Carved Corbels

Completed Corbel
Completed Corbel

As regular readers of this blog will know, I’ve been carving a pair of corbels in oak for some time now. I’m proud to say that they are complete and are waiting for finishing (stain, lacquer, installation). These have taken a long time to complete from start to finish, so I thought you might like to know what steps were taken to complete these.

  1. Dream and vision: the owner of the home has had a vision for his house that spans at least 30 years. He knew he wanted corbels supporting a beam in the entryway for at least that long.
  2. Contact the carver (me) to confirm the possibility. As you now know, I said yes. I don’t remember the exact wording my reply, but it probably went like this: “No problem – I can do that.”
  3. The owner and I with our partners took a cruise (ok, it was on BC Ferries) to Vancouver Island, specifically to look at and photograph some of the architectural details in Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria. Several different photos of the corbels in the Castle provided the ideas for the ones I carved (pictured above).
  4. The owner’s partner Sandi Stephens drew up the design.
  5. The owner’s carpenter, Larry Kwiatkowski, glued up the wood and cut out the shape on a bandsaw.
  6. The owner had me rough out the general shape of some of the curves. I argued this was an unnecessary step, but he couldn’t envision the job without me doing this, so I did it (hey, it’s his money).
  7. Sandi Stephens transferred the drawing to the wood (also unnecessary, but again the owner…).
  8. I roughed out the leaves and stems of the acanthus motif, set the basic depths, and showed the progress to the owner, who approved with a few modifications.
  9. I finished the carving to about 90% complete, and took the corbels to the owner for one last chance to make changes. I looked at the other carvings I’ve done for him and determined how to complete the corbels so they would match the rest of the carvings.
  10. I completed the carving and spent numerous hours sanding. A helpful sanding product is self-adhesive emery paper, which I cut out and stuck to my fingers, sticks, needle files and just about anything that was the right shape and curvature to help speed up the monotonous sanding. Personally, I hate sanding and much prefer carvings that are finished right from the chisels and gouges, but see my previous comments about the owner….

There are two headblocks to be carved, which will be placed above the corbels and under the beams. Stay tuned to see what they look like.

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

One of the things I do is to carve signs. I enjoy it because signs represent something – they stand for things, and have meaning. They convey a message. I take pride in being able to understand the meaning that the client wants to portray and to be able to create that through my carvings.

Here are a couple of signs for Fort Langley that I am almost finished. 

  
Here’s a link to the Fort Langley Bakery Facebook Page

Here’s a link to Waldo & Tubbs, a pet supply store.

Carving a Corbel

A corbel is a piece of architecture that supports a beam or some such structure above it. Corbels are almost always decorated and often quite extensively. One of my very best clients has contracted me to carve two of these pieces which will sit at the top of a staircase and balcony overlooking the foyer and entrance of the home. They will support a gorgeous oak beam with some traditional Georgian elements to them.

Cleaned up Corbel
Cleaned up Corbel

This corbel is designed to look like a large scroll with acanthus leaves growing up the front and sides. The acanthus leaves are extensive and richly designed.

Acanthus Leaf Drawing
Acanthus Leaf Drawing

My first task was to carve a curve along the top left and right sides which allows the acanthus leaves to wrap over the front of the corbel like fingers of a large hand gripping the architectural piece. Then I carved the scroll and leaves on the side.

Corbel Side
Corbel Side

Then I turned my attention to carving the top face of the corbel and those large finger-like leaves curving across.

Corbel Top Quarter
Corbel Top Quarter

Then my job was to continue to the other side and do the same work.

Corbel Top
Corbel Top

On one side, the leaves curve down to the background, but the other side will curve up and away from the background at the tips of the leaves.

Next, i will turn my attention to the heavy bottom of the scroll. These leaves will be easier to carve because I don’t have to blend them into the side of the corbel. However, the grain of the wood shifts from side grain to end grain as the scroll wraps around, which adds some complexity. The main problem is trying to ensure the carved leaves have enough structural strength to not have little bits vulnerable to being knocked off during the carving process or afterwards when cleaners will be dusting the work.

Check back soon to see the progress on the lower half of the corbels.

Grant

Carvings in Hope

We went home to my Mom’s place in Hope, BC for Easter. While we were there, I managed to get a new picture of one of my earliest carvings. It is a carving of a decaying leaf,  carved out of some decaying wood which somehow seems to work for me.

Leaf Bowl
Leaf Bowl

Early one morning, my wife and I took a quick walk around town and admired a few of the many, many wood carvings there. Two that jumped out at me this time were carved by Pete Ryan,  who has recently been part of a fun new TV show, Carver Kings.

The carving below is called “Man in Motion” and it is a carving of Rick Hansen, known for his Man in Motion tour to raise money for research into spinal injuries and their treatments.

Man in Motion by Pete Ryan
Man in Motion by Pete Ryan

The second carving that we admired was also carved by Pete Ryan, and is of a police dog that died in the line of duty, which is explained briefly in the plaque that is attached. You can read more about the story here (scroll down to the story about Chip).

Police Dog Memorial carved by Pete Ryan
Police Dog Memorial carved by Pete Ryan

Most of the large carvings in Hope have been carved by Pete Ryan. All the carvings are top quality and show the incredible skill of the carvers. Be sure to stop in town and take a walking tour of the carvings. They are impressive. Don’t forget to pick up a coffee at the Blue Moose, a top-notch coffee shop right across the street from several of the carvings.

Woodcarving Course Update

Yesterday I had some fun teaching a woodcarving course at the Coquitlam location of Lee Valley Tools. There were seven students with varying degrees of experience. We carved an acanthus leaf in aspen.

Acanthus Leaf in aspen.
Acanthus Leaf in aspen.

