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Manual of Traditional Wood Carving

Manual of Traditional Wood Carving

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by Paul N. Hasluck (Editor)

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Do you want to make an exact replica of a 16th-century carved table? Perhaps, an armchair in carved oak? Maybe, a misericord seat or a 17th-century chair. What about an Italian cassone or coffer, or an ornate 19th-century pipe rack? This book will show you how to make these and many other projects. The book combines practical instruction with numerous photographic


Do you want to make an exact replica of a 16th-century carved table? Perhaps, an armchair in carved oak? Maybe, a misericord seat or a 17th-century chair. What about an Italian cassone or coffer, or an ornate 19th-century pipe rack? This book will show you how to make these and many other projects. The book combines practical instruction with numerous photographic illustrations and working diagrams. The summation of years of research and practical work, this volume is the definitive work in English on the craft of traditional wood carving.
For the serious-minded beginner, the instructional content is well-organized, easy-to-follow, and very precise. The authors begin with the basics: what tools and appliances are necessary, what woods to use, instruction in the actual cutting of wood. There are chapters on how to translate your ideas into wood, how to design, trace or outline your project. The various methods of practical carving are described; incised, pierced, and chip carving; carving in the round; Gothic carving; styles of carved ornament; etc. Many specific projects are offered: from the simplest — small boxes, bread platters, chests, chairs and stools — to the more complex — tables, cupboards and cabinets, beds, sideboards, even staircases, or for that matter, almost any item you can imagine in wood.
Authoritative, complete, and profusely illustrated with 1,146 working drawings and photographic examples, it contains a wealth of encyclopedic information. There is much here you could find nowhere else.

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Dover Publications
Publication date:
Dover Woodworking Series
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6.51(w) x 9.18(h) x 1.07(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Manual of Traditional Wood Carving

With 1,146 Working Drawings and Photographic Illustrations

By Paul N. Hasluck

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1977 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-15418-3



ALTHOUGH obviously there are scores of varieties of wood that can be, and have been, carved, it will be found that ordinary wood carving does not employ more than about twenty different kinds. These twenty are favourites because their structure is such that the carver's tools leave a clean, sharp cut, or because their grain is so straight as to enable the wood to be worked with the least amount of trouble and risk of splitting. Of the greatest importance in all woods used for carving is thorough seasoning; where time and convenience allow, it is desirable for the carver himself to stock the wood for a year or two, so that when using it he can be sure that it is thoroughly dry. This chapter gives a few notes on the woods which are in common use by the carver. The woods in most general use are oak, Italian and American walnut, lime, holly, pearwood, chestnut, and mahogany, and these are described in this order below, after which notes on a few of the less-used woods are given.


Oak, the oldest of woods known to be used for wood carving, is Quercus robur L. (natural order Cupuliferæ), and is the chief hardwood of Europe. Many varieties of oak are grown in North America, India, Japan, and Australia. It grows to a height of 60 ft. to 100 ft. and has a diameter of 1 ft. to 22 ft.; a straight oak stem often measures from 30 ft. to 40 ft. high and from 2 ft. to 4 ft. in diameter. When seasoned, the specific gravity of oak is -780 or ·597, and when freshly cut 1·280. Its weight per cub. ft. is 62—43 lb. Fig. 15 is a micro-photograph (multiplied 30 diameters) showing the formation of oak wood. Oak is hard, firm and compact, glossy and smooth, with a variable surface. It is a good wood for the use of experienced carvers, but on account of its hardness is not so suitable for the beginner. As already mentioned, oak has great lasting qualities. Most of the carvings of the Middle Ages in the churches and abbeys were wrought from the true British oak. In colour, oak is a light fawn when freshly cut, but on exposure it turns to a handsome brown. The sapwood is very liable to insect attack, but the heartwood under any conditions is very durable. Oak can be obtained in logs from 25 ft. to 50 ft. long by 12 in. to 24 in. square.


