Funny how some things in life turn out. It was the winter of 1990-01 in Salmon Run British Columbia. I was log building full time but wanted to take a winter course of some sort to add something for the interiors of these structures. A tole painting class came up and I thought decorative painting on mantle pieces would create a nice centre piece for the great room, recreation room, etc.. The course ran one night a week for six weeks. There were six of us altogether including Ed Schmidt who was 60 years young then … never too old to learn. During the third week we were all to bring something of interest to show the others and Ed brought in the most beautiful Bible box. It was chip carved around all four sides as well as the top and finished in a brown mahogany gel stain. I was already hooked! I finished the tole painting classes and then took a class with Ed and made three of these large Bible boxes. Ed was a good teacher. Believe it or not these boxes were all carved with a non retractable Stanley utility knife! Of course now I have Moor knives and quicker methods of putting the drawing onto wood.
I guess I have never been satisfied as a craftsman just to build the log shell of a house. As life progressed my wife and I moved to Ontario in 1994 where I went full time timber framing. This style of building really leant itself to the art of chip carving, and soon it was a standard for me to chip carve the date as well as foliage, pinecones, names etc., into every frame. Most of the time it was a surprise for the client, and pleased they were. I remember once carving a hummingbird hovering beside the date at the entry of a home, but one of the most memorable carvings was on a trip to our home province of Nova Scotia during the summer of 1997. We always stop in Perth Andover, New Brunswick to see my log building friend Garth. It was Father’s Day and he was dismantling a log house for clients in Yarmouth Nova Scotia. It just so happened that I had my knives and a few patterns with me, and as luck would have it the house was only a third taken apart, with all the header logs for doors and windows still in place. At the main entry door I proposed to do a carving of two chipmunks, facing one another on a tree branch, so while the log was on the building I marked out a slab that would be cut once on the ground. I took the chainsaw and cut a nice sweep with a flat spot in the centre, then smoothed the surface nicely with a small disc sander. Next I applied the pattern and began Chipping Away. Garth had some of the stain that would be going on the entire house so I gave a good dose of this on the carving right away, knowing that the June sun would play havoc with the carving. We covered it well with cardboard for the transportation and I joined up Garth a couple of weeks later at the job site in Nova Scotia to do some final work on the house. We met with the clients and they were very excited about the chipmunks.
I’ve always been a firm believer that the small things in life make a big difference. Small details like I’ve described are what makes log and timber frame homes so unique and a place where craftsmen can really shine. One can create themes throughout the house, really making it a unique place. Chip carving in these homes can really distinguish one company from another in a hurry in this fast paced world where factory production is the norm. Details are what will keep us alive in this craft as people seek out to have something different, and our clients want something organic and nice to touch and be surround by. My goal is to find what the clients’ interests are, what styles of lettering they prefer, the motifs they like, and then try to incorporate this into their homes. There are many samples of chip carving in historic buildings throughout Europe. Door headers on entries and the underside of beams were commonplace. Below is a list I’ve developed through brainstorming sessions focusing on as many ideas as possible where I can carve what I call architectural pieces into a house.
Richard Cormier is an accomplished chip carver. He studied chip carving with recognized masters of the art: Edward Schmidt from B.C., Canadian champs Dennis and Todd Moore from Ontario and World champion Wayne Barton (originally from Switzerland and now living in Illinois, USA). Richard himself has taught chip carving at a Timber Framer’s Guild conference. Below are some samples of his carving work.