We popped out for lunch, as you do, on the weekend but the garden centre didn’t let dogs in the café and as it was pouring down, lunch outside wasn’t an option so we wandered down the road toward Newport and stumbled on a place new to us, the Dragonfly. We had an excellent lunch (highly recommended) and nicely lit, hanging on the wall right behind the table, was a beautifully carved door panel. I’ve seen the pattern reproduced several times over the years but never an actual carving. It would pay any student of carving to study the piece as the technique is outstanding, although I was taught never to stamp the background. Stamp is what you do with your feet, backgrounds should be smooth or lightly tooled…
This was a really fun-yet-frustrating project. Opinels are great pocket knives with very sharp straight-ground blades perfect for whittling. The beech-wood handles, I find, are not so great, being a little too short for my comfort. Searching t’internet revealed many people customise their Opinels, so I thought I would have a go.
Taking the knife apart is straight-forward but needs some moderate amounts of force. Be very careful driving out the pivot-pin, it is very easy to bend (but don’t ask me how I found this out).
Once the knife is broken down, use the handle to take your measurements for the replacement parts, not the metal collar. The metal collar is designed to squeeze the cheeks for the blade-pivot closed just the right amount on the blade and both prevent it from wobbling when open, and to apply a small amount of friction when opening and closing. Therefore, the wooden cone the metal collar fits over needs to be made fractionally over-sized; again, please don’t ask me how I found this out….
Carving the handle was a lot of fun, and luckily I had kept an old broken knife whose snapped blade proved to be the perfect graving tool for cutting the knife slot. I used some off-cuts of buffalo-horn and a small chunk of holly ( Ilex Aquifolium). One of the joys of a project like this is the chance to use up some of those tiny off-cuts you couldn’t bare to throw away – the total length of the handle is only 10cm ! On my screen, the first image is the actual size of the knife.
Being a glutton for punishment, I decided to try some scrimshaw but I couldn’t find any on-line tutorials for engraving on wood. I took the finish down to 400-grit then burnished the holly with brown paper and marked up my design. I scratched in the pattern with a spade-drill bit I sharpened to a needle-sharp point. Note, very little pressure is needed to do the actual engraving. Now, the difference between antler/ivory and wood is the fact that wood grain sucks up liquids, while these liquids just sit in the scratches in antler/ivory. Finding the best ink was a challenge. Paint just ran through the grain and made an unholy mess, so did all the ‘runny’ inks. Charcoal was not dark enough, nor was soot. Eventually I found a fine roller-ball pen that uses a ‘sticky’ ink that worked tolerably well. Of course, being a water-based ink, I couldn’t use a water-based finish as it would wash the ink into the wood-grain, but Danish Oil proved perfect for the task.
Apologies for the awful photo quality
This is a little acanthus scroll trailboard for a Victorian launch restoration, currently at the tweak and finish stage. The turn at the bow end is a little too oval, but otherwise it’s coming together nicely. The thing that really makes a deep relief like this ‘pop’ is to undercut it. Undercutting is done to take the sides of the design out of sight. It is important that this is not overdone or the edges will be weakened. It is also important the back of the carving keeps in contact with the hull; if it is raised it will be susceptible to breaking off when the carving gets knocked. The thing to bear in mind is to avoid pockets for water to collect in.
The first picture shows a vertical view but even here some of the sides of the carving are visible.
Whereas this image is only slightly off-vertical and the sides are clear to see.