Deja Vu, part 2

I’m in the final stretch now. I wrapped up the carving of the Baby and Halo, sanded the piece and applied the finish. Same as the full size piece. I also made the Star and even added the small element behind it and covered it with 23K gold just as I did on the original.

Then I made what is essentially a  shadow box using the same wood, and framing it just as the original was completed. The main box is Birch with an Oak frame.  At this time the box and frame haven’t received the final sealer as they are only in stain at this point. But it’s close enough that you’ll see just what the final outcome will look like.

The completed carving with the sealer. Seeing it in my hand gives you a sense of the scale of the piece.

The finish looks rather nice.

I much prefer the look of a Satin finish as opposed to a gloss. Gloss I feel tends to cheapen the look by making a piece look embalmed  like some craft show decoupage cr*p  and in the process killing the beauty of the wood because of the gloss. Satin allows you to still see the wood giving it a soft sheen so you know it’s finished, but still looks silky. Even with the strong light so close the wood still comes through.

And the Star . Not shown with the small segments that fit into the corners that was gilded. Here I strayed from the original which I did in 4 sections and did this in one piece. It still looks similar enough and at this scale nobody will really care. I don’t think they’d care or even noticed that I did the full size piece in four sections.

Here you can see the niche concept by doing a shadow box type frame.

Came out fairly close. Not that it matters one bit, but the scale on the Oak frame would make this closer to 8 inches than the 6 inches on the full size piece. Doesn’t matter as this is just a desk or wall mounted  “3D picture frame” and not a scale model that has to be totally accurate. I guess it’s just my nature showing as I was curious as to how close I came. Silly. The final interior dimensions came in at exactly 5 X 7,,, just like a photo frame. I’m happy.

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Deja Vu,,,just smaller

I didn’t think I’d be revisiting this carving again. But just today I got a call from the Pastor and he had a request. Turns out he had the small sample I had done when I proposed this job but he gave it away. He had it mounted on his office door and everyone loved it.  Especially the donor for the large statue. Well the Pastor felt he  ( the donor)  should have the small carving as a memento to keep at home with him.

Now the Pastor was missing his carving and wanted to replace it with another. But this time we decided to make a miniature of the full size statue for his office. This way he could set it on his desk as you would a photo in a frame,, or mount it on the wall, again , as a picture frame. The plan is to mount this carving, done in the same Walnut as the full size carving, on the same style background  with some depth to it as if a shadow box and frame it with some Oak as the original was finished.

I started it tonight after dinner and at this point it’s only roughed in. As you can see the baby needs to be carved and then the rest of the piece gone over. It’s 6 inches in height and the thickness of the wood is just under 5/8ths inch. I think this is interesting for several reasons. The topic was brought up at one time in the comments as far as how thick a  carving should or could be to achieve “levels” and a look of depth.  The natural thought is that thicker is better. Not always. In this case having a thicker piece of wood would not look good considering the size of the carving. Any thicker than this and I might as well carve a 3D piece.

The other topic that came up recently as well here on the blog was finishing a piece. Not what type of oil, poly, wax etc. to use  but how to achieve a smooth finish on a carving prior to the sealing steps. The idea of a special chisel was considered as being the solution. I disagreed. I tend to think that the best chisel to clean up a carving is the very tool that made the cuts. It’s only natural since the chisel made the cut in a particular curve so use that same chisel to clean up after itself. Now in some cases you will use a similar chisel where you need to flatten ridges created by a deeper chisel,, but in most cases, the same chisel does the job just fine.

Now on this carving at this stage, it’s only roughed in. Lines need to be addressed, stop cuts cleaned  and a general going over to smooth out the main surfaces. As well as finish carving the Baby and Halo of course. But here you get the idea of the general look of my pieces as I’m working through them. Since this is so small it’s easy to keep the piece clean as you go. And truthfully, a piece this small doesn’t take much to clean up as you go in addition to the fact that once it’s roughed in, it’s pretty close to the final size. Not much more can or will be taken off.  Once my roughing in is completed I’ll resharpen my chisels that I used and go over it lightly to blend odd cuts ,smooth the facets , shear the stop cuts .

The thing is, carving clean should really start at the beginning as you’re setting in stop cuts. Paying attention to just how deep you set them with a mallet or by hand so they aren’t noticeable when you are finished. You don’t want to see the lines in the wood. The stop and paring cuts should meet at the exact same depth and point. When making the paring cuts to the stop cuts be careful not to over shoot the cut and leave chisel marks in the vertical sections. These areas are the most difficult to clean up well as opposed to the smoother curved surfaces of the rest of the carving. It’s in the bottom corners where the messes tend to be. Carve cleanly in these areas as it’s easier to finish it now than go back over the whole piece picking out fuzzies for hours on end. Do it right the first time , as they say, because their is never enough time to do it the second time. It’s just good carving practice to do it this way.

Here you can see the overall size of the piece coming in at just 6 inches.

