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Chainsaw Carving Tips

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Bar Boring Depth

I used to take a black indelible ink pen I used in my greenhouse and marked my bar. After some cutting it would wear off. I now take and mark it and use my dermal tool to mark the bar permanently. I also know from the tip of my bar on my saw to the back of it’s measurements, plus to the back the saw from the tip of the bar, and any other easy spot to use is good to know and remember when cutting. I started doing this cutting firewood years ago and kept refining it.. Any method that is good for you will work.

Burls and knobs

I have been taking some of these burls and cutting them in half and using them for lamp bases, the knobs on large logs can be cut off and if good can be peeled and used too.. I then use a 2 inch tree or desired piece of of wood and make the tower for the lamp. I use a tree a few inches in Diameter with some black cherry burls starting to grow out of it. It makes the lamp tower look more interesting. I otherwise carve something on the lamp pole and/or base. Some of the bigger burls I have cut into slabs with my Alaskan Sawmill and use them for end tables.

Chain Sharpening

I use the Carroll D. Sanders method of sharpening. He has a tape for sale to explain his method. The only thing I do different then him and most carvers is the position I have the saw to sharpen it. I can’t lay a saw down and sharpen both sides equal with a file. I also can’t see the bottom of the top cutting plate very well this way. I ended up with teeth longer or different lengths on each side. To alleviate all these problems for me I went back to a way I was taught logging in Oregon in the 60’s. I stand the saw on the handle and have the bar between my legs. I then take the file and lay it in the tooth I’m going to sharpen. I then pull the chain up or down to get my angle and look at my marks I had ground in the bar for depth cutting, I use this mark for all the teeth. This makes my angle all the same, something I don’t have to watch so much with this method. I can also look and see if I have to much hook or to little and easy adjust by filing. Filing towards the bar and down gives me hook. Filing towards the cutter and no down pressure gives me less hook. You can look and see the hook so easy, so you have all the cutters the same. I then turn the saw 180 degrees and do the other side the teeth using the same mark on the bar for angle. After I have done the whole chain this way, I go over it with a flat file Carroll supplied to me. It is a Nicholson chainsaw flat file with cutting teeth on a half rounded edge on both sides. I use this on the underside of the top cutting plate edge to take the round bottom the round file makes.. Carroll’s tape will explain this properly. I’d rather sharpen with a file as you can adjust all the ways you can file you can’t do with a sharpener. The chain will stay sharper longer as the temper is not changed in the chain teeth by a file. Once every 3 or 4 sharpening a person should also use a raker gauge to adjust the height of the rakers.

Cracks in Carvings

Doc Parker told me this tip. Before you carve a piece of wood, cut an inch or two thick slice off it. Then lay that piece of wood in the shade. Let it dry tell you start to see enough cracks in it so you can read the wood as to where the cracks are going to happen. You can pick your piece up, then match it to the log you are carving and see the places the cracks will happen. This way you can locate your kerfs cut into the right location on the carving and put the back where it should belong for minimal damage to the carving from cracks. I’m sure that some variance in this rule will change with defects lower in the wood or grain changes and other character changes. I’m going to experiment with this in the summer and refine this more.

Crack Fixing

If you must repair cracks in carvings, form a small wedges. Use wood from the same piece of wood you are repairing if possible, if not try and use the same type and color of wedge as the wood being repaired. Make sure that this wedge is cut so the grain is the same direction as the grain in the crack you are going to repair. This is important for a blend in repair. If need be straighten the crack best you can to accept the wedge. After that tap the wedge into the crack and see where it is high. I usually do this and sand off the high spots with my dremel tool with a drum sander on it. I do this tell I feel I have a tight fit on my wedge. Apply the proper amount of glue and tap the wedge into the crack. I use a roofing knife and scour both sides the wedge and it will snap off easy. I then sand the wedge even with the carving. When finishing the piece natural I like to burn them with a torch. If I have wedges that show some, I take a black indelible marker and just hit them to blend them in and finish right over the top with my finishes that I am using.


Try carving eyes inside out. I often hear new carvers say that they have the most trouble with faces and in particular, the eyes. When carving eyes, the common practice is to start at the outside and carve the eyelids and wrinkles first, then carve the eyeballs last. What often happens is that you run out of space for the eyeball. Try reversing the process. Carve the eyeball first, then the eyelid and wrinkles. Eyeballs tend to be a little on the large side at first, but you will have room for all the parts and its much easier. After you get the process down pat, proportion will fall into place.

Rick Woodward Eyes

After the paint is dry lay the carving down so the eyes are level. Its Devcon 5 minute epoxy. in the syringe. If your careful, use a toothpick pick up a small drop and you can put it right on the iris. If you wait a minute it will start to thicken, and not flow out so well. this will build a “cornea” or the lens bump. let it set up then pick up a bigger drop of fresh epoxy and let it flow over the whole eyeball. Don’t mess with it after it flows, you’ll leave a trail. I think The Indian i did is on at Indian eyes site with a close up of the eye before epoxy and after in another picture. Arts & Craft Gallery

Cheryl Campbell Eyes

A few tips that might help you:

