#69: American Holly

Bird number: 102
Date: September 20, 2012
Wood: American Holly (Ilex opaca)
Source: Reader in Virginia

A carver who had seen this project contacted me to ask if I still needed some Holly. He had a few pieces from a tree he helped remove from his church yard. The chunk he sent was less than ideal in that the grain was running parallel with the short (i.e. the two-inch) side. In order to get any kind of decent-sized bird, I had to carve this with the grain running from chest to back rather than from nose to tail as in most of the other pieces.

That orientation made for an interesting banding pattern. Normally I wouldn’t carve a bird this way, but the Holly is strong enough that I’m not worried about it breaking–not even the thin part where the tail meets the body.

I was surprised to see the green color in the Holly. Others had told me that Holly was among the whitest woods around. Apparently not this kind of Holly.

Carving this piece was a real challenge. Even with the Foredom, cutting all that end grain along the top and bottom was a chore. I’m still not particularly happy with the final shape of this piece

Holly is hard, close-grained, and as you can see above, takes a very nice finish. The wood is used for whip handles, of all things, as well as for printing blocks and cabinet work. The wood also takes dye well and is often dyed and used a substitute for Ebony.

The tree is a popular ornamental plant, and the leaves and berries are common Christmas decorations.

It’s pretty stuff. I hope I can get another piece sometime, with the grain running the proper direction. I think it would be a good choice for some of the stylized carvings I have in mind.

One thought on “#69: American Holly

  1. The drop-dead white color in holly is obtained after immediately kiln-drying it. Holly, as reported, is usually chopped in the winter and put in the Kiln immediately in order to prevent fungal growth.

    The green/blue/grey is the fungus you see growing inside the wood.

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