Friday, 25 December 2009


The Inuit people are known for their simple small carving made out of ivory or stone. Sometimes these small figurines were worn as amulets for good luck when hunting or used in shamanic rituals. The polar-bear is a particularly popular motif and there is a whole strain of carvings referred to as 'dancing bears' where the animal is depicted in an animated or playful state.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Cut of the week

Just a small red drop

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


This monkey was whittled out of lime tree. I later burned it over a flame to give it a black, velvety surface. I´v had a hard time to decide weather to paint or not to paint my whittlings so this seemed like a good compromise. It was inspired by a part from Gustave Flaubert's 'Salammbo' where some drunken soldiers put trees on fire and try to cut off the trunks of elephants and eat their ivory:

"The trees behind them were still smoking; from their blackened branches the half-burned corpses of monkeys fell from time to time into the middle of the dishes. The drunken soldiers snored open-mouthed beside the dead bodies; and those who were not asleep hung their heads, dazzled by the light. The trampled earth was covered with pools of red. The elephants swung their bleeding trunks between the stakes of their pens."


...out there...he is whittling away...

Saturday, 12 December 2009

A letter to BTWC...


Thought I'd send you a photo of a whittling knife which is now in my possession - As you can see it has been well used and I suspect that it is at least 30-40 years old - Its a "Laguiole" - top of the range for whittling - they are still made by hand in the factory in Lozere, France.

The knife was owned by Jacky, the father of a friend in the South of France - Jacky was "very French".... When I knew him, he had retired and spent every day in a local bar drinking pastis, holding forth on any pretty much any topic and smoking many, many cigarettes. Jacky has an interesting if slightly macabre history - He married young, worked as a mason and was a talented footballer - In his 19th summer, he was offered a position to play for the Marseille football team - starting at the beginning of the coming season - during that summer whilst on the job, fell from some scaffolding and broke both of his legs - Having destroyed his impending football career - Jacky took a shotgun, put it to his stomach and pulled the trigger on both barrels....... He lived, wasn't seriously disabled by the shotgun blasts and I therefore had the pleasure of meeting the quick tempered and forthright Jacky many times - I had a penchant for wearing heavy boots at the time - he used to call them my "pantoufles"

His son gave me the knife when Jacky died.....These days I whittle cheese with his knife and open the occasional letter......


Monday, 7 December 2009


Recently some members of the whittling-club went on a road-trip to the mysterious shell-grotto in Margate. A detour on the way home led the company into a cleft between white chalk-cliffs just as twilight was setting in. The water had cut a grotto into the white cliff and it was filled with carved scribbles; a remainder of the soft constitution of chalk. There was plenty of round chalk pebbles of various sizes to be collected for a test-go with the knife.
The conclusion is that chalk is really easy to cut but it gives you uncomfortably dry hands and is rather brittle. Instantly gratifying, but transient.

The feet of the man broke off so he got a pair of clay-boots

Cut of the week

Maeve had the cut of the week as she tried to whittle Cheburashka (pictured above).

At first, the second meeting of the BTWC seemed to get by without any incidents, but towards the end the cuts became frequent with some people cutting themselves in the exactly same spot twice. Tiredness combined with a slight frustration over the slow progress of whittling, can tempt one too use force on the blade in an incorrect way. The action steps might then proceed something like this:

bad grip
grain split
knife slip
skin rip
blood drip

Beside Maeve´s, most of the cuts were not very deep and a clean cut with a sharp knife heals fast. Luckily BTWC always keeps its knifes sharp.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Work in Progress

Some finished & unfinished work by the honorable members of the BTWC....

Bird with feathers by Amy

Skull, Bart & psychedelic-Bart by Jack

Sharpened sticks with decorative bark by various members.

Beetroot stained seal by Ben T.

Unfinished figures by Gwennan, Jacob and Amy.

Spoons by Hugh & Mark.

Unfinished Cheburachka by Maeve and Paloma by Ben T.

Little man and big man by Jack.

A medieval monster by Gery.

Owl-man by Jana.

Naked woman legs with stockings by Ben B.

Butter-knife by Ksenia.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

On the Occasion of the First Meeting of the Bleeding Thumb Whittling Club -- 12/IX/2009

To those in attendance, we say Thank You. The solid elements were wood and bread, in opposition - respectively - to carbon-steel blades and pickles. The liquid elements were those of a triad: borsht soup, grain-spirit, and blood. Between these, flesh mediated numerous achievements: a mushroom talisman with ornate bark-work, a wooden pebble, and a functioning butter-knife.

