I recently finished a very delicate carving of a wheat and ribbon design. This was carved for a friend, Monty Hinson, who is a highly skilled furniture maker here in Charleston. Monty and I have made several ornate period furniture pieces together – Goddard/Townsend Newport dresser, Charleston Rice Beds, Philadelphia Lowboys. Monty builds the furniture and I carve the details.
These particular carved pieces are for the arms of a Duncan Phyfe style window chair. They are carved in mahogany, and the depth of carving is 1/16″ deep. There is a slight curve to the original surface, and the photo below shows a better view of the shape.
The process of carving was a follows:
1. With a 3mm v-chisel, carve around all the wheat and ribbon design and inside the square edges just short of 1/16″ deep. I left the lines visible.
2. With gouges that match the edges of the design, make precise vertical cuts, 1/16″ deep, to define the design.
3. With flat chisels, define the outside edge of the design. Make these cuts 1/16″ deep.
4. Lower down the back-ground with #3, 3mm, #3, 6mm, #3, 14mm, and #1, 14mm. This process took longer than carving the wheat and ribbon design. Much of the back-ground cutting had to be across the grain because the grain was pretty chaotic. This entire background was carved 1/16″ deep, with a need to get this as flat as possible.
5. Carve the overlapping sections where the ribbon overlaps the wheat.
6. Carve the wheat details (VERYdelicately). The only way I could carve this without breaking the little edges of the wheat was to make very slight v-cuts between each grain of wheat to start the separation. Then with a #3, 6mm make these little cuts defining the individual grains.
7. Carve the wheat stems to appear to be overlapping each other as they get towards the center.
8. Carve the ribbon.
Each step listed has its own challenges. My hands were actually more tired after carving this project than some larger pieces because of the precise control that was necessary. I was not aware when I was carving how tight my muscles were and how I had to remind myself to breathe when I was carving.
I was able to video the process of carving half of the design, so I hope to have this up on the online video school within a few months. The total video will be approx. 2-1/2 hours.
The final background surface was smoothed with very worn 320 grit sand paper and the stems were refined with a tiny riffler file. I did not sand any of the ribbon and wheat carving, as it is so fragile that the details would have been lost.
I love a good challenge, and this was one of those!