Archive for the ‘woodcarving’ category

Bibliomania – Turning and Carving

February 13, 2013


Hand or Simple Turning – John Jacob Hozapffel – just about every turning book written draws on this work

Fundamentals of Woodturning – Mike Darlow –  Excellent

Woodturning Techniques – Mike Darlow – Excellent

Woodturning Methods – Mike Darlow – Excellent

Woodturning Design – Mike Darlow


Manual of Traditional Wood Carving – Paul N. Hasluck – Classic British Work on Architectural carving.

Carving Architectural Detail in Wood – Frederick Wilbur  – None better

Carving Classic Styles in Wood – Frederick Wilbur  –  ditto above  –  Every serious joiner, cabinet maker and finish carpenter should have this book and “Carving Architectural Detail in Wood” in their reference library.

Decorative Woodcarving – Frederick Wilbur

The Complete Guide to Chip Carving – Wayne Barton


Extraneous decoration or Cautionary Tale?

August 4, 2012

In times past, carpenters, joiners and masons alike, dated and signed their work.  Farmers who built their own buildings often left a great deal of information on posts and beam ends.  And many times, some appropriate admonition would be carved into any number of finished products.  So I thought it only appropriate to not only date the new workbench under construction, but to also include a reminder to myself to not waste time.  It is one of the most valuable things we have.

The base is substantial, but is made in such a way that the entire bench can be dissembled for transport.  The routed areas are required for the mounting of the Emmerts vise.  Had I realized how heavy the Emmert vise is and the amount of stock that must be required, I may have designed a base with three trestles.  I’m anticipating some deflection problems with the 2 15/16″ top sometime in the next 100 years.  I’m planning to hang a drawer under the bench to hold bench dogs, temporary jaws etc.  And there is the possibility of installing a small antique vise on the right end to act as a tail vise.  More weight…but in a workbench, heavy is a good thing.

Underside of bench inletted to receive Emmert’s Vise

Another two to three days should put the bench into operation.  Then I can get on to more profitable exercises.

Oh!  For those of you who are too young to have had classical Latin “beaten into you”,

“Tempus Fugit – Memento Mori” means time is fleeting – remember you will die.  In other words, get past the “white paper” syndrome.

Stay tuned for when the vise goes into action…and I’ll close with one other “classical” bit of wisdom…

“Enough is abundance to the wise” – Euripides

Happy New Year

January 1, 2012

We’ll be getting back to work on the cabriole leg/Queen Anne table project in the next few days.  But there’s still a little afterglow going on, leftover from the holidays.  The pineapple finial that showed up a few articles ago made its way to the top of my neighbor’s newel post (circa 1870) and it fit in quite nicely.  In fact, it got “dressed up” for the celebrations.

Also in January we’ll be talking about some different turning tool choices (and a couple of new tools) for the spring pole lathe.  So stay tuned…  And, once again, Happy New Year.

Hiatus Ends – Back to work

November 29, 2011

It seems like yesterday when I was telling everyone that I hadn’t been writing because my computer had a virus.  Well, can you believe it?  It’s happened again.  But this time, I junked the old box and bought a new one.  So we’ll see how this new one works out.  But I have been busy with other things as well.  Here’s a little sample of one of things I’ve been working on.

This pineapple finial will sit atop one of my neighbor’s newel post, a symbol of hospitality and welcome.  In upcoming weeks we’ll take a look at carving this type of finial.  And, we’re going to be spending a little time laying out and turning “pad foot” legs on the springpole lathe.  Then we’ll get into cabriole legs on the bandsaw (with feet turned on the lathe).  They’re not as hard to make as you might think.

So stayed tuned, I’m back to work.

Three legged table poses more than a few challenges

July 18, 2010

Three little legs - lotsa carving - lotsa angles

 Wallace Nutting,”godfather” of American Colonial furniture authorities, mentions that three-legged tables are fairly rare in the U.S.   According to Mr. Nutting the explanation for this is reasonably straightforward, a table with three legs is considerably more difficult to build, especially when the legs are also raked. 

Well, I decided to build a small decorative piece, just to see how difficult it really was.  Just to add to the degree of difficulty, I thought I’d throw in a little carving, as well.  Can anyone say “masochism”? 


Okay, an equilateral triangle has three sides coming together at three sixty degree corners, right?  How tough can it be?  You set your bevel, you make your guidelines, build the table.  Simple enough.  So…let’s up the ante a little, let’s rake the legs 4 or 5 degrees, just for fun.  Get out your old plane geometry book and figure it out.  When that doesn’t work, build a little mock-up of the base from cardboard, it’s a big help. 


So, in laying out the legs you’ve got to have two surfaces where mortises can be placed for the aprons and stretchers.  Theoretically, the section of the leg blank could be a parallelogram, but that would be an unnecessary waste of material.  A six-sided section is the most efficient.  I rough cut the leg blanks on my table saw (yes, I do occasionally use tools that require electricity), then constructed a planing jig to insure that the surfaces were true to one another.  Go to Roy Underhill’s Woodwright Shop and check out the episodes on the Barley Twist table (2006-2007 Season) and watch them online.  Lay out of the legs is well explained.  You can also reference one of Roy’s books that discusses that particular project. 


Never content to do anything the easy way, I decided that I’d use this little table to practice my low relief carving.  The legs are carved in a twist pattern and, once again, Underhill provides excellent instruction in the Barley Twist episode.  

I decided that the aprons should have a little decoration and chose a pattern from Frederick Wilbur’s “Carving Classical Styles in Wood”.  The stretchers are decorated with a panel of fish scales.  The scales should have been a little larger so they would have been more defined, but the overall effect is acceptable. 


