Oak Church Carving

I had posted this job a while ago and have now wrapped it up. It required 4 capitals, 6 large and 4 smaller Fleu de Lis’ ,a Cross and 72 Crockets for the Spires. This was the first time working for this company who is doing the primary woodwork, finishing and installation.

Now I don’t imagine they have much background making up pieces for woodcarving considering the blocks they prepped for me. Let alone the time frame they gave me. Initially  I was to have 3 months for this project giving me more than enough time. As it turned out I didn’t hear from them for some time as they indicated there were details to work out with their client. Fine. Then one day out of the blue without warning the called and said how soon can you pick up the pieces and start carving.  “We need this done within 1 1/2 months” . Great! Did they ever consider I had other work in the shop with their own deadlines that I had to complete first while I was waiting for them to get their act in gear? And then after a couple of weeks into the project they called and asked if they could pick up the pieces. And,,,my time frame just got shorter. Rather than the end of the month,, they needed the rest of the pieces a week to two weeks earlier for final fitting, staining etc. as they now moved the installation up a bit.  It’s always the carver that gets the short end of the stick, but I got it done with a day to spare. Sure,, after giving up sleep and going from 9 AM to 2 Am almost daily.

The blocks as I mentioned. Why glue up massive blocks such as the capitals (12 inch square X 11 high) when most all of it needs to be removed?  The Fleur de lis ,,6 inch blocks. And they needed to be 2 inches X 5 inches.  The cross, the main members are 2 1/2 inches square with blocks at the end for the ball shapes. They prepped a massive cross using 4 inch blocks. Why? Make up a cross out of 2 1/2 inch stock ,, and add blocks for the ball shapes. And don’t glue it all together as they did the original piece. They were supposed to call me when it came time for carving blocks,, but that never happened. So I made them redo the cross at least while I was there.

Anyway,,, here is the project,

This is the main part of the Altar. There are also two side altars that are niches for statuary that look like the arched area in this shot.



The blocks they prepped for the capitals.


The spires which will receive the Crockets in the small flats along the edges.


The box of 72 – 1″ X 1″ X 2 1/2 ” blocks for the Crockets.

The other pieces were just simple blocks for the Fleur de Lis, but here you can see how I started to prep the blocks for the capitals. I used my table saw to cut lines ( after determining the profile) along each side of the block. I started where the large curls would be to establish a given line. I then kept moving down the block, cutting depth lines to the profile I had determined and then using a large chisel from the bottom up, I just pounded off each layer of wood. After getting a square profile I used some power to round everything off.

Unfortunately I was so wrapped up in this and pressed for time that I don’t have shots of actually carving the blocks. But using templates I was able to locate each element, use more power to rough everything into basic locations and then carve it all with my chisels to the final shape. Templates for this work is very important as you need to have everything on each side of the capital look the same as well as from piece to piece. Without them there would be too much room for error.



Here are some of the templates I made. On the left is the profile for the capital. To it’s left is the template to lay out the patterns for the leaf design as this had to be repeated 6 times on each capital. Next to that is the template for the Fleur de Lis. Above that is the template for the small leaf design that fits between the large curls that extend from each corner of the capital.

And a finished capital. I also made templates to define the outlines of the leaves and how the ‘V’ section for the middle area gets defined.


The finished ( some sanding of course) capitals.


Nothing dramatic here. Transfer the design from the pattern to the wood, band saw it , carve it.

The finished Fleur de Lis.

The finished cross sitting on the cap’s.

For the Crockets I made these profiles, top and side, to allow me to band saw them first

Here I band sawed the top and side profiles on each of the 72 crockets. That’s 15 cuts for each keeping the parts in place with an incomplete cut to facilitate cutting from different sides, then 5 cuts to release all the parts. That’s over 1400 band saw cuts just to get them roughed out. One,, two,,, that leaves 1398 more to go,,,,I must be nuts.


