Friday, May 25, 2012

Leather-craft and patterns

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 A new carving underway

Went into my wood stock the other day and came away with a really nice slab of black walnut. I  know what I will do with it.  There are a couple of ways a carving usually comes about. There are those times when a piece of wood calls to you. It whispers into your minds ear and tells you what it will become. Other times you will find something you wish to create and then search out the right piece of wood for the project.  This will be one of the latter types.

Every now and then I set out to do a carving just for myself. Most of the time I am busy doing carvings as gifts or because they have been requested by family or friends. So now when I do a piece for myself, I try to do a "wow" piece. In my everyday life I come across images which inspire me and I keep them in a file stored on my computer. I have long admired the designs used in leather craft and I think they easily cross over into woodcarving. They are almost very shallow relief carvings. This particular design is a leafy swirly pattern with a textured background. It will be my first carving which uses leather craft as its inspiration. In my mind's eye I am picturing myself transforming this design into a deep relief with lots of undercutting which will give the finished carving great shadowing and make it interesting to the viewers eye.

    © Jim Linnell

 In my early carving years, I simply would have used it and given it no thought, but now that I consider myself an artist I am mindful of other artists copyrights.  I routinely make my own original designs these days but every now and then I come across a design that is so appealing to me, I just want to use it to make a carving from. I did my research and found out whose design it was. His name is Jim Linnell. I sent him an email asking his permission to use it as a basis for my next carving. He said me choosing his work was quite flattering and he gladly gave his permission. I will keep a copy of the email for my records.

Using a photo program, I re-sized the pattern at 16"x23" using 16" as a base since that is the width of the walnut slab. I asked a friend of mine to cut the slab of walnut to match the 23" length that the pattern will require. I will get the panel back in a few days and then the carving will get underway.

This is a beautiful clear slab of black walnut. Anyone who has ever carved black walnut knows that the hardness of the walnut will add a difficulty factor to the carving so this will not be a quick carving. However I should be rewarded for all the extra work.  It should turn out beautifully. I expect it to take a month or more to carve.  The way to approach a carving of this size is to do a little at a time. Hand carving will mean a pretty good workout for my hand, arm, shoulder and back muscles. Slow and steady will win this race. And you thought carving was easy.

Black walnut 16"x23"

I have printed out the pattern to the correct size using my home printer. I have taped the pages together to form 1 large pattern.

As this is a complicated patten with lots of intertwined positive and negative spaces so I have taken the extra time to color code this so I don't make any mistakes when removing the areas that need to be removed. Even when doing the color coding I made a mistake as evidenced by the black marking in the upper right corner. It just proved the need for taking the extra time to do the coding as the eyes can fatigue while looking at a large complicated pattern.  I have checked and double-checked to make sure it is all colored correctly.

These are the tools I will be using for the basic wood removal stage. They are relatively flat profiles, # 3, 4 and a small # 5 to get into the tighter areas. There is also a v-tool here to help keep the bottoms of the cuts perpendicular to the surface.

This is the proper way to hold a chisel when working with a mallet to stop-cut the areas needed to be removed. Holding the tool like this allows for quick placement of the cutting edge when going around the pattern lines.  Place tool, whack, whack with the mallet. Place tool, whack, whack etc. Working this way you get into a nice steady rhythm.

I have taken the corner and removed the first piece of wood to set the depth of the rest of the carving. This wood is 1" thick. The general rule of a deep relief on panel is the go halfway into the wood, thereby allowing the wood to retain its strength which will discourage any future warping. The larger a piece of wood, the more noticable its reaction to the relative humidity of its surroundings can be. Sometimes wood can act like a sponge and absorb good amounts of the water in the air which can slightly change its size and shape.

Using a depth-gauge, a tool any relief carver should have in his/her arsenal, I have set the depth of this background at 1/2"

Here is what a proper stop-cut should look like. It should ride just shy of the pattern line into the waste wood. the red area will be removed.

