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.


How to….carve a simple dog-head finial


Carving doodles are both great fun, and a quick way to practice new techniques.  I usually keep a small off-cut of hardwood and a carving tool near to hand for doodling with. A great subject for doodling with is animal heads, in this instance dogs.

As we have seen on previous projects, you will need to generate a side view and a top view.  I learned to draw animals using the sausage and egg (‘breakfast’) method, like this:

fried egg plus sausage (rounded rectangle)  to get proportions for side view





fried egg plus 3 sausages gains the top view






Changing the proportions makes a big difference:








Once you have decided on a pattern then transfer the pattern to the timber, the circle is very important as it marks the position for the eyes and ears. I have left the drawing construction lines on the wood  – the vertical line and the horizontal one carry right around the block to accurately position the circle for the eye-brow ridge on the top view, and the corner of the eye and the skull circle on the far side of the block thus ensuring the pattern is squarely aligned on all sides.


First rough out the top profile and side profile and make sure you cut in the curves of the circle too.














Round over the edges, but try not touch the ears – rounding the corners of the head will leave the ears standing proud. The photo is misleading as the lack of shadow and the drawn-on curves for the ears (I changed the design at a later stage) makes it look like I may have rounded the ear section of the block but in fact it has not been rounded at all.



Mark on the eyes, nose and mouth, looks good doesn’t it? You can stop here if you want to but some detailing pays real dividends.



The muzzle has two components that the carver needs to deal with: the top of the muzzle is long and narrow and the ‘jowls’ flare out from it.  Carving this detail creates a triangular hollow where the nose meets the circle of the skull. This hollow is where the eyeball is carved.  Eyes are spherical so make sure you carve the eye sufficiently curved. While you’re at it cut in the mouth and nose.

















Just the ears left




All done. Total number of tools used is one – a nicely sharp knife.



view of underside


view from above