Cleave the Wood


When a friend asked me to carve this short line from Saying 77 of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, I spent a lot of time thinking.  There were a lot of decisions to make, from choosing among various translations to the setting for the inscription.  In the end, I used this cleft chunk of walnut and carved the letters into the bookmatched faces.  For a sense of scale, the uprights are about ten inches high.



It was a bit of challenge carving into the undulating riven surface, but it worked out.  The backsides are split surfaces as well, so with nothing flat it was good to hold the piece in one hand and cut with the knife in the other.  A gouge also came in handy here and there.


To get the pieces to sit perfectly flat was a matter of hand sawing, then planing the end grain with a finely set block plane.  This was done while the pieces were sandwiched together.  My friend wanted them to be able to go back together on occasion, rather than be permanently fixed to the base.  Although the pieces would stand up on their own, I made things more secure with a series of rare earth (neodymium) magnets inset into the bottom of the uprights and matched their locations with magnets fit into the base from beneath, leaving an 1/8″ or so of wood above them.  Once close, the uprights are pulled into their proper positions.  They remain steady, but can still easily be removed from the base.


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14 Responses to Cleave the Wood

  1. Fergus Davidson says:

    Hi Dave

    I love this. I was really excited to see it.

    I am a letter cutter in stone in the UK (we did meet briefly last year at SpoonFest when I took one of your classes) and I’ve been thinking about carving into cleaved slate.

    When I saw this, I hoped that it would go on to speak of stone which it does, but not cleaving just lifting a stone.

    I will have to wait until I find Something that works better for me.

    Thanks for sharing this – great work!


    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

    • Dave Fisher says:

      Hi Fergus! I remember you and your background in stone letter carving. Nice to think back on our time in Edale.

      Thanks for commenting. As you point out, the saying continues after the bit about the cleft wood with “Lift a stone, and you will find me there.” So, right, not necessarily a good fit for riven slate. But what comes to my mind is the idea of a medium size, rather flat, beach stone (with sea rounded edges and all). “Lift a stone” could be carved on the top side, and the rest carved on the bottom side. Or the rest could be carved into a base stone upon which the beach stone rests. I like the idea of a person interacting with it after reading the top side of the stone. Do they lift it?


  2. Peter Lamb says:

    As always, Dave, a great piece! Lovely design, spirit and technical solutions all!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. j says:

    This is really original and beautiful work.

    Well done.

    Sent from my iPhone

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Brian Douglas (hick with a stick ) says:

    Dave, Never has something as simple as two blocks of walnut looked so elegant and special . Your work always wow’s me. When your post show’s up in my email i am like a kid at Christmas !!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. John Fielding says:

    Your work is always inspiring, Dave; not just in your workmanship, but also in how you strive to honor the wood, and in this piece the verse carved on it.
    I know the wood is riven green, but did you do the carving when it was seasoned?


    • Dave Fisher says:

      I did the carving when it was completely seasoned, John. Actually, I had kept this chunk of walnut around for a few years. When I originally split it back then, I held on to this piece because I just loved how it split with the curve and liked the character. Thought I’d find a use for it someday and it worked out.


  6. Bob Easton says:

    Clever and beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Drew Knowland says:

    Yet another inspired work, Dave. I always look forward to your emails to see what great things you have been up to, whether working in wood or walking in the woods. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Mitch Strickland says:

    I agree with everyone else’s comments. Plus, I will add that the addition of the magnets was such a nice touch!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Jed Dillard says:

    Dave, I’m on the mailing lit for Steinbrueck Gallery, a Seattle home for really good First Peoples art.
    Just got a notice of a new exhibit. I haven’t gotten to it yet as I was struck by this passage and wanted to share it.

    “Cape Dorset artists rarely use the term sculpture to describe the three dimensional representational objects they make. They prefer the term ‘carving’ and perhaps rightly so. There is a direct and immediate bond between the medium of expression, the environment they live in and the history and development of their culture. Carving is a direct extension of the skills developed through centuries of fashioning and manipulating tools and implements by hand.”
    -Dorset Fine Arts

    Sometimes descriptions of art and craft sound like a bunch of hooey.
    I think this one nails it.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Jed Dillard says:

    We were able to go last year and they have a wide collection of really nice works.

    Carvings in walrus ivory and wood, steam bent boxes, baskets, gold, silver and walrus ivory jewelry, prints and more. It is not cheap. I did get an ivory sculpture of a goose and its nest with eggs. It would fit in a matchbox.
    It wasn’t very busy and the proprietor spent a good bit of time with us. We learned a lot about the construction techniques and the significance of the work. One of pip
    the basket makers was there also, and we had a good visit. Turns out her husband makes walking sticks!


  11. Dave Fisher says:

    Thanks for sharing that, Jed. I went to the gallery online after reading your post, and it is awe inspiring: Such a rich tradition filled with beauty and meaning. The menu at the top of the site opens up all sorts of incredible pieces.


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