Posted by: Michael Keller Woodcarving | April 23, 2009

Practicing Woodcarving Makes Perfect – A Boy Scout Story

Finding what I believe to be an invaluable way to promote woodcarving and whittling, I recently registered to become a Boy Scout Merit Badge Counselor for the Woodcarving Merit Badge.  In that process, I met the BSA Grand Columbia Council’s Senior Scout Executive for the Apple Valley District (Greater Wenatchee and north to the Canadian border)… a very nice fellow named Fred Jepsen.  A bonus in meeting Fred was that Fred turned out to be a heck of a woodcarver and told me a great personal story that I would like to share.

Fred told me of meeting a man named Bill Burch who was and remains a legend in Scouting and in whittling.  Bill Burch is famous for carving caricature bolos within the BSA and has carved in the neighborhood of 50,000 bolos to date.  (Google “Bill Burch bolo ties” for more information on Bill Burch – he is another great story).

In 1988, Burch was asked to host a booth at the 1988 Scout-O-Rama in Salt Lake City.  Fred Jepsen was a young Scouter at the time and was assigned to assist Burch over the course of the 3-day event.

Prior to that time, Fred told me that his own claim to fame in whittling was making small sticks from large ones.  He had created a lot of these small sticks as he carried a pocket knife all his life.  Fred sat there during the Scout event and watched Burch carve.  Fred was impressed with the bolos and the speed in which Burch completed them.  Fred asked Burch: “would you teach me the trick to carve these?”  Burch replied: “Yes, I’ll show you the trick.”  Fred was truly excited about learning to carve these amazing little faces.

“The trick,” Burch explained to Fred, was that it took him carving about 1000 thousand of these little bolos before he learned to do it well.  He then told Fred that a smart kid like Fred could probably do it in 500.  Fred was surprised as to what the trick actually was but he accepted the challenge.  He sat down to begin his quest and carved #001 which he still owns today.  When Fred looks back at meeting Burch and learning the “trick,” it is clear what  Burch was really thinking:  “Listen smart kid, there is no trick – what there is – is a lot of practice and dedication.”  Well, Fred learned the trick because today Fred is working on bolos with a numbers around 9100 or so.  Fred’s story puts a whole new meaning on the word “practice.”  I can tell you with certainty that the real trick to carving is simply practice.  I ahve been carving for 50 years and am still practicing every chance I get.

Fred also offered up a couple of applicable quotes that he routinely shares with Scouts:

“If people knew how hard I’ve worked, they wouldn’t be as impressed.”   —-Michelangelo

“There were no shortcuts, I realized. It took years of racing to build up the mind and body and character until a rider had logged hundreds of races and thousands of miles on the road.  I wouldn’t be able to win the Tour de France until I had.”—-Lance Armstrong

Fred pointed out that his Bill Burch experience is a great story for absolutely anything that a person strives to do…  And I quote from Fred Jepsen: “Boys, especially in today’s world, need to know that most everything comes from years of work and maybe a few times being in the right place at the right time, or having just the right set of opportunities and very few times is it just given to us.  Years ago I spent a stint at the top of the Olympic Archery world,  I tell kids that getting ready for the 1980 Olympics, I shot 6 hours a day  seven days a week for a year to get ready for that chance, and the USA boycotted the games.”  Today, besides being a Scout District Senior Executive, Fred is in the process to tying 12 dozen fly fishing flies for Reel Recovery, a cancer support group.

You can see that Fred Jepsen is no ordinary man nor ordinary Scout Leader.  I am quite confident in saying that any Scout that crosses Fred’s path is a lucky one.

Keep Sharp and be carveful.

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