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Carving and Sculpture

“Words… ” box

Bob Easton - Mon, 03/16/2015 - 2:35am

closeup of lid inscriptionWords are our most inexhaustible source of magic.

My wife, a linguist, lifelong student of many languages and an English pronunciation teacher was immediately enchanted when she first heard these words.

The box is for her, with two inscriptions making it a very special box. The second inscription is the pair of Chinese characters on the front of the box, her Chinese name. closeup of Chinese nameNo, she’s not Chinese. She’s as Western as I am Hoosier. Chinese people sometimes offer non-Chinese friends an honorary Chinese name. This name is a gift from one of her language partners who lives near Beijing. He bestowed this name because it is the pseudonym of a premier Chinese poet he admires, Yi’an Jushi. A reasonable translation is “Amiable Calm.”

The box is intended as a desk box, something of convenient size for everyday use on her desk. It measures 9 inches long by 5 and 5/8 inches wide by 2 inches high. The box is made of mostly cherry. All of the cherry parts are 5/16 inch thick. The floor is 1/8 inch thin walnut. The finish is wax over shellac, several coats of each, with a lot of rubbing and buffing.

box with thilt lid openThis box uses my current favorite box construction. I like dovetailed corners, but I don’t like butt joints showing at the edges. I also like the floors set in grooves, but I don’t want any through grooves showing. Plugging exposed grooves is ugly to my eye. So, I use joinery that features dovetails in the middles of the joins and miters at the tops and bottoms. The technique eliminates butt joins, leaving beautiful miters and by strategically placing the groove, hides the grooves. Miter tip later…

Lastly, the tilt lid, from Peter Lloyd’s “Making Heirloom Boxes,” makes for easy use. The lid opens to just a bit beyond 90° which let’s it stand open nicely. The hinge pins are walnut. The lift tab is shaped to echo the bottom loop of the “g” just above it. The notch is a simple scoop.

Lettering layout

Which brings me back to the lid inscription, the part that took the longest. The cherry parts were prepped almost a year ago, as was the walnut. It wasn’t until last fall that I got serious about the inscription.

I started with a lettering layout that used all Roman capitals, the norm for so many inscriptions. It was too “flat” for my tastes. I wanted something more flowing and more cursive. My lettering design work went through about a dozen iterations, all hand drawn.

Hand drawn lettering is making a come back on the web, as are hand painted signs in the brick and mortar world. After years of computer drawn fonts and plastic lettering, many designers are looking for something different and more human to polish their designs. So, there’s a lot of hand drawn lettering showing up. Some of it is really good. A lot is terrible! In an effort to draw attention to “hand drawn,” many of these designers go to extremes to make “hand drawn” obvious by making the work wildly imperfect. Too often, the result is hand drawn letters that look childish and amateurish.

photo of carving in progressMany decades ago, I watched my father do nearly perfect hand painted lettering. That’s the quality level I wanted, not childish dreck. A dozen or so iterations later, I landed on the design I like, … and she liked it too.

Now, to carve it.  This lettering differs from most of my previous experience in scale. The lower case cursive letters are only about 1/2 inch high. The Roman caps in “Inexhaustible” are about 3/4 inch high. All are very much smaller than I’ve carved before and I’ve learned that difficulty increases as the size shrinks. Those 41 characters were preceded by well over 200 practice characters. I carved some of them over and over and was repeatedly disappointed. It turns out that “the secret” to success is in how the pattern is transferred to the wood. Most of my practice cuts were done by using carbon paper to transfer the design to the wood and then cutting. It was too easy to be inaccurate. Being off by the width of a half-millimeter pencil line was enough to throw off the look of a letter. Over and over, the results were unsatisfactory.

The answer was to scan the design, make it a computer hosted image, print it out and glue it to the wood with rubber cement. Cutting through the paper eliminated the inaccuracy that was based in tracing and immediately led to good results.

Smaller gouges were in order for this smaller work. For the most part, I used full length gouges, but in narrower widths, #1 1/4 in fishtail, #1 3/8 in., #3 1/8 in., #3 3/16 in. fishtail,  #6 1/4 in. and a set of 6 #8 micro gouges that ranged in width from 1/16 ” to 1/4″.  The #3 fishtail did most of the work.

