Bishops Crest

In the Diocese’s there is a new Bishop. I’ve been commissioned by the outgoing Bishop to build a new Altar and Tabernacle to go into his private residence and for the new Bishop to carve a new crest for the presiding chair in the main Cathedral. Now as Crests go,,there is much symbolism. Each Bishop  has his own motto and coat of arms.

On the coat of arms,, or crest ,, you will find that on one half is the symbolism for the Doiceses and the other half is the crest of the presiding Bishop. Well I was sent the coat of arms for the new Bishop and asked to carve the entire crest with his coat of arms included. This means that one half of the design will be for the Dioceses’ and the other half the new ,, or sitting Bishop as I have said.

So somehow,, they found someone design a coat of arms for the new Bishop,, and it’s my job to work it into a design to be carved. Why they  just didn’t ask me from the beginning is beyond me,, but they gave me a design to use. Fine,, saved me some trouble,, but most designs don’t translate well to a carving. So I took their design ,, modified it , and incorporated it into a carving. It was OK,,, just not what I like to see. And this design will be used on all stationary and correspondence from the Diocesean offices. Great!

And of course, as I joked on another site,, just my luck they will expect this design to be carved into a panel,, going above the Bishops chair,, in a 6 X 6 panel. Well I wasn’t far off. They have a complex design that is going into a panel not 6 X 6,, but 7 1/2  X 8 inches… BUT,,, the new Bishops crest has to be in one half of that panel… so I have roughly 3 3/4 inches to carve an Eagle,, an axe,, and three medallions showing a fish.. a  set of keys,, and a rose.   Great! My worst expectations were exceeded!

And to top it all off, the panel will be carved into 1/2  inch of wood,,,out of which I can use  only 1/8 inch of carving!  Actually it came out to be 5/32 of an inch.  So what? You sneeze or hiccup while carving a thitry second of an inch,, and it’s all gone. What’s an additional thirty second really mean in carving? Nothing. You sand that much away. Oh ,, this will be fun to pull off.

Now as i said I didn’t think the design ( for the shield) was all that great. I made a few changes within limits. Ultimately I think the design is a bit too busy for traditional Heraldry as well as what has to fit into this specific location. But,, who am I to argue.

I did the entire piece,, but I’m only showing the main crest and the motto  scroll across the bottom. This isn’t intended as a tutorial,, a how to carve a crest or shield type of post,, but more of what can be pulled out of a limited amount of wood and still have it look decent. To me , that’s the interesting part. If anyone has questions as to how anything else was done you can easily post a question or comment and I’ll be glad to answer. But you’ll see,, what the other elements to make the design are pretty much straight forward. Get a scroll saw,, cut out the design,, carve some rope a few tassels and there you go.

But the reason I like the Crest part so much is the relative size of the piece,, and I’m currently carving the Tryptich as well. Now here is a juxtaposition. In one piece ( Tryptich) I have what seems like a lot of wood, relatively speaking. Each door panel is a bit over 2 ft. wide and almost 6 ft tall in a max of almost 2 inches thick. In this as you might have seen I’m carving Adam, Eve, the tree with the Serpent and a variety of foliage. At the same time I shift to carving an Eagle, an axe in his talons, and three medallions on his chest and wings that show a fish,, two crossed keys and a rose in an area that’s 3 3/4 inches X 6 inches in just over an eighth of an inch of wood. If I loose an eighth on the Tryptich,, not a major problem,, here,, that’s the entire carving. And in relative terms of depth to overall size the relationship is pretty close. I have just as much wood here,, as I do there,relatively speaking. The amount of depth  for the size of the eagle is only relative to these proportions. And given it’s size,, I think it reads pretty well.

The other thing I think is curious is the tools are the same to carve both. The very same tools I use to carve a large panel.. mallet and all,, are the very same tools I used to carve this relief as well. I don’t use palms or micro tools,,I feel there is no control in them. And in a piece as small as this I need control and accuracy. As you go through some of the photo’s you’ll see a rose in one of the medallions.  This rose was carved in the thickness less than a dime… and that same dime can cover the entire rose. That’s getting fairly small but the smallest tool I used was a 5 mm #8 ,, the same one used on the Tryptich. Now,, given the size,, there is only so much you carve in the thickness of a piece of paper or two. But given these parameters it too still is recognizable for what it is,, wood fibers have to have some thickness as well and it’s pretty hard to carve just half of one.

