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Robert McKergan has been whittling sticks for over thirty years. It was an out of season hobby that has now become a passion.
"To hold a branch and using a Stanley knife whittle it down until it becomes a cock pheasant head or a mallard duck not only gives one a sense of achievement but is also therapeutic working wood in this manner. The wood is cut local to my home in Portstewart, County Londonderry and consists of hardwoods such as white and blackthorn, oak, beech and hazel. This type of wood is suitable for game birds such as pheasant or grouse where the beak needs to be extra strong. Softwoods such as sycamore, ash and willow are used for wildfowl with the broader grain showing up well on a bill.
All the carved heads are from branches which have been seasoned for at least a year. Some are stained initially whilst green to enhance the grain a year later when carved. The carved head is colour stained and finished with gunstock oil. Sometimes if the grain is particularly good I leave a plain finish. The heads are joined to a shank with a threaded metal bar and secured with epoxy resin. The finish on the shank is either oil or three coats of yacht varnish.
I mix and match not only the finish on a stick but also the type of wood for the best result. Although I carve the same subject matter no two sticks are the same. Each is unique and individual. To ensure the detail is correct I keep and copy from shot birds. Carving is with the grain of the wood not only to enhance the appearance but for the strength required. On average it takes twenty hours of work to complete a stick. The finished stick for me must look and feel good and most important is functional and fit for purpose."
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