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Bark Pine Trees

Posted by Chelsea Place on

Bark Pine Trees

Use cottonwood bark scraps to
create whimsical pine tree magnets

By: Betsy Elswit
Originally published in Wood Carving Illustrated

Materials

  • Cottonwood bark, 1" to 2" thick: assorted scraps
  • Finish, such as Kerf’s Wood Cream
  • Rags or paper towels (to apply finish)
  • Magnet
  • Epoxy

Tools

  • Knife with a good detail tip
  • #3 gouge: 3/8" (optional)

I love to carve cottonwood bark, but in my area most cottonwood trees don’t have especially thick bark. Sometimes I can get a few good-sized pieces from one of our Eastern cottonwood trees. One day I found a small, leftover piece and decided to see if I could make anything out of it. I could! As I made more small bark carvings, I tried different ideas, and one thing that I have enjoyed making is pine trees. These make great whittling projects that can be done with just one knife. I often carry a folding knife and a small piece of bark when I go out for walks, and I stop and carve things while out in the woods. These are quick and really don’t need to be measured. One of the nicest things about them is that you don’t have to worry about making them perfectly even. Your finished product will be better if it is lopsided, bent, and irregular. If it doesn’t come out the way you wanted, throw it out and try again. And if you’re using found wood, you haven’t wasted any money on a mistake.

Getting Started

Most of my scraps are 3" to 5" long. These pieces end up 2" to 3" wide and 1" to 2" thick. I divide these pieces into thirds, and then carve two-thirds of the blank, leaving the bottom third uncarved as the base.

Prepping & Carving

Step 1: Rough out the tree

Carve off the outer bark on the top two-thirds of the blank. Carve the bark into a cone shape, but leave the back flat. If your tree ends up long and thin, add a bend to the cone to create movement and interest. The branches can reach the whole way to the ground, or you can cut away the lower ones to show the trunk.

Step 2: Rough out the boughs

Draw horizontal lines for the branches around the tree. Space the branches 1/4" to 1/2" apart (closer for a small tree and farther for a large tree). Make a stop cut on each line and taper up to the stop cut so the boughs appear to overlap.

Step 3: Divide the boughs

Draw vertical lines to separate the boughs into branches. Stagger the lines so you don’t have one vertical line that runs from the top to the bottom. Carve a deep V shaped groove at each line, using the knife or a 3/8" #3 gouge.

Step 4: Refine the branches

Taper the sides of each branch down into the groove or the branch above it. Create small curves, orienting the branches either left, right, up, or down. Cut notches in the lower parts where the branches meet; this will create shadows and add interest to the piece.

Step 5: Add the magnet

Carve a small recess on the back of the tree
for the magnet. Use epoxy to attach the magnet to the recess.

Step 6: Embellish remaining space

Trees are nice on their own, but if you have extra space on your bark, add a building, another tree, or whatever else you can think of. If your tree is small or the bark is soft, round the branches more to make them durable.

A 'Whittle' Tip

Broken Branches

Taper the sides of each branch down into the groove or the branch above it. Create small curves, orienting the branches either left, right, up, or down. Cut notches in the lower parts where the branches meet; this will create shadows and add interest to the piece.

Finishing the tree

Taper the sides of each branch down into the groove or the branch above it. Create small curves, orienting the branches either left, right, up, or down. Cut notches in the lower parts where the branches meet; this will create shadows and add interest to the piece.

Show Off Your Work!

We'd love to see your finished projects. Share them with us on social media!

About The Author

Betsy Elswit lives in Ithaca, N.Y., and started carving two decades ago when she was given a set
of woodcarving tools for Christmas. She is a member of the Catatonk Valley Woodcarvers Club in
Candor, N.Y., and teaches classes there.

Template downloads are provided courtesy of Fox Chapel Publishing.

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