The one other thing that might be odd to some is I don’t use straight chisels very often,, if at all. I tend to stay away from them unless it’s a very short straight line that the entire chisel can cover.  All the straight lines on the carving were done with a curved chisel,,, and you’ll also see that all the curved stop cuts were done with a fairly flat chisel ( like a #2 for example) Common sense tells me to use a curved chisel to make a curved stop cut. It can be used ,, depending on the particular cut.. but sometimes not nearly as well. And a straight chisel can cause more problems trying to make a straight line than a curved chisel will. And for an area such as grounding the flat areas behind the raised carving,, here too I will not use a flat chisel. It makes a mess. I use a curved chisel.

Got it? Makes sense right?  For a while I didn’t think so either until I tried it. For a straight line ,, use a curved chisel,, for curves use an almost flat chisel,, and for a flat area,,use a curved chisel,and for small carvings,, use large full size “mallet” tools. Why,, because it’s easier in all respects. If there was an easier, faster, more accurate way,, I’d be doing that instead. See what happens if you’re self taught. You don’t do anything like your supposed to do. You always are looking for better ways to accomplish things. And when you get to see some photographs.. you’ll see just how well this can work,, and what the results you can achieve.

Enough talk,, lets see some pictures. As a reminder,, the photo’s bordered in red can be clicked on to enlarge them. I didn’t do this for all the photo’s , just the one’s that are a point of interest that pertain to the story.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Doug Duffield
    Nov 30, 2009 @ 16:49:55


    Very nice. I appreciate the changes you made to the original drawing to enhance the depth of the carving – not to mention avoiding some hard to work areas. I like the way you showed the use of a #2 chisel to make circular cuts on the cross area. Now for a dumb question – how do you control the depth of a stop cut that small? I mean, even with great care, the resistance of the fibers change as you go around the circle and it is difficult to ‘read’ the pressure. I know that experience plays a big factor, but you had to learn someway.

    Another question – how did you get into the really tight corners of the rope to clean up to depth? I understand that a #2 can be used to work into a small area, but those areas are really small! The background is so clean, flat and finished to all edges of the rope, tassels and hat. What a great job!

    Burnishing the gold and silver on the wood – it is basswood, right – without compressing the surface shows yet another of your talents. Really great job all the way around!

    Thanks for the step by step that shows you can do a small job with large tools!


  2. Mark
    Nov 30, 2009 @ 17:39:29

    By comparison the cuts on that circular cross area are actually quite DEEP compared to carving the Rose. The Rose was literally just fibers thick to get a relief carving out of it in an area the size of a dime,but not as thick as a dime. Done as well with full size chisels.
    How do you do it? Keep the chisels sharp and you just GENTLY make stop cuts. Here is where having two hands on the tool allows you absolute control over depth, direction etc. as you don’t want to press too hard thereby leaving chisel marks on the flat ground area by overshooting the stop cut. That leaves messy edge marks all around the design which are difficult if not impossible to remove. So it’s just careful , controlled, use of the tools.It’s the “feel” that you develop with time and experience. It’s subtle,,but the tools tell you when they’ve reached the bottom ( ground) where they need to stop. And as you correctly saw, as you go around the circle the grain is constantly changing. This affects the cuts in at least two ways. One, how the top edge of the design will stay crisp and clean as grain changes the way the chisel severs the wood here. And two, when the chisel is cutting across the grain there is more resistance,but when the chisel is making a stop cut along the grain, well it slips in very easily by comparison. Knowing this,, and feeling your way by what the tools tell you , you adapt your pressure etc. to compensate. At the least you can sneak up on it and make these cuts in two passes if you’re uncertain. This though presents at least two variables I am aware of. Some good some bad.
    You get into tight corners from several directions and vary the tools to suit what you need to do. You do realize the Shield, rope and hat are mounted on a separate board? That wasn’t carved. I only carved these pieces and applied it to an existing panel.
    The gold and silver were applied over primer and paint ,not to the bare wood. Once you paint this stuff it does toughen up a bit. And the amount of burnishing is minimal at best , usually none is needed at all. Depends on the type of gilding you’re doing and what the outcome, and the piece is dictates if it gets burnished.
    Thank you for your comments and questions, the nature of them indicates you have a good eye as well as insights and thoughts about the whole process. This will serve you well with your carving. It’s not often that I find that and it reflects on my idea that after all the posting etc.. just let me find ONE person that I can connect with…. Good job!


    • Doug Duffield
      Nov 30, 2009 @ 17:58:38

      Well, applying the rope and hat to a separate board does remove some of the problem of tight corners to a flat surface. I wondered if that was not the process, but I didn’t know.

      And I completely missed the rose! That did take a lot of patience and finesse to complete. Very impressive!


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