By Valerie Shelton, Editor
A group of local disabled veterans were honored on Aug. 27 when the Central Valley Woodcarvers presented them with Freedom Canes—handcrafted wood canes complete with uniquely designed eagle head toppers.
Central Valley Woodcarvers president Bert Frazier, a United States Air Force veteran, said this is the ninth year the organization has donated canes to local veterans. This year over 60 canes were created for local disabled veterans and total over 450 have been presented to veterans over the last nine years.
The idea for the eagle head canes is not unique to the area, as woodcarvers throughout the nation have taken up the task of designing canes for disabled veterans.
“There are a lot of different clubs in California and throughout the nation that do the same thing and it’s been increasing over the years,” Frazier said.
Each cane is made with love, as a woodcarver spends five hours, give or take, carving and painting the perfect eagle. Wood turners spend an additional few hours creating the cane itself.
Each eagle, Frazier said is intricately made and each woodcarver puts his or her own style into it. Frazier is the only one that doesn’t actually create eagles for the freedom canes, but instead creates black hawks with piercing red eyes. Frazier did not design any of the heads this year.
“The average person creating one of the heads takes about five hours. Some of them take longer,” Frazier said. “All of these start with a block of wood, then we draw a pattern on it and cut it out on a bandsaw. You draw a line down the center and around the edges of it to get a function of where you are at and then it’s a matter of rounding them off using a knife or power tools. Then you’re marking the beak. We used to do these where the beak came down and it was short but we had too many that were broken from hitting a table or whatever, so a couple of years ago we changed the system and it is more user friendly. The average person takes five hours to get them carved. Then, depending on the person, it takes another hour or so to paint them. Some of us can do it all in three to four hours. I’ve been carving since 1984 and I can do one perfectly done in three hours from start to finish.”
Frazier said the most important part to get right on the eagles is the eyes.
“When we hold the block of wood and draw the pattern on the wood, the next thing you do is figure out where the eyes are and those eyes are drilled though before any carving is ever done so you have your hole there and you’re carving according to that eye,” Frazier said. “It would be impossible to put the eyes in after and get the balance right. That is the focal point. Every time you look at something, whether you look at a person or an animal, the first thing you see is the eyes so this has to be balanced from day one.”
As for the wood turning for the canes themselves, Frazier said that part is done by the Sequoia Wood Turners.
“When we started doing the canes, we were getting the shafts from Home Depot or Lowes and they looked nothing like these,” Frazier said. “They were done well and were presented nicely but not turned anything like this. There is a lot of labor intensiveness in this wood turning process.”
Mark Dillon, a wood turner from Hanford, said he is just a rookie member of the Sequoia Wood Turners but knows a lot of pride goes into creating each shaft.
“You can see the intricacies of each piece based on which turner had their hands on it and how much time they had available to spend with it,” Dillon said.
Dillon also gave credit for all the shafts to Sharon and Kevin Conner of Wood of the West, who donated the wood to Sequoia Wood Turners.
Gordon Bone is a veteran wood turner from Shaver Lake. Bone explained all that goes into creating a freedom cane shaft.
“They come to us 40 inches long and two inches wide from Kevin Conner and his wife who go up to Oregon to get the wood, bring it down to their shop and cut it,” Bone said. “What we do when we get it is called stickering. We stack them with a three-fourths of an inch piece of wood between them and they sit for six months because there is moisture in the wood that we need to dry so they don’t warp. They are turned to 36 inches length with a diameter at the top of three-fourths of an inch. That has to be very accurate because the people who do the heads drill a hole that size at the top to press and glue on the heads. Some canes are different lengths because they’ve been assigned to different veterans and have been cut to the length for that person. I take three and a half hours to do one and I’ve been doing this for four years. They are all finished with lacker. The lackering process I do is I sand them down and then I spray them with sanding sealer, then I sand them again and then I spray two coats of lacker on them.”