1. What kind of knife do you recommend?
I'll try to answer at least some of the questions that frequently come my way concerning this type of woodcarving. Naturally, I'll answer from my own experience (which includes absolutely no formal carving training), recognizing that some carvers no doubt will do things differently and would answer these questions in a different way. No problem . . . The important thing is to "get the job done" and have fun at it!
Of the 80 or so varieties of wood I've carved in the past 50 years, I'm guessing that 75 of them would be classified as hardwoods. To name a few: birch (any kind of birch),maple (lots of different kinds, some better than others), live oak, water oak, pin oak, holly, beech, ironwood, cherry, guava, quince, orange, grapefruit, lemon, viburnum, myrtle, bottlebrush, olive, elm, certain varieties of apple, alnos (in the Philippines), lentisco (my favorite wood in Portugal), flowering plum, flowering crabapple, linden. Naturally, since most of these woods are hardwoods, I do most of my carving when they are still relatively fresh. Definitely don't try carving a rooster or heron out of seasoned pin oak, maple, or beech!
While I sometimes use blocks or scraps of milled wood, most of the carving I do is with twigs and branches of all sizes. Little twigs 1/16 of an inch think can be transformed into miniature flowers, trees, and even Crocodile Dundee type hunting knives (Polly Pocket scale!) Large maple, oak, or sycamore forks make great slingshots for small pumpkins . . . and for "Country Pitching Machines" that can toss a baseball 500 feet and pitch a knuckleball 130 miles per hour!!! (You wouldn't believe all the fun I've had with apples, oranges, tomatoes, potatoes, black walnuts, and splash bombs! I really do try to use this spectacular "machine" responsibly.)
From cutoff strips of milled wood I often make letter openers, but these milled strips, boards, and scraps also become bases for my "name logs" and other pieces. Some of these salvaged milled scraps have been cherry, maple mahogany, black walnut, ash, oak, and even a few pieces of straight-grained, kiln-dried white pine. Incidentally, I almost never use fresh pine . . .too much sticky sap to deal with! However have made use of a number of my old Christmas trees. When they are nice and seasoned, they can be turned into some great rustic table lamps. And one of them has become a very good hat rack.
ANSWERING SOME QUESTIONS
2. What kinds of wood do you use?
Granted, the main "critters" I've carved over the past 50 years have been roosters . . . of all shapes and sizes. They definitely are the "mascots" of the branch-carving concept. However, I've whittled (or carved, if you like that word better) many, many other things too. True, many are also birds of one kind or another: pheasants, herons and egrets, roadrunners, eagles (not many), a raven, a grackle, a crow, and a few generic songbirds. Oh, and there have been at least a couple of little cartoon-type ducks. Forked branches also lend themselves to different animal heads, back scratchers, and coat pegs.
Simple, straight branches of all sizes of course led themselves to countless other projects.
In the five books I've written for Fox Publishing the great majority of the projects are not at all bird related. Some projects are for personal use, others for home decoration. Some are intensely useful, while others are "just for fun!" Big Book of Whittle Fun has 31 projects, very few of which are repeats of things I've written about in previous books. Even the all-important rules of this type of carving are expressed quite differently. Here's hoping your German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, and Mandarin Chinese are up to snuff! Don't worry, we've thrown in more than a bit of English too!
One thing for sure, with a dose of imagination, what you can come up with wood - ALL KINDS OF WOOD (twigs, branches, stumps, blocks, boards, scraps of all kinds) is almost limitless!
3. Are roosters the only thing you carve with a y-shaped branch?
My newest book, Victorinox Swiss Army Knife Whittling Book, has selected projects from my four previous Fox Chapel Publishing books, plus a number of new projects.
There are several parts to this answer: (1) a really sharp one! Please don't try to carve with a less than sharp knife. Guaranteed frustration if you do!
(2) If you're using a pocketknife, make sure it has a small blade (1 1/2 inches/
4 centimeters long) as well as the standard longer one. Most of your carving will be done with the small blade, even if you're carving something big.
(3) The steel should be good, sharpening well, and holding an edge well.
(It could be carbon steel or stainless. Some carvers don't like stainless steel blades, but I've found the Victorinox Swiss Army knives I've been using for a bunch of years are very good, and they have stainless blades.) The main models I personally have used the most are the Tinker and the Hiker. I've found these knives to be extremely practical, for carving, and for much more. (But I definitely don't use my carving blades for stripping electric wires or prying open paint cans!!)
If you have any other knife that has the two blades, sharpen and hone it and give it a try. If it fits with the three points above, chances are good that it will work.