Here you can see the relative thinness against my .5mm mechanical pencil. When areas get this thin delicate cuts and sharp tools are the way to go. Also, rather than making a truly vertical cut and risk the thickness of the chisel breaking off a thin piece such as this because it’s acting as a wedge, make a slanted cut instead. Once the waste wood is removed you can then shear down and make a clean vertical cut without pressuring the delicate detail you wish to keep. And yes, there is some cleaning up to do on some vertical areas where the grain tore out. Sharp chisels and careful shearing cuts will take care of these details with the final passes. Considering the scale,, and when you blow up the photo they don’t look very good,, but some of the stuff you see is the size of a grain or two of sugar. So,, not all that bad.

The same delicate area from the opposite side. The amount of wood at the very tip of the veil seems to be only a few slivers of wood grain. Easy to break off. The shadows are important to follow when carving. I generally use two lamps as I’m carving so I can keep playing with the shadows to see how the carving will read. The other reason for two is that many times your hands or tools are blocking the light as you’re making particular cuts and the second lamp illuminates your path if you happen to be blocking the light from the other lamp. Using only one lamp you’ll find yourself constantly moving it from cut to cut just to have the proper lighting. You need to see the shadows as well as illuminate the cut.

And why are these pictured? Well, just for fun . They were sitting on the bench since I made them today and figured I’d include them as well. The center one was an existing brush, in terrible condition and I restored that one by removing the knot and replacing it with a new one and cleaning up the rest of the handle. The other two I made the acrylic, spun them on my lathe and then fitted knots in them as well. These are three entirely different Badger Hair Knots.

I’ll post more photos of the carving as I get ready to sand it so you can see how I clean up a carving. After that point it’s sanding it, sealing it and then making the small star and frame. Should go quickly considering the time I have in it up to this point.

Stay tuned.

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Putting this knowledge base to use

For a while, I have been reading and following the carving projects on this site. I now have the time to really get into carving and started looking for a learning project. I’ve always liked the panel that you carved, Doris, but I don’t have a good place to start something that grand. When Mark posted his carving of Madonna and Child, it just hit me. Maybe it’s the time of year, or the religious symbolism or the fact that it’s so elegant in its simplicity – I wanted to try to carve a smaller version.

I went to our local lumber yard and picked up a slab of ‘mahogany’ – it felt pretty light, but I got it anyway. I think it’s actually called Philippine mahogany and seems prone to tear out. It does carve very easily. I sketched an outline of the ‘Madonna and Child’ on a 5-1/2 x 8 inch piece of 3/4 inch thick wood. I used a scroll saw to cut the outline and started making chips. I used these chisels – 2/5, 2/12, 5/8, 8/4 and occasionally a 5/12.

This is what the carving looks like at the present time. (Please click on fotos to enlarge)

I’m having a lot of problem getting the folds in the head-dress looking smooth and flowing. As you can see at the bottom of the head-dress, the folds do not look natural. I hung a towel and placed folds in it to use as a reference, but I’m having trouble getting the contours to flow into the right areas. 

The rest of the carving is not professional, but I feel pretty good about it. This wood is very prone to splitting – have to change direction many times when carving with the grain. The rest of the photos are trying to show the levels of relief in the carving. I had a lot of fun with the knees and bottom of the robe. Maybe I should push the carving more in this area?

I’m not done with the head/faces of the mother or the child, but I want to get you expert opinions before I go too far. Thank you for this opportunity and the time you all take to provide such great instructional material.

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Final installation of Madonna and Child

I did the final installation  of the panels in the niche and put up the carving for the final time. I took a few photos before it was covered as they didn’t want anyone to see it before the dedication with the Bishop.











I am so glad they took my advice and removed the white frame and replaced it with this oak.  The lighting worked out well. It was put on a dimmer to adjust to varying light conditions. I’ve been told it looks just beautiful in the evening when just this piece is lit.

Hope you enjoyed this piece.


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Madonna and Child

I got a call from a church that is nearing the dedication date of it’s current additions and renovations. They were wondering if it would be possible to commission a carving based on the design used for their logo which appears on their stationary, advertising etc.  They have a small space measuring approx. 34 X 44 inches and 11 inches deep that was originally intended to be used for a book shelf .  Their idea was not to use it as this , but as a space to “frame” a sculpture. I thought it was rather odd to begin with as this niche is pretty much front and center as you enter the main reception area. To me , it was a perfect spot for a carving.

So with little time to spare they sent me a copy of their logo. That day I redrew the design to a size I thought appropriate for the space. I also made up some stained wood samples of various shades and finishes as well as carving a small (6 inch) relief of what the finished carving would look like in white mahogany. I only used the mahogany because it was handy and would carve easily even though the final piece I anticipated would be done in Walnut.The following night , armed with my drawing, samples, and the carving I made a presentation to the committee. Since they had little time to spare they made a decision that night  and gave me the go ahead. This in itself is quite surprising for most committees based on my experiences with them.

The next day I picked up some beautiful 10/4 walnut, 10 inches wide and started prepping it for glue up. I made a block , based on the drawing that ended up 4 1/4 inches thick out of a total of 14 pieces. I decided against using stock 10+ inches wide even though the carvings width would only be at the max 24 inches wide and that would have required only two seams.

