Wight Woodturners


Club Meeting - 27th April 2017

“The Carving of Wood” with guest speaker David Harding


Each year in our meetings programme Wight Woodturners try to invite a guest speaker to talk to members and guests about a wood related subject other than turning. This year we were treated to a fascinating talk by David Harding on wood carving. David’s talk was illustrated by many examples of the different types of his carvings that he brought along. We were also shown a selection of his favourite carving tools.



Guest speaker David Harding starts his talk on carving wood


David was once a member of our own woodturning club but after turning quite a number of similar “round-and-brown” bowls he felt he needed a bit more of a challenge. So, jumping ship, he defected to the Woodcarving Club about eight years ago and has never looked back having found a constant challenge in the vast array of different types of carving to be tackled.


Being a gardener by profession David was “at one” with the natural world of plants and wildlife. Trees were part of his everyday life and these were to yield a plentiful supply wood for carving so there was never any need to buy any. Most of his carvings are from locally sourced trees and shrubs except occasionally where he has been given timber.


Following his introductions David told us about the wood he most liked to use. Sycamore was a firm favourite but it must be sound and dry so that it will cut crisply and cleanly. Spalted wood, as loved by turners, with softness or rot is certainly no good for carving. Fruit wood such as apple, pear and plum are close grained and will hold a fine carved detail. Garden trees such as lilac, dogwood and the strawberry tree (nice examples at Osborne House) look good, carve nicely and will hold detail. Hedgerow shrubs and trees often provide something different and interesting although often only in small sizes. A good oak carving can be spectacular but the grain may be coarse and wild, difficult to tame and may not be able to hold fine detail. Most of David’s carving is done using dry and stable timber he tells us. Using wet wood is certainly possible but it will invariably split as it dries. This splitting can sometimes be used incorporated the design but wood being natural doesn’t always play the game you want it to! Yew, while being very attractive when freshcut, can split badly and will discolour with time so is not always popular with carvers.




A small selection of David’s carving chisels



A small set of blockcutter tools


Next David told us about his array of carving tools he had brought along for us to see. He stressed the wisdom of using really good quality tools from top manufacturers. David favoured tools from Henry Taylor and Sorby. (For other makes see “Resources” section below.) Unlike modern turning tools which are HSS, carving chisels are carbon steel and can hold a thin finely honed razor sharp edge. They are designed to “cut” and not for scraping or digging the wood. For carving, the bevel angle is often only 15º to 18º so the edge is very thin and grinding the shape must be done with great care so not to overheat the steel. To sharpen the carving tool David recommended a natural stone, not carborundum which can be too aggressive. Alternatively a fine diamond hone followed by honing wheel or a leather strop and honing compound may be used. When honed the bevel should have a mirror finish so the tool when cutting will leave a polished surface on the wood. David stressed that carvers need to persevere with each one of their different tools so as to learn exactly how the tool will cut, the mark it leaves on the wood, and what it won’t do! David pointed out that second–hand carving tools and equipment often become available and are certainly worth looking out for. Carving tools come in a vast array of types, shapes and sizes as a quick look at any of the manufacturer’s catalogues or websites will show.


So to the carving itself. David explained there were many different types of carving and, like most art forms, each carver had had a personal preference. One thing that appealed to David when he defected from woodturning was that carving was freehand, all in the eye of the artist, and without measurements! The pinnacle of the carving art is really “carving in the round” which is sculpture. For this, the carver needs the eye of an artist and the ability to observe form, proportion and detail. David explained the use of a tracing grid to transfer and scale a 2D image onto a 3D block of wood.  For subjects from nature the artist/carver needs to be constantly observing shapes and details so the creation from the chisel is lifelike. A little more interesting than turning bowls David quipped!




An “in-the-round” carving using an oak beam from Brook Hill House



David points out some details on a sculpture of a human head




Two different stylistic in-the-round carvings in front of a low relief carved panel



A bold stylistic carving


A flatter form of carving, often found in decorative panels, is known as relief carving. David tells us. There is “high relief” and “low relief” and David brought examples of both for us to see. The two types often start life as a flat plank of wood. Low relief can be basic outlines of simple subjects often set on a textured background. High relief eludes a little more the 3D shape but uses undercutting of the relief to give a depth effect. David admitted that it was quite difficult to achieve the depth-of-field to look effective. David’s Oak Patera and the collection of fruit, leaves and flowers, after the style of Grinling Gibbons, are good examples of high relief carving.





A high relief Patera in oak



A classic carving after the style of Grinling Gibbons





A beautifully effective low-relief carved panel



Lettering is often overlooked but to get a consistent font style takes real skill!


Another form of carving, which can be both flat and in the round uses purely geometric patterns. In the flat this is sometimes called “chip carving”. This is quite different from freehand carving and David assures us that it does need to be accurate to look good! A good challenge for a turner it to turn a pineapple shape and then carve the geometric detail of the pineapple!



A nice example of geometric carving



As with any turning, the finish of the carving is often down to the preferences of the individual carver. However, the style of a carved piece will play a large part in the choice. For the modern style or stylistic pieces which are more shape than detail a smooth sanded finish may be used with an applied finish that enhances the grain patterns within the piece. For high relief and pateras the individual chisel marks are often left intact to enhance the piece in a similar way to brush strokes in an oil or acrylic painting. David tells us that sometimes a gentle burnishing of the wood with its own shavings is used the give the wood a subtle sheen. Low relief carvings often have a smooth and non-matt finish.


Unlike turning where the turner can have a respectable bowl after thirty minutes or so at the lathe, carving is a much more lengthy process often taking weeks or months. David tells us that he may have up to six carvings on the go at any one time. This allows him to slowly “grow into” the carving and develop its character. Moving from one project to another gives him time to observe the shapes and details he needs to plan the next cuts without having to rush on with a single project. Through this process many carvings often have a sense of peace and calm about them, just as does the carver.


Throughout the evening David was able to illustrate to us many types of carving all of which demonstrated David’s great range of skills. But, perhaps the two pieces most liked by the audience were two “still life” carvings, the gloves on the book and the gentleman’s wallet. These were really magical and a fantastic credit to the carver.





The Gentleman’s Wallet



The Gloves on the Book


Wight Woodturners expressed their thanks to David for a most interesting and inspiring evening.


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Information and Resources

    If you’ve been inspired by the talk on wood carving and would like to follow it up here are a few leads

Carving Tools – are available from a number of manufacturers such as:-

Henry Taylor – click  here

Robert Sorby – click  here

Ashley Iles – click  here  (catalogue in our Club Library)

Alex Trianti – click  here


Books on CarvingJust a couple of books from a vast selection available.

The Complete Book on Woodcarving  by  Everett Ellenwood – see here

Artistic Relief Patterns  by  Lorna Irish – if you need some ideas – see here

Carving on Turning  by  Chris Pye – if you want to start with something round!

                                                               (Available as a Guest Book from our Club Library)




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Next Club Evening Thursday 25th May  at 19:30


Don’t forget bring along your “Lidded Box” Competition entry!

At our evening there will also be:-


Timber Sales

Website help with our Webmaster



Tea Bar



Peter Smart

7th May 2017