Monday 9 July 2018
Chip carving has been described as the fastest and easiest way to decorate wooden objects – not to mention its attractive and enjoyable qualities with endless design possibilities. As with all handwork, practicing the rudiments of chip carving techniques, such as how to hold a knife properly and execute basic chips, will give a beginner the courage and confidence to proceed with a first project.
A beginning project should contain elements already learnt, along with the challenge of combining them with new techniques. When newly starting a chip carving project, attention needs to be given to the accuracy of both drawing and carving alike.
Since the drawing or layout for chip carving is the road map that will guide your carving along smoothly, it is most helpful if the drawing is complete and accurate. It is not necessary to always have a line for every cut to be made, but the more complete the drawing, the better idea you'll have of how the finished carving will look. All proportions should be indicated, so start and finish points for carving are known. Furthermore, since it is the nature of chip carving to normally have motifs repeated and expressed by or within geometric shapes, the repeated geometric shapes should all be of the same size and configuration. If the design calls for a circle, an 'almost round' figure won't do, no more than 'nearly straight' suffices for a truly straight line. Preciseness is one of the qualities of outstanding chip carving.
Chosen for this beginning project is a rosette with only three different motifs to carve. From a design viewpoint, it is a balanced contrast between a positive and negative approach to chip carving with geometric and organic motifs. The project is executed on a 200mm (8in) beaded flat basswood (Tilia americana) plate. This wood has a clear, tight grain, and is an excellent selection for chip carving. Lime (Tilia spp) is also suitable for this project. When carving a plate, it is best to orient the design with the grain running horizontally. Though subtle in this case, horizontal grain lines suggest a restful attitude and will not be visually intrusive at a subconscious level with the carved design, as vertical or diagonal grain lines tend to be.
Drawing the rosette
To begin, find the centre point of the plate (see photo 2). While there are several ways this may be accomplished, using a centre-finder is the easiest. Once the centre point is established, divide the plate into quarters (see photo 3) and draw the outer circle of the rosette with a 160mm (6 1/4in) diameter. This size rosette will proportionally fit the plate nicely.
Next, divide the quarters equally, establishing eight equal sections of the circle (see photo 4). Choosing any one of the lines drawn, set your compass point on that line with an opening that will touch the outer circle and the two adjacent lines with a single setting. Now draw an arch touching all three points (see photo 5). Repeat this procedure with all eight lines.
Using the same compass points on the lines, shorten the compass opening by 5mm (3/16in) and draw a second arch beneath the first, stopping at the same point as the first arch (see photo 6). With a straightedge, draw a line connecting all points of the shortened arch to the centre point of the rosette (see photo 7).
Drawing the fan motif
By hand, divide each fan motif area into four equal sections (see photo 8). Lightly draw a guide line 5mm (3/16in) below the top line of the fan motif and pencil in the four darts within each fan motif (see photos 9-10).
Positive image leaf motif
With a small piece of tracing paper placed over the positive leaf section of the rosette and held firmly with removable tape, trace the outline of this area (see photo 12). Being able to see through the paper will make it easier to place it in the proper position when transferring the design to the wood. Design within this area an uncomplicated leaf that flows easily (see photo 13). The leaf should fill this area by having its blade sections touch the outside lines of the geometric shape in which it is drawn, giving the impression of a leaf, fresh and lively. If the leaf is drawn smaller than the area in which it is placed, it may appear to be withering. Also, when drawing the veins, put a bit of curve in them, indicating flow and movement. When designing, be sure the chips being drawn can be carved. Chips that are too large or complex should be avoided.
There are two ways to easily transfer the leaf design from the tracing paper to the plate. After placing the tracing paper in position on the wood and securing it, slip graphite paper – not carbon paper – under it and with a stylus, trace the pattern onto the plate (see photo 14). Another way to transfer from paper to wood is to place the drawing, pencil side down, and trace the pattern with a stylus. The pencil line will transfer to the wood. To facilitate this method, use a soft lead such as grade B in the pencil when drawing the leaf. Be aware using this method will reverse the pattern.
In the area above the leaf motif, draw a small diamond in the centre (see photo 11). When finished this will become a stylized flower.
Carving the fan motif
Since the fans of the rosette are the most difficult of the three motifs to be carved because of their deeper cuts and many sharp ridges, I suggest doing them first.
The large chips of the fan are removed by a method called 'stacking' – this is done by having only the two outside chips brought to the centre point at the bottom of the fan to define the motif (see photos 15-16). The two inside chips are held short of the centre point, or 'stacked' just above the outside chips (see photo 17).
Stacking will greatly minimise the possibility of splitting out wood not intended to be removed, while having all four chips appear to converge at the same centre point.
The smaller chips at the top of the fan are removed the same as would be done with any simple three cornered chip, making the first two cuts away from the larger chips already removed (see photos 18-19).
Carving the small flower
The small stylised flower above the leaf is a nice accent contrasting in size to the leaf. The chips on either side of the flower are of the same configuration as the larger fan chips and the cuts that remove them are made in the same sequence (see photo 20). Once the diamond shape of the stylised flower is revealed, notch the diamond by reaching over the centre and making two cuts forming a small V-chip on all four sides (see photo 21).
Carving the leaf motif
The first cut of all the chips that will reveal the leaf is made by cutting the leaf outline, being aware that the width of the chip will determine the depth of the cut (see photo 22). This cut will be made with the blade cutting away from the leaf design. In essence, make this cut by tracing the outline of the leaf. The cuts that free or relieve the chips around the leaf, are made by cutting on the line that defines the geometric shape in which the leaf is drawn (see photo 23). As with all chip carving, do not cut any deeper than is necessary to relieve the chips.
The last cuts to finish the rosette will be the ones creating the veins. These cuts are very shallow, for the veins should be made fairly narrow so as not to dominate the appearance of the leaf (see photo 24).
The finished carving should express the elements that make chip carving attractive – single facet cuts, sharp ridges, no wood particles left in the grooves, all drawing lines erased, and a well balanced design (see photo 25).
Because chip carved pieces often are functional and may be handled frequently, it is recommended that a finish be applied to prevent fingerprints and dirt accumulating over a period of time. Finishing will provide a protected surface that can be dusted and cleaned without harming the wood. Finishing will also enhance the beauty of both the wood and the carving.
Today there are a number of products on the market that will finish a carving nicely, particularly if it is to have a natural finish. If a carving is to be stained, a gel stain may be recommended for it will not tend to bleed into end grain as liquid stains are known to do when softer woods such as basswood are used. It is also recommended when staining to first run through the procedure on a trial board of the same wood to avoid surprises and possible disappointment.