Canadian Woodworking


Author: Don Wilkinson
Illustration: Mike Del Rizzo
Published: December January 2015

Ah, Christmas! Christmas is sup­posed to be a time of laughter, and a time of family. A time when children look forward with breath­less anticipation to what Santa will bring them, whether the little meatloafs deserve anything or not.


Christmas! A time when husbands and fathers jolt from their beds in sheer, unadulterated panic as they suddenly real­ize they somehow forgot to get anything for their beloved spouse or random child. It’s about the same moment they remem­ber they had been making a grandiose present for their loved one and it was lan­guishing in the shop half completed and somehow “I’ll get to it later” had turned into the day before Christmas.

As you scurry out to the workshop in your pajamas and fuzzy slippers to get the woodstove to warm the place enough that your fingers no longer freeze to your tools, you remember that you had also promised a valued client you would carve a stingray (not life-sized, thank goodness) for him to give to his favourite brother. And you realize that you have no idea what a stingray looks like and you’re still waiting for Google, Wikipedia and even the Internet to be invented so you could look it up and maybe download a picture. Whatever “download” meant.

Rushing back to the house through the minus-40° temperatures, all you can feel is gratitude that the cold snap has finally broken, otherwise it might be a tad too cool to work long in your un-insulated shop. After a few cups of coffee you make the dash back to the shop to begin your work. From under the mound of shavings where you had hidden/forgotten it, you drag out the carving you had been working on of an old-style Father Christmas your wife had men­tioned wanting the last time you paid attention to her. Which happened to be two years ago in a toy store somewhere in Germany. Maybe Spain.

Your carving looks pretty good as you cast a critical eye on it but you realize that no matter how many hours you spend on it that day, it was never going to be finished before your three little wombats woke up everyone in the house at 4:30 on Christmas morning, now less than 24 hours away. So you put it aside thinking that you can explain to your long-suffer­ing wife that you would finish it right after Christmas, not knowing, but not really surprised to find that it would still be sit­ting on a shelf in your shop 13 years and several cross-country moves later. Still unfinished. In fact, in exactly the same state it was that long ago Christmas when you promised to finish it. Shortly.

So you put that carving aside, and because this one is worth money, you begin work on the ray instead, all the while thinking what a weird present to give someone for Christmas. Was there some type of analogy or metaphor here that you didn’t know about? Or was the guy just nuts? Most important, were you ever going to get paid for the carving if you actually manage to finish it?

You sketch out what you think a sting­ray looks like. Or at least what you think one should look like. You figure he’d never know the difference anyway because you certainly don’t, so after locating a treasured piece of tupelo you fortuitously had lying around, you draw the outline of the stingray on it and proceed to cut out the blank on the bandsaw. Hours are then spent at the workbench with carving gouges, rasps and chisels, before spend­ing many hours more with varying grits of sandpaper until you are finally able to mount the stupid little carving on a gor­geous piece of poplar burl you had been saving for years for some other special gift for your wife. As the hour rapidly sweeps towards too late, you jump in the van and rush through the dark of Christmas Eve and into town to present it to your cli­ent who, upon tearing open the box and peering in at the carving you had spent so many hours on, looks up at you in puzzlement and asks, “What the heck is this? I wanted a carving of a Stingray. A Corvette Stingray!”

But you may remember Christmases differently.

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