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  • Without doubt, the acanthus leaf isone of the most widely usedplant motifs in the decorative arts. Its origins lie in the ancient Roman and Greek empires and have been traced back as far as the fifth century BC.

    The Acanthus Mollis is a Mediterran- ean plant which is also known as ‘Bears Breeches’ or ‘Brank Ursine’. It was styl- ized in different ways for Greek, Roman, Byzantinian and Gothic arts but has remained in constant use.

    During the renaissance and the revival of classical Roman and Greek decoration, the acanthus leaf returned to its most favoured form and its presence spread wherever European tastes were adopted.

    Design It is good practice to collect pictures of

    antique furniture and study how the leaf designs have been used. The leaf can also be found carved into stone to decorate buildings in towns and cities, especially those of the eighteenth century. Photo- graphs of these decorations can prove to be a valuable source of inspiration when

    developing designs of your own. Photo.2 is a fine example of acanthus

    decoration carved into wooden mould- ing. This moulding was salvaged from the fire at Windor Castle in 1992 and was used as a pattern by carvers during the restoration work.

    Project Preparation This issue’s carving project (Photo.1 &

    Fig.1) forms an introduction to the acan- thus leaf and flower and will also encour- age you to start thinking in three dimen- sions with your carving. Inspired by a Victorian design, the pattern is not elabo- rate in detail, but provides scope for shap- ing in various ways. On completion it can be applied to a panel if desired as an embellishment.

    I used Mahogany for this piece but any good carving material can be used.

    It is important that the profile of the leaf formation is the same on both sides to provide balance. However, the shaping does not need to be exactly symmetrical.

    Enlarge the drawing in Fig.1 to scale, ensuring that each grid of the square mea- sures 20mm x 20mm. You can make the acanthus smaller or bigger than this if you

    Fig.1: An acanthus design based on carv- ings from the Victorian era. Enlarge the pattern so that the grid squares measure 20mm x 20mm

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    NUMBERS Pt.7 — Acanthus Leaves and Flowers by Mike Davies

    Woodcarving By

    Photo.1: Acanthus leaf and flower decoration

    Fig.2: Tool profiles used in this series

    38 Australian Woodworker July/August ’14

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  • wish, but the pattern at this size has been deliberately designed to suit the tool pro- files shown in Fig.2.

    Prepare your carving blank, 155mm x 120mm x minimum 30mm thick (Pho- to.3). Ensure that one face of the timber is planed perfectly flat, as this will be re- quired for the rear of the carving.

    Mark the pattern onto the timber with the grain running from top to bottom. This can be done by using carbon paper or making a cardboard template. It is impor- tant to be as accurate as possible with the drawing of the pattern onto the blank (Photo.4).

    Use a scrollsaw to cut out the shape, taking care to cut on the waste side of the marked line (Photo.5). Once again, work as accurately as possible.

    You need to firmly secure the blank to

    Photo.3: Preparing the carving blank

    Photo.4: Using a template to transfer the pattern

    Photo.2: An example of acanthus decoration carved into a moulding from Windsor Castle

    Photo.6: One way to mount the blank is to glue it to a timber board after the back has been scored and waxed

    Photo.5: Cutting out the outline of the acanthus leaf using a scrollsaw

    Australian Woodworker July/August ’14 39

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  • a work surface before you can begin to carve. One method is to attach the work with two screws through the rear of a backboard. Always make sure that the backboard is big enough so that you can then fix the board to your work surface (vice, bench, etc).

    If you choose this approach then it is essential to carefully position the screws in a part of the carving that will remain high. There are few things worse than finding a buried screw with your razor sharp carving tools.

    Another problem with fixing the work with screws, is that support is not provid- ed for the entire carving. If your design requires fine areas that are carved thin and close to the backboard, you may find that they can be easily broken during carving.