To the next meeting we add a sharpening implement -- an oil stone. Thus our elemental tool box will be augmented by the solid stone and the liquid oil, though some claim that oil and the other fluids are immiscible.

Photocopy handout

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Appalachia, Horror.

This August passed, I had the pleasure of visiting America's Mid-South. From my base in the rolling hills of Nashville, Tennessee, I drove east through paleolithic forests into another timezone and the Southern Appalachian Mountains. En route, I passed the Oak Ridge Nuclear facility, where the uranium used to make America's first atomic bombs was enriched with the unstable U-238 isotope in what was then the world's largest building.

The Appalachian mountains stretch up the entire East Coast of North America, from Alabama to the beginnings of Canada. However, it is the region south of Mason-Dixon to which people generally refer with the word Appalachia (local pronunciation -- throw an apple atcha). This region has generated an intense and peculiar culture (I should say cultures) informed by Scots-Irish immigration, evangelical Christianity, and a kind of Hamsun-esque 'pantheistic oblivion' through contact with nature. The other ingredient in the mix is isolation. On trips to rural communities in search of old 78 RPM recordings, collector Joe Bussard spoke of homes without telephones or electricity at least as late as the '70s. It is important to reflect on that frontier community of America which has no voice internationally, and probably no wish for one.

You get something of a feel for a place through the flora and fauna - frequently road-killed fauna - that you see when passing through. East Tennessee is humid, and the forests range from a succulent green to rotting brown. For my time there, wood for whittling was hard to come across, the most promising sticks usually rendering no more than a rotten core or an enormous centipede. On the forest floor are snakes, which provide an ever present reminder of Satan, but are also a pagan force, unseen danger, and so on. These reptiles enable the existence of an illustrious Pentecostal Christian subset -- the Serpent Handlers, who, with microscopic precision, honed in on this as the Bible's crucial statement:
"They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them" Mark 16:17-18
Therefore, their worship consists of many of the usual rituals such as speaking in tongues, song, and dance, but with the added thrill of handling live, deadly-venomous snakes. One story from this sect describes a preacher who was traveling between rival churches, one more liberal than the other (when I say liberal, I mean that one referred simply to 'Jesus' while the other gave the full 'Jesus the Christ'). When he was bitten and poisoned to a painful death, the orthodox church saw this as evidence that his faith was not true.

Many of the preachers have special decorative boxes for transporting the serpents, inscribed with verses from the bible. A project that I am interested in is recreating one of these boxes (with breathing holes) along with a whittled contingent of snakes to go inside. We should recall here Moses' snake/staff transformation, and the obvious ease of whittling a snake from a stick. The picture below shows such a box, and in case you can't make it out, his hat says 'Jesus is my God'.

The Museum of Appalachia, near Knoxville, is where I heard all of this. The museum has an extensive collection of artefacts, instruments, and folk-art. Primitive and libidinal 'face jugs' are a particular highlight. Whittling and carving make a good showing too. There are numerous examples of hand-crafted banjos displaying devastatingly effective simplicity, just as often joyful crudeness. Before the industrial mass production of guitars, the banjo was a far more popular instrument due to its ease of construction. Decoration comes in the form of fancy neck heels or figurative peg heads. Often, the whittler's rule of working with the natural form of the wood is used, with odd shaped branches creating instruments with a minimum of tooling.

The collection has a large section devoted to whittling proper. These items are mostly folk-art or knick-knacks. One display relates how an older whittler would carry around a little supply of little shoes or birds, presents with which to delight his many grandchildren. Most of the subject matter is rooted in the everyday; wildlife, some excellent serpents included, and in a characteristically self-reflexive example of human activity, model knives and tools.

Religious tropes bear heavy on this part of the world, but the dominant Protestant theology eschews iconography. It seems, however, that this injunction is lifted when it comes to Satan, who is always so-named and is frequently depicted with an almost action-sculpture style of fervour. What was, to me, the centre piece of the Museum and a triumph of primitive craft for capturing the inherent sinister part of nature, is a huge sculpture of Satan made from walnut wood. The sculptor first spent days walking around hills and valleys searching for a suitable chunk of wood, an action which already loads the piece with performative pathos. A knotted and twisted walnut trunk duly was found, it's dark colour and marbled, sinewy grain recalling dark offal, kidneys or liver. Again, the tooling is minimal; the already-there shape of horns is added to by inlaid glass eyes. Below is the final exceeding accomplishment, as the teeth of a dead animal are seamlessly integrated into the trunk. The perfect fusion of wood and bone, life and decay, terrifying in their pervasion.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Cut of the week

The first gathering of the Whittling-Club had a 40% cut-accident ratio among the members so we have several candidates for the Cut of the Week this time around. Most notable is maybe Ben B. for the deepest cut of the week and Amy for the sexiest cut of the week.

