Cherry Dragon


Cherry Dragon:
Duane Cartwright carves a pierced relief dragon in cherry.

Duane Cartwright carves a pierced relief dragon in cherry

This little dragon is carved as a pierced relief and could be carved as a weekend project, depending on the species of wood you choose and other commitments you may have. For this little dragon I chose to carve in American black cherry (Prunus serotina) for its warm colour and its subtle grain pattern, plus it’s one of my favourite woods to carve. But you could use any suitable timber, just keep aware of the grain direction and any possible weak areas or knots that could effect the carving when choosing your wood.
I’ve carved this as a pierced relief with the back carved so as to create shadow and depth. It also helps to give the impression of the dragon flying across the wall. This dragon could also be carved as a bas-relief by keeping the background on, which could make life easier if you don’t own or have access to a bandsaw/jigsaw or similar. You could also carve it as a pierced relief but with no back carving. Leaving the back flat would make mounting the carving on to another flat surface, such as a cupboard door, much easier.
The dragon is a mythical creature which features in most cultures in one form or another. There are many different types of dragon, but the two most easily recognisable types are the eastern and western and they are both very different beasts in nature and appearance. The eastern dragon is portrayed as magical, kind, wise and intelligent animal, where the western dragon is more of an evil, fire-breathing beast that hoards gold, eats maidens and is generally feared. The dragon is generally made from a mishmash of animals we respect and fear from the past and present, such as the remains of dinosaurs and other beasts unearthed from the past to the animals of today like the crocodiles, lizards and snakes, with the wings from bats and the feet and claws from the birds. Then there are features such as the heads and tails from mammals like lions and camels. The dragon, along with other mythical beasts, has long been a popular subject for us carvers and sculptures, as it gives us loads of possibilities and freedom on how we can design and carve them. I’ve designed this one with a serpentine body like the eastern dragon but with the head, wings and tail of a western dragon. You could try changing parts of the design, for example adding legs or scales to make it more unique and individual as every dragon should be.

Things you will need
• Bandsaw/coping saw
• Drill
• Hooked skew
• No.3, 6mm
• No.2, 20mm
• No.3, 12mm
• No.6, 6 & 12mm
• No.7, 14mm
• No.8, 16mm
• No.9, 5mm
• No.11, & 10mm
• No.39, 2mm
• 100-400 grit abrasives
• Sanding sealer
• Microcrystalline wax
• American cherry (Prunus serotina) 320mm long x 120mm wide x 25mm thick

Drawings and how to resize them
To enlarge or reduce the size of drawings right click on the image to download it and then go HERE to watch a video on how to use paper with a grid to do exactly that.

Top tip: Cherry wood is a straight grained wood with a fine texture that is easy to work. It has more of a grain than lime and basswood and can split on weak areas, so extra care needs to be taken to prevent fragile areas such as the tip of the horns from splitting.

Carving this design as a bas-relief by lowering the background by roughly 5-10mm, once you’ve carved the dragon’s detail you could either use gouges and carve in or texture the background using punches. The textured background will help to make the carving stand out and will add to the overall effect of the carving.

The dragon is a mythical animal and is the general name given to a group of beasts that include other mythological creatures, such as gargoyles, wyverns, phoenix, cockatrices, basilisks, hydras and many more. With all of the dragons from different cultures past and present, plus with TV and film, the dragon is an ever-evolving beast that still captures our imaginations.

1. Start by printing the pattern at the required size for your chosen piece of timber. Then either glue the printout or, using a carbon stick or paper, trace the pattern on to the piece of wood. Now use a drill to make some pilot holes into the inner waste areas. If you’re keeping the background then drill to just above the required depth of the background

2. Using a bandsaw, jigsaw or something similar to cut away the outer waste wood, when sawing try to saw a millimetre or two on the outside of the line. That way you have enough wood left to allow for removing the saw marks. Alternatively, carve down the background to its required depth, cleaning up the drill marks if you are carving a bas-relief

3. Now, use a coping saw, scroll saw or something similar and cut out the inner waste areas. As before leave a millimetre or two to allow for removal of saw marks. If you are creating a bas-relief, carve down these areas using a spoon chisel, which will help in lowering the background

4. Now secure the dragon ready for carving. I used a peg board attached to a carving vice to secure the project for carving, though using glue and paper to fix a scrap piece of wood to the back of the carving will work just as well. Using a deep gouge, sketch around the wing where it overlaps the body

5. Use a No. 8 gouge or similar to carve down the body and neck areas to roughly half the original thickness of the wood, so the wing, the tip of the tail and head all stand proud. Then, continue using a deep gouge such as the No. 11 sweep to refine the edge of the webbing of the wing and around the tail

6. Use a deep 11 sweep gouge or similar to carve around the dragon’s frill, then use a medium to shallow gouge and start to shape the contours of the head so the frill stands proud and level for now

7. Now start to carve the wing back so the top of the wing and its horn slopes back and tucks behind the dragon’s head, horns and frill, to about half the original wood’s thickness, leaving the ends of the wing at the original surface level for now

