Chippendale Console


Chippendale Console:
Steve Bisco carves a console bracket from Chippendale’s Director.

Steve Bisco carves a console bracket from Chippendale’s Director

To commemorate Thomas Chippendale’s 300th birthday I thought it would be fitting to make a carving from a design in his book The Gentleman & Cabinet Maker’s Director (see previous pages). Most of the designs in the Director are large and elaborate pieces intended for the grand mansions of the aristocracy. I don’t have a grand mansion so I picked one of the smallest items in the book. It is one of nine Brackets for Busts on plates CLX (160) and CLXI (161), which we would describe as console brackets or corbels, intended to be fixed on a wall as a small shelf to display a bust or vase. The one I chose is a Rococo design with swirling acanthus and C-scrolls.
Chippendale’s drawing in the Director (see picture right) is, of course, only two-dimensional and much imagination is required to convert the design to three dimensions. When you see items made from Chippendale designs – even pieces from his own workshop – there are always differences in detail between the drawing and the finished piece, so we are allowed some latitude in making the design meet our practical requirements. Chippendale’s only comment on the Nine Brackets for Busts is that ‘their dimensions cannot be fixed’, meaning we should choose our own size. I have fixed this one with an overall width of 240mm, a height of 305mm, and a projection from the wall of 150mm.

Chippendale’s general advice for three-dimensional carved pieces is that they would benefit from being modelled before carving, so I followed this advice by making a clay maquette. This was a great help in positioning the elements in three-dimensional form. You have the benefit of my working drawing and finished photos to save you this trouble.
Chippendale does not specify the shape of the top ‘shelf’ section of the bracket, but gives only three shelf types for all nine brackets illustrated. I have chosen one that best suits this bracket and adapted it to fit. The bracket is ‘pierced’ and gilded as Chippendale intended, though I have used imitation gold leaf as real gold would have been very expensive on this scale.

The original illustration in Chippendale’s Director

Things you will need
• No.3, 5 & 10mm
• No.3, 10 & 20mm fishtail
• No.4, 6mm fishtail
• No.5, 3, 5 & 7mm
• No.5, 13mm curved
• No.6, 25mm
• No.8, 8mm
• No.9, 3, 16 & 20mm
• No.9, 16mm curved gouge
• 18mm spoon gouge
• 8mm short bent gouge
• 10mm skewed spoon gouges L&R
• 12mm back-bent gouge
• 2mm veiner
• 2 & 3mm chisel
• 3 & 6mm straight V-tool
• 5mm bent chisel
• 6mm back-bent gouge
• 6.5mm & 20mm flat chisel
• 16mm hooked skew chisel
• Curved V-tool
• Padsaw
• Jigsaw
• Bandsaw
• Lime (Tilia europea). The top shelf needs a piece 240 x 150 x 25mm. The main body is best built up by lamination from a board 465 x 160 x 50mm as indicated on the drawing.
• Sander-sealer, gold lacquer (as undercoat), imitation gold leaf, gilding size, French polish (as final sealer)

Block lines indicate how the body can be laminated from 50mm-thick limewood

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.

Did you know?
Chippendale’s workshop suffered several major fires, one of which destroyed the tools of 22 craftsmen. We can only imagine what it must have felt like for a craftsman to lose all the tools he had built up over many years at considerable expense. Fortunately, Chippendale had fire insurance so was able to buy new tools and start all over again.

Templates & transparencies
When you are shaping a complex three-dimensional carving you very quickly lose the traced pattern. This makes it difficult to keep the decorative elements in their right positions and the carving can end up looking quite different from the design. Control this by using templates and transparencies to check against as you work. Make templates of the side profile and the top shelf by tracing on to card, and a transparency of the front pattern by copying on to OHP film with permanent marker pen. By holding the transparency over the carving you can keep checking the shape and position of the elements.

So you don’t lose track of the design, make templates and transparencies to guide you as you carve away the pattern


1. Make a full-sized copy of the drawing. The body of the bracket is best built up by lamination with 50mm-thick limewood board. This avoids wastage and makes it easier to cut out the voids more accurately. The drawing indicates how this may be done using a board 465 x 160 x 50mm, but you can apply the principle to other sizes. The top ‘shelf’ needs a piece 240 x 150 x 25mm

2. With the pattern traced on to the wood and cut out on a bandsaw, jigsaw or scrollsaw, the layers make more sense. The voids around the central leaf can be cut out before gluing. Carefully align and glue the sections of the main block together (excluding the top shelf) using a thorough coating of uPVA glue on every joining surface and clamps to compress it while it sets

Roughing out the shape

3. Fix the laminated block to a backing board, screwing from the back, and you are ready to start the complex process of roughing out the levels and general shape. With guidance from the templates (see box), the drawing, and the finished photos in step 19, shape the upper/forward part of the carving to blend it in with the shelf and the lower levels. Don’t take off wood you may need later

4. Now rough out the long C-scroll on the right-hand side that flows in a steep, elegant curve from the upper layer of lamination to the bottom of the middle layer. It’s not easy, so use the drawing, templates, transparency and finished photos to keep checking the line and position

