Layout and Design considerations for Wood Carvings #3: Patterns and Blanks

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Blog entry by mpounders posted 03-01-2012 08:48 PM 3127 reads 0 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Glue-ups for large carvings Part 3 of Layout and Design considerations for Wood Carvings series no next part

For an in-the-round carving, a pattern or photo with a front and a profile view are most useful. Sometimes a view of all 4 sides can be helpful whencarving, but generally only two are needed for sawing out the blank. A coping saw or scroll saw can be used, but generally a bandsaw with a 3/16”, 4TPI blade is the best way to go. Here is my pattern and I was careful that the front and side lined up at important points like the belt, boots and shoulders.

I decided to do the arms as separate pieces from the body for several reasons. I want the grain to run up and down the body, which will add strength to the legs. But if i did that and the arms were cut out, the grain would be very short in the arms, hands, and fingers, which would make it easy for those areas to break or chip off when carving. If you’re going to all the trouble to carve something, you sure don’t want it to fall apart! I lay out the arms on smaller pieces of wood with the grain runnning straight up and down as much as possible. It also allows some flexibility in positioning the arms later, for best effect. The head is also a separate piece and I only cut the side profile on the bandsaw. Usually, I cut the hat brim and crown as separate pieces and fit them to the head (a method used by Lynn Doughty). This allows the brim to have the grain oriented properly for strength, allowing it to be really thin. It looks great when done properly, but I wanted to try the older method having the hat and head as one piece. But it will still allow it to be moved and placed on the body for a better appearance.

Make sure your block is square on all sides, to avoid distorting your cutout. I use spray adhesive to glue a photocopy to the front and sidemaking sure the key areas line up. You can also draw the pattern on or use carbon paper, gluing the pattern on is quick and easy. I usually do the most complicated side first.

Stay ouside the outline a bit. It doesn’t need to be exact and a little extra to carve with never hurts. You can completely cut off the scraps and re-attach them with glue or tape, but I try to cut just up to the edge and then just snap it or carve it off after cutting the front profile.

After removing the scrap pieces, you now have a blank. You need to draw centerlines down the body, arms, and legs and roughly draw in any main features. On this one, I drew the shapes of the soles on the bottom of the boots, the position of the belt and buckle, and the hands and cuffs on the arms. The purpose of this is to guide you as you use a knife or gouge to remove the corners, rounding off the blank and roughing in the over-all shape of the figure.

Here is the rough-out of the body, sanded a little bit with a rotary tool. I drilled a hole for the neck to fit into and carved the neck down until it looked more natural and fit better. I think I like the head turned to the side like this. Notice the flats where the arm will attach….. I use my disc sander to get a nice flat spot on the body and the end of the arm, so that the glue joint will not be noticed much.

Having the arms separate makes it easy to carve underneath them and around them. You don’t carve it completely until it is attached and glued in place, but it makes it easier to get most of the work done. I use a dowel to join the arm and shoulder, both to keep it properly aligned and to add some strength since the arm will be glued on end grain, and it helps mechanically. You can move the arm to the position you like best. I just have this one temporarily placed with a rubber band, until I finish carving the boots and such. A little tip is to only glue them on one at a time and use a bit of inner tube or elastic band to clamp them ion place.

I have the main features drawn back in and now I will carve the belt, collar, and other details as much as possible before gluing the arms on and completeing the carving. But hopefully, you can see where I am headed with this piece.

I hope this series has been helpful for new-er carvers, at least as far as explaining a bit of the teminology and methodology for some types of carvings. I hope it takes a little of the mystery out of the carving process and will encourage you to give it a whirl. Don’t be afraid …. it’s only wood, after all! Thanks for looking!

-- Mike P., Arkansas,

5 comments so far

View Jimthecarver's profile


1124 posts in 3810 days

#1 posted 03-02-2012 05:33 AM

I have enjoyed this blog series… your explanation to reproduce is very easy to follow.
Thanks for taking the time to put this into a blog….Long live carving!

-- Can't never could do anything, to try is to advance.

View NelsonAdams's profile


2 posts in 2336 days

#2 posted 03-02-2012 07:58 AM

It’s been such a wonderful carving process which can be implemented easily and this idea can be used in other ways for creating different postures.

Aqua Sphere Anti-Fog

View Roger's profile


20928 posts in 2828 days

#3 posted 03-02-2012 11:37 AM

looks like “Ellie-May” is gettin ready to step out

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

View helluvawreck's profile


31378 posts in 2891 days

#4 posted 03-02-2012 12:31 PM

Mike, she looks great and this is a wonderful post. Thanks.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3359 days

#5 posted 03-03-2012 06:29 PM

A great series Mike. It’s fun watching this little person taking shape. Should be great inspiration to folks who want to figure carve. We had a great tradition of figure carving here in Norway, mainly for the tourist trade, but now all we have are those plastic copies because nobody can make a living at it anymore. It’s a good thing folks like you are carrying on with this great tradition.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

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