Waiting in the Wings, Part 1

In this  project as well as the ones Doris has done it only goes to show how much easier and accurate carving can go if you have some sort of model to use as a reference.

Here I had a model as I need to copy the existing wings. You can follow the sequence as I roughed out one of the wings.  This process will be used regardless what you are trying to carve.As in most carvings I needed to make some sort of pattern to use as I band sawed the major form. Then it’s a matter of using your model to transfer the major shapes and their location to the block to begin carving. Measurements can be taken from a good drawing, clay model or whatever you are using as reference.

Trying to carve from what you think something looks like is very difficult. A popular subject such as an eye  or a nose for example is difficult to carve without some model even though you’ve looked at them your entire life. You THINK you know what they look like until you go to carve one.

My first attempts at carving was carving birds. I had watched them at my feeders, looked at photos of them and I thought I knew them pretty well. Until I tried carving one!  Then it was an endless string of questions of  ,,, where does the wing start, how is this feather shaped,,,, where and how does the tail fit in,,, what about the size , shape and location of the beak etc. I quickly realized that in order to carve a decent looking bird that actually looked like a particular bird was impossible without good reference material.

The same holds true even if you want to carve a generic eye,, or nose,, or anything else for that matter. Not much is generic. Every body part is true to a particular person. Get good references in order to make a convincing carving so everything falls into it’s proper place.

Here is the sequence I followed and using primarily photos to spell out the story you can readily see how I made the major shape, was able to remove the proper amount of wood to refine the essential forms and only at that point attempt to carve individual features and details. This process is the basis for any carvings I do. And as you follow along you will naturally see the progression of  a carving take place. In your mind you’ll say,,” Ah,, now he has the major form and he can now do this part of the carving”

Trying to skip a sequence, say , drawing the details on the large block and attempting to carve them,, would only lead to frustration as it wouldn’t be the proper time to consider the details. Everything happens in it’s own time. Think of the sequence of your own carvings and only do what needs to be done at that time. Everyone loves the details. But remember , they can only be considered  last as they have to fall WITHIN the major forms. Don’t carve the details, carve the forms. That’s when you ‘ll be able to find the details.

A piece of poster board served as my pattern. I traced the outline from the existing wing and ended up with either a positive or negative pattern to follow which I transferred to the blocks of wood. The blocks were prepped to the basic length, width and thickness of the largest dimensions of the wing.

Just a band sawed shape makes it easy to see the basic form.

Ignoring the squarish block that holds the wing to the Angels body you can see that the mounting surface of the wing needs to be beveled. I established this surface early so as to have the wing at the proper orientation to the Angel and the main block of wood in the proper location relative to the existing wing.

The main block is now angled properly on the Angel.

And where it will mount to the surface is now established. Now I can proceed to rough in the major form of the wing.

I’ve roughed out the major sweep of the leading edge of the wing,,relative to the full block .

Here I roughed in the back of the wing to get the major shape. L to R the uncut block,, the shaped block and the existing wing.

The roughed in block against the mirror image plaster wing.

The opposite edge of the wing. Plaster /Wood.

Only after the overall shape and form was established, and I pushed down the area next to the leading edge of the wing was I able to sketch in  where the feathers would fall. Trying to do this too early would have been a waste of time. Any drawing , let alone an attempt at carving them would have been a waste of time. All the drawing or carving would just have to be removed as the major shape wasn’t in place.

Still in the full stage as I work my way down to the final shapes. Areas such as the bulge in the hooked area of the wing needs to be left in place while the rest of the wing needs to be pushed down.

Getting pretty close at this point. Now I can refine individual feathers and shapes.

I also made the block that inserts into the Angel to hold the wing. They won’t be mounted permanently. Interestingly enough each Angel had a different mounting surface for their respective wings. One , the surface swept up to the wing,, the other the wing was recessed into the body of the Angel.

You can see the two different ways the wings are mounted here. The one on the left makes it a bit more difficult to fit the wing properly.

