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Thread: I carved a 4 foot high totem pole in 4 days

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Location
    Toronto, Ontario, CANADA
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    2,332

    I carved a 4 foot high totem pole in 4 days

    Day1:

    Along with 5 other people as well as our instructor Lloyd, I spent eight hours at the Lee Valley Toronto East store in late June starting to carve a four foot high totem pole out of an eastern white cedar log. Although the cedar is eastern, all the traditions we are following are those of the First Nations of the north-west coast of North America. Here is a photo of my log:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Totem carving 01 -My 4 foot long cedar log resting on a jig on my workmate -small.JPG 
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    The log is resting on a jig attached to one of my old Workmate benches.

    The first order of business was to select two of the many options for totems to carve into the pole. I chose two that are quite representative of the Lake Pivabiska region because the pole’s home will be on Pellow’s Island.

    I chose:

    Beaver –Skilled leader in industry and construction who strives for peace but will fight if he has to, Creative, artistic, and determined. Know to dig underground tunnels that cause earthquakes and landslides.

    Raven –One of most important spirits, she/he is the trickster and is credited with bringing mankind to the world. Symbolizes creation, knowledge, is ever hungry, ever curious, deviant, compulsive, crooked, deceptive, but somehow always likeable.

    I also chose to carve the Raven carrying the moon in her beak both because that is one of the legends I like and because of the great views we get of the moon rising over the lake at Pivabiska.

    By tradition, a bird is always higher on the pole than an animal.

    Here are then two patterns that I chose:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Totem carving 02 -Beaver Pattern.jpg 
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ID:	59784 Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Totem carving 03 -Raven pattern.jpg 
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    The first step was to draw a grid onto the best side of the log:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Totem carving 04 -Log marked into segments -small.JPG 
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    Then, I drew portions of the two patterns onto the log:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Totem carving 05 -Parts of the two selected patterns drawn onto the log -small.JPG 
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    Finally, it was time to start the rough carving:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Totem carving 06 -Starting to remove some of the wood with a small hatchet and rubber mallet -sm.JPG 
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    All the work today was done with a small hatchet and a rubber mallet.

    Here is photo taken a few hours and several chips later:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Totem carving 07 -lots of the log has been turned into chips -small.JPG 
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    Here is my log as it was at the end of day 1:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Totem carving 08 -After day 1 -small.JPG 
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ID:	59791
    Cheers, Frank

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2009
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    Amherst, New Hampshire
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    What a cool idea
    Faith, Hope & Charity

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    North West Indiana
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    6,098
    Third circle up from the bottom, is that you frowning??
    Now this is an ambitious project, but I forgot, it is you, done yet Frank?
    Jon

    God and family, the rest is icing on the cake. I'm so far behind, I think I'm in first place!

    Host of the 2015 FAMILY WOODWORKING GATHERING

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Location
    Reno NV
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    13,361
    You just don't have any fun do you Frank!

    Programmer - An organism that turns coffee into software.
    If all your friends are exactly like you, What an un-interesting life it must be.
    "A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of" Ogden Nash


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Location
    Mountain Home, Arkansas
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    11,832
    Great project. Looking forward to seeing the finished product.
    BTW, on a TV show recently (and you know, if it was on TV, it has to be right ) a character said the most important person on a totem pole was the leader and he was placed on the bottom as a show of support of the rest. He was carved first as a sign of respect.
    So "bottom man on a totem pole" doesn't mean (according to the TV character) anything disrespectful. Or does it?
    "Folks is funny critters."

    Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too. ~Voltaire

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    North West Indiana
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    Well, it does add new meaning to the words, "carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders!".
    Jon

    God and family, the rest is icing on the cake. I'm so far behind, I think I'm in first place!

    Host of the 2015 FAMILY WOODWORKING GATHERING

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Location
    Toronto, Ontario, CANADA
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    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Fusco View Post
    Great project. Looking forward to seeing the finished product.
    BTW, on a TV show recently (and you know, if it was on TV, it has to be right ) a character said the most important person on a totem pole was the leader and he was placed on the bottom as a show of support of the rest. He was carved first as a sign of respect.
    So "bottom man on a totem pole" doesn't mean (according to the TV character) anything disrespectful. Or does it?
    Thanks Frank.

    That may be true about the most important figure being at the bottom, I certainly respect the beaver (the figure on the bottom of my totem pole) because, over the last five years, beavers have taken down every big poplar tree on Pellow's Island.