For those interested in lettercarving, Mary May has several lettercarving lessons at her online school. Albeit, they’re larger, easier to manage letters.

For readers interested in learning really high quality hand learning, take a look at Sean McCabe’s online lettering course.

If your interest is hand painted signs, I’ve found these two links interesting.

Perfectng the mitered corners

Now for the mitered corners. I mark the miters with a standard layout square and cut them by hand with the same fine back-saw that I use for dovetails. I don’t use a miter box for these; just cut freehand, only to the depth needed. I cut just outside the line, leaving about half a kerf-width room to trim. As the dovetail joints come together these miters fail to join because they are “fat.”

Making them fit perfectly is simple. I learned this technique from Doug Stowe’s book, “Simply Beautiful Boxes.” It works like this: When the dovetails are about one saw kerf width from being completely joined, press the miters together (holding square) and then use a very fine Japenese pull saw to cut a simple kerf through the middle of the joint. That effectively trims both pieces. Repeat to narrow the gap. Voila, perfect joint!

Inscription source

Lastly, the quotation for the lid is from Prof. Albus Dumbledore in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows.”

mitered dovetail joints: Fine Woodworking – Matt Kenney – “Two Ways to Build a Box
fitting the miters: from Doug Stowe’s Simply Beautiful Boxes
tilt lid design: from Peter Lloyd’s Making Heirloom Boxes

Categories: Carving and Sculpture

Acanthus Book – Carving a Basic Acanthus Leaf

Mary May, Woodcarver - Sat, 03/14/2015 - 8:25pm

Mary May - Woodcarver

And the book writing continues…


Here is a sneak preview of the first acanthus leaf project for my book. It is going to be a very basic leaf – showing certain aspects that are seen in most acanthus leaves (eyes, pipes, flowing vein lines, overlapping leaf sections). The projects and chapters following this first leaf will have some similarities, but will evolve into a variety of historical styles and get more advanced in detail.

In each chapter of my book, I will show a step-by-step method of how to draw this leaf so that you will be able to understand the technique of creating the “flow” of the leaf. This way you won’t have to be dependent on using someone else’s drawings, but you can design your own leaf, keeping with the “traditional” design aspects.

I will then show you step by step process of carving the leaf. There will be anywhere from 1 to 3 photographs per step to explain that particular step as clearly as possible. In addition, I will be adding drawings to clarify each step.

The following is an example of showing how to make the small “notch” cuts along the leaf serrations (my favorite cut!)

Chapter 1 step 17



In addition to the “printed book”, I will also have online videos showing how to draw the leaf and also how to carve the complete leaf. There will also be templates that will be accessible online.

This book is going to be as thorough as it can be. It will be the next best thing to actually being in a classroom!

book cover-190

Follow along as I write my first book.

I will be sending newsletters where I walk people through my experience with this book writing process. Those on the list will get VIP treatment such as opportunities for free things (everybody like FREE things), previews or snippets of part of the book, and opportunities to become involved in the book writing process. Come join in the fun!

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    Carving Sampler – early work

    Bob Easton - Mon, 03/09/2015 - 5:23am

    The shop is still too cold for what I want to do next; finish the “words box.”

    So, do something else!  There’s been a pile of little practice carvings stacked on a window sill for a few years. All were carved in February to April 2012. The stack made a nice home for spiders, but even they fled the cold. I could toss those carvings, but holding on to them has won out so far.

    Let’s see…, if I rearrange them just right, maybe they can be put together as a “sampler,” a lot like cross-stitch samplers.

    photo of wood carving sampler; a collage of 15 pieces

    Getting them to similar sizes and nesting together was an exercise of time and precision, but work that could be done in a warmer part of the house. A piece of 1/4 inch plywood forms the backing. A rough dab of hide glue holds each. If there is any movement, they might be free to dance around a bit. And Ralph; no mitered corners.  :)  Overall size about 18″ square.

