re-using, recycling, and redeeming old wood

#21 Wood Carving: The process – raw wood to Father Christmas/Santa gifts

I want to show you the process of carving from raw wood block to a carving ready for painting. In another blog we will talk about finishing and painting a piece. The carving I am working on is an Old World Father Christmas or Santa. The design is not original, but the carving is mine.

The first step in carving is to find a “blank.” As you see in the picture, it is a simple basswood block. It comes from the lumberyard cut in perfectly straight lines which makes the next stage of carving easier to carry out.

Carving process, basswood blank

The block still has the lumber yard saw cuts on it.

The next stage is cutting out the “rough out.”  The second picture shows this carvings rough out.  The one is very, very simple.  Some

Carving process, rough out

rough outs are cut to a general shape which can look like a duck or a person without any detail.  Other rough outs are done on duplicators which take wood off to about 1/4 to 1/2 an inch of the whole carving.    In this rough out I have left a lot of extra wood because this is the first one of these I have tried.  Leaving extra wood allows me to play with the process as the carving progresses.

The next step is clean the rough out.  As you see in the second picture, the rough out is covered with saw marks.   Every saw mark which

Carving process, rough outs awaiting cleaning.

is not remove will show up in the painting and finishing stages.  Those marks left on the carving will accept or take paint differently than the rest of the carving.

They will show up in a most obvious and unwanted way.

Carving process, clean rough out

So, cleaning off the rough out is an important step in carving.  Some preliminary carving could be done here, but the temptation to dig into the carving itself might cause you to miss some of the marks.  On a simple rough out like this one it would be pretty hard to miss such marks.  However, on more complex carvings, under noses, on checks, elbows, backs of heads or large flat surfaces are all prime places to leave marks.  So, in the third picture you see a “cleaned” rough out.  If you look closely at the left side of the carving you will see a pencil mark, the remnant of an “F.”  While cleaning the rough out I decided which side of the carving would be the front, since I still have a choice on this carving – a more complex carving would require such a decision earlier.

Note on the rough out in picture two the straight pencil lines.  These are maintain on the cleaned rough out as you can see on the right side of the carving.  They will need to be taken off soon and they need to be replaced after the rough out is completely cleaned.  They will help keep the carving in balance.  Now that cleanup is completed the “setting in” stage begins.

“Setting in”  or “blocking in” is the process of locating major masses of the carving.  Since this carving is going

Carving process, setting in

to be an Old World Father Christmas or Santa, I have head, arms, body, robe masses to consider.  All these were drawn on in pencil first.  Then a “v-gouge” (a tool shaped like a “v”) was used to outline the masses named above.

In picture four you see some of the lines which have been cut into the cleaning rough out.  At the bottom of the carving you can see the trim of the robe.  Moving upward you have arms and then beard and

Carving process, another view

face masses.  While I can change the sizes of these masses, once I have begun to set them in reality says that I can only make them smaller rather than larger.

This stage of carving is critical.  I must make decisions which will affect the entire outcome of the carving.  As you can see, once I have determined how high on the carving the arms should go I can not move the wood and lover the arms.  Having decided where to “set in” the underside of the arms I am committed to the arm mass being there.  I can thin the mass, shape it a little differently or add beautiful details, but I can not move it.

Once the masses have been set in I can begin to work on the details of the carving.  As you can see in the final two picture,  all the surfaces of the carving must be dealt with.  When I say “dealt with” I mean I must make a decision about them.

carving process,  detailing

How deep shall I go, what kind of surface treatment should I give, where within the mass should the minor details go.

Carving process, begin detailing 2

This stage can be a lot of fun for the carver.

You see the progress made so far.  There are a few stage left before we have a completed carving.  The mustache and beard need greater detail.  Eye brows need to be added.  The robe’s trim at arms and bottom need to have their surfaces gouged so they look a little more “furry.”  I need to make a few more marks on the robe’s surface to make it “move” for the human eye.

Carving process, Two Father Christmas/Santas awaiting details

The final stage is painting.  I will take pictures of the final detailing and painting for another blog in the near future.  Happy carving.

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.


3 responses

  1. Wow this is excellent, I know what Ill be doing next, this is what I need, a step by step approach, I tend to try to carve each bit at a time and always end up chopping of way to much to get the other bits to look right.

    Ill send you a pic when Im done :)


    October 18, 2010 at 1:48 am

    • Glad you liked it Rob. I’ll look forward to your pictures. As I said in the blog, I am teaching a class on this tonight. I will post some of the pictures from that class and work to complete this carving with pictures. If I may ask, where in the UK are you located? I am in the Chicago, IL area. John

      October 18, 2010 at 6:51 am

      • Hi John, I live in a small village in the middle of the UK called Firbeck, 1 street, 1 pub and no shops, open countryside from the back garden, idyllic.

        October 18, 2010 at 10:45 am

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