Quil Ceda Carvers whittle a while, let the chips fall where they may

Merry Axtell, left, and Don Severn hold instruments they carved; Axtells flute is made of green poplar wood finished with beeswax, and Severns rain stick is fashioned from a gourd, with bamboo skewers and bbs inside to make a rhythmic noise. -
Merry Axtell, left, and Don Severn hold instruments they carved; Axtells flute is made of green poplar wood finished with beeswax, and Severns rain stick is fashioned from a gourd, with bamboo skewers and bbs inside to make a rhythmic noise.
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MARYSVILLE Theres a group of locals who take seriously the art of whittling away their time, and their cedar, and their basswood, and just about anything else they can get their paws on.
The Quil Ceda Carvers have been meeting in town for about three decades, passing along their craft and their love of the art of carving wood. The club numbers about 140 members and many of them teach out in the greater community. A monthly get together at the Marysville Library features a show-and-tell where folks display their latest work and jawbone the details.
Last month the group showed off their latest projects, including a couple dozen Santas from around the world, shelf elves and musical instruments.
Merry Axtell recalled how she has made flutes before but never learned how to tune them properly, so she signed up for a class. The teacher normally uses aromatic red cedar, but Axtell is allergic to the wood. In the end all but one of the students switched to the green poplar Axtell made her flute from, finished in beeswax and tuned to the key of F. She said she was disappointed that she missed learning the actual technique of tuning the instrument.
Ive got a nice sounding F flute so it was worth it, Axtell said.
Later in the evening she played the flute to the accompaniment of Don Severn, who had just finished explaining how he carved a three-foot-long gourd into a rain stick.
Severn cut the hollow gourd in two, and put bamboo skewers into the interior. A mess of bbs was poured in and the two halves joined and finished with intricate patterns on the shell. Tilted back and forth, the bbs wash over the skewers and the rain stick resonates with a soothing sound.
Severn is a retired police officer from southern Oregon in his 60s, who sports a diamond stud in his left ear. He has lived in Marysville for three years and publishes the clubs newsletter.
Its a lot of fun, Severn said. It is relaxing and you meet a lot of nice people of course. Its not really hard. A lot of people think carving is hard but its not. Its an easy hobby to learn.
Club president Karen Miller and her husband Don are long-time members. She has been carving for 11 years, and has lived in town for 15; after her first project, a letter opener, Miller expanded her repertoire but says its the process and not the product that satisfies her.
Its relaxing and the camaraderie is so great, Miller said. The feel of the wood in your hands feels so great and to be able to bring something out of the wood is great.
Club treasurer Laura Fraser teaches in Lake Stevens, Snohomish, Monroe and Marysville. Shes been carving for 10 years, teaching for seven. Fraser said its one of the best ways to spend your down time.
It really helps clear the mind cause youre so concentrating on what youre doing you dont pay attention to whats going on in the outside world, Fraser said. Its addictive, sometimes you cant put it down.
According to Fraser, there are three or four types of carving, depending on how precise a definition you need. Whittling is probably the bottom of the pile where most people start, and is characterized by the rough finish, with no sanding or staining on most projects.
Youre basically leaving your knife cuts, Fraser said.
Carving proper can be divided into several categories, including carving in the round, relief carving and chip carving, the most difficult. Carving in the round means a complete figure cut and exposed from all sides; relief is simply taking a partial figure, usually from a plank of material. Carvers say its drawing a picture out of the wood. Chip carving is a tedious and demanding task, but produces dramatic results.
Member Lyle Swan displayed a darkly-stained cross that was chip carved; the face is a maze of geometric bevels that a Waterford crystal goblet could not surpass. He has several works on display in the Marysville City Hall Council Chambers, and the same type of carving is demonstrated in the dark frame surrounding the montage of carvings, all done by members of the club. The club also has a totem pole in the childrens section of the Marysville Public Library.
The most dramatic and difficult carving technique is called intarsia, where cavities are carved and then filled with different colored woods, for a striking combination of colors, patterns and textures. Carvers use not just the different types of wood, but also bone, stone and wood bark.
Techniques also include steaming and bending wood; Ken Mayberry demonstrated how he made several bowls, each out of a single plank of alder, by cutting notches in the plank and then steaming the wood to make it pliable. They wood was bent at the notches and then joined at the ends to make a square loop. The sides were carved in relief. Look out Starbucks Mayberry got hoots from the audience when he let on that he stained the bowls with coffee. He then finished them with a protective covering of wax.
One of the most dramatic items at the meet was a replica of a 1929 Ford truck made by Dale Gooch of Granite Falls. Its a flatbed truck with slat-wood sides, featuring detailed wheels, grill and body. The different woods and finishes contrast nicely, but Gooch said the project was not carving, but sawing. He used a set of plans he purchased and used a lathe for some of the work.
According to club members, thats cricket.
A lot of us like to do the hand work, Miller said. A lot of your bird carvers do the power tools.
Youll find that with the seniors as they get older they start to lose the strength in their hands, Fraser noted, adding that she uses a power sander for some rough spots.
The group hosts an annual spring show that draws carvers from around the United States and from Canada, France and other parts of the world, according to Fraser. Usually the April show has from 400 to 600 carvings; they keep a lid on the commercial side, letting only a handful of vendors sell tools, books, patterns and wood.
Were one of the largest woodcarving shows on the west coast, Fraser said.
The Quil Ceda Carvers also make an annual appearance at the Evergreen State Fair, where they were awarded a huge multicolored ribbon for their booth this year. In addition to displaying carvings, there were always members on hand showing off their skills and spreading the word.
We got a ribbon because our display looked so nice, Miller said.
The club meets in the Marysville Public Library every third Thursday of the month at 6:30 p.m., and visitors are welcome. For more information you can visit their Web site at

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