    Design sources:

    1 “Complete” is completely inaccurate in the title of Koch’s book. It is a collection of 7 carving exercises. Good, but not “complete” in any sense.
    2 One of 3 similar books, Wilbur covers a much broader range of architectural carvings than Koch. Very highly recommended.

    Categories: Carving and Sculpture

    Carving Flame Finials – Oh, my brain!

    Mary May, Woodcarver - Sun, 03/08/2015 - 6:21pm

    Mary May - Woodcarver

    I recently had a client who asked me to help complete 3 traditional flame finials that he had started for a reproduction of a 1760’s secretary.

    I received one finial that was laid out and partially carved, one that was just turned, and a block of wood to be turned into the third finial.

    When I began looking at the finial that was partially carved, it took me over an hour of staring at it to try and figure out what the “formula” was of laying out the lines for the flames. I knew there was a pattern, but it was a real brain tease to figure it out. I even looked at several articles in books and magazines on how to lay out these lines, and that just tied my brain in more knots.

    caleb W-4 2015018

    Template to lay out on turned finial that is transferred onto wood with carbon paper.

    I finally figured it out – dividing the lower edge into 6 equal segments, and the upper edge into 9 equal segments. From there I think it is best to show a visual (see image to the right).

    The best way I found to show to lay out the lines was to take a piece of paper, wrap it around a finished finial, and press it against the sharp edges of the flames. A wonderful impression of the sharp lines of the flames was pressed into the paper. Next, I took this paper and cut out sections of it so that it is sort of like a globe on a flat surface. After cutting out this template, it can then be taped around a turned finial with carbon paper under it and the lines transferred. The “globe” technique allows the paper to bend and shape along the curve of the finial. The left side of the template goes to the bottom of the finial and the right aligns with the top. It’s not a perfect technique, but it is a good start at getting the lines laid out.

    Since this particular design was based on my client’s partially carved finial, it is “loosely based” on traditional flame finials. It is close, and has the same “feel” but I have not been able to find others that match this design exactly. And there are so many different styles out there – some very exact in their dimensions, curves and symmetry, some more free flowing, and some with completely wild flames.

    But the most critical aspect of all flame finials seems to be that wonderful “S” curve. All lines, whether they go from the base all the way to the top, or only go a third of the way up, should have a gentle “S” curve. If this curve flattens, or if corners appear along the edge, the flame illusion is lost.

    I had to turn the 3rd finial before carving it. It has been a long time since I have turned something this delicate, and I am definitely not an experienced wood turner. I resorted to using rasps to defining some of the base details (I am so ashamed).

    First finished flame finial and second finial with flame lines drawn.
    Turning a finial
    Close-up of turning

    I filmed this lesson and it is scheduled be be added in April to my online school and will also be available for individual purchase at that time also. You’ve got to try this. Especially for you engineers and those who love math!

    Affordable Hide Glue Pot

    Bob Easton - Thu, 03/05/2015 - 6:05am

    The stuff likes to be kept warm … about 140° warm.

    One can get a really really nice glue pot at TFWW. Yet, for as often as I use hide glue, something more affordable suits my needs. (Sorry Joel.)

    As I walked down the kitchen accessories aisle at Walmart a couple of days ago, this “Roll-Back Special” caught my eye. I don’t know how much Walmart stores across the country standardize their sale items, but in my neighborhood it was priced at $8.86. A slow-cooker glue pot for less than 10 bucks!

    It does exactly what I want for the sorts of occasional glue ups I do. I mix glue from TFWW flakes in a small glass jar (pickle relish). That jar fits nicely inside the pot. Fill with enough water to surround, but not overwhelm the jar and set to HIGH for about 30 minutes. That gets the temperature up to near 140. It will go to 180 if you don’t watch it. Then, set to WARM which holds right at 140°. Perfect!

    Oh… Keep the lid on the pot while not using the glue. Otherwise the temperature drops off fast.

