Carving Wood

By David J. Marks

Carving wood transforms a piece and takes it to another level.

Through carving, you can achieve fluid, flowing shapes and patterns.  When a woodworker goes to the lumber yard to purchase material for a project, what we find is dimensioned hardwoods that are typically rectangular or square.  Carving is a method that helps us to be more innovative and allows us to express our work in organic forms and more complex shapes.  I find the best way to resolve a lot of the mechanical and conceptual aspects of a design are to begin by doing a lot of sketches and then develop a full scale drawing.

For this particular project, an elliptical carved mirror, I knew from experience that the best way to create the shape would involve template routing, so I began making a series of templates from ½ inch MDF.  The first template defines the profile and I can use it to layout the joint lines.  The shape is actually an asymmetrical ellipse which is wider at the base and thinner at the top.  Trying to decide where to place the joints requires studying the material and making some judgment calls.  Once you have made those decisions, the template serves as a guide or map to refer back to.  With the joint lines drawn we can now layout the joinery.  I like mortise and loose tenon for most sculpting projects.  This way you can make the cuts, in this case angled cuts, butt the pieces together, make your layout marks and rout the mortises. It is similar to using dowels but you do not have to be as precise because you have some lateral adjustment in the slots.

Once the joinery has been cut and the piece has been glued up, I trim off the excess with a jigsaw and then place a template on top and flush trim everything.  Now we get to the fun part which is the sculpting and carving.  To facilitate the shaping of the frame, I use a large 1 inch radius bit to knock off the edges and round the frame.  Bubinga is a dense hard wood so to further facilitate the process I use an air powered die grinder with a carbide ball mill.  At this stage we have the basic shape and form of the mirror frame without the carved details.  It is very important to stop and take the time now to draw on the layout lines for all of the carving.  I can’t emphasize enough the importance of carefully drawing on the pencil lines.  These are the guidelines that you will follow while carving.

You have heard it before, and it is true, sharp tools are essential for crisp carvings.