How to Make a Carved Panel
starting a new venture, such as wood carving, always start with
a simple design. With this in mind, I have shown the various
steps that can be followed to make a relatively simple carving;
one that will call for certain skills in the use of both the
carpenter's tools (a more fitting name would be the casemaker's
tools) and the carving tools, as well. All the steps involved
in this small problem are fully shown in the accompanying illustrations,
from the layout of the design, the steps taken to make the design
in plan and cross section, the method of transfer, the preparation
of the carving block, the transfer of the design to the panel
face, and all the succeeding steps necessary to complete the
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description of these various steps follow in the order in which
they are executed. First the drawing. The overall outline of
the panel is drawn to full size. The outline of the panel raising
is next drawn. The index lines are drawn. One half the design
is roughly sketched in. The tracing off of this half is done
next and then transferred to the opposite side.
I go further, I should make this comment, I think. It has been
my observation that in Nature there are no duplicates. No two
sides of any natural object are exactly the same; no two apples
are exactly alike, no two waves are ever the same. Nature is
the vast storehouse of infinite variety. This being so, any
representation of a natural object should have variants, as
well. Back to our muttons. After the outline of the pineapple
is traced off and the section lines are indicated, complete
both halves of the drawing, varying the detail freely. These
lines are indicative of what you want the finished carving to
look like-only. They do not have to be followed exactly.
next step is to prepare the panel in cross section. Note this:
all the following steps are done with hand tools only. Search
out in your stockpile a piece of dry, white pine board about
11 inches wide by about 16 inches long. Be sure the stock is
clear of knots, shakes, and sapstreaks. Lay out the actual overall
size of the panelthat is, width 10¾ by 14¾
inches. Plane both edges down to the width dimension. Lay off
its length and square the ends on the layout lines with the
panel saw. Be sure that the ends are square-cut vertically,
as well. (The panel saw is the fine-toothed crosscut saw.) Plane
the surface of the panel with the grain to smooth the surface
for the next step which is to lay out the raisings.
the backsaw (or tenoning saw), cut along the outline of the
raising to a depth of ¼ inch, first across the grain
at either end, then with the grain on either side (Image 71).
Hold the panel in place on the bench top by means of two thin
strips of wood nailed with brads to the bench top-the strips
to go across one end and along one side. The best way to do
this is to place the squared-up panel on the bench for guiding
the position of these strips.
Cutting along the outline of the raising. Note-the design has
been transferred to the panel face.
either one of two tools to carve out the stock between the extremes
of the panel and the outline cuts; a one-inch firmer chisel
or a one-inch skew chisel. I prefer the latter, though the former
is just as good. These cuts should be made so that the cuts
are first finished parallel with the face of the panel. The
next step is to mark guide lines on the sides and ends of the
panel to the depth to which the edging is to be finished according
to your cross-section drawing. Always work with the grain of
the piece when making cuts on the sides of the panel. Hold the
chisel at a skew (an angle) to the end of the stock when cutting
across the grain.
sure that these cuts do not run into the sides or the ends of
the raising. Using great care, finish off the edging cuts so
that they slope from the raising to the edge of the stock and
to the guide lines that you have drawn. If you use a firmer
chisel, place the face of the tool against the stock for this
purpose. This operation is difficult and tricky, but if care
is taken to remove very little stock at a time, the results
will please you. Be sure that the tool is always held at a skew
in this process. The raising done, lay on the drawing of the
pineapple. Be sure you have the inner corners of the raising
indexed on your drawing and place these points over the corners
of the raising. These will position the drawing on the center
of the panel. Trace off.
next step is to make the stopcuts along the outline of the pineapple.
Do this with a narrow skew chisel, holding the tool almost vertically
with the face of the panel. Go along all the outline of the
drawing. Don't try to outline all the terminal leaves at this
point. Make your first cuts lightly. Follow this by increasing
the depth of the cuts. Next, back-cut to the outline. I use
a #14, 3/8-inch long bent gouge for this. Repeat the process
of outlining the carving until you have reached the depth of
the carved pineapple you show in your cross section, that is,
3/32 inch. Bost out the stock between the outline and the raising
edge. Try to leave a little stock here for finishing cuts. This
will be the last portion of the carving to finish up, for this
reason: as you work on the detail of the surface of the pineapple,
the chances are that the edge or point of your tool will touch
the bosted surface and, if this is finished before the face
of the pineapple is done, you will have to remove these tool
marks. Why repeat?
Stopcutting along the outline o£ the design with the quarter-inch
skew chisel. The raisings are completed.
Backcutting to the stopcuts on the outline.