Once the pieces were cut on the band saw, I made this frame/jig to hold them so I could use my duplicator to further rough them out. I carved a model in some scrap wood ( NOT OAK!) , hardened it with CA and used that to start the process. I also made indexes to locate each block in exactly the same spot by using the table saw to make a channel for the blocks to sit in and then only had to locate a hole in each one in the exact same spot using a jig on my drill press so they located the same on each and every piece. Now the duplicator was only able to cut one side at a time. So after doing all the pieces on one side, I was able to reverse the pieces in the jig and then cut the second side. Trust me, there were lots of steps to make these stupid things.

Once out of the duplicator and rough sanded to shape and eliminate the router marks I made this jig to hold the little buggers. Here I made a template that matched the mortise on the corner of the spire to transfer the carving marks to the crockets to keep them uniform and eliminate  much carving when installed.

Once the area where it sweeps into the corner of the spire was done, I was able to flip the jig on it’s side, carve the details of the ball shape, flip it over and carve the other side as well as the area under the “hooded” area. Again,, I had to do this process how many times for each? Turned out , even though it’s oak, I was able to knock these out in 3 minutes each. OK,, not too bad but I’m still not done with them as they have to be installed and do the final carving. Believe it or not, each crocket had it’s OWN LOCATION on each spire! These guys know how to drive me nuts.

Here they are all glued into position awaiting final carving /sanding to get them to blend perfectly. Well, the two on the left are done, but still, how many more to go?

Not finished here but it shows how they have to appear to sweep up out of the corner of the spire.



Finally they are done. Now call them and get them out of here as I’m tired of looking at them!


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Roseanne and Shu Amano
    Jan 22, 2012 @ 22:16:59

    Beautiful work and explanations !!


  2. markyundt
    Jan 23, 2012 @ 00:30:28

    Thank you very much. I always appreciate kind words from our visitors.
    I’m sure there could be more to the explanations but there is enough to at least give you the general idea of what happened and how I got from point A to point B. Plus , for any of you out there doing this work,, well,, you don’t need my help to explain how to do it. Most of it is making it up as you go along because few of my jobs are ever the same. But the ideas are there for someone to use something, or spur an idea for your own carvings and solutions.
    Thanks again,


  3. George
    Jan 23, 2012 @ 23:11:06

    Hi Mark,

    This is a great piece of work, both the carving and the explanation of how you did it. You’ll have to post images of the alter in place…

    Thanks for sharing it.



  4. markyundt
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 01:38:43

    Thank you George, very kind of you to say. Yes, the next time I ‘m in Phila. and the piece is done I’ll certainly get some photos. Most of my work goes to places I can’t visit so I rarely get to see the final installation.
    I’m glad you found the text and photos interesting but I have to admit, I thought I was lacking in more photos to better show the entire process. Sometimes I just get caught up in the process and simply forget to snap a few pics along the way.
    Thanks for visiting and dropping a note!


  5. Joel
    May 12, 2012 @ 06:20:15

    I have a friend who can do church woodcarving. Do you know of any jobs available?


    • markyundt
      May 12, 2012 @ 18:10:41

      Well Joel, since I’m a woodcarver, specializing in church work,if there are any jobs available most likely I’d be taking them myself. I’ve spent quite a bit of time ( 25 yrs ) cultivating my business and clientele list to establish myself and provide an income for my family and not giving business away. I have no idea of the quality of your friends work to blindly give leads to my clients and rightfully expect them to be satisfied.
      And if you have a friend who is interested in carving and finding work, why not let him contact me directly? Have him send me photos of the work he has done. If he is not so much interested in doing his own work and projects is it that he is interested in working for a wood shop? The question is a bit ambiguous.
      If I’m misreading your question, I apologize. But giving away work , in this economy isn’t something one can be expected to do. Regardless of the nature of the business. Getting quality leads is a cherished commodity as your friend must be well aware of.
      Truthfully, if the question is about working for a woodworking shop as an employee or sub contractor, then the prospects of employment are rather slim.


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