This is where I am after a couple hours of carving.  I told you this will be slow going due to the hardness of the wood. It takes quite awhile to remove 1/2" of walnut and level the bottom in spaces this tight and irregularly shaped.

All the waste areas have now been cut away. It is time to do what I consider the "fun part", the shaping of all of the forms

After looking at the entire pattern, I start the design at the part that will need to be pushed the furthest back. once the lowest depth has been established, it is easier to figure out how deep to go with the rest of the carving.

I find the corresponding flower on the wood checking to make sure it is the correct area. when working with a large pattern, it is easy to get side-tracked and mistake one area for another. Always check and double check.

The first cut is made with the v-tool around the center of the flower

The purpose of this cut is to protect the center part of the flower when carving the petals in towards the center.

I then move on to the rest of the flower, separating each petal.

The actual shaping is done using gouges. here I am using a #7 gouge which will create a deep curved surface which the light will play off of.

Here you can see that the petal now has a shape to it.

All the petals have now been shaped. The direction of the light source can create interesting shadows. It is always advisable to have adjustable light sources placed at the sides while doing relief carvings.  The shadowing effects will change as the light sources moves. It will enable the carver to decide when the form is pleasing to the eye.

The center button is now formed and pushed further back into the wood.

The broad leaves are now shaped using #5 and #7 gouges

The stems are shaped and played with as an acanthus form. Acanthus carving is a very old form of carving originating with the ancient Greeks. It is a stylized (rather than realistic) form of leaf and stem carving which creates flowing forms.

The rest of the carving is now being worked on. Each main form is separated from the next by using the v-tool.

Once you complete an area, you work on the next adjoining area. The level of one area will be dependant on the level of the previous area. In this way, things will appear in the right relationship to each other with some things higher and somethings lower, depending on what the pattern requires.

The carving is now well underway with only a few forms on the left side still to be finalized. 


The carving is basically finished and I am working from right to left cleaning it all up. The undercutting is successfully giving nice shadows to the form.

 I have used some texturing punches to give a contrast to the background.

My last step before applying the finish is to sign my work.

I have used Minwax Satin Polyurethane for the protective coat. 

 Now the beauty of the black walnut shows through.

I hope you can understand why I choose this wood for this particular

 design. Another wood might not have given such spectacular results.

In time and with some exposure to light, this walnut will turn a deep dark

 brownish-black and will have a very rich feeling to it.


  This is the finished carving. 

The reward for carving hard wood is wonderful details it takes.

Thank You for the inspiration, Jim Linnell

I hope you've enjoy seeing it progress as much as I've enjoyed carving it.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

pierced relief swag step by step

pierced relief carving step by step

drawing out design

After looking at approx 20 different examples of this type of work, I drew out my original design, directly onto the wood. It will be a floral design, with petaled flowers, buds, leaves and tendrils. In free-handing this design i worked from the center out and mirrored the image on both sides. I tried to keep the tendrils connected as much as possible to the rest of the work to give maximum support to the delicate hanging tendrils. (35 min work)

color coding 

In order to ready it for the scroll saw work, I color coded the design, black was the area of the design that would be cut around and red were the areas to be certain not to cut out. (5 min. work)

design completed
this is the final design, ready to be cut on the scroll saw.

Drilling guide holes

Using my drill press, I then drilled holes into all places that would require interior cuts. (you can use a hand drill to do this, being careful to keep the bit 90o vertical to the board) interior cuts cannot be accessed from the edge of the board. Holes are drilled so that the scroll saw blade can be inserted and the inside areas cut out. (5 min. work)

cutting away the waste

using a scroll saw, I selected a size 3 spiral blade. Spiral blades must be used for the piercing as the work is too large for the 16" capacity of my scroll saw. spiral blades allow you to cut in any direction. All interior cuts must be made first to give support to those pieces so they don't break off. next step is to cut all the exterior waste off. (interior-1.25 hr work, exterior- 1.75 hr work)
waste removed

at this point all of the waste, interior and exterior has been removed. The final demensions are 32" long, with the arch being 6" wide

close up of final pattern now ready for carving. from this point on, the carving will be very delicate to work with because there are a lot of unsupported tendrils. I will lay it flat out on top of my workbench for the carving, using an anti-slip mat under it so that it will not require clamping down. using clamps at this point would likely break off some of the unsupported tendrils.

