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  • Catalpa wood

    I'm coming over to wood carving from soapstone. I know nothing! I was told, and I read, that catalpa wood was good for carving. I got a catalpa board to try, and took the gouges to it. I was very disappointed! It's going to be hard to even describe it as I don't know how to describe the way wood responds to blades. The board was grainy, intensely sensitive to grain direction, fibrous. It was hard or impossible to make fine cuts or get any detail. Cuts were inclined to 'run' ahead of the blade, or expand or widen ahead of the blade. I guess it's possible to carve it, but I can't figure out why my experience flies in the face of what I've read ... unless this board is not catalpa after all. Do people generally use power tools?

  • #2
    If you're carving dried catalpa, you'll find it will really test your tool-sharpening abilities. Like butternut, dry catalpa will split along the grain if you're not extra careful.

    I have carved several human busts from catalpa, but it was freshly cut and carved while wet. I think you might find it easier to carve when wet. (clean your tools when finished for the day.... sap is hard on them)

    I know a carver at Silver Dollar City (James Barr) and he carves A LOT of catalpa;

    http://jamesbarrwoodcarving.com/

    https://www.facebook.com/JamesBarrWoodcarving/


    Here is an early catalpa piece I did in 1988. Hand tools, no power tools used.

    DSC03383.JPG
    Last edited by dave.keele; 09-07-2020, 05:10 PM.
    ....Dave
    Old carvers never die... they just whittle away.
    www.shellknobwoodcarvers.weebly.com

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    • #3
      Originally posted by dave.keele View Post
      If you're carving dried catalpa, you'll find it will really test your tool-sharpening abilities. Like butternut, dry catalpa will split along the grain if you're not extra careful.

      I have carved several human busts from catalpa, but it was freshly cut and carved while wet. I think you might find it easier to carve when wet. (clean your tools when finished for the day.... sap is hard on them)

      I know a carver at Silver Dollar City (James Barr) and he carves A LOT of catalpa;

      http://jamesbarrwoodcarving.com/

      https://www.facebook.com/JamesBarrWoodcarving/
      A-ha! That's it! This board is very old and dry. No sap involved. Of course, the voice in my mind kept saying, "this is too dry!" but I don't know what I'm doing yet. I just have a few gouges from amazon. Thanks!

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      • #4
        Some carvers try to counter the dryness by spraying the wood with a mixture of alcohol & water (50/50). As Dave said, some woods have been traditionally worked while green. This runs the risk of cracks and warping.

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        • #5
          The trick is to make lots of "stop cuts" and only ever carve towards those.
          Standard practice for carving any conifers.
          Brian T

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          • #6
            I do not carve wood that splits off, too risky in my own opinion for breakage, I use power tools only on this kind of wood.

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            • #7
              I have carved catalpa, but boy did it ever take some hand strength! The grain is gorgeous, but it just wears me out on a larger piece. Have to say I much prefer butternut and plain ole basswood.

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              • #8
                I took a log carving class from James Barr a few years back. He does mainly all mallet carving and larger (3 ft tall and up) pieces and has arms like a lumberjack. What he did in 20 minutes took me 4 hours to chip away! lol

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