Weekend Projects – Leaf-shaped Bowl

Monday 9 July 2018

This article is a simple leaf-shaped bowl to introduce beginners to woodcarving. The idea is to introduce a carver to use a few basic gouges, thinking in three dimensions and holding the carving securely. The carving should take about a day to carve. The gouges referenced in the box opposite are those used but any suitable gouge could be used; some alternatives are indicated where appropriate.

It is always recommended to use as big a gouge as practical. Ensure your gouges are sharp throughout the carving, as this will help you yield the best results.

The idea is for the beginner to enjoy carving. However, there are some basic safety rules which the carver should adhere to. Primarily, keep your work space tidy, secure your carving, keep your hands behind the sharp edge of the gouge, never carve towards yourself, and lastly, never try to catch a falling carving gouge. Sharp tools are safer than blunt ones as more effort is required with a blunt tool and this may result in the gouge slipping.


For this project, you will need a piece of lime (Tilia vulgaris). The piece used was 175mm long x 75mm wide x 50mm deep. The actual size and shape can vary to suit the wood available. Scale the drawing to the required size. Use a bandsaw to cut the leaf out. On the top surface mark a line about 5mm in from the edge for the initial inner boundary of the bowl; this thickness will decrease as the bowl progresses. Mark the location of the stem, although this marking will be removed during the initial carving but should be redrawn at frequent intervals


Use a vice to hold the wood safely; placing a block of wood underneath the blank would give it better support and raise it above the top of the vice. Using a No.11, 6mm straight gouge, carve a groove around the inside of the line. It does not have to be exact as at a later stage the walls of the bowl will be reduced in thickness. Using a No.8, 19mm straight gouge with a mallet, hollow out the bowl to the required depth and shape. Keep marking the stem in and note the use of non-slip material on the bench


Using a No.5, 12mm straight gouge, rolling the gouge as you cut – or a No.38, 12mm spoon gouge – may help to get a curved shape at the bottom. Remember to leave the basic shape of the stem in the bowl. Do not go too deep as you need to leave some wood for the bottom plinth. As you continue to refine the inner surface there is the tendency to allow the gouge to dig in at the bottom and thus necessitate the removal of some wood at the base, which may result in a hole


Once the inner surface has been roughly defined, turn the block over and mark the initial shape of the plinth. This shape may change as the carving progresses. In this example the shape is parallel to the outer surface and about 12mm in from the sides and 12mm deep


Holding the wood safely, use a No.11, 6mm straight gouge to carve a groove around the outside of the plinth line. Using a No.2, 25mm straight gouge upside down, shape one side of the outer surface reshaping the plinth to a deeper depth if required. Note the stem at the back has been left at this stage


Continue to shape the other side. In this example, the leaf shape has a slight curl-in at the stem end. Depending on the shape of the plinth required, you may, using a No.5, 12mm straight gouge, need to run around the side of the plinth. This will, in effect, give a curved or undercut shape to the plinth and allow the bottom to be shaped in towards the centre of the bowl. Using a No.2, 25mm straight gouge, the underside of the leaf point can be shaped. This may result in the reshaping of the plinth at this end


Turn the leaf back over and refine the inner surface. If you hold the leaf in a vice, do not close it too tight as the leaf sides are now much thinner and weaker. Thin the sides as required, using the No.8, 19mm straight gouge. A No.11, 6mm straight – or curved – gouge may be needed on the inner surface at the pointed end, a No.11, 12mm straight – or curved – gouge in the region of the stem. Ideally the wall thickness should be uniform and about 2mm, however from a practical point of view the thickness will probably increase moving from top to bottom


Shape the stem running along the bottom of the inner surface. Shape the top surface of the bowl if required. Where any wood has been removed from the top the wall thickness may increase and thus further removal of the inner and outer surface of the bowl in that area may be required


The external part of the leaf stem can now be shaped. In this example, it has be shaped so it is hanging over the leaf and drops down vertically. Note that this creates a weak point due to the short grain, so care must be taken. You will also need to redefine the back of the bowl so the stem sits more realistically, and not over the leaf. It is up to the imagination of the carver


Now go over the complete carving and clean-up as much as possible with gouges. Sometimes using a gouge as a scraper will help to remove some bad areas but be careful that the corners of the gouge do not 'dig-in' and create even more areas to clean up. To overcome this 'shaping' the cutting edge of the gouge will help – see Mike Painter's article in Woodcarving issue 137. Then using various grades of abrasive media, the bowl should now be sanded down to provide a smooth inner and outer surface. Traditional sandpaper should be avoided as it may leave grit on the carving and damage a gouge if any recarving is required


Once sanded, the bowl can be finished with a sealer and wax, or a vegetable oil could be used, especially if the bowl is to be used to hold food items like peanuts


The completed bowl should look something like this