Monday 9 July 2018
Many years ago I decided to take something to whittle at whilst holidaying.
I'm not sure why, but I decided on a cat. Having drawn it, perhaps it was the flowing lines that appealed to me, or was it that I found the drawing of it easier?
Since then, my carving of the cat strolling down a brick wall has been admired at many exhibitions and as there are many people who are cat lovers, I decided that this might be a purr-fect project for readers of Woodcarving!
I have designed two versions now – this one in lime (Tilia spp)
as depicted in the step-by-step – and another which is a little smaller and features a differently styled wall, and is carved from jelutong (Dyera costulata) – see the end of this article for a photo of both the finished cats.
Photocopy the pattern to your desired size and transfer onto wood. Cut out the side profile on a bandsaw. If you decide to go with a smaller size cat, you will be able to cut this out on a scrollsaw. The area of wood under the belly and between the front paw and wall can also be cut out on a scrollsaw, but not on a bandsaw
Once the cat is cut out, turn it over and mark the shoulders, thighs and under belly onto the unmarked side using the dotted lines that have been indicated on the drawn pattern – points A and B
Remove wood at the point marked B using a chisel. You may have difficulty removing this section the deeper in that you go, so go as far possible and leave the rest until later. A drill could be used to remove some of this wood but may not reach all the way through. Note – if you drill from the original marked side and turn over to drill from the other side, DO NOT drill too close to the lines on this side, as your marks may not line up with those marked on the original side
Before we transfer the top view, draw a centreline from the front, across the top and down the back of the cat – this gives a datum point to work from, especially when marking the top view
Transfer the pattern onto the wood to give a top view of the shape of the cat – this is where the centreline comes in useful as you can match up the centreline on the wood with the centreline of the pattern. Then draw around the template
Steps 6 & 7
Weneed to shape the front legs so that each leg is only on one half of the cat. To do this, leave a little tolerance line for the chest then stab around the line, creating the chest area. Remove wood from where you are down to the centreline, leaving the leg stretched on the left side of the body
Next, we need to remove the wood from the leg touching the wall, but without removing the section between the wall and back of the leg until later – it will be much easier to do this when the legs have been shaped, allowing easier access into the area
Turn the cat over and remove wood from the leg that is touching the wall down to the centreline. Any tolerance sections can now be carved back to the original line drawn
Next, draw a tolerance line around the top view of the cat
As the wall is slightly wider than the cat, reduce the thickness of the cat. To do this, remove the wood from top of the cat's body to the top of the wall, and from the head to the tail. Remove wood down to the tolerance line first and, if satisfied with the shape, down to the actual line of the cat, except for the tail area, as this could break where the grain is shorter. Turn the cat over and remove the wood on this side. If you're not using a vice, you may need to use a clamp or sand bag, as the side you've just carved is uneven and will make carving awkward
It's now time to round the cat. Rounding an object is obtained by using the gouge at different angles, so a lower angle takes wood away from the top, and a steeper angle removes wood down the side. Remove a 45 degrees angle of wood on one side of the top view, then lower the angle so that it is lower on the top, and remove wood from here. Steepen the angle of the chisel to remove wood down the side of the cat. Repeat the above until you have a nicely rounded top view
Before doing too much work on the head, mark in the shape for the shoulders and thighs. Use a No.11 veiner to remove wood along the marked area. Remove wood each side of the shoulder/thigh so that the shoulder etc stands proud, and the wood taken away begins to give shape to the belly of the cat. Now, soften the blunt edges of the shoulders and thighs by rounding them
Continue rounding on legs, belly, chest and backside – still not touching the tail at this stage for the same reason as before. I found a skew chisel especially useful to get into difficult to reach areas
Shaping the head
Steps 15 & 16
Before shaping the head, draw in the jaw line. Use the veiner to mark out this area, marking right down to the centreline at the chest front. Begin rounding the head but don't remove between the ears. When the grain becomes interlocked around the neck area, use a No.11 veiner across the grain to remove the wood, and the skew to work under the neck/along the chest area. As the head is shaped, remember to make sure you create the cat's muzzle/nose – again a skew chisel is useful here as it is difficult to reach because the head is facing down and the wall is in the way.
Draw in the shape of all four legs – wider at the shoulder which narrows towards the ankle, and back out a little to create the pad of the foot. Remove the wood from the outer edges only
If you're totally satisfied with the overall shape of the cat, you can remove the wood to finish shaping the legs i.e. from the centreline to the inner line of the front legs
Shaping the head
Itâ€™s much more difficult to remove wood between the back legs and some of my students prefer that I cut the top step of the wall off, making access much easier. Alternatively, the legs can be shaped using chisels, but it requires patience and a bit of dexterity. A skew chisel and a bent spoon gouge is extremely useful for getting into areas such as these, as are riffler files to clean up the hard to reach areas
Remove the excess wood on the tail and then round it – try not to put too much pressure on the area of short grain, as this is liable to break. As the tail is curved it will be awkward to carve the shape in one go, so work from the backside to the dip in the tail, and then from the tip of the tail to the dip. Use a fairly deep gouge cut across the grain to remove the unwanted pieces of wood. Mark in the spine from head to tail and using a veiner, remove wood from each side of the mark, then soften the ridge that's left by rounding it
Finally, remove the wood from between the ears, and that completes the carving of the cat
Carving the wall
To create the effect of the wall, stab cut along the horizontal lines, then use a skew chisel to remove the corner edge of each side of the stab cut. Do the same on the vertical lines. Don't worry if your lines are not straight, as it gives more realism to the wall
Tidy up any unsightly cuts – I've left chisel marks on my cat for effect. If you wish to sand the cat smooth, then sand using 240, 400 and 600 grit abrasive
If you have a pyrography machine then you can use this to burn the top of the steps – this adds a different dimension to the overall appearance. When using the pen, don't keep it still too long – move it in all directions so that it creates a random effect
Seal the wall and cat using shellac sanding sealer. Paint on sparingly and make sure you use it in a well-ventilated room. As you paint it on, the liquid will raise the grain of the wood, making it feel rough so, using a very fine abrasive i.e. 600 grit, lightly sand the surface so that it becomes smooth again.
Finally, wax the whole thing. Do not wax into deep nooks and crannies, as it's difficult to get into these areas to remove the wax which will dry, leaving creamy white sections and spoil the finish.
Leave the wax on for about one hour and then briskly rub off so that your finger glides and does not drag over the wood. Apply a second coat of wax for extra protection, then take off as above
(PHOTOGRAPHS BY SHARON LITTLEY)