Maintenance and Treatment

visual guide to determining if the measurements of your tree stump make it suitable for a tree carving sculpture

Is my Tree Suitable for a Tree Carving Sculpture?

Is my Tree Suitable for a Tree Carving Sculpture? 1440 2560 Simon O'Rourke

It’s always a joy as an artist, when somebody admires your work, and wants to commission a piece. Simon is no exception! Many of the inquiries we get relate to storm damaged trees, or trees that have been cut back for various reasons. This is great, as Simon loves to bring life and beauty back to these trees. However, not every tree is suitable for a tree carving sculpture. There are several things Simon has to take into account when somebody approaches him about creating a sculpture from an existing piece of timber on their property. This is our guide to deciding if your tree is suitable for a tree carving sculpture……

Dragon of Bethesda by simon o'rourke

Dragon of Bethesda, one of Simon’s best known sculptures from a storm-damaged tree.

Species of Tree

The first thing to consider when deciding if your tree is suitable for a tree carving sculpture, is species, or type. All timber has different durability. Although it can be treated with preservative, some woods simply won’t last. For example, a Black Locust fence post can last 25-30 years, which is very durable. In contrast, Horse Chestnut will only last 2-3 years.
If you are investing in a piece of art, you want it to last.

Suitable species for an outdoor sculpture include (but not limited to): Black Locust Oak, Walnut, Sweet Chestnut, Elm, Yew, Cedar, Sequoia.

Trees that are not suitable because of durability include: Horse Chestnut, Holly, Sycamore, Spruce, Hornbeam, Lime, Birch and Alder.

Simon O'Rourke creating the Lady of Marbury sculpture

The Marbury Lady was carved into a tree that had died due to saline toxicity.

Size of Stump

Size is hugely important in determining whether or not your stump is suitable for a tree carving sculpture. The smallest it can be is 30cm (approx 12″) diameter or 1000mm (39″) circumference. Anything smaller than this won’t be suitable for Simon to carve.

If you’re unsure about how to measure the circumference, here’s a guide:
Take a tape measure, if you don’t have a tape then a piece of string or rope will do.
Try to clear any ivy away from the tree and pass the tape around the tree.
You may need help if the tree is really big!
You can mark or hold the string or rope where it meets the other end, and then lay it out on the ground to measure it.
To be suitable, this measurement must be 1000mm / 100cm / 39″ or more.
Think about hugging your tree whilst holding string!
visual guide to determining if the measurements of your tree stump make it suitable for a tree carving sculpture

How to measure the circumference of your tree

Other Factors

There are other factors that can make timber unsuitable for carving. Let’s look at some examples.

Example One: Branch Wounds

Our first example is again, related to durability. Branch wounds like this on a tree trunk show that there is internal decay. In turn, this will mean there may be nothing to carve once Simon gets past the out layers of bark! It also means the sculpture won’t be durable. Unfortunately, if your tree stump looks like this, it will not be suitable for a tree carving sculpture.

Example of tree not suitable for a tree carving sculpture

Example Two: The Mystery Tree!

In our second example of an unsuitable tree, there is simply too much ivy to tell what is underneath it! If you have a tree like this, to know the quality and circumference of the timber, you would need to cut back all the extra foliage growing round it, and assess what is underneath.

Example two of a tree not suitable for tree carving sculpture

Example Three: All the Extras!

Our final example shows a tree that initially seems large enough to carve. However, if we look more closely, there is actually not enough wood underneath the layers of dirt and stones. Once all the ‘extras’ are cleaned/stripped away, there is not enough clean wood to be suitable for a tree carving sculpture.


Unsuitable tree for a sculpture

Examples of Timber Suitable for a Tree Carving Sculpture

We’ve looked at what makes a tree unsuitable, but let’s flip it round. What makes a good piece of timber?

We’ve already covered the type of tree and circumference. Let’s look at these examples of trees perfect for a sculpture….

Example of a tree suitable for a tree carving sculpture courtesy of simon o'rourke

This tree has a large chunk of good, solid wood. It is durable, has minimal damage, and no disease. It has the added bonus of an interesting shape too, which is a great start to creating something that looks organic as well as striking.

Example of a tree suitable for a tree carving sculpture courtesy of simon o'rourke

Our second good example also ticks lots of boxes. It’s oak (so durable), and it’s a good, solid chunk of timber of the right size. It also has plenty of SPACE around it. Chain saws are not small tools to work with! To stay safe, as well as being able to use the tools to carve to his best, Simon needs sufficient room around the tree.

As you have seen from The Spirit of Ecstasy , St George and the Dragon, and The Two Towers, the area doesn’t have to be completely clear. However, there does need to be enough room for Simon to safely use a chainsaw, to be able to step back to see his work, and to be able to hold the chainsaw at the optimal angle for carving each shape and detail.

Work in Progress: Spirit of Ecstasy by Simon O'Rourke

The work in progress on The Spirit of Ecstasy allow you to see suitable timber size and access.

What if my Stump isn’t Suitable?

