Carving is sometimes like waiting for a bus….

…. nothing comes along for ages and then 3 come along at once.

I know you’re thinking thats a bit of an odd thing to say, its not that I’m saying that carvingĀ  jobs are rare, more that the same kind job never usually comes along twice in a row.

Ok so I mainly carve picture frames so technically I’m doing the same job time after time but the patterns and sizes are constantly changing. Out of 3 jobs I have completed recently two have been for egg n dart carving, admittedly one was for the edge of an oak table top seen here , the other was lengths for the pediment at the top of a couple of doors for a museum in London.

This image shows the end of the run of egg n dart as it is about to go round the corner so the final egg has a leaf design on it, probably orginally to hide the fact that it was a different size to the others in the length. I worked mainly from photographs and a site visit, but as I am a coward and really don’t like ladders I couldn’t climb the tall ladder to get a good look at the originals as they are deceptively high up!

Egg n Dart carving in Utile
Egg n Dart Carving in Utile

I have never carved in Utile before and it wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience ( I have another tale to tell on this subject with another part of this job but it will have to wait until another post).

I had to make sure that my gouges were especially sharp and kept well honed in order to cut throught the wood cleanly (thanks to a helpful hint from a contact on Twitter!). I think that they turned out quite well in the end.

On the plus side my client was very pleased with the job, and so was their client. The lengths also look good with all the rest of the joinery, I can’t wait to see them in situ, I’ll see if I can get some pics once they’re up.

 

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10 tips for carving in Oak

I have recently completed a job carving an egg and dart pattern into oak moulding for the edge of a table top, you can see this in the photo.

Egg and dart pattern carved into oak moulding
Egg and dart pattern carved into oak moulding to edge a table top

While I was working on this job I thought of some things to think and work through the next time I have an oak carving to do.

Hopefully these tips will help you too.

If this is your first carving project please choose another wood now before you read any further. While I enjoy carving oak it is a little difficult for a first piece, choose something a little easier – Lime or Jelutong if you can get it are excellent starting points. I have spoken to several beginners who have been completely put off carving by using oak their first time out.

Be careful that the design you are carving is fairly bold and not too intricate as you will be fighting the very open grain of the wood which will make for a highly frustrating and unpleasant carving experience.

When you are estimating how long the carving will take you, take your estimate and multiply it by at least twice and then add some more.

Allow for a practice piece so that you can get a feel for the wood and the gouges/chisels you will need before you start on the actual work. It does not need to be a full size piece just a bit to try things out on.

Check the pattern/measurements before you start as mistakes on a carving that will not be gessoed (for gilding or painting) or painted are very hard to disguise.

Secure the work to your bench as well as you can, if the piece moves during a vital cut it could ruin the whole design.

Make sure that your tools are sharp and keep them honed. When you carve it should feel like a hot knife cutting through butter – if you don’t know what that feels like give it go when you eat your dinner (with a cutlery knife not a chisel/gouge!). Cut a hot potato with the knife first then cut some butter or margarine with the same knife, this should give you the right feeling.

Use shallow cuts and build up to the depth you want. It is more time consuming but will make the carving easier.

Try to use a carving mallet as much as you can, it will save your hands and control the cuts.

Do not try to work long hours on the job especially at first. Oak can be very hard on the hands which may over time cause a strain.

These are just 10 tips that I came up with, if you can think of any more please leave them as a comment below, I’d love to hear them.

 

 

 

 

Jutta M Stiller is a wood carver and sculptor specialising in Netsuke and Couture frames click here to subscribe to her newsletter ‘Tales From the Woodcarving Bench’ .