    I do know that, often, the rookie carvers are assigned the top figures and the experienced ones the bottom figures. This way, any mistakes that the new carvers make, are not as easy to detect.
    Cheers, Frank

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Location
    Toronto, Ontario, CANADA
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    Day 2:

    Today was all about shaping and smoothing. I didn’t add any new features or any details, rather I just worked extensively improving the features that I chopped out yesterday.

    Before getting into that, I will show a photo of the simple but very effective jig used to hold a log on a Workmate:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Totem carving 00 -Totem carving jig that fits into Workmate -small.JPG 
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    The jigs were designed and built by Jennifer at the Toronto East Lee Valley store.

    The first step today was to use chisels to smooth the rough hatchet cuts:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Totem carving 10 -Chisels used to smooth the hatchet cuts -small.JPG 
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    I also used the chisels to further shape some features, such as the raven’s beak:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Totem carving 11 -Chistels also used to form parts such as the raven's beak more accurately -sma.JPG 
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    Further smoothing was done with a wood file and with a 40 grit paper on a small sanding block:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Totem carving 12 -Smooth with a file and with 40 grit handsanding block -small.JPG 
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    And, finally, everything was hand sanded with Festool Granat 120 foam-backed sanding pads:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Totem carving 13 -Further smooth with Festool Granat 120 pad -small.JPG 
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    The First Nations people would not have used sandpaper. They are skilled enough with hatchets and chisels that there is no need for it. Another important point is that the Haida carve their poles so that there are no cavities in the pole where water can gather. I am making sure that I take the same precaution.

    Here is a photo of the pole at the end of day 2:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Totem carving 14 -After Day 2 -small.JPG 
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    Last edited by Frank Pellow; 09-14-2011 at 10:38 AM.
    Cheers, Frank

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Location
    Toronto, Ontario, CANADA
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    Day 2.5:

    We got the day off on Thursday but I cheated and brought the totem pole home with me Wednesday in order to add a special “Frank designed feature”.

    Traditionally a beaver is carved holding a log that he is chewing upon –as pointed to with the arrow in this partly carved beaver:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Totem carving 15 -Traditional stick in Beaver's grasp -small.JPG 
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    I drilled a hole through the spots where the paws would be grasping something:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Totem carving 16 -I drilled a hole through the grasp of the paws -small.JPG 
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    Then carved out the spot where the stick would normally be. Then I inserted a stick:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Totem carving 17 -Now the beaver can knaw on a real branch -small.JPG 
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    I’m very happy with this modification, and I think that no native carver would mind the change.
    Cheers, Frank

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Location
    Toronto, Ontario, CANADA
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    Day 3:

    I spent today carving details into my totem pole. First a detail was drawn onto the appropriate spot and then carved. Most of the carving is simply a V gouge as seen in this photo where I am working on the tail of my beaver:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Totem carving 18 -Carving a cross-hatch pattern on the beaver's tail -small.JPG 
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    The small tool shown cuts these groves very well when going with the grain but, when going across the grain, I often had to resort to the use of a small very sharp carvers knife and chisels.

    We learned that almost all the details on totem poles are carved using variations of these five shapes:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Totem carving 19 -These 5 shapes are used to emphasise body parts.JPG 
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    Lloyd has made and collected several small templates that can be used when drawing on a pole:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Totem carving 20 -A bowl full of templates -small.JPG 
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    In this photo, I am using one of the templates:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Totem carving 21 _Making use of a small template -small.JPG 
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    Sometimes one does a bit of carving between uses of the same template as in this case where I am flattening a portion of the moon’s face:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Totem carving 22 -Flattening part of the face of the moon -small.JPG 
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    After flattening, I redrew the parts that I had chiselled off.

    I didn’t realize before just how many special purpose carvers tools there are. A case in point is this gouge that I used to hollow out the beaver’s nostrils:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Totem carving 23 _gouging out the beavers nostrils -small.JPG 
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    I used no power tools at all my totem pole. Everyone but me used powers sanders. Only one person resorted to power carving:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Totem carving 24 -One person cheated and used a power tool to carve part of her pole -small.JPG 
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    And she only used to tool for about half an hour in order to carve some small difficult cross-grain grooves.

    Here are a couple of views of my pole taken at the end of day 3:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Totem carving 25 -After Day 2 front view -small.JPG 
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ID:	59827 Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Totem carving 26 -After Day 2 partial side view -small.JPG 
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ID:	59828
    Cheers, Frank

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