asked him about the difficulty of successfully shaping an object. His reply…
You have to be very, very careful about getting the eyes – there is a famous woodcarver by the name of Paul Russell, and Paul Russell says if you don’t get the eyes right, then you don’t have a woodcarving. So, you have to do that. And they are hard. They are really hard because the head is five eyes wide. You have to get it right, you know, so it won’t look out of whack.
My father and I get together frequently for lunch or coffee. He is someone I can talk woodworking with, especially as I turn more towards hand tool work. We often talk about the things we are working on, and we laugh about the silly mistakes we make – stuff that nobody else hears. So, as my dad talks about mentors and those who have fine tuned his woodcarving skills, I am reminded that he is in me – he is the person who has had the most fundamental impact on my life as a woodworker. He is who instills in me to keep at it and get it right. He is an inspiration and for that I am truly blessed.
Some closing thoughts from my dad…
Everybody ought to have something to do that utilizes time so when he gets through he says, boy am I proud of that; boy did I put my time to good use. And woodcarving does that. When you are doing a woodcarving you really have to pay attention, you really have to concentrate to get it right. The beauty of woodcarving is, you can not be mad at anybody while you’re doing it.
I interjected: “You don’t want to take your anger out on your woodcarving.”
No because you will end up taking your anger out on your fingers if you do [laughs].