8. Use a small, deep gouge to redefine where the wing joins the body, then with a shallow gouge round over the body and tail removing the saw marks, blending and smoothing these areas as you go

9. Now draw the ridges (the wing’s fingers) on to the wing and the horn in place then, with the best fitting gouge, create a stop cut across the wing’s horn. With a hooked skew or similar start to carve the horn to its rough shape. You will need to finish refining it later once the head’s horns are carved

10. Using a large, deep gouge start to carve in the folds of the wing. Keep an eye on the grain direction as you will need to change the direction of the cut so as to keep the ridges clean and crisp. Also, using a rolling slicing cut in between the ridges will help to keep the ridges looking crisp

11. Back to the head, use a medium to deep sweep gouge to shape around the cheek area, the cheek being the second highest point on the head after the frill and the top of the horns, the beak/mouth area will be the lowest part of the head. Adding the contours of the head as you go

Top tip: If you have trouble visualising an area to be carved, say the contours of the head, then using some modelling clay or polymer to make a model/marquette can help to work out how the features look before committing to the carving itself.

12. Draw the eye, horns, mouth etc. on to the head, then, once you’re happy with their placement, use a small veiner or V-tool to carve in the eye and then blend with various gouges. Use a hooked skew or similar to define the corner of the eye

13. When carving in the horns and removing the saw marks in between them you will have to do some carving against the grain. Using a hooked skew or knife with a slicing cut and taking off small slithers will help to leave a clean cut and make life easier

14. Use a No. 6, 6mm or similar to create some stop cuts on the mouth, separating the upper and lower jaw, then use a fishtail gouge to carve the lower jaw up to the stop cuts. Continue rounding over, blending and shaping the mouth beak area

15. Using a deep No.9, 5mm or similar with a rolling slicing cut, (which will help to keep the ridges crisp and prevent them from crumbling) carve in some grooves on the frill

16. Draw the back of the neck in place then, with a deep gouge, start to separate the spines from the neck and tail, rounding the neck and tail as you go. You can now gain better access to finish shaping the wing’s horn

17. Redraw the curvature of the webbing between the wing’s fingers and the frill, then with the best fitting gouges add a slight slice going with the grain as you cut down, creating a clean edge to the webbing between the wing’s fingers

18. Using a shallow gouge reversed finish off shaping the tail, rounding over the edges of the tip of the tail, giving it an arrow shape, then, using a No. 11 gouge sweep or similar, carve in two grooves where the end of the tail joins the arrow head and blend them together

19. Now draw a line along the top edge of the wing. This will be the wing’s thickness and will help to keep the wing an even thickness while carving. Also consider the overall strength of the wing when marking out the thickness. Then mark out the gap between the horns on the dragon’s head and any other area that over or underlaps

Top tip: When back cutting protecting the front of the carving with its detail is most important. The last thing you want to do is damage or break a part. One of the most common problems is putting dents into the wood, quite often from chippings that get caught between. Using some kind of cushion will help – a sandbag or foam can conform to the shape of the carving, giving it some support and protection. On very fragile carvings, make a box with the sides deeper than the carving, then gently wrap the carving in cling film and place face down in the box, placing something on-top of the box so the carving won’t rise up, then use some expanding foam to fill the gaps in the box. Once set, remove the cling film and you can now back carve knowing the carving is secure plus the foam won’t damage your sharp chisels as you carve.

20. Turning the carving over and securing it with some clamps, start to back cut it by sloping the wing back to the line just drawn, giving it its finished thickness. Also carve back the tail so it appears to come forward in front of the body, making it thinner rounding and blending with the front

21. Use a veiner or V-tool to carve in between the horns to start to separate them. Be  aware of the wing’s horn as you carve between the head’s horns, Then use a hooked skew/knife or something similar to give shape to the horns. A slicing cut will help as you will have to carve against the grain in between the horns

22. As with the front, draw on the back of the neck and tail where the spines join the body and the areas that under and overlap each other. Use a No.9, 5mm or similar to separate the spines from the neck, making them thinner, which will add more shadow behind them giving them a lighter look. Continue rounding the neck over, blending it so the neck seems to be almost in the round

23. Once all of the back cutting is done try holding the carving against a wall or flat surface to look at the thickness of the wing etc. and how the shadows project the carving forward. Once you’re happy with the back cutting turn the carving back over and use a fishtail gouge and a hooked skew to undercut the webbing on the wing and frill

24. Sanding is a personal choice. Because I am using cherry which has a subtle grain pattern with a warm colour, I wanted to bring out the natural beauty and show it to the fullest, so I sanded it. But you could leave this dragon with a tooled finish or even carve in some scales. If you do sand then go through the grit grades starting with roughly 100 , 150, 240,320 grits to remove the tool and abrasive marks and leave a nice finish. Then apply sanding sealer all over the carving. Once dry cut back with your finest abrasive, wipe down and apply your chosen finish, after which attach a picture hook and you’re done


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