Carving a Newport shell

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Forum topic by Lee A. Jesberger posted 01-05-2008 11:47 PM 5133 views 0 times favorited 27 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Lee A. Jesberger

6859 posts in 4004 days

01-05-2008 11:47 PM

Topic tags/keywords: newport furniture 18th century american furniture block front shell tip

Anyone familiar with 18th century Newport furniture from the Townsends and Goddards is familiar with this blockfront shell.

Learned from Jeffery P. Greene’s book on American furniture of the 18th century, he teaches the steps involved in carving one of these beautiful, graceful shells. I’ve always been fascinated by them.

The actual furniture can often be attributed to a certain maker just by the shell carving, much like a signature.

The shell boils down to three main steps.

1. Hollow out the outline of the shell, which would seem to be against the intuitive approach.

2. Shape the rough outline of the shell, which would seem to be step one.

3. Shape the rays to the finished curves of the design.

The board I carved on this is rather small, as are the sequential steps, but it serves as a reminder to how to do this, as well as provide practice in the carving techniques.

As they say practice makes perfect.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

27 replies so far

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 3899 days

#1 posted 01-06-2008 12:17 AM

I just started my first woodcarving this afternoon. Your work is beautiful, I’m guessing mine will be firewood.

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 3987 days

#2 posted 01-06-2008 01:28 AM

I’ve always loved Newport but never tried any of it. Thanks for the tutorial.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View Karson's profile


35125 posts in 4425 days

#3 posted 01-06-2008 03:00 AM

Great Lee I remember that piece at the Picnic. A great job.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

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Lee A. Jesberger

6859 posts in 4004 days

#4 posted 01-06-2008 03:41 AM

Hi Rikkor;

Thank you for the kind words.

That book I mentioned is an excellent resource if you like that type / Period of furniture. I learned an incredible amount of information from that book.

Carving just takes some patience, sharp tools, and some practice.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 4013 days

#5 posted 01-06-2008 03:46 AM

Patience, sharp tools, and practice is right!

Good work.

My first carving work was carving the shells on my Queen Ann Highboy.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

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Lee A. Jesberger

6859 posts in 4004 days

#6 posted 01-06-2008 03:55 AM

Hi Thomas,

I love that furniture myself. There’s a book about it which is an incredible resource. Written in the early to mid eighties, Master Craftsmen of Newport.

It only had one printing, I believe, of fifteen hundred copies.The author saved one hundred fifty copies, which were signed and authorized to be leather bound. When it first hit the shelves I thought it was too expensive so I didn’t buy it. The author of the book mentioned above, American Furniture of the 18th century, had a number of the signed copies, so I did end up buying # 143 of the 150. I first saw that it was six hundred and fifty, which again I thought was way too much.

Since I’m so patience I waited. I ended getting it at the rock bottom price of close to fifteen hundred for the book and the leather binding.

The moral of the story is patience sucks!


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

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Lee A. Jesberger

6859 posts in 4004 days

#7 posted 01-06-2008 04:02 AM

Hi Gary;

I checked out your Queen Anne Furniture, and the carvings you spoke of. Beautiful pieces and workmanship.

Great job!


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

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patrick m

197 posts in 3838 days

#8 posted 01-06-2008 06:50 AM

Practice practice is right is right… I’m carving some midevil ivy right now and four leaves for legs on a box I’m working on , hint, hint.. Not just any box. Hey you should carve an 18th century newport shell on a box, I was taught by an ex- russian army officer working at a frame restoration workshop here in brooklyn after 4 yrs of sculpture in college and I still say I’m a beginner… he said in about 14 years time you’ll start to understand carving such as chip carving pattern details and emblems.. I wanted to bring this up before, cause I’ve thrown my cheaters dremmel into the closet years ago and only use hand tools for carving now… Sharp tools, and practice. Understanding the different woods you carve and the grain. And never ever stop “learning” I even managed to teach the russian a thing or two out of the endless lessons he’s shown me.. I like to mix some traditional rule and then leap way outside the box… But back to you: seems like you got a “Firm Grip” on it. My main tip would be find an old sage an old YODA of the wood.. Learn from him you will… There is one here on Lumberjocks! Maybe even two… You have a True Love for Wood I can See. Respect it and it’ll respect you back.. Patients and education, A little natural talent won’t hurt either. Which Looks like you’ve got. One mistake I’ve made: is over sanding after carving. The edges as ya probably know should turn out CRISP like one slice made each edge…. I have so much more to learn myself and hope I always do… That’s the fun of it for me, Have a great time w this stuff it’s the heart of the craft, in my opinion. NOt knocking the dremmel up there, It’s a great tool I use often just not for this.

