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.



netsuke finished

OK, well, lots of experimenting, but this is what I have ended up with.

moon with owl in oak tree, ryusa style netsuke, diameter 4cm

owl in oak tree with moon, rear view


Antler is very resistant to staining and to painting, even these stains have only sat on the surface.  The branches and leaves have been picked out with an acrylic ink, heavily cut with thinners, and the owl has been coloured with a stain known as ‘Yashabushi’ – alder cones boiled down for an hour give a yellow/brown dye, then some iron oxide (rusty screws and nails) react with the tannic acid in the dye to darken it – the more iron oxide, the darker the colour.  The dye should also be left to age – the older it is the better it works (apparently). The final touch was to apply a clear wax and warm with a hair drier to pull the wax into the carving and protect against dirt.


I am deeply indebted to the contributers to the Carving Path forum (see links) without whom this project would not have been completed.

antler carving

It is always good to push yourself, and so I thought I would try something different – antler carving!  The main reason for this is to have a crack at relief carving, like this


Crossbow of Count Ulrich V of Württemberg (1413–1480)

side detail of carved antler, photo/collection New York Met Museum of Art







, or like this,

Crossbow of Count Ulrich V of Württemberg (1413–1480)

Crossbow of Count Ulrich V of Württemberg (1413–1480), detail of carved antler inlay








but I also need some ‘car-carving’ (see June 2013), and, since I have always loved Ryusa-style Netsuke (pronounced net-skee), thought I’d have a go at carving one to establish how antler performs as a carving material.



This is as far as I have got, but the carving is done (more or less) and it is ready for staining (deep-breath)









This is what I have found out about antler carving, but remember, this is my experience with carving one piece from one antler-crown

1. when antler dries it goes very hard but this surface crust takes exceptional detail

2. a splash in warm water and antler goes very soft, rediculously easy to carve and doesn’t dry out for several hours – when soft like this it can even be bent/straightened

3. there is no grain as such and antler does not split or splinter, so no wedging pieces off deliberately or accidentally  You can get away with murder as far as technique is concerned – there is no grain to carve with or across.

4. tools pushed straight into antler will get stuck

5. ordinary carving tools are perfectly fine for carving antler without re-profililng them, gouges are ok but scrapers and engraving tools are fantastic.  For anyone carving antler often then re-profiling your tools to steeper cutting angles is a good idea, so they act less like cutting tools and more like scrapers

6. antler is incredibly strong and can be carved very fine without worrying if it is going to snap

7. If you use saws or rasps or pyrography then antler smells really badly but otherwise doesn’t smell noticeably

8. when carved to a thickness of less than 3mm antler becomes transluscent – you can see light through it

This post will be updated when the owl in oak tree with moon-and-clouds netsuke is all finished, have fun!


finishing off and the joys of working with oak

In post 123, I started this blog by pointing out I have a bunch of tasks left unfinished or half-started, of which starting a blog was first on the list. Well, I have now got around to finishing task number 2.

Last Autumn (2012), I was demonstrating carving in World of Boats Cardiff, where I carved this chap:


He is carved from a railway-sleeper that they had out the back of the yard, and is almost certainly yellow pine. Now yellow pine is a good carving timber, usually, but in this case the wood was not the best and really only allowed for a naiive carving-style as the timber would not take any real detail.

To demonstrate a more delicate style, I started carving Cleo as a rudder-head in oak.

detail of rudder-head work in progress

detail of rudder-head work in progress

Oak is an altogether excellent carving timber, much maligned as ‘too hard’ – people always say something like ‘Oak, isn’t that rather hard?’ In point of fact, although Oak is marginally harder than, say, lime (linden), it is much softer than a fruit wood such as cherry and it carves very well, accepting a high level of detail. It is a far better wood for carving than mahogany.
Anyhow, after finishing in World of Boats, Cleo was left gathering dust OK, so time to tick one more entry off my list, time to finish Cleo.

carve cobra, begin to rough-out hair

carve cobra, begin to rough-out hair

carve eyes, continue carving hair, mouth and chin refined

carve eyes, continue carving hair, mouth and chin refined

just about there

just about there

hair and make-up

hair and make-up


Oak is classed as a resistant timber, meaning it is naturally resistant to rot and can be used as an out-door timber.Tannic acid is death, or at least deeply unpleasant, to beetles, insects, rot-spores and so-on. 

It also is bad for adhesives and ferous metal fastenings, which it disolves but which also turn the oak black – leave a cluster of nails on the timber one lunch-time and see what happens….  Green oak will turn your fingers black if you work in the hot sun as the perspiration on your fingers will react with the tannic acid that leaches out the timber that rubs on your hands. 

Oak’s ability to turn black means that if you apply a coat of vinegar that has been left covering rusty iron (take strong vinegar and drop in a number of rusty items – I used old nails and screws, leave to soak at least over-night, but the longer the better) it will indeed turn black before your very eyes – the wood will go from clear to bluey-black as you watch.  A word of caution, the more recently the timber surface was cut ~(i.e. the wetter it is), the more acid it has to react and the darker it will go – if the surface was exposed a while ago it will only colour to a dark grey. Also, the liquid will be absorbed a long way into the oak, will penetrate below paint and can show through (don’t ask me how I found this out) as it darkens.

Anyhow, Cleo is now for sale, she’ll make a great rudder-head or what have you, she measures 90mm across and 160mm in height.  Make me an offer if your interested, andrewwilliamvart@yahoo.com.