Beautifully crafted and polished, the end result of woodcraft is certainly impressive as reporter SOPHIE BROWNSON found out when she tried her hand at wood carving.
LET’S get this straight: I am no wood carver.
When asked to visit Isca Woodcrafts based at Tredegar House for some work experience, my mind immediately flashed back to the horror of my school days when I sawed my photo frame in half and had to salvage the situation with masking tape.
But nevertheless, a few days later I found myself in the impressive workshop of Isca Woodcrafts run by Paul and Gail Roberts, ready to begin my morning of woodcrafting under their years of expertise.
Eyeing up a large saw in the centre of the room I begin to feel nervous, but Mr Roberts immediately put me at ease and started to show me the different varieties of wood in all their glory.
“We have 80 different types of wood here,” he told me.
“We sell native hardwoods, air and kiln dried, as well as international woods.
“But there are about 10,000 commercial woods and about 3,000 soft woods.
“We buy wood from local estates and we get some from the parks.
“The funny thing about wood is that the light woods go darker and the darker ones go lighter.
“And they come in an array of colours.”
With materials coming in colours as startling as deep purple, I started to understand how the profession can capture the imagination.
Mr Roberts explained that many customers are people who make woodcrafts for a hobby and so they want an accessible range of woods in manageable sizes rather than cutting the wood down themselves.
I learnt these manageable sizes are called ‘turning blanks’ and Mr Roberts regularly goes out to collect wood, cut it down and sand it back at the workshop for customers to buy.
Taking me back into the workshop I was given a full demonstration of this process.
Mr Roberts used a huge band saw to cut a huge plank of wood down to size to show me how he made it more manageable for hobbyists.
As the machine needed someone with years of experience to operate, I was relieved when he led me over to a workbench where he had already cut a block of wood down to size for me.
“We have thousands of pounds of kit here,” he explained.
“Most other woodcarvers don’t have that type of kit.
“My boards can be 6ft long and 5ft wide,” he said when asked why such heavy machinery is needed to cut the wood to size.
Mr Roberts explained that my task was going to be to make a love spoon using lime wood, which I was told is better for cutting as it is quite soft and better than a hard wood when it comes to carving.
“A hard wood is deciduous,” he explained.
“But a soft wood is coniferous and evergreen.
“But then hardwoods can be soft and soft woods can be hard,” he added, explaining why it can be quite confusing.
“It is all to do with how they grow.”
Handing me my wooden block, I was given a thin wooden template of a love spoon and asked to draw around it directly onto the wood using a pencil.
Next I was shown how to use two cutting tools called a fret saw and a Dremel to cut around the spoon shape.
Slightly nervous, my cutting didn’t go entirely to plan – which again led to a flashback of my school incident – but with much assistance form Mr Roberts I was able to complete the task.
“You can get all sorts of cutting equipment,” he explained.
“You can use an electric carver or a multi-purpose tool, or both if you want to take the back off.”
Nothing goes to waste, I learnt.
Wood chippings go to a local farm where they are used as bedding for chickens, while off-cuts can be turned in to things like wooden pens.
Next I was given a small carving knife and attempted to carve a pattern into the wood – without much success, but this was down to my lack of skill rather than the tool.
Then I was tasked with sanding the wood down using a sanding pad – the highest grade to give the best result.
“You can get different grades” said Mr Roberts.
“You can get 100 grit, 159 grit, and 240 grit, up to 400 grit.
“You have to build it up using all of them starting with the roughest and take it all the way through,” he explained of the sanding process.
Next I was given high-quality microcrystalline wax and a cloth to coat the spoon in the wax give it a high shine.
The look of the wood is a reflection of the price I learnt, so the better quality it is the more people will pay for it, Mrs Roberts explained.
Next I drilled a hole through the top of the spoon using a countersink tool and tied a piece of string with a wooden tag through to create what was described as a ‘more modern take on the traditional love spoon’.
Back in the gift shop I chatted to Mr and Mrs Roberts about their roles in the business.
Mrs Roberts is responsible for the running of the gift shop which sells boxes, love spoons, food preparation boards and wooden gifts.
She makes some of these items herself and can make items to order such as her specialism in pyrography – burning designs on to wood.
Getting out her latest product she showed me a beautiful picture on a chopping board that she had been commissioned to make for a birthday present.
“We have been in the business 10 years.
“But I have been wood carving for 30 years,” Mr Roberts said.
“Part of the game is being organised,” he said.
“I did a degree in furniture design and had experience with working with a lot of tree surgeons.
“I used to teach at the University of Glamorgan until 2004 when I left to set this business up.
“It will be our tenth anniversary next January.
“Every day is different.
“We really love what we do.”
Despite my lack of skill, I could definitely see the appeal.