Carving a Family Crest, Final Installment

Welcome to the final post about the carving of the Bailie family crest. Yesterday I left you with a mostly-finished carving. What was left to complete was a final preparation of the two banners, or ribbons, at the top and bottom, the letters for the name and the Latin phrase, and then the finish, or top-coat of the carving.

The edges of the banners needed to be smoothed out and ‘softened’ which meant that I needed to take my micro V-gouge (from Flexcut tools) and cut along the sides so that the banners made a nice arc. Also, the V-gouge is quite a steep V (the cutting edge looks like a small v), and I ran the bottom of the v along the edge of the banner where it rises out of the wood background. That means the V-gouge undercut the wood. Then, I carefully carved the top of the banners with a slight hollow and the edges rolling over. I managed to get that smooth enough with the gouges so that I didn’t have to sand them (phew – I wasn’t quite sure how that was going to happen).

The next step was to lay out the letters, trace them onto the banners, and cut them in. Letter carving is something that requires a great deal of precision. Most of us recognize what letters are supposed to look like, and so it’s easy to be critical of poorly designed or carved letters. Also, this was a family name, and people take great pride in their name. I needed to get this just right. First, I contacted the family to confirm the spelling. Bailie is a bit of an unusual spelling, but it was legitimate and confirmed, so I went ahead laying out the the letters on paper that matched the banners. Once I was satisfied with the look, I transferred the letters and carved them in. When I first started carving letters, I had a tendency to have a light hand – not wanting to carve too deeply in case I made a mistake. But I’m pretty confident in my letter carving, and so I went all out and carved the letters actually deeper than the banners were thick. You can see the effect the deep shadows of the letters and how it makes them stand out. I needed them to, because the rest of the carving was so dramatic that the words might get lost without something extra to make them jump out at you.

After the letters, the carving was ready to be finished. The carving called for a dark look, with an oiled, matte finish. That meant a stain, and then a few coats of tung oil. However, staining carvings is risky because stain shows up any marks or errors in carving. But I have a solution to that, something I learned through my cedar strip canoe building. This is a “trick of the trade” that I’m sharing with you in confidence (shh!) 😉

The trick is to ‘paint’ the carving first with lacquer thinner. It’s amazing all the marks that show up when the lacquer thinner goes on. It quickly evaporates (and is highly toxic) so I do this with a lot of ventilation, usually outside. Then I clean up the spots and give it one final ‘paint’ with thinner to ensure I did it well enough.

Next was to choose a stain colour. A quick sample of 4 stains was sent to the client for choice. She chose the same colour I did – a rich, medium walnut stain. Two coats of the stain, and three coats of tung oil later, and here is how it turned out!

Finished Family Crest
Bailie Crest Completed

The completion of this carving also coincided nicely with an art show that I enter in each year. I entered this carving in it and won a blue ribbon (first place) for relief carvings in my category! As an added bonus to the client, I included the blue ribbon with a description of the award when I delivered the carving.

Bailie Crest Winnter
Blue Ribbon Winner

About the carving:

It’s carved in Butternut, 16″ in diameter by 1″ thick, stained and finished in tung oil. The name “Bailie” is carved in the top banner, and the Latin phrase, “QUID CLARIUS ASTRIS” is carved in the lower banner. It means, “You shine among the stars” or “What is brighter than the stars” and is the Bailie family motto.

I can carve you a family crest too, and depending on the size and level of detail you want, I can do so for somewhere between $300 and $400 – that’s for an heirloom quality carving commemorating your family. Contact me at and we can talk with no obligation.


Grant McMillan


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