An Encounter with a Woodworker


It was a balmy 35° F today, and I got out for a walk in the late afternoon as the sun was getting low.  As I was walking along the high bank above the river, I spied one of nature’s greatest woodworkers.  Drawn out by the warmer temperatures, she(?) was squatting on the ice along the edge, eating the thin bark off of the branches she had clipped.

The soft snow made for quiet walking, and beavers have poor eyesight.  I walked within 20 yards and stood watching her work the stick like a long ear of sweet corn.  I could hear each little nibble.

I just had a little point-and-shoot camera with me, and snapped the best shot I could get before moving on, grateful for another encounter with one of my favorite animals.  Most meetings have occurred while canoeing, and they usually let you get pretty close, not knowing quite what to make of it.  My son and I have even been splashed by a thrilling tail slap off the starboard bow.


That’s not my son; that’s Sam in the bow intent on a beaver swimming out ahead.

IMG_5157I keep a few beaver-chewed sticks in the shop, and I marvel at the lovely pattern left on the surface, better than the tool marks left by any gouge.  I even made a bowl once on which I left the handles and rim straight from the beaver’s teeth.

Seeing the beaver today also got me thinking about we humans that are nibbling on sticks with bits of steel.  These beaver-inspired thoughts may apply especially for those that are just beginning their carving journey, or just thinking about it.   (It’s been three years since I started this blog, so I’m bound to repeat myself.  I even included links as proof!)

Dig in.  The information available can be overwhelming, and you don’t need nearly all of it.  Read, take a class, watch videos, but mainly put steel to wood.  Savor the process and your personal progress, without asking too many devilish questions.  That beaver may be acting on pure instinct, but we humans also have our instincts.  A strong one is to create;  act on it and revel in it.  You’ll overcome problems as they arise, or at least learn where you could use a little more help.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the dizzying numbers and varieties of tools available as you get started.  Get a few good tools, then get to work.  The tools will add up over time.  At some point you’ll probably wonder where they all came from.  This can be a tough thing to balance.

I may not be qualified to judge a beaver’s intent, but I’ve seen fallen trees that sure looked to me like the toothed-one was shooting for a different outcome.  Make mistakes and take chances with design.  Have fun.  I have dumb ideas and make carving mistakes all the time, and I’ve got plenty of company.

SAM_3839When you screw up or things just aren’t going right, take a walk.  You might see a beaver while you’re out, or a sunset as you near home to help put it all in perspective.







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18 Responses to An Encounter with a Woodworker

  1. Michael Tait says:

    Gentle, apposite rumination on those stick ruminants Dave! Thankyou. I was only turning a certain ale bowl of more human manufacture in my hands yesterday evening and marvelling at its lines, it’s curves and that endlessly fascinating texture of tooth marks. That warm corrugation communicates the spirit of its maker, this piece a good heart and keen intelligence.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Scott Kinsey says:

    My favorite blog entry yet. Thanks, Dave.
    I have never, not once, heard anyone complain about having taken a walk in the woods or being bored by nature. Doc and Mack are waiting by the door.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pete Hobbie says:

    I loved the bit about noticing the tooth patterns on the sticks. As artist/ creators are there ever any designs that we don’t take from the natural world. I’ve always thought that a artist with a good eye is just accentuating what they see in the natural world, As an example I’ll list George Nakashima and David Fisher. Keep it up.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thomas B. Goodman says:

    Thanks Dave. That was a very nice read first thing in the am.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Scott Thomas says:

    I once cut off and created a lamp base from a beaver stump while stationed near the Black Hills of South Dakota in the air force. They are indeed amazing engineers. Thanks for sharing and for words of encouragement to get after it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. lalit kumar says:

    Thank you for this inspiring post. Your words are very motivational. I came across your work about a month ago. Then I discovered this blog. Long story short, I have ordered a few carving tools and can’t wait to start when they arrive.
    Thanks again for this blog and great posts.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. chester jenkins says:

    Mr. Fisher, wait till I tell my wife that you even collaborate with beavers to carve bowls! That bowl is so awesome!! From someone new to this “craft” I agree the most important thing is just to start making chips. What I can’t adequately express is gratitude I and many just like me have for your generosity of time and material to help folks like me.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Eric Goodson says:

    Lovely post Dave. Thanks for sharing. “Make mistakes and take chances with design” — the key to learning.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. hiscarpentry says:

    Reminds me of a time my wife and I were in Acadia National Park. We were on a hike and we’re blessed to see s few beavers swimming in the pond along the way. Near the end of our hike a large beaver ran across our path. We followed her(?) down to the water where she was nibbling on some greens. My wife kept creeping ever closer until she and mama beaver were sitting on rocks five feet apart. We were transfixed for what seemed like forever.

    A true blessing.


  10. Dave Fisher says:

    Thanks for sharing that experience, Nathan. Truly beautiful to think of. The more I learn about them, the more I become fascinated and enamored.


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