Detail Wood Carving

One of the important steps in carving is to line out the piece after it has been bosted out and, if required, back-cut. The care with which this step is done will determine the appearance of the finished piece. This lining out process is really a matter of laying down the guide lines for the finishing tools.

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The process is not necessary if the carving is designed so that it is a treatment of mass. That is, if the carver is more interested in projecting his concept of the form as an harmonious relationship of curved surfaces to the flat planes of the background of the final piece—or, in the case of a three-dimensional form, to the area or space in which the carving is to be placed. Two of the illustrations show this idea much better than words can describe it. One is the detail of a panel of a carved chest and one is the formalized dolphin carved as a wall decoration. In these you will note a paucity of detail (see Image below).

If, on the other hand, the design calls for detail carving to emphasize the finished piece, it is necessary to pencil in all the guide lines along which the finishing tools are to be run. This is shown in one of the Imagegraphs of an eagle carving in process. In this project, the guide lines show where the parting tools are to be run so that the outline of the feathers can be developed. Here, the mass is less important than the detail. Were this not so, the wood from which the carving is made would have been a highly figured piece of mahogany, for the purpose of having contrasting light and dark areas of the wood relieve the plane surfaces as well as to give the finished piece a certain texture.

In order to make the point clear, I suggest you compare the two Imagegraphs of the carving illustrated: one, the Imagegraph of the bosted carving; and the other, the one where the bosting has been completed and where the guide lines are drawn in.

A carving in the round where the treatment of the mass is more important than the detail of the carving. (Courtesy Mr. Joel H. Squier, West Tisbury, Massachusetts)

Another case where the detail has been sublimated to the mass. The carving is in alto-relievo. Property of the author.

Before undertaking the next step, assuming that you are going to detail the surfaces of the carving, there are three things to consider: the tools with which the detail will be developed; how the grain of the wood runs; and how the cuts with these tools will be made.

Keep in mind that any cut made on the bosted carving will have to be included in the final work. Therefore, reasonable care will have to be exercised to see that you do not overrun any of the guide lines, that the cuts are lightly made at first, and that where two cuts come together the one does not overrun the other. Try several cuts on waste stock so that any errors in tool control can be corrected without damage to the finished piece. It is a sad moment when you have to discard a carving that has progressed to the point of detail because you have spoiled it by too deep cutting, by overrunning guide lines, or by having the tool slip from the control of your hands and run at random across the piece.

I have shown an illustration of a partly finished carved piece and of the tools that I use to develop the forms of the feathers. Prior to detail carving, refer to the various drawings or detailed parts of the drawings to be sure you have in mind just what it is you want to do. The projection that you have made of a typical cross section will call it to mind, that is, assuming that you made one.

The tools and the partly completed detail of the feathering on an eagle. The abrupt change in the planes of the feathers when seen on the finished carving determine their outlines.

I might say here, after you have worked on three or four carvings, you will find that in the preparation of your working drawings you will not find it necessary to make these projections, for the reason that your visual picture of the carving you have in mind is seen in all its dimensions. The best definition of this would be to say that you have cultivated a third-dimensional imagination. That is, you see the probable third dimension in any mental image you have of what it is you would like to do.







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