Once all the mortises and tenons were cut, the base was assembled.  As I had thought, some trimming was required to get all the joints to seat properly.  “Kerfing In” is a method of using a saw to re-establish the shoulder of a tenon in relationship to the stile into which it is being fitted.  Kerfing a barn timber doesn’t require that you be concerned about marring up the surface of the post.  However, after you spend hours turning and carving the legs of your table, you prefer not to scratch them with a saw.  So, I used a metal rule to provide a constant offset dimension, in lieu of the saw itself.  After taking the base apart, I recut the shoulders in order to “true” them to their reference surfaces.  Upon re-assembling the base, I found that this method worked very well. 


My first thought about the top was to make it circular.  But when I laid the top on, it became apparent that from certain viewing angles, it made the table look very asymmetrical.  So I opted for a triangular top.  I decided to make the top from three triangular sections.  It required some patient joining, but the visual effect is very pleasing.  However, I am more than a little concerning that seasonal movement may become an issue as the fibres on the long side of each triangular piece have greater potential for shrinkage than their shorter brethren in the middle of the top.  I’m keeping fingers crossed that the use of well seasoned walnut and many, many coats of tung oil varnish will minimize movement. 

All in all, this little Renaissance inspired occasional table proved to be a challenge.  But, I’m pleased with the outcome and glad that it forced me to get back to the blogging after my nearly sixty day hiatus.

Detail Carving. Cheap ornamentation or art? You decide.

May 16, 2010

My wife and I just returned from a short visit to Puerto Vallarta, the site of our daughter’s “desitination wedding”.  It was great; wonderful weather, terrific friends and family, marvelous food and the incomparable people of Mexico.  I’ve never had better guacamole or drank better margaritas. 

But I was amazed how prevalent architectual wood carving continues to be in Mexico.  I mean, keep your eyes open and you’ll see it just about everywhere; in homes, shops, clubs and, of course churches.  Carved furniture is all around and appears to be as popular as carved architectural details.

Carved door panel from "Casa Quinta Laura"

Nearly fifty years of work in the architectural joinery field has given me many opportunities to repair and/or replicate a lot of carved details.  So, I began to wonder just why this type of carving seems to have become much less popular in the United States than it was as recently as fifty years ago.  I didn’t have to think very long or very hard.  Detail carving is time consuming and time is money.  In short this type of carving is costly. 

Prior to World War II, molded cornices would have been the norm in all but the most modest houses.  Some cornices could be very heavily carved as well as newel posts, which always provided a “center stage” for the journeyman detail carver.

A classic newel post with acanthus leaves and bell flowers

This type of detail work is now seen only in the most “high-end” structures that are currently being constructed.  The high cost, coupled with scarcity of qualified detailed carvers, has put this kind of art out of the reach of the average home owner.  While once considered part of the joiners apprenticeship, rudimentary architectural carving is only being taught at the special craft institutions like the North Bennett Street School.

But fortunately the broad application of carving furniture and architectural details  lives on in places like Mexico.  Of course it lives on with dedicated, individual craftsman who continue to practice the craft as part of their own work.  Whether you consider it cheap ornamentation or art, it is an important part of the woodworking process.

Floral panel on apron of a small table inspired by designs of the Italian Renaissance

Note the one little flower that’s missing its stipling.  Sometimes it pays to photograph your work for “inspection” purposes.

Gadrooned – an undisciplined distraction

February 8, 2010

Okay.  I got up this morning.  It’s Super Bowl Sunday.  But, I’ve got to finish this little turning  job.  It’s a number of small trophy bases.  I’m running late (not unusual) and time is of the essence.  But I start thinking about one of Chris Pye’s books in which he discusses gadrooning.  Gadroons are these kind of bulbous appendages that  have no earthly reason for being, other than the fact that they look cool.  You see them a lot on Dutch Colonial furniture.  And, I’ve noticed them on a fair number of English Jacobean pieces.  So…I should be working.  But maybe I can sneak in a little practice.  I’d like to do a table or a joynt stool with gadrooned legs, but I want to give it a try first.  So I allow myself to be completely distracted.  I make what is nothing more than a little ring-box with decoration that reminds me of a proboscus monkey.  Oh well, you can’t be 100% disciplined all of the time.  When the muse has you in her sights, you just have to go along for the ride.  The good news is that once you figure out this carving pattern, it goes pretty quickly and it can lend a level of sophistication to a number of period styles.  Give it a try.  It was fun.  Of course, I’m gonna have to work twice as hard tomorrow. 

a "gadrooned" ring box in walnut - a small distraction

Spooning up the scraps

December 21, 2009

"Spoonula" with several edges for scraping the mixing bowl and a chip-carved cone flower

Everyone recognizes that we’re beginning to experience real shortages of our most popular wood species.   My favorite is walnut.  Easy to work with, takes detail beautifully, walnut polishes to a brilliant finish with a warmth that few other species will ever rival.   I hate to waste even the smallest scrap. 

Well Charlie, fellow devotee of woodworking by hand, presented me with, at least, a partial solution to minimize my wasting of this precious resource – spoons.  People use ’em, people collect them, people love them.  As Charlie pointed out, it’s a very personal gift that is perfect for showing your gratitude to your host the next time you’re invited to dinner.  It’ll certainly last longer than a bottle of Merlot.  Your imagination is the only limiting factor.  Spoons can be straightforward and useful or complete flights of fancy.  You choose – all function or all form.  A happy medium is probably best (Did the Bhudda really say “it is always the middle path”?).

“Any road” (as they say in Yorkshire), waste not, want not, make spoons.

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