Ben's Cut

Amy's Cut

Thanks Amy and Ben.
Thanks also to Ben T. and Jack for their contribution of small cuts.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009


We at Bleeding Thumb are happy to report of taking delivery of a little log of boxwood. Here are our first impressions.

Jack: The buxus log was unassuming in appearance. Yellow powdery bark didn't seem too promising. However, on cleaning off the bark, a crispy, crinkly sound was emitted, and even the outer bark comes off in nice rolls. All bodes well.

Jana: Its like cutting with a warm knife through a mix of mustard and butter dipped in liquid nitrogen.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Faux Bois

Wood Book

"A representation of inland and foreign wood, as well trees and shrubs, which, are collected by the lovers of natural history in their cabinets of natural curiosities for use and pleasure."

These illustrations of wooden boards come from the "Houtkunde" published in 1773 by John Christian Sepp. The full digitilized version of the book, with more than 100 colored prints and descriptions of different woods, can be found at the TU Delft Library.

Monday, 2 November 2009


A small bear whittled out of apple-wood.

Maybe later.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Source of Wood

Sometimes the best source of wood for an urban whittler is simply the furniture discarded on the street. I don't mean those piles of wet mdf-pulp mixed with cat-piss, but broken chairs and cabinets where even a scratched leg might be made out of prime hard-wood. Professional whittlers and woodcarvers have long used old furniture for obtaining rare or extinct woods. I have not come across any of these rare woods yet but a broken chair on the street served up another set of sticks for making Burgis-style fingers – enough for a whole hand.

Dalston style...

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Cut of the week

Ksenias cut of the week. She is washing off some paper that got stuck in the cut after she gaffa-taped her finger to stop the bleeding.

Saturday, 17 October 2009


Whittled by Jack out of birch in the summer of 2009. Too horrible to look at directly, like medusa, it is best viewed via some reflective material.


Whittled out of pine by Janice in summer of 2009. The eyes are natural knots in the wood.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Lockdown - Opinels and Legality

Bleeding Thumb is ambivalent about this particular update, containing as it does good and bad news. First off, the club has obtained a stock of six Opinel No. 7 knives with carbon steel blades. These will become the club knives available on loan to those attending without a blade of their own. Sadly, these are some of the last Opinels on sale in England, their locking blade having fallen foul of recently updated knife laws.

It's not entirely clear how the homespun, slow-action mechanism of the Opi poses a particular threat, especially compared to, say, a butcher's knife. What is apparent, is the hateful machinery of the "Theatre of Security" grinding into action, spitting out worthlessly demonstrative policy without thought or care over what might actually have a positive impact on society.

This is not some libertarian polemic against some perceived infringement of liberties, more a coda to a governmental blunder. Whilst having a weapon function, a knife is a tool in a way that a gun or ninja stars can never be; to end on a positive note, it is still legal to carry a blade "with good reason". And to whittle is certainly that.

Crime scene

A chair was attacked last month by a small gang intoxicated with alcohol and tabasco. The chair was reduced to rubble within minutes and spread across a vast area of the kitchen. The finger below was whittled from the remains a couple of days later by Ben Burges. The other kitchen chairs were found unharmed.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Mora Knifes

The Mora knife is as much an institution in the average Swedish household as the Ikea Billy bookshelf. The knife is named after a small town in Sweden where knifes have been produced since the 17th century. The classic model has a red wooden or plastic handle and a 3- or 4-inch blade, but the original makers of the Mora knife, Frost Knivfabrik (Frost Knife Factory), also produce knives especially designed for whittling and carving. One particular model is called the Erik Frost 120 and is named after the founder of Frost Knivfabrik which has been internationally renowned for its production of high quality blades. The simple design, high quality carbon steel and cheap price makes it the best whittling knife we have come across in the Club so far. Unreservedly recommended.

Erik Frost 120