A couple years ago, my daughter Kym and her husband Adrian asked me to carve a garden gnome for them. Kym sent me images of one she found that she liked and they paid me for the wood. They wanted it to be quite large about 3′ tall by about 14″ wide/deep. I bought basswood because it is such a great wood to use for carving. However, it only came in 14″ wide planks about 8′ long. So we cut the plank in half and glued the two sections together to be able to carve the gnome in the round.
I have done several carvings in the past, but never one as large as this. My biggest hurdle was finding a tool that would get rid of a lot of excess wood to get down to the basic shape of the gnome. This proved to be a big, almost overwhelming situation. Steve has a huge shop with every tool imaginable, but we were having a hard time figuring out which tool would be best for moving a big amount of wood to create the basic shape. On most all my previous carvings, I just used my carving tools to maneuver the wood into the correct shape, but this project was so huge I needed something to move a lot of wood in a short amount of time. I started out just carving away with my tools, but knew it would be 3,000 years before this guy was ever done!
I really put this project on hold for over a year. Once in awhile I would go try another tactic on him but would soon get so frustrated that I would put it aside again. I always try to get projects done for people as soon as possible and this was really bothering me that I wasn’t able to figure out how to get this done. Kym even told me she felt bad that the project was giving me such a hard time and told me to just forget it and to not feel bad about it. Then I was more determined than ever to figure out a solution.
Finally, shortly after my conversation with Kym, I had a “light bulb” moment and realized the block of wood was too “square”, that people do not have the same dimensions front to back as they do side to side. So, after discussing this with Steve, he figured out his electric planer would be perfect for taking a lot of wood off the back of the gnome. At this point, I had already made headway with his basic shape just with my carving tools, so we both used the planer and took enough wood off the back of the gnome to create a more realistic body. Once that was done – it was full speed ahead. That was all I needed to take it from there and fine-tune the overall carving. Now it was super fun and I knew exactly how he was going to look and how to finish him. I decided all he needed now was a name. I wanted to talk to him as he was being created (I know, sounds crazy huh?) so I started calling him Henry. When I mentioned this to Steve he said it didn’t sound Irish enough 🙂 so I said ok he is Henry O’ Toole and thus, Kym and Adrian’s gnome came alive and I was able to finish the carving, painting, antiquing and sealing by the end of October. It was hard to wait, but I decided to surprise them with Henry during our family Christmas.
They were SO surprised and it was a thrill for me to be able to do this for them. I had Henry in my studio after he was done until Christmas, so I really miss him now. I told Kym and Adrian I want to have visiting rights 🙂
Here are photos of my Henry O’ Toole project: