Leaf-Inspired Design


Leaf-Inspired Design:
Andrew Thomas demonstrates how to carve a shallow maple leaf dish.

Andrew Thomas demonstrates how to carve a shallow maple leaf dish

This project is aimed at the beginner-level woodcarver, and only requires a small piece of timber and very few tools. The design and form of the maple leaf can easily be modified to incorporate the reader’s own ideas. For example, the depth of the dish can be made deeper with a thicker piece of timber.
The basswood timber used for this project is a very soft to carve and forgiving species when worked close to the grain, making it an ideal choice for readers who are new to carving. However, it isn’t very strong, so great care, razor-sharp tools and a gentle touch must be used throughout the project, especially on the lower sections of the leaf. A stronger timber can, of course, be used, walnut for example being an ideal choice, as it is very strong and far more attractive when finished.
Before you start working on the project, please read through the complete step guide and study the stage and finished images to see how the leaf develops. 

Things you will need
 Swiss gouges:
• No.2, 16mm
• No.9, 5mm
• No.7, 20mm
• No.11, 3mm or No.12, 3mm
• No.16, 1mm
• Basswood (Tillia spp) 275mm long x 125mm 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.

1. Scan or photocopy the scale drawing provided, enlarging it to the correct size for your wood, and print it out on to card to use as a template. Cut it out accurately and draw the shape on to your wood, ensuring that the grain direction is running vertically through the block. Leave enough spare wood at the base of the leaf so that it can be attached to your vice

2. Cut the shape of the leaf out with a saw, working directly along the outside edge of the design line, then mount it securely on your woodcarving vice. The design of the leaf is asymmetrical, but it doesn’t matter which side is chosen for the concave top or the convex underside

3. Starting with the convex lower side first, draw the dividing lines of the leaf sections on to the wood. Use a No.2, 16mm gouge to pare away the left side of the top section, working with the grain, from the surface down to the left edge. If you feel any resistance with the cut, then try working in the opposite direction

4. Then use a No.9, 5mm gouge to carve deep grooves in between each of the dividing sections

SAFETY: Make sure that a part of your left hand (or right hand if you are left handed) is always in contact with the surface of the wood, which is crucial for balance, control and directing the gouge cut safely.

5. Use the No.2, 16mm again to pare along the right edge of the section and down into the No.9 gouge groove. Now repeat this procedure with the centre section at the very top of the leaf

6. The tips of each leaf section can be varied slightly in depth from one another, but make sure that at least two tips are using the full depth of the wood and touching the opposite edge. Draw these all into position with a gentle curve flowing towards each tip. Use the No.2 to pare the wood along each section until you reach these design lines. The No.9 grooves will undoubtedly need to be deepened as the concave surface forms

7. Next, move on to the section immediately to the right of the top section. The grain here is slightly different to that at the top and is much weaker. Therefore, great care must be taken with the pressure of the gouge work, especially later on when the leaf becomes more refined in its depth. Use the same techniques as outlined in steps 3 to 6

Top tip: When producing convex forms, if access allows, it can be very effective using the gouge upside down, therefore lending its curvature to the convex shape cut desired.  

8. The lowest section is the most vulnerable, weakest part of the leaf, due to the grain running vertically through its horizontal projection. The area next to the stem can be carved quite deeply here to begin with, allowing good access to shape the lower edge in its convex form

SAFETY: If you are ever concerned about cutting yourself when carving, consider purchasing and using a pair of high quality cut protection gloves, which are available from many online retailers as well as hardware and tool stockists. 

9. Now move to the left side of the leaf and use the same techniques outlined above to produce each of the convex shaped sections of the leaf. When you have worked around the entire shape, you will find that you are left with a flat area in the centre. This area can be shaped into the direction of each adjoining section of the leaf. The stem of the leaf will be carved last, as this area needs to be kept strong

10. The leaf can now be further developed by working deeper into each dividing section and curving the adjoining high point into the deep gouge cuts. Blend all of the surfaces naturally and evenly together. Your leaf should now look like this

11. We now turn our attention to the opposite, top side. If you are working off a faceplate, you will need to reposition the leaf to the opposite side first. This side is concave in its form and therefore initially needs to be hollowed all of the way across its surface from tip to tip. Do this with a No.7, 20mm gouge

12. The aim here is to create a concave shape on the top side of the leaf, in relation to that of the convex lower side. It is also to create the illusion that the leaf is somewhat delicate and thin, particularly on the tips. We do, however, have to allow for the fragility of the medium and not go too far with the refining

13. The top side of each section is notably flatter than the underside, so do not strive to create the same level of depth. Mark these positions around the surface of the leaf

14. Use the No.9, 5mm gouge to carve a groove in between each dividing section of the leaf

15. Use the No.2, 16mm gouge to curve the adjoining areas into the No.9 gouge cuts. Repeat steps 14 and 15 until you are happy with the overall visual effect of the surface

Top tip: The natural shape of the maple leaf is very flat, generally with five sections across its surface. Each of the sections has a jagged edge with pointed peaks. When carving leaves, these little peaks can be exaggerated in depth and form to produce a more visually effective finish with a good amount of shadow. They can also be carved quite flat as per their real life appearance if one chooses to.

16. Next, reposition the leaf to the opposite side of your faceplate again. Now work around each of the sections and draw these small lines, which radiate from in between each of the jagged edge peaks

17. Now use either a smaller gouge or V-tool to cut the little separating line of the leaf sections

18. Smooth over the details of each section of the lower side with sandpaper. Sand in the direction of the grain where possible. Make sure that you brace each leaf tip with your fingers as you work over it to prevent it from snapping off

19. When working into the V-tool grooves, fold the paper so that it locates snugly into each of the little channels, and shape and smooth them outwards on to the higher peaks

20. The last job to do in between each of the jagged leaf tips is to make a final deep cut with a very small No.16/1mm V-tool

21. The lower side of your leaf should now look something like this. Make adjustments if necessary

22. The leaf should now be repositioned on the opposite side of your faceplate again. Repeat steps 17 to 21 on this upper side, taking care with the amount of pressure that you apply to the gouge cuts so as not to snap the tips

23. Before carving the final stage of the project, sand through each grade of abrasive first, so as not to smooth away the fine details of the veins later on. Firstly, brush hot water over the leaf and leave it to dry. Then work through grits 150, 240 and 400, removing all of the scratches from each previous grit and repeating the hot water process in between

24. Add as much or as little detail to the veins as you wish. Draw the veins in position on both upper and lower sides of the leaf. Use the No.16, 1mm V-tool to work along each line, down from the tips towards the centre of the leaf. The channels should be even in depth and width. Make sure that you clean out any little areas of wood that may have split at the branching points of the veins. Repeat this on both sides of the leaf, then use the 400 grit to smooth the channel and adjoining edges

25. Sanding and finishing should be done while the leaf is still attached to the base, so that both hands are free for the application of the wax and bracing the tips. Use a toothbrush, or similar, to brush the wax evenly into the detail and over the entire surface of both sides. Use a clean, soft-bristled brush to buff the polish up to a good sheen, followed by a soft cloth for the finishing touch. Repeat twice

26. The last job is to form the shape of the stem before the maple leaf is cut off the base. This can be as long as you wish – the example is 25mm in length. The stem should be formed in a curve, from the surface of the underside up towards the surface of the upper side. Use the V-tool to carve along the edges, between the leaf and the stem, and the No.2/16mm to shape the stem. Sand and finish. The maple leaf can now be cut off the base, and the lower edge sanded and finished.


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