The block fitted securely into the pocket in the Angel. I added the screw only as a handle to insert and remove the block into the pocket. Now that the block is cut flush with the Angel, and the wing has been fitted to the mounting surface it was just a matter of putting glue on the block mating surface and holding the wing in it’s proper position .  To keep a bit of pressure on the joint I put some foam in the base of the pocket to get the block to protrude slightly as I pressed the wing into position. Epoxy made the joint plenty strong.

I’ll finalize the sanding and shaping of the feathers, seal the surface until it’s completely smooth and non porous before priming the wing as well as the entire Angel prior to final painting.

This isn’t so much a story about how to carve a wing as much as it is a story about how to do a carving. The process is the same regardless what you are carving. Following the proper sequences makes carving so much easier and faster. If you don’t follow them, you’ll find yourself picking at a piece here and there and wondering what to do next or why it isn’t looking quite right.  This is why so often a beginner’s carving will have some attempt at details while the entire piece still looks like the original block of wood. I do understand that there is a fear of carving away “too much wood” and their won’t be enough left for the details. And as I said most see the details only, without seeing the major forms. The major form has to be established first.  You can’t band saw a block in the shape of a bird for example and start carving feathers at that point. There will be plenty of wood left for the details at the later stages.In these steps you automatically see what needs to be done and all the guess work is taken out of the equation. The steps show you the path.

I’ll show the finished results in a later post.

memorial carving

i just finished this carving i made as a memorial piece for september 11. …

it is again a carving i made with the help of a digital maquette :

of which i printed out several views, to have something for measureing the basic proportions. i did not intend to copy the digital model, but used it as a mean to visualize my idea, and get the roughing out easier done… unfortunuately i could not get fotos that not show so much shine. the carving is waxed, and has some sheen, but is not that shiny as on the fotos…

the title of the piece is “remember”

Restoration, the Chair, Done

Took a bit of time but it went according to plan with minor issues to address. In these photos it may at times appear shiny. In some shots I used a flood for lighting and it is quite strong as a fill light causing some reflections. And two, there is still some oil on the surface that will be rubbed out in the final finishing. The color did , by necessity , come out  a bit darker than the cabinet but all in all it looks fine. And truthfully, this chair was much darker initially which made it not possible to remove all of it without damage to what patina was there.











I hope you enjoyed following along on this project. Now , on to the next one.






As I mentioned in my last post the piece you saw in the background was this Triptych. This project has been on and off for several years due to consolidation of several parishes, priest changes and numerous other disruptions. So it has just sat and languished until someone picked up the ball to get it rolling again. It got to the point where it sat in the center of my shop for so long I got tired of looking at it and disassembled it and put it into storage. Not a month later didn’t the new Priest call me and asked to come over to see it.  Nothing like timing!

Well the new Priest was here today to get updated as to what is ( or is not) going on with this piece. The Priest who originally commissioned it was at the church when I built the piece for over the Tabernacle which is pictured here. This Triptych was to be a matching style piece to be erected over the Baptismal Font.  Being over the Font there is a water theme running through the carvings on this piece.

Now a Triptych means three panels. The way this piece will be viewed will be open for most of the year. During Holy Week the piece will be closed. When closed the view will be of Adam and Eve in the Garden with the Serpent. Opening the doors will reveal  the scene of the crucifixion with two people catching the  blood and water ( very typical in old paintings and iconography). On the inside of the doors will be two carvings on the left hand door from the Old Testament. Moses parting the Sea and the Flood. On the right hand door will be two carvings depicting  Jesus sending out his Apostles as well as the Baptism of Jesus.

On the top of the Triptych will be a scene from Genesis where God breathed upon the waters, and the creation of light.

The base will be a modified style Acanthus leaf design based on other Architectural features found in the Church itself.

The background scene ( behind the scene of the Crucifixion) will be the facades of 4 other churches that were closed during this time and folded into this one church. Also , since it’s part of the locale will also be in the distance the image of the Bethlehem Steel.  This was chosen for several reasons. One, it too died and has now been brought back to life in a different manner. Also , as some painters such as Da Vinci had done, scenes that were found locally were included in his paintings as backgrounds. I’m following that same idea here as the Bethlehem Steel is such an iconic image in my home town of Bethlehem where this piece will eventually find its home.

Until I get back up to speed on this piece, as well as knock off the rest of the work I have lined up, here are a few shots of where this piece sits. Some of the original sketches to work up the idea,,some clay models,,, some of the basic structure of the piece ,,,, as well as a photo of the other piece I built which this Triptych will mimic in style and finish.

Hope you like it.

The first piece I built as a backdrop/canopy for the Tabernacle side of the church. It is approx. 14 ft tall and 3 ft wide. The new Triptych will be patterned after this piece.

The original sketch showing what the essential idea of the piece will be. It too will be approx. 14 ft tall , 5 ft wide and 2 ft deep.

A revised overall sketch showing better proportions.

The two door panels when closed will depict the Garden of Eden. The doors are nearly 5 ft wide X 5 1/2 ft tall.  The columns ( not completed here) will actually serve as the pivot points for the doors so they can open fully. Otherwise the columns would get in the way and not allow them to open parallel to the wall. I want them to open and be flat across the span allowing full view of the carvings that will be on the reverse of the door panels as well as give full view of the scene inside.

A view of the doors opened. This is where the four panels will be placed as well as the Crucifixion scene in the center.

Granted it’s difficult to see the pencil sketch , but it depicts two people ( undetermined who they will be ) catching the blood and water as well as an outline of the Crucifix.

A sketch of the Crucifixion scene. This will be a full carving. The two people will be 3/4 relief. The people, as well as the Crucifix will be approx. 3/4 life size.

The 3 other churches as well as the Bethlehem Steel will appear in the background in this section of the piece.

The upper triangular section depicting Genesis,breathing upon the waters, bringing light etc. will be illustrated here in a relief carving.

One of the four inner carvings. Here it’s Moses parting the Sea. The arrangement in this scene is triangulated. His arm points to a distant spot, the person in the lower right is pointing to the same spot making the second leg of the triangle and his arm around the second person creates the third leg of the triangle bringing you back to the source. It’s cyclical as your eye keeps following the path.

The second panel ,, the Flood.

The third panel, the Baptism of Jesus. The fourth panel, not completed will be Jesus sending out his Apostles. All panels are approx 2 ft wide by 2 1/2 ft tall. All will be framed with Gothic tracery as seen in the original piece behind the Tabernacle.

As you can see much work still remains to be done. Too bad it took so long to get this back on track but I’m anxious to get back into it.  I’ll keep you posted. Hope you found at least this much interesting to look at. It’ll all make more sense when it’s completed I’m sure. The ideas are all in my head and I can see it completed. Give me some time and I’ll complete the picture for you as well.

Waiting in the Wings

OK, a bad pun but it’s appropriate.  These Angles just came in and they obviously need some repair as well as needing wings. For some reason they are missing their right wings. Can’t have that as they can only fly in circles! So when I get a chance I’ll need to duplicate some wings as well as restore the rest of the statue. They have the typical chips, peeling paint etc. which I have addressed literally hundreds of times on pieces much worse than these.  They are plaster, but I’ll make new wings in Basswood, seal them and when painted nobody will be the wiser . Unless they remove the wings ( the original are removable)  or tap on them.

I’ll keep you posted when these come up for their turn on my bench.

Oh,, and that piece in the background is the Triptych. The new priest that took over that parish is coming by to have me resume the work on it. It’s had several Birthdays in my shop,, got put on the back burner,,, was on again, off again and so here we go again! I think this time it’s for good. Show me the money and I’ll fire up my chisels. Till then,, it sits or I dismantle it again. Too much work coming in to play around with this piece as much as I’d like to see it done. I think the new Priest feels the same way. Lets get it done.

Carving a sign

Ok, so it’s not an artistic piece or even an architectural molding, but it’s a carving! A friend of ours wanted to place a cap on the sign at his farm. He brought over a piece of yellow pine and a sketch of what he wanted. The top of the board is to have a bull nosed edge to shed water and the letters are the address.

