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Swan Chisels


Woodworking with P. Michael Henderson


Carving a Simple Flower

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Some time ago, I did a tutorial on a woodworking forum on how to carve a simple flower. In an attempt to make that tutorial a bit more widely available, I'm putting it here.

If you find this tutorial useful, I'd really appreciate if you would send me an e-mail with the subject line of "Flower carving" so I can get some indication of how many people are reading it.

Note that I use the Swiss system to describe carving tools in all of my carving tutorials.


Let me make a few preliminary comments before starting the tutorial. When you carve an object, you're not trying to make a photographic reproduction of it - you're trying to "represent" the object, which means that you need to decide what the important aspects of the object are and make sure those are included in the carving.

People see objects in clouds. The shape of clouds is just random, so why do people see objects in clouds? The human mind is a wonderful shape matching device - so if the clouds have a shape that is even close to some object that you've seen before, the mind matches to that object and you see the resemblance.

When we carve, we take advantage of that aspect of the human mind - we don't try to carve every aspect of an object, but only the "important" aspects of that object. If we select well, other people will see the object in our carving.

So with our flower. The "flower" we're going to carve probably doesn't exist in nature, but someone looking at it will say that it's a flower.

The other point I'd like to make is that your carving can vary quite a bit and it'll still look good. I'm going to give you some tools and dimensions but you should feel free to adapt my recommendations to your tools, needs, and taste.

Here's where we're going. This is a carving I did on a wooden plane I made - the carving we'll do in this tutorial will be a bit bigger, and it'll be done in basswood (this is red birch) but otherwise it's the same.

You can use this flower in a lot of things. Here's a lid I did that uses this simple flower in a repetitive pattern around the lid. The ring is called a "guilloche" - a repetition of a pattern with interwoven lines. A very nice decorative touch around the top of a chest or on the apron of a table. But made up of this very simple flower.

CLAMP YOUR WORK!!! I don't show the clamp in these pictures but the work is always clamped, as yours should be. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, work on a loose piece of wood - you'll eventually wind up in the ER with a gouge through your hand.

I'm going to use a piece of basswood. I have a piece here that has some defects in it, so I'm going to use half of it for this project. The piece is 12" by 5 1/2" so I'm going to work with a 6" by 5 1/2" work area.

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Millers Falls Braces

Millers Falls Drills


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