patterns, patterns

When I teach carving, I always start students off with a simple exercise that involves one tool, striking a row of chopped-out cuts. Chop straight down to incise a curve, then bring the tool back, tilt the handle down, and chop out a chip that meets the first incision. I think the DVD starts the same way… ( ) here’s photos showing the basics, This time done on a molding. step one is to strike the gouge straight down:


striking the gouge

then you tilt the tool’s handle down, and step back – cutting towards the incised mark you just made:


finishing the carved detail


A related pattern is a double row of these, tilted over & seemingly woven one under the other, sort of a braid. We did a few of these in the class I taught at Country Workshops last month. ( )  Usually it’s only one or two gouges. And it can be combined many different ways.


carved "braid"

For the braid, the layout is the key. A horizontal centerline, and upper & lower margins are the beginning. Then strike spacing with compass, then I mark these spots with a punch, in this case a nail set. Bang bang.

punch marks, gouge strikes


Then strike with a wide but not too curved gouge. The first set of cuts is to the bottom margin, from the left side of the punch. Do the whole row. Then the top set goes the other direction. Flip the gouge around, and have at it. The spacing is determined by the nailset punch marks and the margin.


Now go back & remove the chip. Then take the same gouge, or a slightly narrower one, and make the incised marks that meet the horizontal centerline, and the midst of the chip just removed. Think of this as the S in the braid. You can take a very small gouge & just incise the bit where the braid goes under itself, or leave this off. I hit it, I think it’s worth it.  This pattern is ages old, and it immediately sprung to my mind last summer when Jogge Sundqvist showed us a diamond/triangle version he uses in his work. Here are both in drawings, Jogge’s steps in drawing his version are a little different from mine; but he’s really good. :


diamond braid

Here is the drawing for the curved version:

bottom row is the best spacing

Then I thought of Sebastiano Serlio’s sixteenth-century books on architecture. I use the Yale University Press edition, Sebastiano Serlio On Architecture (1996). There’s some patterns in there that contain versions of similar  ideas. These can get quite complex.  These Serlio cites as being used in ceilings;



Here’s a crest rail from a wainscot chair I shot from a book, showing a pattern quite similar to Serlio:

crest rail


And then there are the various guilloches:

PF carving, copy of drawer from Braintree chest w drawer

These are laid out with a compass, and outlined with a V-tool. Here it’s a box front:

PF box

And here is one just cut with the gouges, no V-tool. Compass outline, though.

and then I remembered the first chest I made at the museum, back in 1994. I haven’t looked at this closely in about 5 years. I bet I would carve it differently now. The front stiles are almost direct quotes from Serlio.

joined chest 1994

Recently,  I was cutting some “twist turnings” for a chair I am making, and lo & behold…braids. But I’ll get photos of those later. Meanwhile, go cut some. If you can’t get to cutting them right away, draw some. It’s fun stuff..

12 thoughts on “patterns, patterns

  1. Thank you very much. This certainly dresses up a project.
    I wish mine looked a little closer to yours….

  2. Yes, that class at Country Workshops was certainly the Best Ever.

    The relationship between the linear chips described at the top and simple braided design completely eluded me before, and it almost still does. I see the link, but I’m not quite sure how to describe it.

    The ‘upscale’ knotwork by Serlio is quite impressive, but not unattainable. With a bit of planning I can see it falling into place and becoming a nice addition to the basic vocabulary we got in class. Thanks again!

    • Curt

      Sorry I wasn’t more clear. the relationship between the simple 1st exercise and the braid is the technique. it’s a perpendicular incised mark, then relieved with the angled approach to remove the chip. the layout is where the complexity comes in, the so-called “3 consecutive thoughts.”

  3. Peter

    Would you suggest buying a chisel set, or having some custom made for the job? In other words, do we see any discernible differences in terms of size and shape between 21st century chisels and those of the 17th century??


  4. Hi Peter,
    I really like how ornate these chests look when laid out with a compass and V-tool. Very impressive.

    Give our best to the rest of the family!

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