Image 76 Modeling the leaves of the pineapple; the sections
have been partially modeled out.
next step is to develop the leaves of the pineapple. Do this
by lightly outlining them with the skew chisel. Using the /4-inch
gouge, model the planes of these leaves so that they slope in
various directions as they would in the actual fruit. Don't
forget you are making a bas-relief carving; therefore, all modeling
will have to be lightly done. The effect of the rounding of
the pineapple comes in the way in which the design has been
made, not in modeling.
the leaves have been modeled, the next step is to carve and
model the sections along the design lines. This is done, again,
with the skew chisel in the manner shown. Make the cuts across
the grain first, and then the cuts with the grain. Take care
to see that your tool does not travel across the bosted section.
After the section outline cuts are made, model the corners of
the sections down into the outline cuts to give them the rounded
effect you show in the drawing. Do this bit of modeling with
the ½-inch gouge, with the face of the tool held against
the face of the stock to be cut, that is, with the heel of the
tool outward. This is a tricky business, but with care and patience
it can be done.
final step in modeling the fruit is to model the edge of the
pineapple. Do this with the gouge, again being careful to make
light cuts and being sure that you do not cut too far into the
face of the detailed fruit. This tends to soften the outline
and make it seem to flow out of the panel rather than rise abruptly.
The last step in carving is to smooth off the bosted section.
Here I suggest that you use a broad gouge for this purpose.
Again light cuts will be more effective than heavier ones. Overlap
the tool marks and use great care to avoid the edge of the pineapple.
Any tool mark on that portion of the carving will be apt to
spoil the outline because it will be necessary to carve the
mark out if you want a finished piece.
Finishing the modeling of the sections with the quarter-inch
Modeling the edge of the pineapple with the #14, %-inch gouge.
completed the carving, I would not sand any portion of the carved
face. The edging can be sanded smooth, if you want. Now that
the panel is done, don't ask me what to do with it. Hanging
it up in the shop may be the answer. It is purely a practice
piece or, if you are really ambitious, you can make a duplicate
and mount them as end boards in a chest or in frames to be hung
in some dark corner.
purpose in proposing this carving is that in its execution most
of the tricks of the trade are used in the work. The pineapple
motif is used very freely. Its significance in architecture
is that it represents an hospitable welcome to guests. One of
the illustrations shows a corner cupboard I made as a gift to
my wife after I had sold a Welsh dresser out from under her
heirloom collection of Chelsea china in an unguarded moment
of enthusiasm. As you will see, the pineapple has been used
freely, as well as rope molding and the lotus flower with the
Ying and the Yang of the Chinese.
panels, such as the one under discussion, can be used in an
infinite number of ways-for instance, as an over the mantel
panel or as panels for a study. For such uses, it would be well
to vary the bas-relief design on each panel to break up the
similarity. In all cases in making bas-relief carvings, the
shape of the object and the appearance of roundness and depth
are developed in the way the piece is designed and in the faithful
execution of the carving according to the drawing. This perspective
business is a funny thing. If I were a better draftsman and
knew more about it, I could tell you how to do it according
to the book. I do it by trial and error. If it does not look
the way I want it to the first time, I do it over until it does.
mezzo-relievo the development of perspective is a rather easier
matter; in alto-relievo, quite simple. However, neither of these
forms of carving is customarily used for raised panel work,
except in rare instances, such as a panel that is to be placed
at a point well above the eye of the beholder or where massive
detail is used in all of the associated areas. The form of relief
will depend upon these factors as well as upon the skill of
the wood carver. I have included, in the illustrations of wood
carvings that I have made in the past, pictures of a room in
which several forms of carving and cabinet work are shown. These
were taken in the living room of a house in South Bristol, Maine,
owned by the late Glenn Stewart, who was one of the finest men
I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. It was through his
interest and that of Mrs. Stewart that I really got into the
serious business of wood carving.
work shown in part took all of one winter to execute. All the
work was done to my designs and I had pretty much of a free
hand as to what I wanted to do. The bookcase is of some interest
in that it has as decorative forms scallop shells carved in
mezzo-relievo as well as intaglio. The flutings are done with
a special tool called a "fluter," which is not too
commonly found in a carver's chest. I hesitated to carve an
elaboration on the scallop theme on the door panels and now
I am glad that I did not do so. The valance boards are examples
of plain panels made in the manner that is set forth in this
chapter. As a contrast to the bookcase, the fire frame and the
mantel shelf are quite simple in design.
Bookcase showing the use of scallop shells as primary motif.
Use of rope molding. All work on this bookcase is done with
hand tools. (Courtesy Mrs. Glenn Stewart)
pictures show how wood carvings can be used as decorative architectural
forms in a modern setting and how they can be used in conjunction
with other decorative media to enhance the beauty of a room.
Mantel and fire frame detail-all hand carved. (Courtesy Mrs.