Weekend Projects - Carve a cat in relief archive

Friday 21 October 2016

Welcome to my masterclass on artistic relief woodcarving. This method will also allow medal carvers to develop their medal models, coins and various souvenirs using their low relief carving skills. This particular carving of mine is called ‘white cat’. This beautiful cat is our family pet and my wife and children love him very much. I took a photo of our cat for the carving, with the aim of surprising my family with it. Before you start with the wood, pick your photograph dimensions and print it out to scale.

Tools used:
• Transfer paper
• Carving knife
• Carving tools
• Rotary carving unit
• Vertical milling mini-machine or a pillar drill unit that holds a rotary carving unit –optional but makes life easy when cutting to exact depths
• Various rotary burrs and cutters
• Block of pear (Pyrus communis)


STEP 1: Prepare a section of pear (Pyrus communis) to carve. The next step is to draw your pattern directly onto your preprepared block, or, take a photo, print it out to scale, lay transfer paper onto the block of wood and then place your printed photo over the transfer paper and then draw round your print out. You can then prepare the main hand tools needed for this project

STEP 2: You can then start cutting around the outline of the cat. A knife is ideal for this as it is easy to control around the shape. The image outline cut should incline into the blank

STEP 3: Take a small deep-fluted gouge and cut from 10mm away from your knife cut, cutting down to meet the depth of the knife cut already made. You should now be able to clearly see the cat set apart from the blank background

STEP 4: Using a small knife, clean up the outline shavings and chips. You can now begin to undercut the cat image at a small angle

STEP 5: I now want to introduce you to this – the vertical milling mini-machine. If you follow my way of working, you will need it for further work on the carving. You can use hand tools or a hand-held rotary carving unit freehand or mounted in a pillar drill unit

STEP 6: This is a cutter for the milling machine. Insert this cutter into the machine’s cartridge and the detent can be raised up or down. The cartridge abuts in it and stays in place. Therefore, the cutter cannot go deeper into the detail – only to the depth you require

STEP 7: Label the measurement of depth you want to go to on the side of the blank – here, it is 6mm. Release the cutter at this mark and protract the detent. The cutter cannot cut lower than that depth. Always be sure to stop at this point
STEP 8: Now on to power carving. This is a large cutter that will help you to remove the part of the background on your carving. Insert the cutter into your handpiece and ensure to run it at a high speed, but within the manufacturer’s recommended speed range. These cutters and handpieces are available to buy from a variety of different manufacturers

STEP 9: During this type of work it is important to cover your mouth and nose with a special filter; this will protect your lungs from wood dust! For your eyes, use safety glasses or goggles

STEP 10: Using the same cutter as before, remove about 4-4.5mm of the background. The carving should now be separated into two parts: the high level being the cat’s nose and the low level the background

STEP 11: You can now return to the mini-milling tool. Start drilling the background until the detent is down to a thickness of around 6mm. Pick the cartridge up and then down. Your detail must be held and turned very slowly and steadily without the piece tilting. Drill the whole background down to 6mm in depth

STEP 12: Again, you will need a large cutter and using a high speed, carefully take off some more of the background, but no deeper than 6mm. There will be several very small holes made by the drill. For now, leave them like that

STEP 13: Near the edge of the outline of the cat’s nose there will be a lot of uncut fragments. A large cutter is not able to access this part to clean it up, so you will need similar cutters, but in a smaller size. Once again, using a high speed, clean up the outline of the cat and you must ensure to clean this up slowly. Stop the cutter periodically and look at the results before you proceed. You may need to do some further tidying up at this stage. Do the final cleaning of the outline using a small knife. The next step is to start cutting the outlines on the cat’s nose, ears, eyes, chin and fur. To work on the snout, you will need a variety of small cutters, as shown here

STEP 14: The first one you will need is a large cutter...

STEP 15: …followed by a small bulb cutter...

STEP 16: … and finally, a ‘trihedron-needle’ cutter

STEP 17: Be sure to keep referring back to your original image and, using a large cutter, remove excess volume. You can then start to create the fur volume

STEP 18: Using a small flat chisel, slowly and carefully cut away the parts of the background. Make the plane smooth and be sure to not leave any pits. This has to be done over the entire carving

STEP 19: Now back to the small cutter. Start looking for large fur bundles on the photo of the cat’s head and begin to slot them in on the carving. Create a fur cover on the cat’s forehead, ears and cheeks. Here you can see the fur bundles have different heights, depths and individual volumes

STEP 20: Once again, cut away any excess volume with a large cutter, then very carefully cut away any excess volume. Ensure to take your time here

STEP 21: Using a large cutter with diamond dust, cut in the large folds on the cat’s back

STEP 22: Now take the three small cutters and work on the ears, cheeks, forehead and over the entire fur. This step requires a lot of patience and attention

STEP 23: Under the cat’s nose there are many difficult fur details. This is a large piece of the carving. Before carving each piece, you should reapply any lost details using a pencil. Carve away the pencil lines, draw again, cut, etc.

STEP 24: Using a variety of different grits of abrasives, go over the background and refine

STEP 25: Using a very small section of abrasive, clean up the cat’s outline. The fur should smoothly blend into the background. On the nose, sand all the separate details using a small section of abrasive. Your completed carving should look something like this


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