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Brienz Carving School Tour

Holzbildhauerei School for Woodcarvers BrienzTo be a woodcarver in Switzerland requires 4 years of formal schooling from the Brienz Carving School. Potential students must pass an aptitude test prior to being accepted. The students in Brienz are trained to be exact and accurate artisans and also trained to be fast for production purposes. Upon graduation, a student must be able to do specialty commissioned carvings of any scale and also mass produce to be able to make a living at their craft.

Three disciplines based on the traditional carving of Brienz are offered: ornamentation, animal figures and human figures. Students choose one of these three main areas of study.

Classroom Video’s: Students1; Students2

Our first stop was a classroom where the students had been previously taken to The Ballenberg Open Air Museum to visit the many goats and select a favorite goat as a model. There are six students in the class. The students learn by first creating design drawings of their animal and then shape their first model in plasticine or modeling clay (see pic below). The final procedure is to carve the animal in wood where correct anatomy is a must. This is an exercise in anatomy by learning to observe, imagine, draw, mold and create.

Plasticine Goat

Next we moved into the room filled with approximately 10 work benches and wooden lockers where more advanced students were carving in wood. Some students are working on ornamental pieces, such as the twisted piece carved from one solid piece of wood. One student is working on a table he built and now must carve a relief motif of ivy leaves on each side. He draws the leaves, carves the leaves on a separate piece of wood first and will eventually carve on the table itself.

Twisted Wood   Table Relief Carving Video: TwistedWood2


Some of the students were working on commissioned pieces including the huge bear head located on the first bench. The bear will be placed under the roof gable of a traditional home:

Bear Video: Bear

In one instance, a young female carver had been commissioned to carve a statue of a retiring college professor. Rather than the American tradition of having an oil painting made of the retiree, in Brienz, a wooden statue is created. The facial features must be vivid, exact and recognizable. The statue should reflect an attribute of the professor’s area of study:


Commissioned works give students an opportunity to earn money while getting through school. Each student is responsible for the cost and care of all their tools. Students will graduate with over one hundred Pfeil “Swiss Made” carving tools. The students will customize their identity into their tools by carving their initials in the handles or painting or staining the solid ash handles various colors. Students also make their own wooden caliper tools for measurement:

Tools   Calipers Video:Calipers

Students are encouraged to enter carving contests, which also include carving ice. These students took third place in Berlin for their ice carving of the two bears. Many of the contests require crystal clear ice which is typically imported from Switzerland.

Ice Carvings

Ice Carving

As we leave this room, a giant puzzle on the wall is explainedto us. Each graduating class carves a piece of the puzzle placing their names and graduation year on the hand carved piece.

Wall Puzzle

We are taken to the sharpening area. There are two large water stones, three bench grinders and a Tormek water cooled sharpening system and a table of sharpening stones. Students may choose their preferred system, however, students are responsible for sharpening their own tools from the first day of class.

Water Stones Grinders Hand Stones Video’s: Water Stones2; Water Stones3

Also in this room we visited with students who are carving from drawings, taxidermy, and models. There are also several wooden blanks of an identical Egyptian cat displayed. The instructor will finish one cat to completion and the students will have to create exact replicas by hand. These pieces have been commissioned for a museum exhibit.

Bamboo Cats Birds

Video: Carving Exhibits

Our next stop is the machine shop where the school produces the wooden blanks, such as the cats and relief carvings for production. There are several industrial grade stationary tools including a milling machine, band saw, planer, drill press and disk sander.

Machine Shop Machine Shop2 Mill

Video: BrienzMachineShop

In Switzerland everything is recycled and nothing is wasted. As we leave the building there are large bags of sawdust. The main sources of heat are wood and oil. The sawdust and chips are used for heating.

Saw Dust Bags

Students are also taught how to make plaster molds and cast images in bronze. The students carve the sculpture (typically this done in wax) and the wax sculpture is encased in plaster. Once the plaster dries, the wax is melted away leaving the plaster mold in which to pour the molten bronze. This is often referred to as Lost-wax casting or as sometimes called by the French cire perdue (from the Latin cera perduta). After the bronze cools the plaster is removed to reveal the sculpture in bronze.

