Carving an 1890’s Style Fireplace Mantel

I received a commission from a local couple to carve the decorative elements for their fireplace mantels. These two mantels are rather large in size and are situated in two very beautifully designed rooms. One is made out of American Black Walnut, the other is made in Mahogany. The decorative elements will be attached to the face of the mantels and stained and varnished to match.

After several meetings with the owner and looking at numerous drawings and designs, I decided to start by making a photocopy of each piece to be carved including the elevation marks and design notations. Then I spray-glued the paper to the wood and cut each piece out using my band saw:

American Black Walnut mantel pieces to be cut out.


I started carving one of the more challenging pieces – the ribbon bows. They are challenging because they are to stand 3/4 of an inch tall, but also must be pierced through and must look like a ribbon, with all the curves and creases and folds of a typical ribbon bow. The results are as follows:

Carved Ribbon Bows
The ribbon bows carved in American Black Walnut.


The next pieces I’ll focus on are some flowers. This walnut seems to be old wood, tight grained and very, very hard. My tools have taken a beating and I’ve spent quite a bit of time sharpening them. The walnut finishes up beautifully directly from the carving gouge, with that glossy, burnished glow from razor-sharp tools and good quality wood. I know when I must resharpen my tools when I no longer feel like the tool is doing the work and I’m getting tired from trying to force it too much.

On the home front, the weather in Langley has been unseasonably wet and cool and our garden plot in the Walnut Grove Community Gardens has taken a beating as a result. In spite of the weather we’ve had a couple of crops of strawberries already, although we’ve lost a few precious berries to rot and the odd slug. The next things to harvest will be lettuce and rhubarb.

Our garden
Our garden in the Walnut Grove Community Gardens.




It was a rare day without rain yesterday and I was able to move my carving station out to the sundeck (a wishful term around these parts). We had friends drop in while I was carving and Scott was able to try some of my carving gouges on some scrap wood. He was a natural and has a potential future as a wood carver!

Until next time,



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