How to Carve Turned Wood


Carving Turned Wood
Design Considerations


Usually it is best to decide on the design you want to carve before you turn the bowl. Otherwise, you'll be surprised by how limited your design possibilities are. A thin completed bowl, for instance, will not allow you to make deep carvings on it. If you want to carve a decorative band, you'll probably want to leave a band of thicker wood to carve.

Flaws and features in the wood will affect the shape and design of your carving. This is an area where the turner/carver has tremendous possibilities. Furniture makers often must discard flawed wood. We, on the other hand, can take a flaw and make it a beautiful focus of our work. Depending on your objectives, a defect can be something to hide or something to accent.

The shape of your bowl will influence the carving you do. You need to achieve a harmony between the carving and the bowl. You would not want to place a very large carving on a very small bowl or vice versa. A large horizontal lip could hide the carving on the side of a bowl. On this shape bowl, it might be better to place your carving on the top of the bowl rather than on the side.

Carving Wood Turnings


The smallest tool you have will determine how small you can make the detail of your carving. Your smallest carving gouge must be able to fit between the lines of your drawing. It's easy to make the details of your drawing so small that your tools can't make the cuts. It might help if your initial carvings are not too intricate, or you may become frustrated. Later, when you decide to do very intricate detail carving, be sure to use fine-grain wood that has interlocked fibers. This will decrease the likelihood of pieces chipping off during carving.

Selecting a Pattern for Carving

Choosing what to carve can be intimidating at first. Really, the whole world is open to you. There are many places to look for a pattern to carve. Books with patterns in them might be your first choice.

You may want to look to nature for your inspiration. But you don't have to become an artist to capture images for carving. If you see a picture you like in a magazine, take the time to cut it out and put it in a folder. Flowers, birds, trees, or animals may inspire you. Or perhaps some pattern or texture, whether natural or man-made, captures your attention. A collection of pictures that please or intrigue you can prove a valuable resource when it comes to ornamenting your turnings.

Design transfer techniques


Let's look at four techniques for placing your design on your bowl. You may find one technique preferable to another for certain situations. It is a good idea to understand all four. This way, you have more tools in your tool box when the need arises.

Tracing is a technique we learned in grade school. Find a design that you like. Place some carbon paper under the design and then secure both to the bowl with tape. If you cut the carbon paper just slightly larger than the picture, you can secure both sheets all the way around with the same pieces of tape. You may need to cut your pictures into small sizes that will conform to the curvature of your bowl. Do a test fit before trying to tape the drawing and carbon paper to the bowl. Now trace the pattern with a ballpoint pen. Using a different color ink from the color of the picture will help ensure that you do not skip any area.

The second method, graphic transfer, is a really neat technique to use when it fits the job. It requires the use of a copy machine but gives you tremendous freedom. Photocopy the pictures that you want to use onto regular paper or clear acetate. You may want to splice different pictures together using scissors, tape, and white-out ink. When you have the final design, copy it on the copy machine. The copying process involves heating fine carbon particles and depositing them onto the paper or acetate. Place the final copy onto the wood bowl. If you have used clear acetate, you will be able to see the wood underneath and position your drawing for best effect in conjunction with the grain and figure of your piece. When you are satisfied with the placement, secure the photocopy with masking tape. Apply heat to the photocopy with an iron or the flat area of a soldering gun or wood burning tool. The heat will cause the carbon to transfer from the paper or acetate to the wood. The carbon is not fixed to the wood, so retrace the pattern with a fine ink pen before the it smears. The piece pictured above right was done using graphic transfer. I will show this technique in detail in the next article of this series.

Pounce, the third technique, is very versatile and easy.  Pounce refers to the fine powder that is used to transfer the drawing to the wood by rubbing it through a stenciled pat- tern. It is especially useful in creating mirror-image patterns. I will describe the technique where you fold a piece of paper in half to make a mirror- image pattern. If you were to fold the paper again, the pattern would be a circular or four-way pattern.

Fold a sheet of paper in the middle, place this paper underneath your pattern, the folded edge flush with the pattern edge. Secure both together with tape so that they do not slip. Place the assembly on cardboard or foam board. This must have a little give to it for the next step to be successful. Now trace your pat- tern with a pounce wheel. The pounce wheel perforates the pattern with small evenly spaced holes.

When you open your underlying paper, it will have both the original image and the mirror image adjacent to each other, delineated by pin- holes. Sand the back side of the paper with 220-grit sandpaper. This will open up the little holes to allow your marking dust to come through easily. Place this paper on your bowl with tape and place some chalk in a piece of cotton cloth, securing it with a twist-tie or rubber band. Now tap the chalk-filled wad on your paper pattern. For best results, use a dust that is a contrasting color to the wood. You can get blue and red carpenter's dust. For white, talcum powder works well. For black, char- coal dust from an art supply store works well. The chalk dust will leave the pattern on your bowl. Retrace the pattern with a fine-tip ink pen.

The fourth method, freehand layout or drawing, is not as difficult as it seems. It does require some practice, but then all skills require practice.

Following are a few suggestions that might help:

Mark out reference points on your bowl. This might include a top line and a bottom line. As tuners, this is easy to do: just hold a pencil to the bowl and let it spin. Next divide the bowl into the number of segments that you want the pattern to repeat.

This is the point where we learn that pencils have been designed wrong. The eraser part should be as long as the drawing part. I found this to be true. If you are not pleased with your drawing, do something to fix the situation. Get help if necessary or erase until you are satisfied. I got a lot of practice erasing. It is almost impossible to do a good carving from a bad drawing.


How to Carve Wood - Part II




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