Traditional carving methods perpetuate artistic creativity

Modern carving processes increase efficiency, while traditional techniques capture human element

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By CHARLOTTE HUI

Although digital technology and modern power tools enhance wood carving, traditional hand tools produce the most authentic art, according to fine arts instructors and woodworkers.

Shop owner combines carpentry and art

Jesse Toso, owner of Toso Wood Works in Vancouver, uses chainsaws, power tools, grinders and chisels to create wood sculptures and furniture. Toso prefers using electric tools due to their superior efficiency.

“They’re a lot faster,” Toso said. “I can get weight through the wood a lot quicker.”

Toso, who is a carpenter and a wood artist, said it would take months for him to create the same work with a hammer and a chisel that he creates in one day with a chainsaw.

Indigenous instructor chooses tradition over technology

Aaron Nelson-Moody, who teaches Indigenous Carving 3D at Langara College, also uses a chainsaw to “rough out a shape.” He carves the finer details using a chisel and a flat knife. Nelson-Moody believes the rise in popularity of computer numerical control machines will not allow traditional carving to become outmoded. Nelson-Moody said CNC machines have a “prohibitive cost,” and they cannot replace human artistic creativity.

“They’re also not able to create the very fine details that we can with hand tools,” Nelson-Moody said.

Nelson-Moody said a CNC machine is “quick at transferring” a design, but it is not capable of following the grain of the wood.

“It doesn’t leave a very good finish,” Nelson-Moody said.

According to Nelson-Moody, CNC machines “will never completely reflect the connection we have as human beings to each other.”

Philip Robbins, a Langara fine arts instructor and director of Makerspace, said one of the challenges of traditional wood carving is that it is based on people’s physical capabilities. When people “are not strong enough to manipulate material” or when they lack the manual dexterity to use hand tools, traditional processes can be overwhelming, Robbins said.

“With digital processes, it allows us a level of accuracy and repeatability and detail that we may not be able to achieve with our own physical means,” Robbins said.

The digital process of manipulating wood is safer than the traditional method, according to Robbins.

“There are sharp tools, but you don’t have to touch them, you just have to set up the digital file, and the machine will output it for you,” Robbins said.

Federico L. Mendez Castro, owner of Dalbergia Wood + Fine Objects on Granville Island, who makes many of his own tools, prefers traditional carving techniques. Mendez Castro, who specializes in making non-Euclidian geometrical objects, said machines are not capable of creating smooth curves that the human hand can carve.

“We don’t have anything symmetric in our body,” Mendez Castro said. “It’s way more interesting to do something with compound curves.”

According to Mendez Castro, machine-built wooden products, such as Ikea furniture, come from a “craftmanship of certainty.”

“There are some other objects that you build, or you make, with what they call craftsmanship of risk,” Mendez Castro said.

As far as losing the authenticity of art by using digital technology, Nelson-Moody said machines are not to blame for the counterfeiting of art.

“There’s even human beings who copy each other’s work,” Nelson-Moody said. “So, it’s not just machines that do that.”

Jesse Toso, the owner of Toso Wood Works, carving wood with an electric grinder. Aaron Nelson-Moody teaching students about traditional wood carving techniques in his Indigenous Carving 3D class at Langara College.

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