My Little Mermaid

I was asked to carve a figurehead for a boat that my uncle is building.
No problem, I thought. How hard could that be?

Since it will be on a boat and presumably will take some abuse, I decided that I should make it from the hardest, most durable wood that I have access to. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but I have some pretty tough wood to choose from. I walked into the woods and straight to the branch that had blown out of the old Beech tree several years ago. I have wondered many times why I had not already burned that branch in the stove for heat. Now as a wood carver I wondered what it would be like to sink my gouges into it.

Time to find out!

First I needed to find a piece of suitable size without rot or bugs. I had worked up a sweat and was breathing hard by the time I had cut the piece off with a handsaw. I understood then, that this wood was going to give me problems. I just hoped I would be up to the challenge.


My woodcarving mallet is turned from a piece of beech and I have used it to beat hell from my chisels. It has suffered very little wear. I believe the wood I used for this carving is even harder than my mallet.
Beech is well known for its hardness and density. It’s a pale colored wood that will not show detail well. That is a problem that I hope boiled linseed oil will fix.

The carving on the left is the prototype made from a piece of wimpy basswood. In a future article I will discuss my opinion of different woods for carving. The finished product is a little thick in the back and shoulders, but hey, she’s a swimmer.
When I look at the pattern going around the arm and jaw of this carving, I just have to think, “I love what I do!”
Tomorrow I will post a few pictures of the mermaid with an oil finish.


2 Responses to “My Little Mermaid”

  1. 1 dorisfiebig October 7, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    “How hard could that be?” …ah, matthew, i love your attitude … that is a wonderful story, i feel your challenge, and can somewhat relate to since i carved that oak… i am looking forward on your article about the different kind wood…
    the mermaid is already beautiful, even though you are right and pale woods (linden too) show shapes not particulary well before finishing. i am always surprised about the change in a piece after applying the finish…
    interesting to see a maquette carved in wood too, wimpy basswood, yes sure its very soft, but still a clay seems even easier. were there a reason for choosing to carve the maquette from wood ?
    (given the chisels in your fotos, the mermaid is surprisingly small (though i bet you were thinking she is giant while carving this hard wood))…i am looking forward to see her finished, i like the natural way you made her pose, it is less formal pose i otherwise have seen on figureheads. very nice indeed.

  2. 2 matthewgrimes October 9, 2009 at 10:13 am

    Hi and thank you, Doris. I started carving the basswood thinking that it would be the finished piece, but decided that I wanted a more durable wood. Using the basswood was just poor planning. I agree that clay would be much faster.
    Yes I like to use the biggest tools possible especially in the early stages.
    Now its time to work on a new project. So many ideas so little time.

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