5. The C-scroll on the left is smaller and at a slightly lower level

6. You can now rough out the central acanthus leaf. This is a key feature of the console, so shape it with care

7. Now shape the lowest level of lamination, working down towards the tip at the bottom. Also, work the various acanthus elements at the sides down towards the background. Create a hollow each side of the main C-scrolls and refine the shape of the upper levels now that everything is clearer

Carving the detail

8. With all the key features roughly in the right place we can now add the detail, starting at the bottom with the swirling acanthus elements. The edges of these elements need to be worked down towards the background so that many of them will be in contact with the wall when the console is hung up. To accentuate the swirls, carve flowing vein lines with a hooked skew chisel, and add flicks and hollows mainly with a No.8 curved gouge

9. The large C-scroll to the right of centre is a principle feature that must be made to stand out. The side nearest the centre must be hollowed into a smooth cove that gets wider nearer the top. The outer side must be rounded into a convex curve that has a clean edge against the inner cove. Apart from two V-lines along the upper and lower edges of the cove, the C-scroll must be smooth so it will contrast with the acanthus surfaces

10. Now we can add the acanthus leaf detail to the right-hand side. These are quite shallow and are more spread out than they appear on Chippendale’s drawing as they extend from front to back. Try to give them as many flicks and curves as you can

11. The C-scroll on the left side is smaller and narrower than the right side one, with some extra veined curves on the outside. The acanthus leaf tips that project sideways towards the background are Rococo features that appear frequently in Chippendale carvings

12. To carve the features around the top edge, attach the card template of the underside of the shelf to help you visualise how they will work together. The left-hand side is made up mainly of typical Rococo ear-shaped ‘shell’ features. Shape their top edges into the shelf

13. The acanthus curls on the right-hand side mostly roll over like a breaking wave. Note the ‘reel’ feature towards the back, and the way the outermost C-scroll extends beyond the ends of the shelf

14. Now finish off the detail carving with the large central leaf. Give it lots of swirl, flicks, hollows, and vein lines. The left side has some more of the Rococo ‘slits’ in the leaves, while the right side has more of the normal acanthus features. The leaf will be completely undercut, so take account of this in the surface carving

15. Remove the carving from the backing board. Fix a ‘cradle’ of wooden blocks to the bench and lay a thick layer of padding over it. Hollow out the interior from behind using curved gouges, then refine the back edges of the leaf and the C-scrolls. Open out the inner voids and undercut some of the outer edges where the acanthus lies away from the background. Check how it will look when placed on a wall

16. Give the carving a light sanding with fine abrasives to remove stringy bits, but take care not to dull the detail. The finished bracket should be light and hollow

Top tip: When you are working on a carving that will be displayed on a wall, hang it up frequently at that height to check that everything looks right from the angles at which it will be seen.

Carving the shelf

17. Draw a line horizontally around the side of the shelf, 16mm down from the top edge. Using the innermost tracing lines, carve a fillet 2.5mm deep on the upper and lower faces and level out the surface with a flat chisel. Then carve a cove along the lower part of the edge, leaving another 2.5mm fillet alongside the first fillet. On the top half of the edge, carve a bullnose moulding. A shallow back-bent gouge is useful for the convoluted edge. Refine the mouldings to a smooth, even surface with abrasives

18. With the shelf finished, turn it upside down to glue on the console bracket. Use a set square to check they are at right-angles before gluing. Apply a thick coat of uPVA adhesive to the top of the console, invert it on to the shelf and make a ‘rubbed joint’ by moving it about slightly until it ‘sucks’ together in the right position

19a. Photos 19a, 19b, and 19c show the front and both sides of the finished carving. Use these for reference when carving



Top tip: When you are working on the sides of a carving that is fixed to a backing board, it helps if you put a piece of timber under one side to prop it up at a more accessible angle.


20. Give the bare wood a coat of acrylic sander/sealer and let it dry. Go over it lightly with fine abrasives to make sure everything is smooth, then give all surfaces an undercoat of a good gold lacquer, taking care not to clog the detail with paint

21. Get some imitation gold leaf and some gilding size, available from most art stores or online. Imitation gold leaf (basically brass) is easy to use by the following method: Give an area of the carving a thin coat of the size and cut up some gold leaf into pieces about 25mm x 50mm. When the size has become dry but slightly tacky to the touch (about 10 minutes), pick up a piece of gold leaf in a folded piece of paper and lay it over the prepared area. Press it down with a soft brush and brush away any loose pieces of leaf. Continue over the whole carving and go over any bare sections again with more gold leaf

22. After the gilding is finished, give it a coat of French polish to seal and ‘antique’ the brassy gold leaf. Work swiftly and smoothly with a soft brush as the French polish dries very quickly and will form ‘muddy’ patches if you go over it too many times. French polish is shellac dissolved in alcohol, so clean your brushes in methylated spirit

23. Chippendale’s Bracket for Busts is now finished and ready to be fixed on the wall. Make sure your fixings are strong enough to support what you stand on it


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