  1. do one eye at a time. The epoxy will flow slowly and you’ll have enough to keep track of.
  2. lay the carving down (talk soothingly so it doesn’t get nervous)
  3. you don’t need a lot, so maybe squeeze out a nickel sized dollop on a disposable plastic lid, foil, cardboard, something you can throw away.
  4. Terry McKinnon recommended using a screw head to stir it up and apply a drop. It’s like a mini-spoon and I still use that to apply a big drop to cover the whole eye.
  5. I also try to get a slight cornea bulge, but it’s in the way I move the carving or use a toothpick for control. Rick’s way might be better. I put it in because it’s easy and picks up the light.
  6. More is not better. It’s harder to control and leave a smooth surface. You want it to just coat the eyeball, not flow over the edge. Use a toothpick to gently scrape it back to the high point of the eye or remove it.
  7. Learn to quit playing with it. At some point it won’t settle and you’ll leave a lumpy, uneven surface that will definitely show when the light hits it.
  8. If you screw up, grind it off. Check out Cheryl’s fox eyes: Gallery
    Once you put the epoxy on, DON’T coat over the eyes with the finish you’re using for the rest of the carving!! You’ll completely lose the effect and the point of putting it on in the first place.

Terry McKinnin passed this along to put a thin first coat of epoxy on, put a little dot of white for a highlight (try at 2:00 position), then put another coat of epoxy on. It will give it a real 3D effect.

Finishing Tips

Finishes can vary due to the type of wood being used, the moisture content, the environment it is to be displayed in, and if finishing the carving all at once or over a period of time. Myself I use just about all black cherry dead standing or out of my firewood pile. The one main thing that I learned the hard way is to never leave it bare when putting away for even a day. Soon as I see the smallest cracks with my glasses on…. I put the oil or sanding sealer on or It will develop small cracks that will turn big over night. The more heat the faster this is going to happen. I always coat mine with sanding sealer or 3 in 1 oil in-between work stages. I only use the oil if that’s what I’m going to use for a base preservative under my main sealer. I use the 3 in 1 oil when I want a deeper tone to my wood. It makes the black cherry a deep aged look. When I’m done with a carving I either give it all the oil it will take for about 3 days brushed on. If not using oil I use sanding sealer and give my carvings 1 coat a day for 2 or 3 days. I use an oil base spar/urethane in clear, satin, and gloss. It all depends on the carving and what the customer wants for a finish. Putting a finish on the bottom for me is like this: If you believe the moisture should seep in and out at will and stabilize or you think the carving should not have any moisture to enter or leave. I let my inside carvings not sealed on the bottom and my outside ones I seal. I carve mostly only dry dead standing or cut dried black cherry logs so most of my wood is a hardwood and already fairly well seasoned but will still crack real quick without a sanding sealer on it. I do not cut kerfs in dry cherry but do in green wood. I use all outdoor type spar/urethane because I never know if I am going to put some carvings outside and bring others inside. I like to rotate them different times of the year, also I imagine some customers might too. This is one method. You will find as many ways to finish as you can find carvers. This is just my way. I finish my mushrooms different. Listed below.

Human Face

A human head looking at it from the side should fit into a square from under the chin to the top of the head, from the back the head to the tip of the nose. The head is 3/4 as wide as it is long and high. The eyes and head should be sized so that 5 eye lengths will go across the head where the 2 eyes go, the eyes should be one eye width apart. The front of the face is divided into 4 parts, 3 equal ones and the hair part. The 3 equal ones are from under the chin to under the nose, under the nose to the eye brow line, and the eye brow line to the hair line. The hair line is 10% of the top of the head. The middle of the eyes are half way between the top of the head and chin. The corners of the mouth should be even with the center of the eyes. The bottom of the nose should be 1 eye wide. The top of the ears should be located near with the eye brow line, the bottom of the ears aligned with an area between the upper lip and bottom of the nose line. The distance of a face is equal from ear to ear on the bottom across the face, to chin to eyebrows. Also this measurement is equal from the tip of the nose to the front of the ears.


I like to carve my mushrooms upside down. that is carve the stem first. It is so much easier to see the stem to carve it and also to carve the bottom of the cap. I then turn it over and do the cap. I do different caps. Some I like to do into a toad stool to sit around the campfire or for footrests. Some I make two or 3 smaller ones on it. I then like to do opposite of other carvings. I bring them in to sit around the wood stove to crack. When they are dried out and cracked I then take a grinder and round off the cracked edges. I like to finish most of my mushrooms with Behr deck sealer. It’s good for a long time and gives the mushrooms a golden/brown to make them look better then with a spar. I otherwise leave them unfinished after rounding the crack corners or paint them as desired.
Tip by Ed Meyers – For planting the mushrooms at random in the yard, drill a hole in the bottom and install rebar rod in bottom to put in the ground. This eliminates the base needed for standing them. Doc Parker tried it and says it makes them easy to paint too.

Paint Brushes

An old guy that hated to paint and hated to clean his brushes more showed me this one. He said just wrap them in a plastic bag or wrapper of some kind and put them in the freezer. I found this to work great. After a number of freezes and thaws I clean them and start the freezing again tell they are no good and toss them. One kind of spar/urethane made them gum up. Don’t remember the name of it. All other paints and spars it worked great on.
Another way that works good for us frequent users of paint brushes is to set them in a pail of water submerged. Just take them out and wipe them off and use them. Just make sure to keep them submerged and not let the water evaporate.