Lee Valley Tools is doing a good thing with these seminars that teach skills such as wood carving. The participants got to try out new tools and many of them bought one or two that they liked. This will improve their carving experience. We all learned new things, and everyone went home with a mostly finished new piece of art. My own personal favourite carving gouge is a Henry Taylor #3 in half-inch width.

Carving in aspen is very nice. It is much cheaper than basswood and is at least as easy to carve. It does tend to fuzz when sanded and can be more brittle and prone to breaking, but it hold good detail especially in a low-relief carving such as this one.

I left my card with each participant in the hopes that they will contact me and keep up with their carving.

I look forward to doing this again.

Carving a Bust of a Horse

Nose to Nose with a Horse
Nose to Nose with a Horse

Months ago I started carving a bust of a horse out of a parallam beam off-cut given to me by my friend Carl, which I wrote about here. I’ve been chipping away at it in my spare time between commissions for clients. It has been a most interesting project for me. The parallam “wood” acts like most other woods except for when it doesn’t. I have discovered that not all the wood fibers have accepted the glue. These show up when I’ll be using a gouge, cutting away by pounding it with my mallet. The gouge will suddenly slip and skip over the sculpture. What happens is my gouge will partially cut through a long fiber (more like a strip of wood) and will pull the strand loose when it will slide out of the sculpture and cause my gouge to take off for regions unknown! I have learned to keep a firm grip on those gouges. Fortunately, this has happened only once in an obvious location, leaving a gap in the left nostril. I am undecided about whether to fix it or leave it, although I’m leaning towards leaving it.

A good look at the wood strands.
A good look at the wood strands.

This “wood” is unique in another way. The wood strands used to make up the beam are softwoods (spruce, pine, and fir), but the glue is incredibly hard. It causes my gouges to dull quickly, sometimes even folding over an edge. It’s much worse than carving in hard rock maple! I’m wearing my tools down at an alarming rate, and spending an inordinate amount of time resharpening them.

Horse Bust Progress
Horse Bust Progress

Years ago I learned from an experienced carver/sculptor to work on the whole carving all at once so as to not lose perspective. In general, that’s what I’m doing here, sculpting the snout, neck, ears, etc. as I go along so as to not lose their places as I remove relatively large chunks of wood. I plan to leave parts which will have more delicate details like the mane, ears and eyes, to the end. For now, I’m just giving them the basic outlines with the details to be added later.

But this will go back on the shelf for a while because a client dropped off another carving project.

Cheers!

Grant McMillan

Ironing Wood

Ironing wood
Ironing wood

Woodworkers and sculptors have to be a resourceful bunch. The problems we face take a little ingenuity to overcome, which is why I enjoy this work so much. In this case, a client contacted me about carving a couple of corbels for his home. These turned out to be very large – much larger than can typically be purchased from a catalogue of pre-cast architectural elements (I won’t call them carvings because they’re not carved anymore). They were so large that his carpenter couldn’t find a band saw to cut them out whole. Instead, they were cut out in smaller widths before being glued together to make the large corbels. Of course, they weren’t perfect at this point, with some lumps and bumps to be smoothed out and some curves had to be hand-carved before his designer could transfer the drawings on them.

Of course I said it was no problem to do this. After all, I solve these sorts of issues all the time for people. How hard could it be?

As it turned out, It was harder than I thought. The corbels would not fit in my 14 inch band saw. My hand planes would not work because the design wouldn’t let me get into the corners. Hmm. What to do?

[Sits, stares into space, runs through mental list of tools available, crosses each one off the list, stares into space…]

I was fortunate to have a father who was an excellent wood worker and who took great pleasure making jigs to expand the use of his tools and to solve common problems of wood workers. He loved making jigs so much that when I gave the eulogy at his funeral, I said that he was up in Heaven making jigs so God could make more stuff. Taking inspiration from my father, I asked, “What would Vic do? He would make a jig.” Lights went on, ideas were formed and I went to work creating two jigs.

The first jig was for my well-loved and very sharp cross-cut hand saw. I set up the jig to control both the depth of cut and to remove any chance of it wandering and creating a waggly line. It was simple and worked like a charm. I used the saw to ensure a uniform elevation of each straight line across the width of the corbels.

The second jig was more complicated and took a couple of days to create. In fact, it turned out to be a fairly common form of hand plane, although it was custom fitted to this project. It required some hardwood, epoxy glue, four screws, and some drying time, which is why it stretched out over a couple of days.

Chisel Plane
Chisel Plane

I needed a plane that would get right into the corners, and yet be large enough to leave a perfectly flat finish over a long span. This chisel plane “jig” worked better than I could have hoped. I designed it so I could insert wedges to change the angle of blade at the mouth of the plane to reach into the corners of an acute angle. That meant I had to grind a straight chisel into a skew chisel to make that happen, but it worked!

And one more problem emerged. Somehow, between the three people involved in making these corbels, some dents were made in the wood in some highly visible locations. These needed to be removed. I knew that fitting these corbels into the entire architecture of the location would be challenging enough without sanding down the sides and changing angles and widths, so I didn’t want to do that. Also, I enjoy wowing clients, so I set about removing the dents with a hot iron and damp cloth – essentially ironing the dents out of the corbels. I deliberately left the pencil marks which would show the client that no sanding had occurred that would change the edges or angles. He noticed and I got a punch on the arm when I said I used a little magic to remove the dents.

Now I could begin carving the initial shapes into the sides and corners of the corbels.

Cleaned up Corbel
Cleaned up Corbel

Happy clients mean more work, and solving difficult problems is what I enjoy doing. It doesn’t hurt to have an inspirational father and a little magic up your sleeve.

Work your magic!

Grant