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Spangenhelm work in progress 1

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By nightserpent   |   
© 2019 - 2020 nightserpent
Perhaps fifteen or more years ago, before I was pursuing woodcarving, a large tree fell on top of a line of cedar trees meant to be a privacy screen. Hoping to relieve the cedar, I cut away the fallen tree and tossed the logs in a damp area of the woods.  I thought the moisture might help break down the wood sooner.  Fast forward to last fall, and I saw the wet logs... and realized what it was.  Butternut!  (example of another butternut carving:… )  It's a beautiful wood to carve, it has a lovely grain, but it seems harder to come by as time goes on.  I've searched my area and haven't found any other butternut trees around since.  I pulled out anything which seemed salvageable, which was not a lot.  Most of it was like oatmeal, but there were a few pieces which seemed like they had a chance of being saved.  I split them in half, removed the pith (center of growth rings), painted the ends and hoped for the best.  There are some good suggestions out there for how to dry wood for carving, but when it's been soaking in water for years... who knows what will happen.

Fast forward to this summer, I had an itch to carve but no plan in mind.  I took the least promising piece of the butternut which was starting to separate along the rings and poured a little glue into the cracks in hopes that it would stay together enough to carve.  I had no expectations, I thought I might just have some fun making wood chips and not feeling to precocious about it.  Aside from the cracks, it turned out to be one of the nicest pieces I've carved so far!  The water seems to have created a great variety in coloration and pattern.  Maybe it is some sort of spalting, or perhaps it had absorbed some minerals while soaking in the muck.  Whatever the case, it is an extremely agreeable piece of wood, it hardly seems to care which way I direct the tools, it still produces clean polished cuts.

My carving is inspired by the popular "spangenhelm" supposedly worn by the vikings.  The story which manifested as I carved revealed to me that this may be a ghost of a viking, some sort of spectral fire is emulating wings on the helm.  The wood is roughly 18", I hope to return to it in a couple of weeks.  I'm curious what carving the "good" pieces will be like if this is one is "junk". :lol
Image size
961x720px 685.66 KB
Shutter Speed
1/500 second
Focal Length
75 mm
ISO Speed
Date Taken
Oct 26, 2019, 4:13:47 PM
anonymous's avatar
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Arcangelo-Ambrosi's avatar
Arcangelo-AmbrosiProfessional Artisan Crafter
Wow! "Instinctive" carving is very fascinating because it's like "exploring" the wood, but it's so difficult to achieve great results... but this is not the case! Great job and wonderful wood, I like the pattern of the rings in the rounded parts!
nightserpent's avatar
Thank you!  I am more familiar with painting instinctively than carving, as the paint is so much more forgiving and easy to repair any mistakes.  But, large pieces of good wood is still very hard for me to come by (either gifts from fellow carvers or purchased online at a premium, picking and drying my own wood has been a slow and challenging process so far), so I would normally never approach wood so casually.  But, this piece fooled me, I was convinced it was going to immediately fall apart as I started working with it.  I still have yet to figure out how certain areas are going to resolve.  I agree, the grain is beautiful and it works so well with the forms. :)
glasslinger's avatar
glasslingerProfessional Artisan Crafter
Great job! That wood is gorgeous!..
nightserpent's avatar
Thank you JW! :)  Though it is a fairly thick piece of wood, I did feel some guilt carving deeply because it removes the more interesting grain (the darkened water stains).   I made sure to leave some, I think it worked well in the strip above the brows, as the pattern is matchbooked.
carvenaked's avatar
It looks great Paul.. and without a doubt the older less impressive carving blocks can be just as good as the 'hollywood star' pieces. The freedom that comes from not worrying about 'ruining' a special piece is real! Bravo for using free wood in a throw away world that try's to sell you  on 'better' wood.
nightserpent's avatar
You were there in spirit the whole way, Arrik. :)  Though I don't at all mind working with a big clear block of wood, you've certainly opened me up to appreciating working with it in a variety of natural states.
carvenaked's avatar
Ha! Nobody 'minds' working on a perfect block!
 The grass is always greener....
JamesSvobodaArt's avatar
JamesSvobodaArt Traditional Artist

I just air dry a lot of my logs for carving (mostly elm). You can try lime to suck out the moister of the wood.

nightserpent's avatar
Could you tell me a bit about your drying process?   In my experiments I have tried whole and half round logs, removing the bark and painting the ends.  With the half rounds I have started removing the pith as well.  I'm getting mixed results, but there are lots of extra factors, such as location and humidity.
JamesSvobodaArt's avatar
JamesSvobodaArt Traditional Artist

mainly whole log on their sides indoor like a garage (so the rain can't affect them) the bark I remove as they come off. this time around I left them outside with the bark the bigger ones got cracking that was on the bottom and the smaller one minor cracking. The lime I haven't done myself, but I've seen on videos(youtube) that turners do a lot and it gives the wood a marble like work.

DanielWolff-Gallery's avatar
Looking forward to the finished piece.
nightserpent's avatar
:)  I may be back at it in about a week, I look forward to more as well.
ScottPurdy's avatar
ScottPurdyProfessional Digital Artist
I hope the wood holds out for you Paul!

And it's looking great so far, without even a layman's knowledge of this stuff I really appreciate the skill you have with this craft, love it :)
nightserpent's avatar
There are a few sections where I have encountered the cracks while carving, but I have accepted them as part of the piece's history. 

Thanks for the kind words!  There is a lot of information to absorb simultaneously, and it surely is a challenge, but it has been rewarding.
PeKj's avatar
Damn. That's good. :)
nightserpent's avatar
:)  Thanks, I am having a lot of fun with it
scorpionlover42's avatar
That carving is terrific. It looks like it belongs in a Viking lodge. Clap 
nightserpent's avatar
Thank you!  The more of these carvings I add, the more the place looks like a Viking lodge ;)
scorpionlover42's avatar
Now all you need is roaring fires and lusty maidens serving up ale and roasted boar! Wink/Razz 
nightserpent's avatar
I took care of that part first ;)
anonymous's avatar
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