Woodcarving is more than just cutting a piece of wood -- it an art form and a stress reliever, according to Peter Ward, a carver with Northern Virginia Carvers for 33 years.
"It's therapeutic. It's really great for you," said Ward, who teaches a free whittling class at the USO Warrior and Family Center twice a month with his colleague, John Overman.
The classes are from 1:30-3:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month, and are open to servicemembers, military spouses and children of all skill levels.
"I wanted to try something different," said Marc Johnson, 14, who is carving a polar bear in the class. "You can just make anything out of wood pieces."
Ward and Overman teach students how to shape rough-cut wooden blocks into animals using a whittling knife, sandpaper and a file. They bring all of the equipment, including safety gloves.
Sara Calder, Army spouse, regularly brings her son Steven, 13, to the classes.
"He likes to carve at home, so I thought I might as well bring him to the carving class because you're actually learning the techniques. He really enjoyed it," she said. "The instructors are really patient and they're doing a good job."
Ward and Overman have also taught woodcarving at other military installations, including Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. They started teaching at the USO in January.
Sgt. Justin Luther, 1st Battalion, Warrior Transition Brigade, joined the class four months ago and just finished carving the figure of a howling dog. He said carving helps him recover from internal war wounds.
"It was the only thing that got rid of the headaches," he said. "You don't have to think about anything else. You can just sit here and carve away."
The woodcarving class is one of several arts and crafts classes at the USO, including cooking classes and music lessons.
"We want to offer a variety of art programs so we can try to appease everybody's interests," said Ashy Palliparambil, USO-Metro hospital services specialist in charge of the art programs.
Woodcarving is especially beneficial because it can help wounded warriors heal and become a stress reliever for any student, she added.
"The skills that are involved with woodcarving -- a lot of hands-on, a lot of manipulating, fine motor skills -- can be beneficial for a variety of different populations," she said. "The process is very repetitive, and so that can be stress relieving for some people, and then also the fact that you start with a form and then you end up with a final product that you can be proud of -- it's very success oriented."
Woodcarving is also a forgiving craft, as Palliparambil experienced herself in the class.
"You can't really go too much wrong; I shaved an entire nose off my giraffe and they fixed it," she said.
Children must be 12 years old or older to use carving knives. Safety equipment is provided.
For more information on the class, contact K.J. Stevens, USO programs coordinator at (571) 267-2082 or KJ@usometro.org.
Northern Virginia Carvers is a not-for-profit association that promotes community interest in woodcarving. For more information, visit www.northernvirginiacarvers.org.