Figureheads – part 3

Wow, a whole year has past since the last entry on this series, now that’s what I call ‘occasional’!

OK, so if you recall, I made a big thing about the importance of the jaw-line.  Well, now that I have finally taken some photos of the Brest Tiller, I can illustrate the point with the view of the face from under the neck.   The image also nicely illustrates the prominence of the nose, and, if you look very carefully, the curve of the forehead is just about visible too. dscf3772

















tiller to Brest

Now that the rope-work section only needs tidying up it really is time to move on to the next section.  First of all I developed this pattern on paper cut to the shape of the length of tiller.  The section is going to be ‘interesting’ to lay-out as it tapers, curves and is oval in cross-section. I cut  a sheet to size and trial fitted it before I developed the pattern below:




Once drawn up the pattern was glued in place but once glued in place the pattern was about 2mm out where it stuck more tightly to the curve than it did when it was dry and relatively stiff , so, nothing for it but to draw it directly on to the timber.  First you need a construction grid – four centre lines, one for each side, then verticals to mark the centre for each diamond.  Next mark out half way between every point the vertical and horizontal lines intersect and join them up to form a diamond grid which were thickened:





The lines were then tidied up to give the final lay-out. The diaper flowers are being trialed at the same time, but as these will be carved away, they will be properly laid out at a later stage. Far left shows a turks-head knot ready for carving.






tiller to Brest – update

Things are progressing, slowly, but I am still more-or-less on schedule, having managed to cobble together somewhere near 20 hours carving on the tiller in between and around other work.  I know I felt I would leave the rope-work until the whole thing was roughed out but in the end I have concentrated on getting it done and now the ropework is nearing completion; I think about 5 more hours should see it done.

Hopefully you can see that the work is much deeper and more fully rounded.  You might also see where I have started some fancy ‘whipping’ on the one end: more of that in a later post.  Incidentally the only tool I am using at the moment is a 10mm skew-chisel – the pointed end is essential for getting into the tiny spaces


tiller to Brest

The tiller is coming along, the pictures say it better than my words – about half the length of the knotwork is roughed out, progress is working out at just over an inch an hour – so 12 more hours carving will finish this stage, then I guess about another 15 hours to refine the carving.

The first picture shows the whole length, the spiral roughed out to the left, the pattern marked out and the roughed-out knots in the second, and the third shows the depth of carving the whole length will be carved to eventually. The only tools needed are a small chisel and a v-tool (aka parting tool)


Tiller to Brest

The Brest International Maritime Festival, 2016, is one of the biggest in the world ( and they have invited craftsmen from all over the world to demonstrate in the international craft village, including a contingent from the UK.  Unfortunately I can’t go due to work commitments but the team have agreed to take some of my work to display in the British Craft Village.

The schedule is a little tight, at six weeks, but I am going to try and carve an elaborate tiller, about 48 inches long covered all over with decorative knot-work and with a lion-headed handle I carved a few years ago – about time it was mounted on something.  Current estimate for the work is about 200 hours, plus the time already spent on the lion-head!

So, here is the tiller roughed out from a hawthorn log, you can see the other half of the log beneath it to show how the curve is natural not steam-bent.  Time taken at this point was about 4 hours working with a hatchet, hand-planes and Shinto rasp – no power tools in this project!


Figureheads – part 2

If you’re completely new to figure carving then you need to know that carving a bearded male with a hat on is the easiest type of face to carve, followed by androgonous (neither male nor female) followed by young male, and finally female – old is easier than young – beautiful female is the hardest of all – its all to do with a perfection of symmetry and no imperfections – lines, creases, sags, folds, wrinkles; all distract the viewer to some extent – you read the character of the face rather than its perfect structure.

The bearded male face, at its simplest, is really quick to carve as only the area around the eyes and the ridge of the nose are there to carve, the rest is hidden under beard, moustache and shaggy eyebrows – woodspirits and father Christmasses are a good way into this.

One thing to make sure you always do is to carve stroke for stroke each side of the face – it is really tempting to carve one side of the face and then try to replicate that on the other side but this approach never works as you will not remember what you did well enough to replicate your approach and the symmetry will suffer.  This applies to errors too.  If you make a mistake on the left side you have to deliberately make the same mistake on the right and then correct the left and then correct the right. Every cut on one side should be repeated on the other and that way the symmetry of the face will be maintained.


Carving a half-hull model

Carving a half-hull model is one of my favourite ways to spend time at the carving bench and  is a great ‘novice’ carving project – I carved several when I first started out, including a powerboat, a table-top sculpture of a broads-yacht with sails carved from lime-wood ’till they were transparent, and a j-class yacht with mahogany below the water line and maple above.

There are several ways to carve a half-hull model, with many carvers stating that the best way is to laminate the hull in stepped laminates that follow the hull shape and which are then ‘faired’ into the final form.  This method, it seems to me, is  somewhat ‘potchy’ – you have to cut out and sand flat all those laminates, then glue them and clamp them and then, finally, get to the good bit and carve them into shape – and hope that the glue lines do not show or the model will have to be filled/sanded/painted. I must admit, I far prefer to just get on and carve the thing, although, I do sometimes like to use different colour timbers above and below the water lines.

lines of Albert Strange design ‘Mist’, image from Google Images, believed copy-right free as in public domain

The first thing you will need is a lines plan like the one above – the lines are the shape of the boat drawn on paper to show the 3-d shape of the boat. As you can see the lines plan is a method used to represent a 3-d shape in a 2-d drawing, what might not be so clear at first glance is that it shows the views of the hull from both the front and the back,but if you take a few moments to look at the lines carefully it all quickly becomes clear.  For our purposes the side view, the deck plan and the outline of the boat as seen from the front and rear (bow and stern) are the most important

The lines plans can be enlarged/shrunk to fit the timber and transferred to the block ready for (band)sawing.  Once the block is cut to shape then it can be carved using very few tools – a medium or shallow gouge is ideal, but a chisel can be made to do this work at a pinch. The tool marks must then be removed with a sanding block or Shinto-rasp.

This half-hull was carved using these tools: quick gouge (top)- gouge number 7,8 or 9, flat gouge-number 3, Shinto rasp



imageThe quick gouge is called quick because it removes a lot of material very quickly; best used across the grain to avoid splitting off large chunks if timber, unless you want to do so -it is a useful technique if you are totally sure what will be split away.

The model was finished with a scraper, I never use abrasive cloths or paper unless there is absolutely no alternative.

This half-hull has been finished with a clear wax – the wax is applied and then heated gently with a hair drier until it melts into the wood grain, then buffed with  a soft cloth.