Patience, sharp tools and Kevlar gloves essentials for woodcarvers

“What does it take to be a good carver?” somebody in the audience asked Bill Miller on Saturday as he painstakingly removed bits of wood from the ears of a tiny wooden giraffe.

“Patience,” Miller immediately responded. “And sharp knives.”

It takes quite a bit more than that, judging from the array of tools on display this weekend at the Northwest Carvers’ Association Show & Sale in Puyallup.

Venders at the 34th annual woodcarving extravaganza are selling not only knives of every size and shape, but gouges, chisels, wood blocks, sharpening stones, strops, burrs and grinders.

For woodcarvers in the Northwest, the show at Pioneer Park Pavilion is headquarters for their craft, an annual blowout that not only lets them sort through equipment and talk to fellow carvers but also to show off their work.

The two-day event centers on a juried show of carvings in classes that range from novice to expert and are judged for “craftsmanship, accuracy, essence and artistry.” Carvers compete for ribbons and cash prizes.

For shoppers, there are plenty of finished pieces of sale — carved tigers, songbirds, nudes, chains, and boxes and masks carved in the traditional Northwest Indian style.

The show also includes seminars and demonstrations by expert carvers such as Miller, where techniques are explained for specialties such as “ladies faces,” Christmas ornaments, bird carving and knife sharpening.

Miller, who lives in Puyallup, was demonstrating techniques of carving “in the round” — carvers’ lingo for three-dimensional work. A dozen people sat around him, leaning forward in their chairs as he worked on his giraffe.

The wood he was using was oak, which he called “the worst kind of wood you could use for carving.”

He’d had the wood for 20 years, he said. “I could see there was a giraffe in there,” he said. “I just had to find a way to let him out.”

“Like most carvers, I started when I was little, whittling stuff,” Miller said. “Then my grandfather gave me a set of carving chisels. That got me going a little more seriously.”

Rose Poppe, 77, of Ocean Shores sat in the front row, holding a crooked, 5-foot walking staff on which she had carved an intricate serpent’s head.

Poppe noted that, along with patience and sharp knives, Kevlar carving gloves also are a good idea.

“These are thousand-dollar thumbs,” she said, holding out her hands. That’s what the medical bills came to from various cuts and jabs she’s given herself while working without gloves, she said.

Poppe and her husband, Clarence, also a carver, drove from Ocean Shores for the weekend wood carving show.

Poppe said she’s the one who got Clarence involved in carving.

“When he retired he didn’t have any hobbies,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’ll get him busy doing some carving.’ Make sure the old boy gets out of the house, you know. And then I got hooked myself.”

This year’s show was organized by Bob Harkness and David Thompson, both skilled carvers and both members of the Northwest Carvers Association, based in Federal Way and founded in 1971.

Harkness, who served as president of Northwest Woodcarvers for five years, said, “Carving is a very relaxing hobby. Everybody says, ‘Boy, you must have a lot of patience to do something like that.’

“The truth is, we don’t have any patience. We’re just too lazy to do anything else. All you really need to do in carving is take away the wood you don’t need.”

The show continues at the Pioneer Park Pavilion from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $7; kids younger than 12 are admitted for free.