The shape of the board was cut out on a bandsaw and I thought I could use my router top to put on the bull nose. After looking at the grain on the board, I decided to do the form by hand. If I had used the router, I would have had to fight tearout. The bull nose radius was started with a block plane. It worked well as I was able to peel off small portions of the wood and change directions to be able to follow the grain. I used a 2/12 chisel to finish the radius. The 90 degree areas were done with the 2/12 chisel.

The numbers were printed out from a computer and placed on the wood with spray adhesive. Shouldn’t be a problem as the finish is paint. I learned how to use a mallet doing these numbers. Yellow pine grain is tough – compared to the soft wood of the board. I made many an ‘oops’ and really didn’t want the field to be as deep as it is, but it’s better than an uneven surface. Still working on the numbers and field.

One problem I had was with very soft wood in between the hard grain. In the deeper parts of the numbers, no matter how I tried, I couldn’t get a clean cut – the soft wood wanted to scuff up and tear off. I tried sharpening, but it didn’t help. So, some places look like I carved them with a hammer.

I took the sign top to the requester and they loved it (even though I thought it was not so good) and are painting it now. My question is, what do you do about pithy wood in a carving? Should I put a little glue on it to toughen it up? Or am I just not doing it right?

Restorations, the Chair, sneak peek

Well after what has seemed like a never ending process of chasing my tail to address all the repairs I think I’m getting close. Here I’ve dry fitted most of the parts to see just how everything is fitting together.  I imagine this is the first time in many years that these pieces have been together in any meaningful way to represent an actual chair. With all the abuse, movement ( warping etc.) , repairs etc. the parts are going together surprisingly well. A tweak here and there and it’s lining up to my liking.

Along the way I’ve done several other repairs which you’ll see here as well.

Assembling the top section I decided the top trim was just too far gone to try and repair so I duplicated the trim moldings. The volutes had large holes where someone used screws to attach them to the frame. I filled in the holes and will attach them with screws from the back and top.There were also several damaged sections on the volutes I had to repair as well.

The seat is in one piece , hinged and fitted to the frame. I still need to “antique” the brass hinges so they don’t look like a sore thumb being so new on an old piece as they currently look out of place.

As I said, at this point I’m just dry fitting all the pieces prior to gluing them together. Various stains will be used to make all the sections of wood look as homogenous as I can.

I’m getting anxious now!

A section of molding that was for some reason an inch and a half too short. These pieces fit around the bottom of the “roof” section.

This is the molding I had to reproduce that will fit around the top of the carvings on the “roof” section. You can see how the old pieces were just so rotted, damaged and split to be sensibly used again.  Making new moldings was actually faster than trying to repair the old. Regardless,, they were just too far gone.

The holes in the legs of the Volutes where someone used large screws to attach them to the uprights.  I just couldn’t imagine doing that being it is right on the face of the pieces and so obvious and crude attempt at a repair.

Drilled, plugged and carved they look a bit better. They’ll blend better with a dab of filler, sanding and some stain.

The sections of the Volutes that were damaged and missing pieces. Here I have the areas prepped prior to fitting new wood.

Blocks fitted and glued in place,,,,,


…carved and sanded,,,,,

….and an initial application of some stain to get them close to the original wood.

The “roof” section as I’ve been calling it with the new moldings around the top and the extended section around the bottom. All together now and ready for installation.

The seat fitted to the frame with new hinges. The prop is only for the photo, it’s not part of the chair.

The front panels now installed in their frame and also the foot rest ( which needed much work) attached to the frame as well. The foot rest is really needed as this chair is unusually high. Without it my legs just dangle off the front of the chair.

The back panel fitted to the uprights as well as the two top carved panels now in place. These needed quite a bit of adjustments as the uprights had warped considerably . Without resorting to trying to bend the uprights too much as this would have created quite a bit of stress on the entire piece when assembled and glued I was able to accommodate the pieces without too much twisting or clamping pressure. The less stress built into a piece, the better it’s chances of living a long life and not try to break itself apart.

And finally what I imagine you wanted to see, as well as myself, an overall view of the mocked up chair. At this point the small brackets, the Volutes as well as the roof aren’t installed as these will be fitted into place once everything else is glued up and set in position.





Yeah,, it’s come a long way,,,,

Hope you like it so far.

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