Up until the 1980’s most all ventriloquists used hard figures in their performance. Also most figures were carved from wood and the wood of choice was and still is basswood. The reason for this is that basswood has a very tight grain but is rather soft and there for lends itself to the carving knife.
There have been figures made from other woods. John Turner made his figures from pine. Turner precut most of his parts and then layered them for completion. You look at a Turner figure and they are almost all identical in looks.
Today figure maker Pastor Scott Bryte also uses pine in his masterful creations where Conrad Hartz uses Basswood. If you get a chance to handle some basswood you will see that it has a good weight but you can easily cut into it with your fingernail. Pine is not so easy to carve.
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Ventriloquist Central is the brainchild of Dan Willinger and Steve Hurst. Dan is a ventriloquism enthusiast and ventriloquist figure collector. He has been collecting for over 25 years. He created the Ventriloquist Central Collection. It now has over 100 ventriloquist figures and over 50 of them are Frank Marshall figures. Steve is a ventriloquist as well as builder of ventriloquist figures. He also has a background in sales, marketing, building websites and computers. Because they both love the art of ventriloquism, the website Ventriloquist Central was born. For more information about the website, go to: http://www.ventriloquistcentral.com
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I like black walnut. If cured out the wood is very easy to work and very forgiving. The problem with basswood is sanding, instead of dust get fluff. In figure I made only basswood used is pulley for mouth string inside the head, and teak lever on the headstick to operate mouth also in honor of Frank Marshall . I made two fishing lures yesterday from aromatic red cedar, also very easy to work and forgiving, and love the smell, guess the bass do too. I made figure like I learned to make lure, hold stick in one hand and power drill w/sander attachment in other hand, and turn stick while sanding to get cylindrical shape, make cuts for mouth, add hardware, etc. Also, I made several handles for archery bow this way and learned early on to work center of the stick and heart of the wood, which is the inner, softer part of the tree. If off of center of the tree growth rings, gripping handle will cause it to snap. I guess that’s why big league baseball bats break and the schools switched to aluminum bats.
“Work the center of the stick, the heart of the wood, so that force be channeled around the grain as it should.”–Kriket
If you have never seen Basswood take a trip to Walmart s craft section or a craft store.
Make sure it says Basswood on the label or package.
You may be surprised at how expensive it is in these stores.
Next time you go to the doctor look at a tounge depressor. Basswood.
Have a popcicle? Look at the stick. Basswood.
Basswood is often used where a wood is needed to hold or contain a food product as it does not impart a flavor to the food. A butter mold would be an example.
Poplar is sometimes used for the same reason.
In fact Poplar is very similar to Basswood and also carves and holds detail well although the grain is more pronounced, it is heavier and harder and varies in color from almost white to yellow, green and may have streaks of purple, red or brown or all three.
Although Basswood is classified as a hardwood it is much softer than most other hardwoods. It can still be quite hard . It was once a living tree and hardness can vary from tree to tree and even throughout the same tree.
It has been used for carving for hundreds of years, In Europe it is known as Limewood. Many of the huge panels in European architecture are carved from Limewood.
The very tight unpronounced straight grain make Basswood great for carving fine detail and it is much lighter than most other hardwoods making it great for ventriloquist figures.
It is rather plain looking so is most often used for carvings that will be painted.
With properly sharpened carving tools Basswood, particularly if it has been air dried for 2 or 3 years , carves wonderfully even across the grain.
Can you tell I really like Basswood? :)
It is what I use when I carve a ventriloquist figure.
I so want to make my own figure for ventriloquism, and I always have.