carving tools selected

as this will be a delicate carving I have selected small hand tools to do the job. Left to right: #5 gouge, #7 gouge, #1 bent gouge, sloyd knife, 60o v-tool and a #3 fishtail gouge. After selecting tools 1st step is to hone them so that they will slice thru the wood cleanly. They will be honed repeatedly over the course of the carving stage. this is an important step in this carving as any unneeded pressure will break off the delicate pieces.

 begin carving

first step is to use a v tool to separate all flower petals, leaves, buds and tendrils. I will start carving at the strongest points of the carving, working my way down to the most delicate pieces, allowing those pieces to be supported as long as possible

carving the pansy 

gouge out the center of each petal 
 make a stop cut around the center mound 
gouge out 1/4 of each petal in towards the center 

round over the outside edge of each petal

round over the center mound

redefine the valley between each petal using a v-tool

using a gouge round over the top of each half of the petals

using a knife, make a v cut between each petal to define the separation

using a knife clean out and define area between the petals

clean up area around center mound 

using a v-tool, put 2 or 3 wrinkle lines into bottom 1/3 of each pedal, working in to center 

Carving The Daisy 

after making a stop cut around the center mound, gouge out about 1/4 of each petal, going down and into the  center

Round over the edges of each petal 

round off the last 1/4 of each petal and then shape the sides of the petal 

round off the top of each petal 

do another stop cut around center mound 

clean up the center mound

round over center mound 

redefine the valley between the petals using the v-tool

using a knife, make a very steep v cut which will separate the petals more 

redefine edges of petals going deeper in the area between each petal 

finished daisy

texturing the button

using a nail, gently tap in many random spots on center mound to create texture. Texture the buttons on all the pansies and daisies

Carving the leaves 

Gouge out a section approx. halfway on the leaf. This will give a wave to each leaf. 

leaf gouged out

after making a stop cut along the edge of the petal, gouge out 1/4 of leaf in towards the flower

using a gouge remove the end of the leaf 

round off and shape each leaf 

after rounding the leaf over use either a knife or small v-tool to make veins. make a curvy line down the center of each leaf and then make veins from the center line out to the edges angled to the tip of the leaf 

pansy and leaves carved 

carving the bud

first shave off 1/2 of the edge from center out to tip of bud, then make a stop cut along base of bud 

gouge out stem into base of bud 

round off base of bud 

round over top of bud

using a v-tool, make curvy line from base to tip of bud

carving the tendrils and bud stems 

Make a stop cut where stem attaches to flower 

gouge out stem in towards flower, remove enough wood so that the level of the stems and tendrils are lower than the flowers and buds

make stop cuts wherever tendrils meet each other and where they meet flowers

round over stem working in towards flower

completed bud stem 

continue rounding over all stems and tendrils 

cleaning up the carving

this is much to delicate a piece to do any hand sanding on. I have cleaned it up using rotary power tool with a fine ceramic pointed stone

tendrils and bud stems completed 

I used a different stain on each part of the design 

carving stained 


I used thinned water colors to tint the carving 

completed caving

carving mounted over archway


    Of all, this is truly my favorite! A lot of work with the scroll saw and hand tools, but the paint job to achieve the colors are what amaze me. Almost like a stain glass look. Really nice job on the whole project.
Oct. 26, 2008  By: banjo52us Delete

    A very nicely done carving and an excellent tutorial
Jun. 8, 2007  By: Charles Hand Delete