-- PJM.`·.¸¸.·´¯`·.¸¸.·´¯`·.¸ ><((((º> ""BY HAMMER AND HAND ALL ARTS DO STAND""1785-1974 nyc Semper Fi, Patrick M

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 3899 days

#9 posted 01-06-2008 11:27 AM

Wood is such a wonderful medium. The range of projects that are on this site just boggle the mind. From pure utility to fine art.

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Lee A. Jesberger

6859 posts in 4004 days

#10 posted 01-06-2008 05:16 PM



The things that are possible with wood are limited only the the imagination.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View mot's profile


4911 posts in 4061 days

#11 posted 01-06-2008 05:51 PM

That’s great, Lee. I’ve been watching some decorative carving DVD’s from Chris Pye. He’s a very good teacher and really advocates clamping a board to the bench and doing a WHOLE BUNCH of practice. In his DVD series, the first video is just on sharpening. Thanks for sharing this stuff. Are you going to have a Lee Jesberger unique carving that is going to be added to pieces?

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

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Lee A. Jesberger

6859 posts in 4004 days

#12 posted 01-06-2008 06:57 PM

Hi Tom;

As you and I discussed with planning a board, (both of us being quite content to stand in one spot for hours, just shaving wood and listening to that sound of the shavings peeling out), I do the same thing with sharpening my carving tools and carving no particular thing, in an effort to get “the feel”. Practice is the only way I’m aware of.

I use Ashley Isles carving tools which are sharpened properly at the factory, so I am just touching up the edge most of the time. I also buy several of commonly used tools, so I don’t have to stop in the middle of a project to touch them up. I just grab another one and keep on going. Then later I’ll go through the chisel drawer and check each tool for sharpness. (takes a while as I have over 120 of them). I don’t need all them but I like collecting them. (I have problems, as you well know).

I’ve been looking at Japanese carving tools lately and drooling over them, (especially the centerfold showing a gouge). I have a few of them also, and I love them. They have a couple unique designs, not found in the Western line up, which are really handy. Maybe I can post some pictures later today of them. (if my wife lets me out).LOL

And Chris Pye is a great teacher, and VERY accomplished carver, as is Nora Hall.

A logo carving is something we discussed in the shop a number of times, but it’s just one more step in getting the projects out the door. (We’re already behind usually), so it keeps getting voted down.



-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View Bob A in NJ's profile

Bob A in NJ

1232 posts in 4024 days

#13 posted 01-07-2008 05:51 AM

Lee, Very nice work, as usual from you! Haha, Happy new year pal.

These are great I’m looking for a carving project for two new hope chests I’m working on, this may just be the ticket. Excellent work. We having another picnic this year?


-- Bob A in NJ

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Lee A. Jesberger

6859 posts in 4004 days

#14 posted 01-07-2008 07:16 AM

HI Bob;

Thank you for the kind words. These shells are beautiful for sure. I will build a Newport piece one of these days just for kicks, including the Newport Ball and claw foot. (the most difficult of the various styles from the 18th century American furniture, due to the undercut talons. Very stylish indeed.

Yes, there is word on the street of a picnic this year also.

Happy New year to you as well.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4185 days

#15 posted 01-07-2008 12:55 PM

picnic? did I hear picnic?? Think eMag :)

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

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