Based on their logo I also needed to make a star that ended up approx. 10 inches top to bottom. Here , as you’ll see in the photos I made it out of 4 pieces and inset a small section to make small points at the intersections that ended up getting gilded with 23K gold.

Once the block was ready to carve I used power to remove the bulk of the stock. Regardless how close you can get with the power there was still plenty of carving to do. It’s basically a simple relief  and playing with the levels really gave it some depth. I kept the overall carving smooth so as not to stray too far from the design as I feel this type of carving doesn’t lend itself to much detail. Instead it works by the interaction of lines and surface. Carving too much realism would only hurt it.. One small concession I made, which they agreed to simply for some interest was to have a chiseled surface on the veil as well as the halo. This gave a bit of interest and when properly lit will provide a bit of sparkle as the facets reflect light differently than the plain smooth surfaces. Speaking of lighting, which is what makes a carving work, they had lighting installed per my specifications to make this piece come alive . In the evenings when ambient lighting is low, this piece will look great.

Well here are some photos as I progress through the project and once I have it completed I’ll post the finished installation.

Here you can see the sample logo they gave me as a reference. Behind is the drawing I did for the presentation and ultimately my guide for glue up and carving.

Here is the last section of wood being glued into place before carving.

The full size drawing, which ended up at 36 X 24 inches and the beginning stages of carving after about 6 hours. Power allows you to find major forms quickly.

This is the back of the carving which I hollowed out. Since I did this, I kept a section which I used for mounting the piece to the backing panel. The section you see which looks like a bar across it has a bevel carved into the relived area. This in turn will sit on a matching bevel which I mounted to the panel to hold the carving. Being beveled it won’t slip off and this design automatically makes the carving pull tightly to the backing panel.

A close up of the finished head and veil on Mary where you can see the subtle chiseled finish on the veil only.

The area around Mary’s knees where you can see the various levels I made to show depth. Even with power, that’s quite a bit of wood to remove. You can also make out a small section of the halo and the chisel marks and rays I carved into it.

The bottom of the robe and veil. I especially like how the grain in the veil accentuates its movement.

This gives you a sense of scale along with the drawing in the background I used as my pattern. I love the look of gold especially against a wood such as Walnut.

And finally a look at the completed carving. Here it is mounted on what will become the backing panel in the niche. Currently the niche is finished with white melamine which is too harsh looking. This panel, as well as the 4 panels for the top and sides will be stained , though not very dark. They will remain somewhat lighter for a nice contrast.  As a final touch I suggested they also remove the white frame surrounding the niche and replace it with stained oak that is used in other areas of the church . Doing this , I believe, will make this piece look like a 3 dimensional art work with a traditional type frame.

I’ll post the final shots once the piece is completed and set in place. Hope you enjoyed it so far.

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Processional Crosses

You may remember the first Processional Cross I did for a Lutheran church. This one was done in a pierced, stylized design. In place of the corpus, as Lutherans tend to not favor a corpus on the cross , I used the symbol of the Lutheran Rose.  The cross was done in Mahogany with oil stain and a lacquer finish.

The second cross was just completed for a Catholic church. This one was also done in Mahogany in a more Gothic style design. They happened to have an old cross at the church with some history to it that had a cast copper Corpus and banner. I “recycled” this body to use on their new processional cross.

This cross as well was finished using oil stain, Gold leaf and a lacquer finish.

The Lutheran Cross.

And a close up of the Cross.

The Processional Cross for the Catholic Church with the Copper Corpus.

The back view of the Cross.

Processional Cross and Candle holders

This is a project for a Lutheran Church that I was commissioned to do. It’s a processional cross with a pair of matching candle holders to be used at the opening and closing of  their mass. It’s made of Mahogany with Maple ends on the cross. In the center of the cross, since a corpus isn’t generally used in these churches, I carved the symbolic Lutheran Rose instead. It’s applied with a bit of outlining on the cross itself.  And this Rose appears on both sides of the cross so it’s seen coming and going. The ends of the cross represent the Trinity. These are done in Maple and are mortise and tenon joints to fit them in place. The staff of the cross is generally square but has on the corners four “columns” that represent the four Evangelists.

I also built boxes to act as stands for the three pieces which will stay at the Altar . The candles will flank the Altar and the Cross will be off to one side after the procession at the beginning of mass.

Finish is oil stain with multiple coats of Lacquer.  Carving is minimal and was primarily done with a band saw and a scroll saw. The cross as well as the points in the ring are all half lap joints.

From the base of the staff to the top of the cross is 7 ft. The candle holders (2) are essentially the same as the section where the cross meets the staff. I used the same moldings on all three pieces. The only difference is there is a small turning where the candles are inserted in place of the cross. They stand just under 4 ft tall.

The main sections of the cross are 2 inches wide by 1  1/2 inches deep.

Here you can see the minimal carving done on the whole project in the Rose. It’s approx. 1  1/2 round by 1/2 inch deep.