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Carving the Pattern

The only way I can think of to describe how the ends are cut into the pattern is to describe it as a series of levels.  To make it a little easier to understand how these levels relate to each other, I created this animated GIF that shows each successive cut:

Please note that the cuts shown are a bit deceptive, as the real thing would be slightly more curved. It's a bit abstract, so I took a series of photos while I roughed out the carving, showing what is about 10 minutes of work all together, then numbered them so I could discuss what I was doing for each.  Note that this is a roughing out of the shape, and not the finishing - I prefer to do all the finishing touches at once, so I got all of the ends to this stage, then went on to on to finish shaping all of them at once later.

I start by creating a scaled drawing of the intended shape in AutoCad, then print it out on some paper. I transfer that drawing to the wood using the printout taped to the wood in the proper place with a piece of carbon paper underneath, and trace the pattern onto the wood.  I touch that up with a pencil, and the result is shown in number 1.

In number 2 and 3, I use a quick gouge (a 1/4" #9) to outline the pattern on the side to be cut (this helps to keep the wood from splitting when I outline it later).  A V-tool would also be a great tool for this purpose - I'm not too fond of mine, so prefer the gouge.  

Number 4 shows me rounding the ends with a 3/4" #3, but I stay just shy of the line so I can trim it up later.  Number 5 show where I've outlined the top of the pattern with a 1/2" #5 gouge, tapping it lightly with a mallet straight down into the wood, directly following the pattern drawn.  At number 6, I've pared the carving down to it's first level (using a 1/2" #3), and trim it up a bit in the very top at number 7 with a 1/4" #3 and re-draw in the lines for the next level of carving, and started removing material from the center part using the same #3 gouge.

In number 8, I've completed removing the center portion of the fold, where the deepest cut is, and number 9 and 10 shows me removing the next level for the lowest parts of the folds, again using the 1/2" #3 gouge for most of the work.

Number 11 is where I've started working on making the groove in the panel come out level (using a 1/8" straight chisel), and the remaining are where I'm just trimming up the edges so they are close to their finished state, and where I'll leave them until they are all to this stage - here's a close up:

You can see the edges are still pretty rough, but the basic shape is there.  I didn't want to spend too much time putting the finishing touches on the carving until all were done so the level of finish remained consistent throughout.  That's easier for me to do if I tackle all of them consecutively from this stage.   Even then, I noticed that the ends vary quite a bit, but not too much as to be distracting.  The reason for the varying ends is probably mostly due to my inexperience, and I'm hoping I can do better as I do more.

Finishing Touches

Finishing up the carving mostly means going back and straightening out the edges so they don't look quite so ragged.  A little trick that makes this easier to do is to slightly under cut the edge, using a slight angle when working the vertical parts of the carving:

By the time you are to step 4, the remaining chip should fall out, leaving a nice, clean corner.  Slightly undercutting the edge will leave more of a shadow line, covering some of the ragged edge that might sometime remain from carving.  It doesn't have to be a great deal - just a few degrees off of perpendicular will do the trick.  It's more about the play of light on the form than the actual carving.

This photo was taken after staining and one coat of varnish, but I think it shows the finishing touches and what I'm talking about with the shadow lines better than the shots I made of the raw wood:

The finish is still wet, so the gloss is rather much in the picture, but it starts to show some of the shapes a little better.  Most of the "cleaning up" and undercutting was done with a small, shallow gouge (a 3/16" wide #3).  The entire affair was then sanded, then stained with a "golden oak" colored stain (to match the rest of the house), and varnished with 3 coats of satin finish polyurethane varnish.

OK, so it's not going to make the magazines, but this is really close up, so hopefully the reader will cut me a little slack...  You can see how important the use of light is for a piece like this.

The Finished Product

I don't think that it's fair to this part of the project without seeing the carvings in their finished place.  While not installed yet, these bi-fold doors are far enough along to show the effect of these simple carved panels in a more complete context:

I wanted to keep the doors fairly simple in nature, letting the grain of the wood, and the undulating curves of the linen fold panels do more of the talking.  Here's a shot of all 4 panels:

The varnish needs to dry for a few days, then I'll give it a final polish with a very light pass with some 600 grit sandpaper, some scotchbrite pads, some paste wax - then buff until it shines.  It's been a great project for both learning and getting some practice carving. 

Thanks for reading! 



On the Canadian Woodworking forum, member Darrell  tackled some linenfold panels using this article as a reference, coming up with a few new tricks along the way.  Have a read!