Presentation: Bill Maloney – White Cedar Birds

This month’s presentation was delivered by Bill Maloney.

Bill has been making white cedar birds for most of his life. This craft has been passed down through many generations and is believed to have originated in Russia or one of the scandinavian countries, but Bill is not sure where his father, being Irish, learned it and passed it down to him and his brothers.

As a boy he was delegated one specific task in the process.  When he and his brothers were still young, his father passed away, but they continued the craft.  As his brothers reach High School age, they lost interest and taught Bill the rest of the process.  When Bill reached High School, like his brothers, his interest changed and he stopped making these birds until he got out of the Service.  At 85, Bill has continued to make these birds every since.  He demonstrates a unique and special love for his craft and is willing and eager to share it with anyone who is interested.  Bill doesn’t compromise on quality, but he does recognize there is a balance between quality, time and artistic expression.

Bill’s White Cedar Birds are all made from one single piece of wood and have no glue.  They are finished only with a coat of shellac and some wood burning to accent the piece.  Sometimes he will mount them on a stand, but prefers to hang them up.  Because “it’s difficult to get a bird to balance”, Bill will mount the ones that won’t balance on the string.

Information on Northern White Cedar:

http://www.mntreeresources.com/northern-white-cedar.html

The whole process of making the birds begins with selecting the right trees.  Every few years, Bill drives to Vermont and hand selects the right trees.  Though, it’s possible to make them from all kinds of wood, they are best made from straight-grained White Cedar.

If the bark is straight, the grain of the wood is straight.  The first three feet of the tree is not used because it contains imperfections in the grain.  However, the next 14-18 feet of the wood above the 3 foot base is used.  These are cut into 38 inch lengths for the trip home.  All of the bark is removed and only the sapwood is used.

Once the wood arrives, it’s put into a 55 gallon barrels filled with water where it remains until it’s used.  Often his stock will remains here for a few years.  Storing the wood this way stops checking and insures the highest quality piece.  White cedar is very easy to carve when wet.

A regular bird takes Bill about 30 minutes to make.  Hummingbirds take about 15 minutes each.  Bill teaches some class on how to make a bird and generally it takes a new student about 2 hours to learn the entire process and make their first bird.

Carving

It is very hard to make a mistake.  He has taught classes on how to do this in about 2 hours for an new student.

Once it’s carved, the piece is dried overnight.  The next day, the piece is shaved and sanded.  The carving process is done with a sharp 

Next, Bill uses a Swiss Army Knife with a thin blade to slice the wings.  This knife is ideal for this part of the process and technique is key to getting clean slices.  The grain of the wood help, but also the very thin blade prevents the need for a sawing movement.  Bill learned that simply moving the piece a little further from his body during cutting enables him to produce pieces much faster and with better consistency.  

Once the wing slices are made the bird wings are interlocked and set to dry.  The next day, Bill will add the details and finish with one coat of shellac.

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