    Photo of pot and bag of glue flakes  thermometer shows 140°

    Categories: Carving and Sculpture

    My First Video with a “Special Guest” – Dan Hamilton

    Mary May, Woodcarver - Wed, 03/04/2015 - 5:32pm

    Mary May - Woodcarver

    To this date, all of my video lessons that I have made for my online school have been filmed with just little ol’ me carving away and talking through the carving process.

    me and danAnd now on to the next evolution – a guest artist! Several students have asked how to finish carvings on soft wood. Since I don’t feel that I am very knowledgeable in this area, I decided to invite someone who is skilled in finishing techniques. Tonight’s video that has been added to my online school will have Dan Hamilton as a guest. Dan is great friend and fellow woodworker and also a highly skilled furniture maker and restorer from Okatie, SC – just about 1 hour south of Charleston. On this video he shows me (and you) how to do some basic finishing techniques on 2 different basswood carvings using simple products that are probably lying around in the cupboard somewhere.

    FinishingTitleStill copyDan did a great job in sharing a lot of “secrets of the trade” and we really had fun making this video. I hope it shows. We even included a few very silly bloopers at the end.

    I’ve already talked to Dan about doing another video on more advanced finishing techniques. Who knows where this will lead?

    You can see this video if you are a Premium member of my school, or you can also purchase this as an individual lesson for $9.99. Check out the intro video.


    Best Brooms Ever

    Bob Easton - Wed, 03/04/2015 - 5:28pm

    The shop was almost warm enough to be bearable today, and it needed a good sweeping.

    Decades ago, we lived in the middle of Indianapolis, Indiana. A blind man would show up at our house occasionally carrying a dozen or so brooms over his shoulder. He sold brooms made by “Industries for the Blind.” We enthusiastically bought from him because his were really well made brooms of sturdy, thickly padded, broomcorn. They lasted almost forever, more years than I remember. They were the best brooms ever. We left Indianapolis over 30 years ago and there are no blind men walking around selling good brooms where we live now. In that time, the last of the blind-made brooms have worn out.

    The last of the real broomcorn brooms I bought at a big-box store was so flimsy, it wouldn’t support its own weight. I’ve witnessed a steady decline in the quality of store bought brooms, seeing broomcorn get thinner and thinner and finally being replaced by plastic bristles, set in plastic heads, attached to plastic handles. They don’t behave like brooms and break too often. Pure junk!

    photo of 2 brooms

    So, I went on a hunt. The answer to my search was not “handmade,” “blind-made,” “sturdy” or any of the other “durable” words, but “broomcorn!” Two new brooms from Broomcorn Johnny’s now hold my praise for the best brooms ever. Brian Newton is the artisan who operates the broom shop named Broomcorn Johnny’s in Brown County, Indiana. We’ve had two of his brooms long enough to know they’re the new “best.” The flat one is what he calls a “cabin broom.” The round one has about the same amount of broomcorn but is tighter wound and great for heavier work. The flat one stays in the house / cabin. The round one just cleaned up the shop better than any broom I’ve had in the past 15 years and hangs there now. (Cabin brooms are available in plain or in a range of color schemes.)

    These brooms seem expensive at $60 – $70 each. Yet, I know they’ll easily outlast the $12 box-store brooms by a factor of 8 -10. That makes them a real bargain, and very attractive too.  Highly recommended, and I have no financial gain from this recommendation.

    Categories: Carving and Sculpture


    Bob Easton - Thu, 02/26/2015 - 5:51am

    Work In Progress – (still) in progress. Yes, since October…

    carving on a box lid - Words are our most  inexhaustible source of magic

    Categories: Carving and Sculpture

    Youtube Carving Videos

    Mary May, Woodcarver - Wed, 02/25/2015 - 4:26pm

    Mary May - Woodcarver

    I’m starting to make short introduction videos for every new video lesson I have on my online school just to give people an idea of what the lesson is about. They usually run about 1-1/2 to 2 minutes long and give an overview of what the lesson is about.

    On my “to-do” list is to go back to some of the older videos and make an intro video for these also, but my “to-do” list is getting longer by the day – so I’m not sure whether that will happen soon.

    Here are a few of the intro videos. You can either see these on my Youtube channel or on that particular lesson on my online school.

