Monday, April 16, 2012

Ready for Carving

     You know how it goes, once you tell someone of your plans you are then held accountable.  In years past I would contemplate taking on the challenge of a certain ultra mountain race and those plans were safe until I shared them with others, now I became accountable!  Well, guess it's time to go public with these:

Acanthus Leaf Panel

     You may recall the posts I made during the week long workshop with Ian Agrell earlier this year.  I learned so much about traditional carving from his talks, demonstration, and one on one instruction.  Of course, learning and putting it into practice are two, very far apart, activities.  This panel will eventually be placed in the cut out above the stove and microwave in our newly remodeled kitchen.  I have a couple of things going for me, first it's about 7' up on the wall so won't be under super close scrutiny and secondly, I'm using Basswood which will be considerably easier to carve than the African Mahogany given in class.
     The Acanthus leaf is probably the most carved feature you'll come across.  Honest, do a Google or any other internet search on it and you'll come up with tons of examples.  I've also been looking into classical carving books and virtually every one of them have a section on how to carve this leaf.  Once I decided on the leaf pattern it was copied onto tracing paper.  To orient them and make the design symmetrical a base line was drawn from the center point at 40 degrees to lay the pattern on.  The center carving is actually a scan from a catalog.  There will be lots of learning from this panel -- no doubt!
     For carving, my workbench set up changes somewhat:

Carving Set-Up

     To start, the bench on bench is clamped to the right side of the main bench.  Just an FYI, this bench has proven real popular with the Sin City Woodworkers group and Jamie and I are planning to offer a class on building one in the near future at her school.  Years ago I purchased an LED light that is to the right of the bench.  I was trying my hand at the small scale carvings for Diane's picture frame and these old eyes needed all the help they could get.  Regular, incandescent task lighting worked except when the shop temperature is pushing 100+ degrees and you add a light bulb close to you and the work my sweat started to rust the tools!, not a good thing.  At the far left is a Koch system for honing the tools.  One of the things I struggle with is that as a shop teacher I always emphasized to the students to place their tools with the sharp, dangerous end facing inboard.  For carving it's recommended that you have them facing you so you can see the edge and choose the proper tool.  I guess it's a new trick for an old dog!
     Here's a closer look:

Time to Start

     I felt it wise to do a little practicing before jumping into the actual panel.  Leaning against the wall is the cut off from the panel with my practice work.  One of the things I learned in the class is that for a design to really be symmetrical the curves should be made with gouges that have a specific size (sweep).  For a more free form of carving you can outline the shape with a V-chisel because slight variations won't really matter.  The goal of this panel is to present an appealing shape, carved fairly deep into the panel, that will create an interesting texture as the light bounces off of it.  The background will be left with visible gouge marks to confirm that it's hand made rather than created by a machine.  In talking with other carvers there's a balance with the background.  You want to leave enough gouge marks and texture to confirm that it's a hand made piece but not so much that it comes across as crudely done carving -- ah yes, the challenges continue but what would life be without them?

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