Walter Smith with one of the many wildlife carvings he has created over the past several years.
June 29, 2013-Combining a life-long love of hunting and fishing with his artistic and woodworking skills, has developed into an enjoyable and rewarding hobby for a retired Petrolia area man.
A avid hunter, angler, and wildlife
conservationist, Walter Smith thought he would try his hand at carving wooden ducks, birds, fish and other animals about 10 years and to his own own amazement, found that he is very good at it. About a dozen of his carvings were on display
at the Petrolia Library during the month of July and have garnered considerable attention from local residents.
Smith, 75, was a life-long resident of Dawn Township but after retiring from a 39-year career with Bigelow-Liptack Ltd., about 10 years
ago, he moved into the Lambtonian Seniors’ Apartments just west of Petrolia.
“I began doing a little carving about 15 years ago but it wasn’t until I retired that I really got serious about it,” he said, adding that he had always
been a woodworker and used to make a lot of wooden furniture in his home work shop.
“I had a nice shop at home with just about everything you could need as far as tools and equipment go and I liked to make things out of real
wood. I used a lot of red oak, never veneer.”
He said as a consequence, he used to go to a lot of woodworking shows where they would sell all kinds of tools and equipment for woodworking and they would often have displays of wood carvings. “That’s
what really got me interested in it, I used to admire the work I would see there, but never that I would be able to do that sort of thing myself,” he said. He noted that prior to retiring he had knee surgery and was off work for about three months.
“I was really bored and needed something to do that didn’t require me to be on my feet and that’s what made me start carving,” he said, adding that the first thing he made was a duck decoy. “After that I started to buy some
books on the subject of carving,” he said.“You can really learn a lot of good things out of book.”
He noted that for his carvings he uses mainly two types of wood: bass wood and tupelo. “I use bass wood because it is soft and
easy to carve,” he said, adding that Tupelo, which is native to the Southeastern U.S., is also a very popular carving wood because it is so light and easy to work with.
He noted that he first acquired some tupelo wood while on a trip to Florida
and found it very easy to work with and like the fact that it was much easier to finish than was bass wood. “You need a wood that doesn’t have much grain to it and bass wood will get all fuzzy on you when you sand it,” he said. “It
comes to the surface when you are sanding it and you can’t get it out.” However, he said he has found that applying a coat of lacquer to the carving and re-sanding it works relatively well, but adds that it “can be tricky.”
he said 90 per cent of the carvings he makes are from bass wood, largely because it is readily available in Ontario. “I get most of my wood from a sawmill in Varna, a small community in Huron County,” he said, adding that the bass wood in that
area is much better quality than in is available in Lambton County.
While he admits to always having been a bit artistic, having done some oil painting in his younger years, Walter noted that he had learned most of what he knows about the carving craft
from books and his own trial and error experiences.
He did note that when he first became interested in the hobby he joined a group that meets regularly in nearby Sarnia called the Triple C Carvers.
“The triple C stands for coffee, cookies
and carving, but I soon found it was more about coffee and cookies than it was about carving,” he said. “But it’s an enjoyable social group and I did pick up a lot of good tips from the other members and I still attend during the winter months.”
He said he has done more than 100 carvings now since he started the hobby and has since branched into carving a range of different types of birds, fish and animals.
“It’s very time consuming and often takes four or five weeks to carve
and finish a particularly intricate carving,” he said. “I recently did an elephant, the first one I had ever done, and it took about four or five weeks of pretty steady going to finish it.”
He noted that one of the keys to making good
carvings is the ability to put the animal into proper perspective and thinks that having been an avid hunter and fisherman all his life really helps him in that regard.
“It really helps when you have a good knowledge of what an animal looks like
when it comes to proportioning it,” he said, adding that carving requires a feel for the animals or objects one is shaping. “Without putting it in the proper perspective you might end up with the legs not being shaped properly, that happens to
a lot of carvers.”
He notes that he has been getting a lot of orders for his work locally and has his work cut out for him between now and Christmas to fill them all. “I didn’t think I could ever do this kind of work, but it’s
funny if you get it in your mind that you are going to do something, you can do it,” he said.
Liz Welsh, a librarian at the Petrolia Library said the public have been impressed with quality and variety of Smith’s work. “They are very
life-like and intricate,” she said. “He really has a tremendous talent and we were pleased to be able to showcase some of his work,” she said.