Weekend Projects – Breadboard

Monday 9 July 2018

I found this Victorian breadboard a few years ago in a junk shop. At first glance, the impressive carving looks rather busy and there doesn't appear to be any logic to the design. Nothing though could be further from the truth. Rather than present you with a fully carved and functional breadboard, this will be a work in progress piece, partially carved. It contains original pencil lines that set out the positions of the different elements. I have changed a few things to make the work my own and these will be discussed as we progress through the project.

Lettering style

The board features raised lettering, which was based on a pen-influenced Gothic script. It is a quality carved piece which would have taken time to reproduce, while presumably being manufactured in large numbers to make its production worthwhile. It reminds me of the ethos of the Arts and Crafts movement, which rebelled against machine-made products, preferring instead to encourage skills, proper training and job satisfaction for the craftsmen involved. It even takes the moral high ground, incorporating the proverb 'waste not, want not'.

Tools used:

Circular turned beech blank – 318 x 25mm

Profile shown can be given to a turner who can reproduce it onto the blank

Firmer chisel: D1/8

'V' parting tools: D12/2, 12/8

Gouges: D5/12, D5/8, D8/4, D8/10, D9/2, 3/22, 5F/8

Flat skew chisels: D1S/12, D1S/8

Veiner D11/1

Large 'off the flat', No.1, 25mm dia.

Small carpenter's chisel, 5mm wide

Small forward bent tools


HB and 6H pencil

Tracing paper

Masking tape

Paper and graphite stick

Plasticine or modelling clay

Reference image

Multi-slope or workbench

Jig for multi-slope or workbench

Pigment liner pen – 0.1mm

A pair of compasses

Measuring callipers

Straight rule

Depth gauge or homemade version

Health and safety equipment

Copying a design

If you want to copy someone else's design you may well need to get permission. In the UK, copyright relating to artistic work – other things vary – lasts for 70 years after the death of the creator, or 70 years after the date of creation. However, you should always check the regulations before beginning a copy of a design. If you have the necessary permissions in place and access to the original, then there are several ways it can be copied. I was fortunate enough to own the original breadboard so I was simply able to make a rubbing for reference using a graphite stick. This valuable source of information was hanging on the wall in front of me as I worked on the carving. It also came in handy for the occasional calliper measurement when these were required.


Either reproduce the template drawing to a scale that suits you, draw your own version or source a similar breadboard and copy that. The original designer cut the work in half by repeating all of the elements of the carving. This means that you only need to draw half of the breadboard.

Transferring the design to the beech blank


Place the beech blank into the jig and mark the centreline. Then, using a rule, mark the positions of the carving elements. Use photocopies of the design to trace the two identical halves onto the blank


Use a very fine pen to carefully draw the design on to the blank

The lettering


Trace the lettering onto the beech blank – Fig 3a and 3b. Even when copying a design, you can still adapt it to suit your personal taste. For my board, I decided to do my own thing as regards the design of the lettering. I understood the logic, for instance, of having a bar across the top of the 'W'. This reflects a Germanic-looking Gothic letter, and as a carving structure it was probably less vulnerable to pieces being broken off. Slightly ironic, perhaps, as one of the 'W's on the original board was damaged – Fig 3c. It was not to my taste though, and similarly the 'S' I felt also needed changing – Fig 3d and 3e


Fix the wooden blank firmly to the multi-slope or carving bench


I won't go into detail about carving the floral elements of the design, however the junctions where they meet the lettering shields are very important. Carve one of the flowers and a wheat sheaf first, starting at the highest point and working down to the base level on the floral carving. Then reverse this when carving the lettering, starting at the base level and working your way back up


Using the appropriate 'V' tools, separate the differing elements of foliage and shields while at the same time dropping the levels of the carving – Fig 5a. Be bold at this stage and try to put yourself into the mindset of the original carver. Their carving, due to familiarity, was lively, done quickly but accurately. Using tools such as the large 'off the flat' 3/22 you can move things along quickly – Fig 5b. At this stage you might feel it a good idea to do some additional practice using scrap timber


Carve the floral decoration, or at least the junctions of where it meets the lettering shields


It's time to tackle the letter carving. On the original board, the turning of the blank produced grooves that separated the working part of the breadboard and the carved decoration. Using a depth gauge, find your base and top level measurement. The original measurement was approximately 6mm


Decide on the height of your lettering and then, using the small 'V' tool, isolate the lettering by enclosing it in a box


Using the small firmer chisel you can start to cut out the letters, while levelling the background at the same time. This is done with a combination of chopping down and then removing the section. One thing to be aware of is that as you move around the turned blank working on different parts of the carving, you will also be cutting in different directions, so the direction of the grain will be changing for you. If your tools are not razor-sharp or if you are slightly aggressive it is very easy to split off a piece of timber that was meant to stay. These letters are very vulnerable particularly at the corners if there are short grain issues, so it's worth taking some care – Fig 9a and 9b


By angling the cut of the firmer chisel most of the timber between the letters can be removed – Fig 10a. Take care that you don't go too deep or damage the wall of the adjacent letter. Use a small forward bent chisel or two to finish off the cut neatly, and keep a pencil handy to adjust the carving if things have gone awry – Fig 10b. A small carpenter's chisel will also be very useful – Fig 10c. Use the skew chisels to access those tricky inaccessible corners


When the lettering is complete, add the borderline using the veiner


Photographs Fig 12a and 12b show the breadboard completed to a stage I was happy with, showing all the different processes, from inception to completion of the carving