some carving details

After making a bunch of joint stools last year while shooting stuff for the book, I now have a bunch of carving to do, partly to prepare for my April workshop at Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s School. There we will be making a box, but a big chunk of that session will be carving patterns.

Here’s one I worked on the other day; a long rail for a joined chest. Its layout is a series of overlapping circles. I use a V-tool to outline the whole thing before cutting any details in it. 

outline w V-tool

It’s best to make all cuts in one direction, then shift your body, tool grip, etc and make a series of cuts that way, and so on & on. This gets two things – speed & consistency. The cuts go from the outside of one circle to the inside of the adjacent circle; like the S-scrolls that I carve all over the place.

After all the outlining is done, then I use a very shallow gouge to bevel these circles. I use the tool with its bevel up to cut down the outside of one circle, from 12:00 o’clock to 9:00. Then on the adjacent circle this line becomes the inside from 3:00 o’clock to 6:00. So go all down the line, making these two cuts. On the inside version, the tool is flipped over onto its bevel. Then shift around and cut the other direction(s).

I also make a little cut right where one band flows underneath the other; this beveling adds to the illusion that these bands are woven one under the other…or at least it mimics this effect.

Now, it’s time to make various patterns within the circles. I took a small, deeply curved gouge & struck it straight down into the midst, to incise a central circle. You have to be careful not to blow this out altogether – I find it helps to tilt the gouge inward a bit, to lessen the wedging effect of the tool’s bevel into the wood. Just eyeball the placement, and a few strikes jogging around will get you a full circle. Then take the shallow gouge up again, and pare down towards the incised cuts to relieve some background. This is preparatory to making a dished shape, from out near the circle’s perimeter to the “button” left at the center. By cutting right at the incised circle, you reduce the chance of wrecking the whole thing when dishing the shape. This is one of the most timid carving moves I make – it’s so easy to blow out that central button. 

easy does it


Now keep working backwards, out towards the perimeter, and paring towards the center. This makes the dishing deeper and fuller.

shaping the overall depth

Then it’s just a matter of cutting details in it. Here, I used a large medium sweep gouge to strike straight down into the dish – to incise curved shapes all around the center. Think of it as a pinwheel on its way to being a flower. 


Then tilt the gouge’s handle down, and come from behind the incised mark, and remove a chip. Proceed all around the circle.

adding some depth


Now some details are then struck with similar methods, but smaller tools. Snip off the ends of the resulting pinwheel/flower shapes with a very small gouge.


Then use a shallow gouge with its bevel up, to round over the remaining flat button at the center. 

I then used the large medium gouge to strike a single incised line within the remaining petals.

Here’s a variation; I made the same sort of dished shape, then chopping into around vertical and horizontal centerlines, instead of a series of radiating arcs…otherwise, many of the same cuts to form the shape. 

Here’s a box with a similar design; we’ll tackle stuff like this at the Woodwright’s School, so if you’re inclined, follow the link above & get down to Pittsboro, NC. It won’t be 100-degrees yet! I hope…

carved box, 2011

7 thoughts on “some carving details

  1. Thanks for the nice lesson, it is very much appreciated.
    For my birthday gift this year I asked for your two videos. I have been enjoying them very much.

  2. Your chest painting skills were very nice, but I have to admit that I like your carving the best.
    (and the bird pictures are awesome too !)

    Your carving videos are excellent, and I intend to ask for your jointed stool book for my birthday.

    Thanks Peter.
    Sharing your talent with all of us is really nice of you.

  3. That is so awesome. I wish I had the tools to try this. Well I will one day and I’ll come back to this. And yes your book is on its way to me!! Excited!

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Peter. These variations are so helpful and provide so many possibilities. Gives me some ideas for a large surface on a bowl rim.

    By the way… received the book yesterday. Excellent and worth the wait. Very well organized, well written, great photographs — an all around success. Congratulations to you and Jennie on a job well done.

  5. Peter:

    Your work, through your blogs, has inspired me to take up wood carving for furniture. May I ask your advice on what basic tools (quality of course) are needed to get started and why do you use “green wood”. Does it not dry and check?

    Thanks for spreading the message of what quality workmanship takes in a time when that seems irrelevant.

    Dick Wilhelm
    Tallahassee,FL (90% humidity) and Merna, Wyoming (12% humidty)

    • Dick – if you take green wood from your Florida home to your Wyoming home, then it will check…but if it’s slowly and carefully allowed to lose its moisture, it should be fine.

      I usually start folks off with just a few carving tools, maybe 6 or so…a V-tool and a few different degrees of curved gouges. Search the blog and you’ll see loads of stuff about carving tools. There’s stuff on the DVDs too.

  6. My mail came as well…..yesterday. Couldn’t put it down, so I finished it today. Bravo! It is by far the finest book on the subject of artisanry that I have read in decades. Please, please, fulfill your promise of “More to be revealed”as and when time permits.

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