Friday, January 3, 2014

The Georgian Bed, Part Five ~ Carving Bedposts

      Bas-relief carving consists of three processes – chopping in, grounding out and modelling. Firstly, chopping in consists of making vertical cuts to outline the edges of the motif, in this case an acanthus leaf, using carving gouges of appropriate width and curvature (called ‘sweep’) to match the penciled guidelines drawn on the wood. Ideally, this does take a large number of different gouges.  When you’re starting out and haven’t yet built up a collection, you will have to modify the drawn outline to accommodate the tools you have. Grounding out is cutting out the wood outside the chopping-in cuts so that the shape to be modelled stands above a floor, or ground. I have shown this stage in the top photo above.The last stage, modelling, is the detailing by  shaping the petals, leaves, ribbons or whatever to render the work into three dimensions in a lifelike way.  Frequently, that will involve further chopping-in between parts of the design as you go along to separate the various components. When carving, pay close attention to the way the grain of the wood runs, because it is very easy for splitting to occur in all stages of the process.  Some species of wood are more prone to this than others. This brings me to an important point.  When working in any medium, sharpness of tools is key, but when woodcarving it is absolutely paramount; the gouges should be kept razor sharp all the time.

I make it a habit at the beginning of each carving session to check each tool for sharpness as its turn comes to be used. In almost all cases I’ll give that gouge a few licks on the whetstone before putting it into use. Getting back to the modelling: after shaping the work as finely as possible with the gouges there is still work to be done, now by rifflers, possibly sandpaper,and finally perhaps by burnishing.I don’t like using sandpaper when carving, it’s just too easy to wear away detail and lose the crispness that marks a good work; but there will usually be a need for it somewhere.
For burnishing I have made a handful of small sticks, about pencil size, out of both hardwood and bone. I like using ash wood for this, and leg bones left over from a roast of lamb.  The business ends of these handy little tools may be shaped to be pointed or rounded, flat or curved, concave or convex. When rubbed over the carving it comes up to a high polish which sets the whole thing off beautifully.Lastly, the matter of tidying up the ground must be considered. By nature of it being recessed, it is sometimes difficult to attain a perfectly flat and smooth surface into every little crevice. For this reason the ground is sometimes treated with punches.  Commonly, these punches have waffle-patterned ends. They are not as easy to find as in the past, but you can make them yourself by filing or grinding a pattern into the end of a short length of tool steel or an old punch.

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