To Bake or Not to Bake, That is the Question
I never tire of thanking my friend Wendy Rome for organizing my thoughts and correcting the mistakes of my bad English.
Igor Petrov, author
After publishing my article about baking finished wood products in the oven, I received a lot of reviews, comments, and clarifying questions. I am very happy that masters of wood carving find my experience so useful.
The question asked most often was, why do I bake my wood pieces? To answer this question, let’s do a little experiment together.
I have a very nice piece of poplar lumber here. It is quite dry and, as you can see, it is almost completely white. The grain is unremarkable — the wood seems featureless. But poplar is a very pleasant wood to carve and this piece has been patiently awaiting its turn to become something beautiful. We’ll use this piece for our experiment.
This piece of poplar is fairly large. There is enough wood here for both a spoon and a shallow bowl. I’ve drawn the basic shapes on the board.
The board is 95 mm wide and 30 mm thick. I’ve cut the board in half so you can readily see the wood’s texture and light color tone.
I use an axe to “rough out” the basic shapes of the blanks — the pieces that I will turn into a spoon and a bowl. I never use a power tool in my work. I only use simple hand tools: a hand saw, an axe, knives, and chisels. I use the axe to remove most of the excess wood. You can see, in this photo, the wood’s texture and almost even white coloring.
With the axe, I remove the wood outside the drawn lines. This leaves me with the basic blank.
In the next stage, I use my knife to carve away the wood outside the drawn lines.
By the way, this knife was made and presented to me by my friend and excellent master of wood carving, Andrey. You must see his carvings — beautiful high-quality spoons. Visit his WorldWoodCraft Store.
Step by step, the blank is transformed and turns into something that roughly resembles a spoon.
I form the primary contour then shape the handle. Next, I use a bent gouge for making a bowl.
I continue the contouring process, creating a shape that I like.
Gradually, our blank becomes more and more like a spoon.
I use the same process to create the small bowl.
After further refining, both blanks reach their roughed-out form.
So, some carvers leave their pieces alone at this point with the cut marks clearly visible. I prefer a smooth finish so I begin sanding the pieces, starting with rough grit and moving to finer and finer grits of sandpaper. The result is a pair of well-made, quite elegantly shaped pieces… but their texture and wood grain pattern are. . . well. . . absolutely uninteresting.
It’s time to bake! I feel like a magician here — ladies and gentlemen, I am about to transform these basic white utensils into something rich and deep and maybe even a little exciting.
I placed these pieces into the oven to bake. Compare how baked wood (left) is transformed after I’ve covered its surface with linseed oil (right):
And here are the final photos — something like an exhibition version:
To be honest, I was a little late turning off the oven and the pieces cooked a little longer than I’d intended (I baked them at 240 degrees Celsius for about 20 minutes).
But I like these very much this way. I think they’re far more interesting than they were before going into the oven. Indeed, they have an elegance that the unbaked pieces lacked. Such noble beauty.
Why bake wooden products in the oven? Baking adds color and character. Baked pieces are more interesting and eye-catching. Depending on the temperature you use and how long you bake your pieces, you can offer a wide range of colors with the same type of wood. I also find baked pieces to be more durable as they tend to harden in the oven as well.
Try baking. I think you’ll fall in love with the results! I know I did.