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South Florida artisans turn to woodcarving to make beautiful home pieces



To learn more about woodcarving and woodturning or to try out the crafts for yourself, contact the South Florida Woodcarvers at or the South Florida Woodturners Guild at or 305-607-6345.

Annual membership dues for the South Florida Woodcarvers are $15 and for the South Florida Woodturners are $30 per person and $40 for a family.

Sabicu bowls, mahogany candlesticks and miniature basswood cabins.

They are all made by hand with the help of a carving knife or a lathe, a machine that spins the wood while a craftsman chisels the wood.

Woodcarving and woodturning are some of the oldest forms of working with wood, with artisans creating items for the home. Not to be confused with woodworking, in which a person makes cabinets, tables and chairs, woodcarving and woodturning are two different ways of working with wood.

In woodcarving, the craftsman uses a chisel or a carving knife to turn a log, usually a two-inch by four-inch block for beginners, into a caricature or a scene. Woodturning uses a lathe that spins at 500 to 1,200 revolutions per minute.

“With woodturning you can make a bowl in maybe two hours. You have instant gratification,” said Dave Piper, president of the South Florida Woodturners Guild. “You can incorporate both methods. You can turn a bowl and then carve a rose on it.”

The South Florida Woodturners Guild and the South Florida Woodcarvers hold regular meetings as well as workshops where they teach beginners.

Fort Lauderdale resident Wendy Cummins had not turned wood before she attended a recent Saturday workshop held by the Guild.

What started as a lesson of showing her how to cut a tenon in the wood, or a part of the wood that protrudes, turned into making a bowl from sabicu, a wood found in the Bahamas, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. The log’s tenon is a way to attach the wood onto a chuck, or a metal device that holds the wood steady as it turns on the lathe.

“I’ve done some woodcarving at home, and we have a lot of woodworking equipment at home,” said Cummins, adding she wanted to get a lesson from an experienced woodturner before she starts turning on her own.

“I was just showing her how to make the chuck and it turned into making a bowl,” said Homestead resident Joe Dion, vice president of the Guild.

As the wood turns on the lathe and the chisel shaves the log’s bark, the wood’s natural patterns appear. Both piths, or the center of the wood, as well as imperfections, called burls, make for intricate naturally formed decorative patterns.

“You don’t have to have a perfect piece of wood,” said Don Vande Hei, a member of the Guild.

Talk to a member of either organization or attend a workshop and the detailed nature of the crafts becomes evident.

When it comes to woodturning, there are several tips to keep in mind: It is better to turn “wet” wood, or wood freshly cut, to reduce the dust; if the wood is insect infested, put it in the freezer for a couple of days; to prevent wood from cracking at the piths, turn it until it reaches a uniform thickness, wrap it in a grocery bag and come back to it in a couple of days. While turning the wood, move your body instead of your hands.

Beginner woodcarvers start by doing relief carving, or carving two dimensionally on a block. They prefer basswood since it has less grain and lends itself to more intricate carving, said Kendall resident Roy Hellman, a South Florida Woodcarvers member and one of the organization’s founders.

“Everybody puts their own little twist on everything,” said Katy Dunn of the Woodcarvers. “Sometimes you start on something and you don’t bother to look back at the plans, and it comes out a little different. That’s what makes it so unique.”

Woodcarving, she added, very much depends on what the wood lends itself to.

Both Dunn and fellow member Mary Ann Hart carved miniature cabins. While Dunn’s cabin was shorter and wider with an opening for a door, Hart’s cabin was taller.

“I’ll just start roughing out where I want the steps to be, where I want the tree to be and where I want the chimney,” said Hart. “And on this side, I’ll probably make a little opening for a window. If I hollow out the back enough, I can put a (battery-powered) candle.”

South Florida woodcarvers and woodturners do not cut down trees for their craft, but scout for wood discarded after a neighbor landscapes their yard or after a hurricane knocks down trees.

Finished products, especially bowls and spoons, are sanded and covered with different kinds of oils that penetrate into the wood and protect it from water damage.

Cummins, the first-time woodturner, took home the beginning stages of what will be a bowl made from sabicu.

“When I get more time and a lot more experience, I’d love to do a chess set sometime,” she said.

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