    An alternative method is to glue the work to a backboard. Ensure that the back of the carving blank is perfectly flat and clean. Lightly score a chequered pattern onto the back of the wood using your skew chisel #1 or a marking knife. Then rub a candle over the surface to apply a thin coating of wax. Glue can then be applied and the carving blank clamped to the board until the glue is dry. This works with any sort of woodworking glue in- cluding conventional PVA (Photo.6).

    All elements of the carving blank are now held firmly in place to allow you to carve the project piece.

    On completion, the carving can be released using a thin pallet knife. Some carvers opt for paper in the joint instead of wax, although this may result in a weaker joint and the back of the carving will require more cleaning up. If you do use paper, apply glue to both sides before placing it between the carving blank and the board.

    Carving the Pattern Position the blank on your bench so

    that the grain is pointing away from you. Select tool profile #4 (Fig.1) and hold

    the tool in the Pinch position. Set in the profile of the two flowers in the middle of the carving, making sure that the cuts are at 90° to the surface of the wood (Pho- to.7).

    Use the tapping technique with tool #5 to remove the surrounding timber from the flowers. Continue to set the profile of the flowers in more deeply as you pro- gress, until the timber around the flowers is reduced to a thickness of around 15mm.

    Try to achieve a clean, flat surface around the flowers using tool #11.

    You can view my demonstration of the Significant Six tech- niques by scanning in the QR code, or by typing “Record Power Significant Six Techniques with Mike Davies” into your internet search engine.

    With a pencil, divide the blank down the middle and add curved lines to the left and right (Photo.8).

    Photo.9: Using tool #6 to create a clean straight line at the bottom of the valley

    Photo.7: With the #4 tool held in the Pinch position, the flowers are set in

    Significant Six QR Code

    Photo.11: Roughing in the shape of the leaves

    Photo.10: Setting in the profile of one flower. Note the shape of the centre valley between the ridges

    Photo.8: Drawing more detail on the blank

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  • These curves will later become high ridges when carved.

    With chisel #8, carefully carve be- tween the curved lines below the flowers to form a valley. You can see in Photo.9 how tool #6 is used to create a clean

    straight line at the bottom of this valley. The finished result is shown in

    Photo.10. Note how an inverted pyramid shape has been created where the bottom scroll meets the leaves.

    In Photo.10, one flower is being defined from the other by setting in the entire profile of the flower and angling the other towards it.

    At this point you can start to rough in the shape of the leaves, using various pro- files from your tool kit (Photo.11). In the

    same photograph you can see how the flowers have taken on their rough shape.

    Create a concave shape on the two larger leaves leading down towards the scroll. Try to keep the edges of the leaves high, where they meet each other in the centre of the design.

    Think about each cut that you are about to make and visualise how you want the leaf to lie. You might find it use- ful to collect leaves from the garden for reference and experiment with the shape to ensure that your carving looks realistic.

    If you are working to your own design, I would recommend that you create a pat- tern first in clay or plasticine so that you can be certain of the shape that you want.

    Australian Woodworker July/August ’14 41

    Photo.12: Removing the waste from around the scrolls

    Photo.13: Marking the flowing lines in the leaves. Note the various carved shapes at this stage

    Photo.16: Refining the back of the acanthus carving

    Photo.15: Releasing the carving from the backboard using a pallet knife pressed into the joint

    Photo.14: Forming the valleys between the leaves

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  • You can use your wood carving tools to cut away the clay or plasticine.

    Form the scrolls by setting in each shape with tool #4 and removing the excess timber from around the cuts with tools #4 and #12 (Photo.12).

    In Photo.13 the overall shape has now been formed or ‘roughed in’.

    When you have the shape figured out for the leaves and flowers, round over each scroll with tool #4. Hold the tool in the Fist position and practise the sliding technique to create clean shapes for the head of each scroll. Remember to finish each cut by ensuring that you have re- moved all of the waste material.

    Otherwise your work begins to look very untidy if you leave splinters of timber attached.

    In Photo.13, note how a series of lines has been created, flowing together with- out any