Friday 13 September 2013

Bleeding Thumb has Ended

It has been some time since the last meeting of the Bleeding Thumb Whittling Club, and it no meeting is planned for the future. We have received emails from prospective members, and hope that the more-or-less indefinite dissolution of our organisation will be no discouragement to their taking up knife and wood. We thank all of the past members for their company.

Lately, an interesting article has come to our attention. The young Karl Marx in 1842 wrote for the Rheinische Zeitung about the theft of wood. During that period, five-sixths of all prosecutions in Prussia were related to wood; in Rhineland, even more. Marx noted well the changing attitude to usufruct gathering of fallen wood: it was to be prosecuted on a par with the felling and theft of living trees. The customary rights of peasants were eroded, the commons property of the forest privatised and put to work.

Wood, of course, does not feature on the horizon of our consciousness as it did then, a free source of energy and building material. Yet today we might find ourselves less put upon than ever if we gather a small joint of birch felled in a mouldy cemetery, or a branch of sycamore removed from a railway embankment as a nuisance.

First as tragedy, then as farce: Wood is once again commons property.


Wednesday 29 February 2012


Erhard Schoen, The Unfinished Man. Woodcut, 1533

The German chapter of BTWC is now up and running from its base in Frankfurt am Main. Germany is well known for its skilled renaissance lime-wood sculptors and we are glad to see BTWC-FaM continuing the tradition.

Hans Multscher, Virgin and Child, 1435-40

Monday 27 February 2012

Axes in Australia

After the Swedish spoon carver, another craft video, more "skills pornography".

Sunday 29 January 2012

n u d e s

The human form, untroubled by clothes, has been the subject of endless artistic endeavour, and abundant critical thought. We need only mention the works of classical antiquity alongside the anamorphotically modulated effigies of any regional culture you might care to mention, Igbo to Hopi, to give the reader an idea of the range of gazes that have fallen upon the nude, and taken up tools in response. As in geometry and calculus, tracing the nude reduces structures in space to an elemental level -- the extent of greater or lesser degrees of curvature, an extremum here, a point of inflection there, form is considered in the purest terms.

Big thanks to Erika and Patrick for having our 18th meeting in their house. Nudes proved a fecund subject for carving, as you may see below.

Swedish Spoon Carving

If you are prone to trawling the net with certain keywords in mind and in search engine (whittling, greenwood carving, etc.), you might be forgiven for feeling that the discipline of spoon carving is, to use the term of William Gibson, at a nodal point. Some confluence of events, zeitgeist, advertisements, internal realisations, leads to the emergence of a micro-trend. A decade or so of Ray Mears on the telly and a furtive wish to get "back to the land" are two of the identifiable ingredients that have led a remarkable number of middle-aged men (give or take a few years, and, unfortunately, they are almost all men) to spend a hundred quid on an axe and a few knives. I know this because they've made blogs.

It's a good thing, I think, and interesting that today it is a consumer-choice-identity-statement to purchase items that would have been in every house one hundred years ago. That much is a truism of late-capital.

Every time someone (me) starts moaning about the latest cycling trend, I can't help but find some zero-level happiness that more people are on bikes. Likewise the new spoon men. A good tool is a good investment, especially if it involves supporting some of the smaller and more interesting forges -- Gränsfors Bruks, Svante Djärv, Ben Orford, Ray Iles spring to mind. Provided they don't chop down too many trees, the worst case scenario is a stockpile of high quality steel for after the apocalypse.

Here is a video from a Jubilee Fair in Sweden, 1923. I suppose it would have been shown as a newsreel before films, something like that. The crafts shown were being presented with an air of nostalgia and pastoral nationalism (cf. Knut Hamsun over the border in Norway). Already at that time, industrial processes were coming to occupy the minds of Swedish designers. The clip of a man carving a spoon illustrates perfectly the point that it is always worth watching a master at their craft. Note the various techniques, different axe and knife grips, supporting the work with the chest, armpit, knee, and his little leather chest apron; a richness of experience and muscle-memory. There is much to be learned from these two minutes of footage.

A longer video from the same newsreel, with chair and clog making, can be found here.

Saturday 21 January 2012

Brasstown Carvers

Nolan, J.A., Avery & Pearlie

Ray, Douglas, Dub, Tom, Rome

In 1925 the two ladies Olive Dame Campbell and Olive and Marguerite Butler opened a folk-school in Brasstown, North Carolina, with the aim of supporting and nourishing the local Appalachian folk arts. In the 1930-40 the school became especially known for the products made by its whittlers. Although mostly men were carving at first, women eventually picked it up too, and soon big parts of the local population were producing hand-carved goods. It is said that some families even earned a bigger income carving rather than farming.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Envelope of rotten wood

Envelope of rotten wood
ca. 323 B.C.-A.D. 256
Maker: Unknown

Saturday 10 December 2011

BTWC- 17th meeting at the CRYPT

The 17th meeting of BTWC was kindly hosted by The Crypt, a mysterious bar drowned in purple neon-light located in some basement in Frankfurt am Main. Among amethyst stones that protect you from alcohol-poisoning and the smell of lavender, our friend Tim mixed some drinks and offered woody whiskey to all the visitors that dared to put a blade to the test. For those of you who live on the continent and long for a club that can offer you wood and knives to whittle with into the dark hours of the this space... a German Chapter of BTWC is soon coming to a small town near you...

Wednesday 30 November 2011


1st December, from 5PM, at:

Architecture building
Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste - Städelschule
Dürerstraße 10, 60596 Frankfurt am Main

Bleeding Thumb Whittling Club, from London, meets roughly once a month to provide tools, wood, and guidance to those interested in whittling and carving wood. Each meeting has a theme for inspiration, should it be desired.

For our visit to Frankfurt, from one global financial capital to another, the theme is Money. Whittling has always been the choice art of austerity-afflicted populations, but can go badly wrong as carvers turn to making lifeless objects to sell to tourists.

Will whittling survive it's Faustian brush with capitalism? Those tempted, will be given gold-leaf to turn their wooden scrap into gold.

Wood and knives are provided FREE.

Friday 23 September 2011

Ex Libris

I whittled this Ex Libris yesterday so that I can put a big fat stamp in all the books that belong to ME (or that i consider to be mine). I guess it could be printed on bits of paper and then glued into the book in traditional fashion as well. The Ex Libris depicts a praying mantis standing on the base-unit of a graphite crystal, and above, my initials in cyrillic.