A Lifelong Carving Challenge

By Kathleen Ryan

Photos by Kathi Tynan

Fifty years ago Bob Brightbill received a simple set of carving tools as a gift from his wife, Mary, who challenged him to carve something. So Bob bought some carving books and fashioned a wooden fish. Since then the Waitsfield, Vt., resident has produced hundreds of carvings—everything from ballerinas and animals, to a chess set, and even a working pair of scissors. His crowning achievement is a series of 30 life-size busts of historical figures. Each piece is carved from a single block of walnut and takes more than 100 hours to complete. “Carving true-to-life faces is difficult, but carving faces that everyone is familiar with is even more challenging,” said Bob. Each bust starts out as a 12″ by 16″ (30.5cm by 40.6cm) chunk of dried walnut weighing 10 to 15 pounds. After clamping it into a vice, Bob chips away with various gouges ranging in size from 1/8″ to 2″ (3mm to 51mm) wide with different curvatures. “I frequently scrape the carving with a piece of broken glass to remove the marks made by a gouge and then use a riffler and finally sandpaper to smooth it all out,” he explained. Bob does not sell his busts but loans them for displays and exhibits. For more information contact Bob at 802-496-5259.


CLICK HERE to see more great projects from Woodcarving Illustrated Summer 2017 (Issue 79). CLICK HERE to purchase the issue.

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