    I also have several full lesson videos on youtube and as a Free member of my online school:

    The Youtube ads are really annoying and I haven’t figured out how to get them off my videos. One showed up for “Laser carving machine”. What??? I don’t even get paid for these, but if they’re putting them up there, I’m going to figure out how to get rid of them.

    Enjoy the videos (ignore the ads).

    More Carving Commissions!

    Mary May, Woodcarver - Fri, 02/20/2015 - 3:16pm

    Mary May - Woodcarver

    I’m very happy to say that these past few weeks have been very busy with commissions. Since my step-son, Caleb has been editing my videos for my online school, I have been enjoying a lot more time in the workshop. Here are some of the carvings I have been working on.

    4 corners of a mirror frame in basswood

    4 corners of a mirror frame in basswood

    These are 4 carved corners for a reproduction of an 1830’s mirror. These were carved in basswood and are a very 3-dimensional fleur de lis. I filmed the process of carving one of these, and Caleb is currently in the process of editing this full lesson. It should be available on my online school next month. It’s over 2 hours, so it might end up being 3 episodes. It is carved in 2-1/4″ thick wood, so there is a LOT of shape to these.

    One of 2 sunburst designs for a door surround

    One of 2 sunburst designs for a door surround

    This carving is one of 2 sunburst designs I made for the tops of pilasters on a door surround. This was made for a local woodworking company that installs custom interior woodwork – Southern Lumber. It is carved in sapele (sometimes referred to as mahogany or African mahogany). Sapele can often be very difficult to carve because the grain tends to switch on you about every 1/4″ to 1/2″. It definitely keeps it a challenge, but this particular wood did not cause too many frustrations.

    I ended up filming this while I carved it – just because. But I already have a lesson that is very similar to this on my online school.

    Flame finials

    Flame finials

    And then there is that wonderful flame finial. My customer started one finial and asked me to finish it and wanted me to carve 2 additional finials. Just the layout is a real challenge – and then to try and figure out how the flame shapes flow is a real brain tease. This is lightly based on a design for an 18th century period secretary or highboy from the Philadelphia area. I say “lightly” because any descriptions that I read in books about how to lay out these finials fried too many brain cells for me to get through the article.

    However, since I had one that my customer started, I just had to base the others on his design. Simple, right? Well, it took me about 2 hours staring at his finial and turning it in all directions to figure out what the pattern was. I finally got it! The main thing to focus on with these finials is to keep “S” curves no matter what – whether they are the high corner peaks, or the deep, sharp inside corners. All lines should be continually flowing in “S” curves with no straight lines. With that in mind, there are many ways to lay these out – and many different designs and styles out there. I just designed a new one!

    This process was also filmed, so probably within 2 months, this will be on my online school.

    I have a great heater in my shop, so when it only gets up to 35 degrees outside, I’m toasty warm while I work. Yeah, I know, that’s NOTHING compared to what other parts of the country are experiencing right now. But this is South Carolina! And I admit it – I have become a wimp. My Minnesota blood has thinned out somewhat over the past 15 years.


    Our toasty warm fireplace.

    A nice fire in our fireplace. Hmmm. Something is missing. Maybe a carving on the mantel? The fireplace has been like that for nearly 14 years – taunting me every time I look at it. This is truly the “cobbler’s shoes” dilemma. Maybe one day…

    Take a weekend carving class in Connecticut!

    Mary May, Woodcarver - Mon, 02/16/2015 - 8:05pm

    Mary May - Woodcarver

    March 7 & 8 I will be at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking in Manchester, CT to teach a weekend carving class. This is open to beginners and experienced woodcarvers. Come join us in the fun! There are spaces still available.

    Carving a "Peach" - the beginning project.

    For those who are beginners, we will be going through all the basic carving techniques to get you started in an incredibly fun new art. Trust me, I’ve been doing this for over 22 years, and still have fun! We’ll cover how to sharpen gouges to a razor sharp edge, safety techniques of carving, how to work in the correct grain direction, and how to carve a floral design in relief.

    One of the beginning carving projects - carving a camellia flower!

    One of the beginning carving projects – carving a camellia flower!

