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My First Carving

The attached image is my first carving, and by "first" carving, I of course mean my "third" carving, as my first two attempts at Mary's concave Newport shell ended in failure. My first attempt was in poplar, which seems to be stringy and fragile, and not great for carving, and my second attempt was in, what I thought was basswood, but I now believe to have been spalted basswood (if such a thing exists). At any rate, it was very "punky" and fragile. This third attempt was in willow (because I had 8/4 willow on hand), and, for one having next to no experience in this, I felt like it carved okay. This took me about a week of working a couple of hours a night after work. I think the flutes of the shell turned out okay, but the medallion is a disappointment. My tools were sharp and I was just as careful and as meticulous as I could possibly be on that, and still the end result was, umm, "unrefined" let's say. I'm considering trying another one in black walnut, but I don't currently have any on hand that is suitable, and my source for nice black walnut of an appropriate thickness is 70 miles away. Maybe that will make a good trip for next weekend. I am also half considering trying the convex version of this shell on the back side of the 8/4 willow. Or maybe I'll set it all aside and do some regular woodworking for a bit.

Uploaded files:
  • newport-shell.jpg

Looks great!  Congrats!

I haven´t attempted it, but that looks to be a difficult project for a first carving.  The medallion has some challenging features such as the scrolls and a lot of curves. My control of the V chisel would need practice to get  the smooth curves needed.

You should be pleased with your work, it is a good result.

Have you thought of carving just the medallion, to practice the cuts involved, before repeating the whole design? The awareness of grain direction on curved edges seems to improve with practice.

Well done Charles!


I have thought of carving just the medallion a few times to see if I can improve that. In the end though, I've laid out another full shell, this time on black walnut. I have done quite a bit of woodworking, mostly with hand tools, and from that, I thought I'd gotten some idea how different woods behave under plane or chisel. This carving is a whole new animal, and I'm so new to it, all I've really learned, is my intuition on how different woods will carve is not good. I have just barely started on the black walnut version of the shell, so I don't have much to report yet, other than it is harder and denser than the willow, but, so far at least, is behaving okay. The wood I have available is air-dried, and very pretty, but doesn't have great grain for this kind of thing. One edge is pretty squirrelly owing to a knot that was near by. On my earlier three shells, grain direction has given me the most fits on the flutes, so I have tried to lay out this latest shell to put the straightest grain toward the top edge. We'll see if that is any help at all.

I am still struggling to get my tools acceptably sharp, but I hope that will improve with practice. I can resharpen a plane iron or a chisel to a fine edge in just a few minutes, but, just as with carving itself, sharpening the gouges is proving to be a completely different animal. The angle is shallower, the motion on the stones is completely different, and it seems like it is harder to get rid of the burr. Fortunately (?), I think this walnut will force me to practice quite a lot!

One other difference this time around (the black walnut version is my forth attempt), I have blown up the pattern slightly, so the shell is maybe not quite an inch wider. I am hoping this will help with the flutes, as, with the smaller versions, I was having trouble near the medallion, because my most appropriate gouge is (in my estimation) still just a little too wide. Also, the slightly enlarged shell means the medallion work won't be quite so intricate. I'm still many steps away from carving (or even tracing) the medallion pattern. In Mary's PDF, there are 11 "petals" (for not knowing the correct term). I'm considering redrawing it so that it only has 9. That also might make that a little easier. Not sure.

Anyway, I've learned a lot so far, the main thing being that I still have so much to still learn. Just what little I've done so far though has been very rewarding, and I'm planning to obsess on it for a little while longer at least, before giving up and return to making simple boxes and tables and such. 🙂


That is an amazing job for carving #3. So... you pretty much went from the Donut to the Newport shell?? Yikes! Congratulations, as it does look very good. I would also recommend taking the medallion and carving that even larger. Get the concept of the shape down, and then it will make a lot more sense on a smaller scale. There are so many very subtle details on that medallion. You also may want to look up different Newport "medallion" designs. Sometimes they are baskets, which may make the process easier - or at least different. Sometimes it's a combination of basket and medallion. If you can get some really good quality mahogany, maybe that will be #5??

Thanks for the feedback, Mary. I do appreciate the encouragement.  I actually never did the donut, so I pretty much went straight from nothing to the Newport shell. But I've used hand planes and chisels on wood a lot, so I know what "against the grain" feels like, and I think that has been a big leg up for me. I'm still having sharpening issues. I was shocked and horrified this weekend when I'd discovered I'd managed to grind a hollow in the edge of my #7/14 (it's the result that you point out occurs if you are preferentially grinding more in the middle and less up near the corners). I then made some effort to correct it by deliberately putting too much attention on the corners, but that really just resulted in rounding the corners. I do think though with careful attention, I can get the edge back flat (or at least I hope I can). As it is now, it is still working fairly well.

Some progress is being made on the black walnut version, and I certainly plan to post a picture of it here if I ever get it finished. As it stands right now, all but three "ruffles" have been shaped (that being both the concave and convex portions of the flutes). Unfortunately, the last three are really going to be a challenge due to grain problems.  The walnut is significantly harder (denser) than the willow, but it still carves pretty well I think and it resists tearing and chipping better than any of the other woods I've carved. I am interested in trying one in mahogany, although I'm not sure if I can source any locally very easily (what is locally available tends to be a bit thin I think).

I would actually like to try a ball and claw next, only because I've seen those my whole life but, actually having no real artistic ability, I have always just assumed those are something that would forever be beyond my reach. However, I've watched you do it, and I've watched several other people on YouTube do it, and I'm surprised to find there seems to be a pretty well defined sequence of steps for that. Although I'm still skeptical as to whether or not I can actually turn out a ball and claw, I think I can do each of the steps. The only wood I have for that right now that is suitable (size-wise) is some black walnut and some butternut, both of which are, I think, 2-3/4 inch square or 3 inch square and neither of which are probably good choices for starting out.