Chip Carving for Warlike Men and School Girls


It is difficult to conceive the contradictory fact that this apparently simple form of art [chip carving] was once the exponent of a struggling desire for refinement on the part of fierce and warlike men, and that it should, under the influence of polite society, become the all-too-easy task of æsthetically minded school girls.

— Fred T. Hodgson, Easy Lessons in the Art of Practical Wood Carving (1905)

I assume Mr. Hodgson meant that in the best possible way, with no offense to school girls and all that.  Either way, what a sentence!  In that chapter, he does go on to point out the merits and possibilities of chip carving and even suggests some pretty interesting patterns and techniques.

Chip carving, regardless of the design, can be executed well or poorly.  Still more important than the technical prowess involved are the design choices.  Ideally, one adapts or creates a design to uniquely suit the piece on which it is carved.  The underlying form of the piece itself is most important.  The surface decoration should serve to enhance the whole, like a tastefully selected piece of jewelry.

Here is a 150 year old example of a custom design featuring various elements.  This ale bowl is a smallish personal-size ale bowl — with a bowl portion about 6 1/2 inches wide, just a little larger than the two I made and mentioned in my last post.

Some may prefer something a little more understated, but it still demonstrates the adaptability of design elements with a little creativity.

Chip carving is an accessible way, with a minimum number of tools, to capture a little light and shadow and draw the eye.  I was walking with Sam through a local cemetery a few days ago and snapped a shot of this example of, what is essentially, chip carving in stone.  An effective design that could easily be executed in wood.  Inspiration is all around us.


And, how could I leave him out?






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2 Responses to Chip Carving for Warlike Men and School Girls

  1. Dave Fisher says:

    I thought I’d add that, if you’re interested in reading more of Fred T. Hodgson’s work, his books are now in the public domain. You can find them in electronic form here
    As you see, he was a prolific writer on a variety of topics. I haven’t been able to find out much else about him, other than that he evidently lived in Collingwood, Ontario in 1905.
    The electronic version of the book I referenced in this post is here;view=1up;seq=9
    I think these old books offer an interesting perspective. One last excerpt from Fred T. Hodgson from this book:

    “A boy — a girl for that matter — cannot begin to learn the art of wood carving too early. Thirteen years old is a good age; fourteen quite late enough. It is a great mistake to keep a youngster at school until he begins to fancy he knows more than his father or any one else.”


    • There is no surer way to prove how much the world has changed than to go poking around through some old literature. I once found a book of jokes from ca. 1900, and although it was amusing, I finally had to put it down because the blatant racism and sexism was overwhelming. But of course, there’s still plenty to learn from the old books if you look in the right places.


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