    If you have carved before, bring something to work on and I’ll help you through it. Or you can also follow along as a “review” with the beginning carving project. There’s always more you can learn!

    Come join in the balmy March weather in CT. I’m sure it will be warmer than here in SC :)

    Check out the “Student Gallery” on my online school

    Mary May, Woodcarver - Wed, 02/11/2015 - 7:50pm

    Mary May - Woodcarver

    It’s really exciting to see some of the wonderful carvings that students have completed. They area amazing! Members of my online school can add photos of their projects to the Student Gallery.

    Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 10.39.07 PM

    It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner carver or experienced, I love to see the progress – and I’m sure others do also. What better way to show off your work? You should be proud!

    Take a look yourself to see some of the photos of what some of the student’s have accomplished.

    And if you are a student on my online school and want to add a photo of your work, just follow the easy steps towards the bottom of the gallery page.

    It’s so exciting to see your progress. Please share!

    Acanthus Leaves – They won’t leaf me alone!

    Mary May, Woodcarver - Fri, 02/06/2015 - 7:39pm

    Mary May - Woodcarver


    Sorry about that title – I couldn’t resist.

    I am on a sort of “retreat” where I am isolated in a hotel room working on the writing part of my book. Really bad puns come out when I spend too much time alone. Don’t worry… I’ll edit them out of the book – at least most of them.

    Much of the book is going to be instructional, step-by-step processes of how to carve acanthus leaves, and I am completely comfortable and familiar with this. It’s the writing part that I need to really be able to focus and not be distracted by “normal” life. So, this “me” time is very necessary.

    What is so interesting is that I have been in this room all day and was so focused on writing, that I hadn’t noticed all the varieties of acanthus leaves surrounding me in the hotel room. I continue to be amazed at how prolific this design is in everyday life. And it does motivate me while I am writing this book. I hope to bring attention to what impact this design has on some very simple and common things that we see every day – lamp bases, picture frames, curtains, carpeting.

    design on a lamp base - almost an acanthus leaf.
    Design in carpet
    Part of a Chinoiserie curtain design
    Picture Frame

    Now, I have to admit that some of the designs I want to “adjust”, but all in all, they are quite nice and have a good shape. Being surrounded with all these leaves reminds me of the variety of styles the acanthus leaf comes in. It makes me want to write another book after this. How can I fit it all into just one book??

    book cover-190Please sign up for my book writing e-mail list. I will be sending newsletters where I walk people through my experience with this book writing process. Those on the list will get VIP treatment such as opportunities for free things (everybody like FREE things), previews or snippets of part of the book, and opportunities to become involved in the book writing process. Come join in the fun!

    Click on the book image to sign up.

    How to Make a Mirror Image of a Design

    Mary May, Woodcarver - Sat, 01/31/2015 - 6:27am

    Mary May - Woodcarver

    Some may accuse me of being a woodcarving purist in many ways. However, I am also practical in that when I have to get a job done, I take advantage of the modern technologies available to make my life a little easier. Let’s say, for example, that I have finished carving a complicated acanthus leaf design and I want to make an exact duplicate – only in reverse.

    Here’s how –

    Step 1: Take a photo of your carving

    Step 2: Put your photo file into your computer photo editor

    Step 3: Make a reverse or mirror image

    Step 4: Print out the reversed photo image –

    Step 5: Take this to your shop so you can view in the correct position. This way you don’t have to turn your brain inside and try to figure out the details in reverse. Trust me, it’s NOT easy.

    This is a reversed photo image.

    This is a reversed photo image

    This is the original.

    This is the original image















    One way to transfer your design in reverse is to make a plastic or cardboard template of half the design and turn it over to produce the other half. This works for repetitive and symmetrical designs that are used more for tracing around the outside edges of designs.


    You can also use a thin type of paper (tracing paper or velum) with a design drawn on it. Turn the paper over and you should be able to see the design through the paper in reverse. You can then trace it onto your wood with carbon paper or transfer paper.

    Can’t think of anything else at the moment. Just trying to help so you don’t hurt your brain!

    If you have any other ideas of working with reverse images, please share!

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