Building a wand is an elaborate process, or it is when I make them, anyway. However there is good reason for it. I firmly believe that the wands I create are the best on etsy, possibly the world. Why? Because every single wand billet is hand selected from my own back 40 acres, hand cut, hand carved, cores inserted and detailed with hand tools.
I really don't think you can get any closer to pure originality than that.
So lets dig into the process behind my wands by exploring this recent custom design.
The first step is always to get ahold of materials. I live in a rather interesting house built by my parents in 2004. It's a cordwood house, with an earth roof ( yes, there are literally plants growing on our roof, ) with a giant central pillar of rocks and mortor which serves as both center post to bear the immense weight of all that dirt on the roof, and as the woodstove. Living in norwest wisconsin, only a few hours drive from the Canadian boarder, requires one's abode to be well heated.
The walls are set with a variety of log ends, some of which were cedar.
Now, unfortuantely, I did not have any cedar on stock when a customer contacted me and asked for a wand, 12 3/4" inches, cedar, with a phoenix feather core.
However, some rummaging through the old woodpile turned up this cedar log. It was imperfect, with a variety of knots, cracks, and irregularities, which only served to make it that much better.
The next step was to trim all that roughage to size. Thankfully, it is the nature of cedar to split easily. Especially a dry log such as this. I was greatful for that, at first, but it turned out to be a challenge later on.
Understanding, and comming to terms with the different wood species, whether its hard, soft, easy to carve, hard to carve, knoty, curly, sappy, superlight, heavy, white, dark, hard in one spot and soft in another; all these things and much much more come into play. And the variables are different for each and every species, making some wood types, such a basswood, long standing favorites by wood workers world round, and others daunting challenges, such as ebony, or ironwood.
Using a hatched and a hammer ( the hammer is used to carefull drive the blade of the hatchet exactly where you want it to go, rather than just swinging widly and hoping for the best, which never occurs,) this technique allows the woodworker to make precision splices and splits along a piece.
Splitting the wand is a crucial part of the process. It's carefully cut with a Ryoba ( japanese pull saw ) or a bandsaw. There is a technique to this that allows you to cut it in half, and put it back together again, and make the end result look like it had never been bisected in the first place. How?
When I cut the billet in half, I carefully follow the grain lines. It's important to find the right side and grain pattern to follow. All four sides will be slightly different, and picking the best option, that doesn't skate through the center of a knot, or get too complicated in the grain loops, bobs, and swirls. Having found the right line, I cut along it, use my dremel tool to score a 1/4" inch groove down the center.
Very carefully the center, that being the center of the design. This is important because if the groove deviates, I could accidentally cut into it during the carving process, and be forced to start all over. By making sure the groove is centered on the wand's center, I can reduce the risk of this happening. Once the wand is together again, I'll won't be able to see where the groove is, and if it's not exactly where it should be, then it's very likely I'll have to chuck it into the fire later on.
I don't insert the core right away, but leave the ends open. The final stage of carving will be to cap the wand, sealing the core inside.
For now, we glue the pieces back together again using Tightbond II, my favorite wood glue, careful to match them up just right. After 24hrs of curing, we're ready to continue.
With the billet glued back together, and once again seamless, a combination of whittling, and drawblade work slims the billet down to the wand's general shape.
This is when I encountered the first challenge of this species. As I mentioned earlier, every wood species has it's own set of "do's and don'ts" that will either make or break the design. In this case, the challenge lays in cedar's desire to split great chunks off of itself at every opportunity.
Patience was the name of the game, as it usually is, and I had to keep a careful eye on the wood grains, always checking it's flow so I could make tactically smart movements with the blade, and prevent any damage to the design. This is made doubly difficult by the fact that the billet is now hallow.
These are my primary work tools. Over 80% of my wand smithing is done with this set of tools, which can be easily purchased on amazon. The skills however, are only affordable by those with a lot of time on their hands. Thanks to my parents homeschooling me from the age of 12, I had the chance to build my wood carving skills over the course of a decade. Little did I know that my childhood hobby would turn into a business!
The shape of the wand begins to reveal itself as the wood shavings pile up! Again, I have to be very careful with each stroke of the knife, so that the cedar won't split, and ruin my hard work.
Carving wands is no joke! I just recently invested in a pair of cut resistant gloves. After nearly a decade of cutting my fingers open ( my left index finger is numb from the last metacarpophalangeal - finger joint - down, result of a severely deep cut some 2 years ago. ) I used to joke that the wand god's required a blood sacrifice for each wand, or it wouldn't be any good. Now a days, however, I've learned to just not cut myself.
Unfortunately, I did not take full pictures of the carving process. But I estimate carving took between 3-4 hrs total to craft. Once the basic pattern was done, I filed and sanded it down to a smooth finish. At the customer's request, I added a few cracks to the design to give it more character. I inserted the core, and capped either end with dowl ends, cutting off the extra material and again filing and sanding it to a smooth, clean, finish.
Staining the wand dramatically changed it's appearance and made the grain absolutely pop out. It's always good to save scrap pieces of the wood you are working with. That way you can test out each color of stain against the wood species. Every wood species takes different stains differently. The key is learning what stains go with what wood species. And if that resultant color will fit your design.
In this case, it did. I ened up using red oak stain, and the cedar took it perfectly. Most members of the pine family, which are softwoods, don't take stain that nicely, and this had me slightly concerned, but the cedar took it beautifuly!
All the details were wondefully exagerated, dark contrasting in all the right places. Notice the open ended grains are darker than the closed grain. ( edges are open grain, and flats are smooth grained ) Open vs. closed grain is something to always pay attention to when it comes to staining.
I sealed the wand with polyurethane, and added the real soft leather handle wrap, which was why the design featured a recessed handle design. The finish enriched and deepened the colors, and really made the grain stand out. This was my first time working with cedar wood, and I was delighted with the results. I will deffinitely be working with it again in the future.
To see more, check out our gallery here on the website, and check out our social media platforms on twitter, instagram, and tumblr.