A woodcarver specializing in realistic animals lives in Lenoir city but has taught his techniques across the country.

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(WBIR-Lenoir City) An East Tennessee man retired from Delta Airlines years ago. He didn't mind because it gave him more time for woodcarving. That's something he does in a workshop at his home in Lenoir City.

He brings animals to life with woodcarvings. Emily Stroud and Tim Dale

He used to spend time hunting.

"I gave up hunting when I started carving. I kind of fell in love with the animals. I still go to the woods to watch them. I go to the zoo to watch them. They're kind of kin to me now so I don't want to hurt one of them," Jim Wilsford said.

Jim Wilsford started carving realistic animals out of wood about 40 years ago when he and his wife opened a craft store in Townsend and couldn't find any wood carvers making pieces they could afford.

"I said I'll just make my own. I found why they were expensive. Very time consuming," he said.

He started a group for like-minded artists.

"When I started Smoky Mountain Woodcarvers it was for the sole purpose of having somebody to help me because I was in a learning curve and I didn't know how," he said.

He's learned the fine points of carving, so much so that he teaches wood carving classes across the country.

"These are wood carving tools but these are dental tools, all of these," he pointed out.

The small instruments are critical for texture like fur. Each tool is appropriate for crafting a specific part of an animal.

He learned the anatomy of animals to create life like woodcarvings.

"You get this part of his nose and that tells you how big his foot is," he demonstrated. "From his eye to his nose is how long his ears are."

The pieces he makes for demonstrations in classes are basswood.

"The pieces I do for myself, though, I make them out of walnut," he said.

His favorite is carved out of one piece of walnut.

"It's the old Indian holding up all the animals. He's got them up in his arms. Its a fairly large piece. It took 500 to 600 hours just to do it," he explained.

He can't even begin to count the hours he's spent creating the lifelike animals. Each one has its own personality and a story he has imagined. One example is a tiger who thought a rhino would be dinner... until he ended up stabbed by a horn.

"You're learning all the time. You never have all the answers and as you work you learn," he said.

His advice to would be wood carvers?

"You need a love for it. You need to be interested in it. You need to really want to do it," he said. "You have to study, study, study, practice, practice, practice. That's the name of the game almost for everything," he said.

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