How to Shape Cork

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Due to its mix of strength and softness, cork offers a popular choice of carving medium for beginners and experienced whittlers alike. You don't need extra-strength tools or chisels for cork, but getting good results from this unusual wood does require some finesse. When you're new to carving cork, use a gradual reduction process that will give you the best chance to get used to the material and get the results you want.

Things You'll Need

  • Cork block
  • Craft knives
  • Sand paper
  • Look over the piece of cork that you have carefully. Try to imagine the shape of the carving you want to create within the shape of the block. If you like, consider making a quick clay mock-up of the item to hold next to the cork block and use it to check the dimensions.

  • Outline sketch one side of the image you want to carve on each of the sides of the cork block. Use pencil. To help with this process, look at each side of the block and imagine you're looking at the finished image head-on from the corresponding side. Don't worry too much about exact details, but try to get the best height and width shape you can.

  • Cut away small portions of the cork using the craft knife. Begin with small cuts as you work to get used to the feel of cutting cork and as you practice gaining control of the blade and the shape of the cuts you make. Work slowly and make even, fluid sawing motions to cut through the spongy wood.

  • Work gradually in to the center of the cork. Turn the cork block around and work on all sides evenly. Try to keep your progress consistent across all sides rather than working all the way down on any one side before moving to the next; this will keep your depths consistent and help you assess all sides of the shape you're making as you go.

  • Sand the finished sculpture. Work with the grain of the cork; if you feel that the material is resistant to the strokes of the paper, reverse the direction of the strokes.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you find that your blade is pressing into the wood more than it's slicing through it, try a sharper blade or switch to a brand new disposable blade.
  • Since cork is highly lightweight and porous, it's easy to glue. Use wood glue to make repairs caused by bad cuts or to glue carvings together to for larger sculptures.

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References

  • "The Beginner's Handbook of Woodcarving: With Project Patterns for Line Carving, Relief Carving, Carving in the Round, and Bird Carving"; Charles Beiderman and William Johnston; 1988
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