Celtic Relief


Celtic Relief

Zoe Gertner carves a celtic relief pattern

The Celts are well known for their art, ornamentation and jewellery. Instantly recognisable, there is a fascination with Celtic designs, their interweaving straps, knots and complicated looking undulations representing stories and religious symbolism. As well as decorating precious objects, such as jewellery, brooches and daggers, for the woodcarver the style can easily be applied to boxes, furniture and mirror or photo frames. The techniques shown to carve this simple pattern can be used for carving most Celtic designs with interwoven plaits or straps, however complicated a design you might choose to carve in the future.

Things you will need
• Cardboard
• Scissors
• 6mm or 3mm 60° ‘V’-tool
• Selection of widths
• No.3 gouges, including 6mm and 3mm
• No.2, 6mm skew chisel
• Punch and light hammer

A turning blank of cedar (Cedrus libani), approximately 200mm diameter was used, but other suitable timbers could be sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), lime (Tilia vulgaris) or beech (Fagus sylvatica) or any fairly close grained timber at any size you wish, however, a lighter coloured timber will show carved detail more clearly than a darker one.

Starting carving

1. The first thing to do is to draw a simple pattern, showing how to carve the strapwork that is used in most Celtic patterns. Using thin card (a cereal packet is ideal), cut it to the shape of your turning blanks, folded in four and draw your design in one corner

2. Then, cut the outline out with scissors

3. Now unfold the card and place it centrally on the blank. Align the pattern with the grain running horizontally. Draw a border around the edge of the blank

4. Draw around the outline onto the surface of your timber, producing a symmetrical pattern in each quarter of the circle

5. Redraw over any faint lines so that they are clear, ready to mark out the pattern with the ‘V’-tool

6. Using the ‘V’-tool with a mallet, work in the direction shown by the red arrows around each of the straps and the border to cut a clean edge along each side of them. It is advisable to mark the correct direction in which to work with the ‘V’-tool before you start – see diagrams 1 and 2

Diagram 1. Using a V tool

Diagram 2. How to cut with a V tool

7. Next, reduce the background areas. Before starting to remove this, number them as ‘1’, or shade them with chalk or pencil so you do not remove a strap by mistake. Using the No.3 gouge and turning it, match the curves, cut along the outlines of each strap by aligning the cutting edge against the angled side of the ‘v’ cut previously made with the ‘V’-tool

8. Using the No.3 gouge with its bevel down, make opposing cuts to deepen and widen the ‘v’ channel around the edges of the straps – see diagrams 3 and 4

Diagram 3. Deepening the V Channel around the outline

Diagram 4. Removing the background in a refined area

9. From each side, extend your cuts back to the middle of the area to be removed, then pare away the little ridge remaining in the middle. Smooth off the surface of the background between the straps

Interweaving the straps
To interweave the straps, they must cross each other, that is, one strap must either pass over or under the other

10. Before you start carving the interweaving straps, it is helpful to mark their underlying sections (shown in red) to avoid making mistakes

11. Turn the No.3 gouge so it corresponds with the curve of the edges of the upper strap and make a stopcut across the underlying strap, each side of the upper one. Then with the tool bevel down, carefully pare the area (marked red) adjacent to the upper strap, removing the red coloured area and making an imperceptible slope each side. Repeat this for the rest of the underlying straps

12. Cut clean all meeting edges and remove any deep or errant cuts. The tiny triangular areas of the background can be pared clean using a No.2 skew chisel

13. To make a nice contrast and show the straps clearly, texture the background using a punch with light hammer blows

14. Finish the carving with several coats of wax polish and buff with a lint free duster

 Top tips
At any stage of a carving it is inadvisable to sand, because the resultant abrasive dust that remains over your carving after you have sanded will blunt your tools’ edges. The cuts from really sharp tools should suffice for finishing and it’s good practice to re-sharpen your tools before making your final cuts with them.
2.When texturing the background with a punch, it is very easy to split the fibres
of a soft timber if you hit the punch head too heavily with the hammer. It is a good idea to practise beforehand using the punch on the back of the carving to find out how much force will be necessary

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