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Taking flight

Award-winning wood carvers sharpen their skills

Created date

January 12th, 2017
Derek Burdon (left) and Earl Efinger, wood carvers.

Derek Burdon (left) displays his miniature bird carvings. Earl Efinger (right) holds two of the birds he’s carved since he took up the hobby more than a decade ago.

The first time Derek Burdon entered his miniature carving of a house wren in the 2006 Ward World Championship Wildfowl Carving Competition, he did so with trepidation.

“I looked around at the competition—so many intricately carved birds—and suddenly I wanted to take my bird home and burn it,” says Derek.

Now, ten years later, that little bird has won 19 awards, including 7 first-place ribbons and 5 best of show.

The scene—a house wren perched on the edge of a broken pot—was inspired by an event from Derek’s childhood in England.

“I was picking blackberries for my mother and I heard a bird singing,” he says. “I looked down and saw a bird sitting on a teapot. That’s where I got the idea for the carving.”

In good company

Derek was introduced to bird carving after he retired from the Polaroid Corporation and moved to Andover, Mass. 

“The senior center in Andover [The Center at Punchard] offered carving lessons,” says Derek. “I had a workshop in my home and liked to tinker, so I thought I’d give bird carving a try. That was in 2005.”

Through the bird carving classes, Derek met Earl Efinger. The two lived within walking distance of each other in Andover. Like Derek, Earl was embarking on a new hobby.

“I’ve always had a knife in my hand and enjoyed carving,” says Earl, who retired from the pulp and paper business. “I thought I’d give bird carving a try.”

Birds of a feather

The two men continued to hone their skills, learning new techniques and acquiring more tools along the way.

“You start with a knife, then you buy more and more instruments,” says Earl. “To accomplish the feathering effect, you need small instruments like a dentist would use.”

While Derek focuses his efforts on miniature birds, Earl prefers life-sized carving.

“At bird-carving shows, the entries are divided into different levels: novice, intermediate, open, master, and advanced master,” says Earl. “It’s the same concept as a handicap in golf. It ensures that the carvers in each category have similar levels of skill.”

Honing their craft at Brooksby 

In early 2015, Earl and his wife Margaret were considering a move to Brooksby Village, the Erickson Living community in Peabody, Mass. One of the amenities that appealed most to Earl was the on-site woodshop where he could continue to carve.

“I mentioned Brooksby to Derek, and he ended up moving to the community before we did,” says Earl. 

Now both men use the Brooksby woodshop to cut out the wood, either basswood or tupelo wood, for their next carvings. For precision work, Derek converted a closet off his master bedroom into a workstation. Earl uses the den in his apartment as a man cave. 

‘Show’ birds

This past fall, they both entered birds in the New England Wood Carvers 2016 Spirit of Wood Show.

“It’s nice to share ideas and techniques with Derek,” says Earl. “He’s a retired engineer, so he thinks through the whole carving before he begins. I don’t always play around with details, so it can take me a little longer to get to the final result. It’s like anything else, working with other people makes you sharper.”