Don’t be disappointed if you have gone through all this and realised your tree isn’t suitable. There may be other options! That was the case with our next example. However, it may be possible for Simon to create a sculpture in another piece of timber, and mount it onto your stump. Our final picture shows the tree stump on the left, and then the finished sculpture mounted onto it on the right. This may be something you would like to consider as an alternative.

Next Steps in Commissioning a Piece

If you know you have a suitable piece of timber, the next step is for you to get in touch. Please contact Simon on [email protected] rather than using social media. This ensures more efficient communication with us!

You should include:

Pictures of the stump from a few different angles
Measurements (circumference or diameter, height)

Some clients have a definite idea in mind. Others start by asking Simon what he can see in the natural shape. Both of these are fine. As you will have read in our blog about St George and the Dragon, deciding on a design is always a process.

St George and the Dragon tree carving sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

Having my Tree Assessed

If your questions about your tree are even a couple of steps back from this. It may be that you have a tree growing too close to your property, or you are uncertain if it can be saved. Maybe you aren’t sure about removal.
Don’t worry, we know a man who can help! In our blog about Treetech, we mentioned Shaine, our man who can! If you need an expert opinion about the best course of action for a tree on your property, we HIGHLY recommend connecting with him via https://www.facebook.com/TreetechNWLtd/

We hope this has been a helpful guide for you in deciding if your tree is suitable for a tree carving sculpture. If you have further questions, that aren’t answered here, again, do contact using the contact form here

We look forward to hearing from you!

A Bespoke Tawny Owl Sculpture

A Bespoke Tawny Owl Sculpture 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

One of the things that Simon was known for early on in his career was carving owls! Although he prefers human form, his attention to form, story, structure and detail mean he has created some incredible owls over the years. Some of them have become famous in their own right too, such a Ruby the owl. She’s part of Meadow Park sculpture trail on the Wirral and was actually stolen and – amazingly – returned! This week we look at Simon’s most recent example: a bespoke tawny owl sculpture that will be installed in Pocklington, Yorkshire.

A bespoke tawny owl by Simon O'Rourke for the town of Pocklington, Yorks

The Commission

This bespoke tawny owl is for public display in the town of Pocklington. When it was originally commissioned, the clients came to Simon with an existing Horse Chestnut stump. Their hope was that the owl could be carved from that. However, Simon advised them that it would be unsuitable as Horse Chestnut rots quickly. Instead, they decided to have the owl carved from oak, and to mount it upon the original stump.

To create the owl, Simon paid careful attention to the shape, size and proportions of the owl. He also imitated perfectly the way the feathers fall, and how the lengths and appearance vary on the different body parts. We can see clearly the fluffier chest and legs compared with the sleek, defined tails and wings.

bespoke tawny owl and original by Simon O'Rourke
As the Sculpture Ages….

Wood changes over the years. That means a commission such as this bespoke tawny owl will weather and gradually change in appearance. When Simon creates a sculpture, he takes into account how it will crack in future. This is important, so he can carve in a way that although the appearance will change, the structure will still be sound.
The face below is a perfect example of this. It has small cracks appearing but retains its structure and shape – and will for decades to come!

Face by Simon O'Rourke

Changing and Protecting Colour

Another aspect of this changing appearance that Simon considers, is the colour. All wood will change colour as it ages and is bleached by the sun. Once that happens, the only way to get the colour back is to sand it or re-finish the surface. Long-lasting woods such as oak and sweet chestnut weather nicely and last well without any finish. This means this bespoke tawny owl sculpture didn’t need any additional treatment.

For some sculptures, the bleaching and aging adds to the beauty and aesthetic of the sculpture. Maybe it is part of a forest trail and it needs to blend in with the environment. In other cases, the nature or setting of the sculpture lends itself to the aging process. The Angel at the Pool of Bethesda (included in our review of the decade) is a perfect example of this. It is based on an old painting, and sits in a Biddulph Old Hall, a historic property. The sculpture was left untreated so it would bleach naturally in the sun, and age to fit in with its environment. We love the way it looks two years on….

Angel at the pool of bethesda by simon o'rourke at biddulph old hall

Angel at the pool of bethesda by simon o'rourke at biddulph old hall

Recommended Treatment

The bespoke tawny owl sculpture is made of oak, so didn’t need treatment. However, if you do want to retain colour of the original sculpture, decking oil applied every 4 months will do this. It acts mostly as a weather proofer, allowing the sculpture to keep its original colour. It also offers UV protection, and has an additional bonus of containing mould inhibitors too. Unlike most other weatherproofing options, the oil is a good choice as it allows the wood to breathe. Over the years Simon has number of different brands . While he doesn’t necessarily have a favourite, he always buys from  www.restexpress.co.uk and recommends them as a supplier.

In addition, if the wood needs an initial treatment of wood preserver, he applies that before the oil. The preserver soaks in like water and prevents surface growth of mould and fungi.

barn owl by simon o'rourke

A Sculpture for Life!

Whenever Simon creates a sculpture, he considers the future appearance and carves and treats so it will last. However, if you do have damage or something that needs re-working, Simon is available for repair, upkeep and restoration. Contact him on [email protected] whether to talk about upkeep of a current sculpture, or a new commission.