Carved oak panel

Back to some carving. The riven oak panels I made a month-plus back are in perfect condition now for carving. This pattern is a panel for the chest with drawers I am building.

panel finished
This style of carving uses no V-tool for outlines. The shapes are all derived from the gouges & chisels. For me, that means it’s slower than using the V-tool. But a distinctive look to it… There is for some the inclination to make a template for a design like this, but clearly the period ones were not done that way; the approximate symmetry indicates that this stuff is freehanded. 

Folks who have seen me work, or worse, have taken a class from me, know that I won’t use a pencil on a carving. But I will use chalk to rough out a pattern like this one.

chalk yes pencil no
starting to incise pattern, following chalk outline

There is no layout that I could discern on the original this is based on. I strike a centerline and margins. Then go in with some chalk, and block out three sections. These aren’t really thirds; the top tier is quite a bit shorter than the middle and bottom section. I just eyeballed this off the photo of the original. Then I use the gouges to start defining the curves and shapes, aiming generally for the chalked-in outline. But the gouges rule, the chalk is just a sketch.

first section chopped in

I tend to tackle one side of the bottom section first, then work that same design on the other side of the center line. Then I move up a bit to define the large flower head at the top of the panel.

matching right & left, mostly


blocked out
defining major elements of the design

The scrolled volutes that flank the flower are another area that deserve concentration to get them “right”. Then you fill in the spaces between with leaves, etc.

next scrolls
defining the upper volutes/scrolls

Once the whole thing is outlined,

finished outline
finished outline



then I remove the background with a shallow gouge (a #5 in the Pfiel measuring system, for those of you who want specifics). This background need not be dead flat – in fact it shouldn’t be if you want your work to look like 17th-century carvings.

removing background
removing background

The nice thing about chalk versus the pencil is that removing the chalk lines just requires a slightly damp cloth to wipe them away. A few gouge-cut details decorate the main surface, usually I texture the background with a punch. Or you can paint the background too.

gouge-cut details
gouge-cut details

I think this one used 5 gouges for 99% of the design, then I picked up a very small gouge to finish some detail here & there. And a broad chisel for the outline, and chopping along the center stalk of the design. 






6 thoughts on “Carved oak panel

  1. I really enjoy these kind of post, Peter. Very much like a tutorial. Makes me want to go out to the shop and give it a try. Now I need a good source for oak, however.

    • Joe, I’ve been doing some experimentation and I’ve found some good woods that fit the bill despite not being Oak. Alder, and Claro Walnut have been nice to carve, and have the other benefit of being local to me (PNW).

      Don’t wait to find the perfect piece of wood, grab something and start! It’s very rewarding to see the design come together.

  2. This is a really great post, Peter.

    How do you cut the rectangular outline of the panel? Was that done with a marking or cutting gauge?

  3. Peter,
    I purchased several pieces of green riven oak several months ago. Have been soaking them in a tank of water since waiting to use at the right time. Question is how long after they are shaped would I be able to start carving.

    John C.

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