Casting1 Casting2 Bronze Rhino Video:Bronze Castings

We visit the model rooms where there are original models dating back to the 16thcentury made from wood, plaster, bronze, and various other materials. Students may choose from these to replicate; thousands of them from Ibex skeletons to whimsical leprechauns to Greek Corinthian and Ionic columns.

Model Room1 Model Room2 Model Room3 BrienzCarving1

Video: ModelRm

As we leave the school, we notice the outside of the building is plain in comparison to the residential chalets except for the many sculptures placed around the landscaping and entry way. Behind the building, we find dinosaur sculptures, which were commissioned by a theme park and the carving begins with a chain saw. Behind the woodcarving school is the Geigenbauschule Brienz (or Brienz Swiss School of Violin Making).

Dino1 Dino2 Violin Schule

Lawn Ornament1 Lawn Ornament2 Lawn Ornament3

Before our tour was over, Felix Zulauf, owner of Pfeil Tools got a chance to look at our winner, Nairi’s book of carvings:

Video: Felix&Nairi

At the end of our tour, we walked around Brienz and took the following pics & video’s: Brienz Landscape; ChurchCarvings

Church1 Church2 Church3 BrienzFelix&Nairi7 BrienzLandscape2 BrienzLandscape3 BrienzLandscape4 BrienzLandscape5 BrienzLandscape6 BrienzLandscape8 BrienzLandscape9 BrienzLandscape9a BrienzLandscape9b BrienzLandscape9c

Next up on the agenda is our blog on The Woodcarver’s Tools by Christoph Wunderle followed by the history and facility tour of Pfeil…Stay Tuned!

auf Wiedersehen…Frank!

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Comments (9)

  1. avatar
    Elizabeth Weber, July 2, 2010
    WOW!I was totally amazed with each picture & paragraph.The work that must come out of there! The students that that must come out of there! WOW! Thank You So Much, Elizabeth Weber Reply
  2. avatar
    Julie R Sutter, July 2, 2010
    What a wonderful gift to share with all of us! I thoroughly enjoyed the pictures and the videos. I am looking forward to the next installment. What a fantastic opportunity for the young people attending the school. The talent of these young artists is truely wonderful. The school is a wonderful example of what could be done here in America. Being a part of such an in depth program that lasts for 3 to 4 years would be excelent. Reply
  3. avatar
    Maria Delia T. Lavina-Lopez, July 2, 2010
    I am very impress and very interesting! I admire those people who have this kind of talent. Kudos to All! Reply
  4. avatar
    Robert Hazard, July 1, 2010
    Great information; Thanks very much for the education Robert Hazard Reply
  5. avatar
    LEN HAMBLETON, January 3, 2012
    Frank and Liz, Thank you for such an in depth look at the school and its wonderful program. I am self taught and carve relief elements for clocks as a conservator specializing in clocks. Your photos of the landscape surrounding the school and the videos bring it all to life! Reply
  6. avatar
    Janet Ecker, August 29, 2013
    I am interested in commissioning a bear bench in the old style. I lost one in a fire. Are you able to do something like this or can you direct me to someone who is able to create a new one? Thank you so much! Janet Ecker Reply
    • avatar
      frank, August 30, 2013
      We have some contacts yes,I will email you...Frank Reply
  7. avatar
    Dan Peterson, September 16, 2013
    Hi Frank, I am spell bound by you videos of the Brienz carving school. May I call you. I am a mater plumber wanna be wood carver. If I may talk to you could you email me your Phone no. thank You. Reply
  8. avatar
    frank, January 3, 2012
    Thank you Len. The trip began my adventure with Woodcraft just a year and a half ago. The time has flown, and I continue to meet outstanding people and craftsman to write about. Please check out all the stories on the blog, and there are more about Switzerland too. This trip occurred because of the Carving Artistry Contest that Woodcraft ran at that time. Liz and I visited Pfeil manufacturing, the Fuches carving school in Hofstetten, where we also stayed at the B&B, and the food was exquisite. In addition we toured the outside museum in Brienz for the history of the area. My favorite time was in Brienz along the water front, just beautiful there. We also visited the capital city of Bern and brought back some cheese and chocolates! This journey allowed me the privilege to continue writing and blogging for Woodcraft. I couldn't do this without all of you fine artisans out there. I went to your website, and see that you are now in Raleigh, NC. We were just in Charlotte last week during the holidays. If you like, perhaps we can chat about a story I can write about you. Please contact me anytime...Frank Reply

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