Weekend Projects – Harvest Mouse

Monday 9 July 2018

This is a simple relief carving designed for the novice woodcarver. The idea is to introduce a carver to using a few basic gouges, thinking in three dimensions and holding the carving securely. Use as big a gouge as is practical and make sure your tools are very sharp throughout the carving. Careful selection of a gouge will make carving easier. For example, a No.9, 15mm gouge is suggested for the grounding of the area around the mouse. However, a No.2, 15mm could be used although it would be much more difficult. The carver should try different sizes and assess the effect. There are times when turning the gouge 'upside down', i.e. with the non-bevelled edge against the wood, is beneficial to give a better finish. However, you must be careful where the shape changes from convex to concave as the gouge will start to dig in.

The mouse in this design has been simplified, e.g. muscle lines have been left out. Before starting a carving it is beneficial, if not essential in some cases, to consult books, the Internet, etc. for further details.


Oak was used but any hardwood – e.g. lime (Tilia vulgaris) – could be used instead. In this example, the stock piece of oak was about 143 x 168 x 38mm with the grain running across. With the exception of the tail, this was the direction of the main components of the carving. Scale the design as required, although the size should not be smaller as it would become more difficult to carve


Before you begin, it is important to ensure that the carving is safely secured by holding it in a vice with a block underneath to support it and to ensure the level of the carving is above the vice or bench top. Using a No.11, 6mm straight gouge, carve a groove around the outside of the mouse, branch, etc. about 1-2mm from the line. Keeping the outside of the gouge on the line will leave the groove about 2mm from the line


Draw a line about 12mm from the top surface around the outside of the carving; this will be the initial depth of the background. Using a No.9, 15mm straight gouge with a mallet, remove the wood around the mouse, branch and leaves to a depth of about 11mm. Be careful around the points of the leaves as they could easily break off; if they do then reshape the leaf. Finish off using a No.2, 20mm straight gouge to the 12mm line


Using the No.11, 6mm straight gouge, make a groove around the mouse, including its tail and leaves on the branch. Be careful which side of the lines of the leaves the groove is made as some leaves are above others; the groove will be on the lower leaves. Using a No.5, 12mm gouge or similar, lower the branch to leave the mouse proud by about 6mm. The branch should be rounded at the edges but do not undercut. You can vary the branch level as required. Decide on the shape and level of the leaves and lower as necessary


Using a No.2, 15mm gouge, start to shape the mouse. Towards the end use the gouge 'upside down'. Remember to leave the two ears; the left one is slightly forward of the right one which gives a little movement to the mouse. Be careful with the tail – leave it fat at the end at this stage and then slim it down later. It may be at this stage that the background and/or branch needs to be reduced to give the mouse more depth. Any muscle lines around the ear and legs of the mouse can also be added


The ears should now be shaped and the eye carved in. The inner part of the ear is carved using a small No.8 or No.9 gouge. Gently stab the shape of the eye with appropriate gouges but not too deep. Should you go too deep there is the danger of 'pulling out' the centre of the eye when removing the gouge. Remove the wood around the eye so that it is slightly proud. Then, using a small gouge, round over the eye using the reverse side of the gouge. Repeat the process until the eye is at the required size. The tail can also be shaped and thinned towards the end. Take care where the grain runs across the tail so it does not break off. Note that the leaf veins have been marked in; this is for carving later. The main carving is now complete


All that needs to be done now is any undercutting, adding detail to the leaves and branch and deciding on the background finish. Note that the undercutting should be left until the final stages because if any part of the carving needs to be modified – e.g. lowered – then any undercutting will limit the amount of modification that can be made. Undercutting will provide shadows in appropriate light and help to 'bring the carving alive'. Use a small gouge to undercut around the mouse and round over. The branch, especially at the larger end at the lower left-hand corner, should also be undercut


Currently the leaves appear to be very thick. To achieve a more realistic thinness the leaves have to be significantly undercut. To minimise the danger of the tips falling off you could shape the leaves so that the tips are attached to the background or other parts of the carving


The veins also need to be added to the leaves. Use a small 'V'-gouge or veiner to carve the veins in


Next, texture can be added to the branch using a No.8, 4mm gouge and carving short and random strokes along the length of the branch


A decision must be made on the background. This can be made flat although this is quite difficult; any unevenness would clearly be seen once the carving is polished. Therefore, it is suggested that a tooled finish is left. In this example, the background has been improved by making some short and random strokes using a No.5, 12mm gouge


You should now go around the whole carving again and tidy up where necessary. A useful tip is to take some digital photographs of the carving as they often show up discrepancies. Finally, the carving should be sanded, going through the various grits and then finished with a sealer and wax, acrylic varnish or other appropriate finish. The final carving should look something like this