While the tools are important, good wood also matters. Lambert suggests basswood or Eastern white pine. The grain of both woods makes them easy to shape, and neither readily cracks. Avoid yellow pine, which is ideal for construction projects but not carving.
Most importantly, challenge yourself from the very beginning.
"Rather than start with something simple, I always give my students something that they would think they'd never possibly be able to do," he says.
By striving for dramatic results, and with proper teaching, students feel a greater sense of accomplishment.
One student in his class at the senior center tackled a bust of poet Robert Frost. Two others produced detailed landscapes.
And though decades removed from that first scarlet tanager, Lambert still feels the same passion he sees blooming in his students.
"When I'm carving, I can't even hear the things going on around me," he says. "Wood is warm to the touch, and it's a living medium. A living organism. To take a piece of wood that someone else would throw on the fire and to give it near immortality … It's a great feeling."
Noble Sprayberry is a freelance writer in Dallas.