Bog-oak is often used for carving, and in Ireland the carving of this wood is one of the peasant industries, the work produced being small but of good quality. Bog-oak is so called from the fact that it is found embedded in the decaying vegetable matter of the bogs, and the oak itself has often entered on the first stage of putrefaction The wood is hard, close-grained, and brittle, but it is also capable of a very high polish. When ready for sale, it closely resembles ebony. It is a very dark-coloured wood, being almost black. Bog-oak is liable to violent splitting and "checking" after being excavated, and therefore should the carver himself dig it, he should remember not to remove it from the peat water until a store place is ready for its reception. Chip off the sapwood all round down to the heartwood, following the course of the bends. Saw off all broken ends, and cut away all rotten places; then stand it for a few days under cover, and allow it to drain. If the design of the proposed furniture is partly curved, take advantage of the natural bends of the wood, and so economise material. Mark off the lengths of straight material in the same way. Then cut up the logs into the shortest lengths possible, allowing for waste, of course. Plank the stuff at the sawyer's, and rack it, preferably in an upright bar rack which is tight enough to prevent much warping. Cut the panels, seating, etc., out of the large logs, and use those of smaller dimensions for the square stuff. As bog-oak generally takes three or four years to season, and becomes much harder (and more brittle) as it dries, it is desirable to work it out before it gets thoroughly seasoned. In conversion little attention is paid to the silver grain of the wood. Being black, it does not show much. When, however, the medullary rays are rather pronounced, "pairs" should be matched as far as possible.


Walnut comes from Juglans regia L. (natural order Juglandaceœ), now growing in Europe, but originally a native of Northern China and Persia. It grows to a height of 30 ft. to 50 ft., with a diameter of 2 ft. to 3 ft. When green, walnut weighs 58·5 lb. per cub. ft., and when dry 46·5 lb. A micro-photograph (multiplied 30 diameters) is presented by Fig. 16. It is a moderately heavy, hard, close-grained wood, and very durable if kept dry. It is dark brown in colour, and is beautifully marked. It is susceptible of a high polish. English-grown walnut is pale, coarse, and perishable, that from the Black Sea being more valuable (logs of this kind as imported measure from 6 ft. to 9 ft. long, and from 10 in. to 18 in. square). Walnut from Italy (Italian walnut) is the best of the walnuts; this is obtainable in planks measuring from 4 in. to 9 in. thick, 10 in. to 16 in. wide, and 5 ft. to 12 ft. long. Italian walnut is a rich and beautifully marked wood, very suitable for carving. Close-grained and hard, it amply repays the extra labour of working it.

American Walnut

American walnut (Juglans nigra L.), or black walnut, is grown chiefly in Eastern and North America, and grows to a height of 60 ft. to 150 ft., with a diameter of 3 ft. to 8 ft. Its specific gravity is ·611 and its weight per cub. ft. is 38·1 lb. It is hard, tough, and rather coarse-grained. It cleans up to a smooth surface, and takes polish well. It is a capital wood for carving, and it is not liable to split. It is considered less liable to insect attack, more uniform in colour, and darker and more durable than European walnut. In colour American walnut is a violet or chocolate brown, blackening with age. Logs from 10 ft. to 20 ft. long and from 15 in. to 30 in. square are imported. Planks of American walnut can be obtained 1¾ in. to 2 in. thick, and boards from 5/8 to 2 in. thick.

Lime or Linden

Lime (corrupted from "line") is known also as linden, and appears to be produced by three varieties of trees in the order Tiliaceæ—Tilia parvifolia Ehrh., T. platyphyllos Scop., and T. argentea Desf., these being spread over Europe, the last-named, however, being found only in the south-east. It grows to a height of from 20 ft. to 90 ft., its diameter being from 1 ft. to 4 ft. Its specific gravity is ·794 to ·522. Fig. 17 shows a micro-photograph (multiplied 10 diameters). It is extensively used by beginners in carving on account of its cheap ness and easy cutting qualities. Soft and pliable to the tool, it splinters less than any other wood. Owing to its colour being white to yellowish-white, it generally requires either staining or gilding. Grinling Gibbons executed much of his beautiful carving in this wood.

American Lime

American lime is known in America as basswood. The wood known in Great Britain as basswood is the product of Liriodendron tulipifera L., and is described under the title of basswood later in this section. American lime is the wood of the Tilia americana L. (natural order Tiliaceœ), and is also known by the names American linden, or lime or bee-tree. It is grown in the Eastern United States and Canada, reaching a height of from 80 ft. to 100 ft. and a diameter of 3 ft. to 4 ft. Its specific gravity is ·452, and its weight per cub. ft. 28·2 lb. Light, close-grained, soft, and tough, it can be easily worked, and is of remarkably even texture. It shrinks considerably in drying, but is durable.


Holly comes from the tree Ilex aquifolium L. (natural order Ilicineœ), and grows chiefly in Central Europe and West Asia. It grows to a height of 10 ft. to 40 ft. or even 80 ft., with a diameter of 1 ft. to 4 ft. or 5 ft., and it weighs 47·5 lb. per cub. ft. It is fine-grained, hard, and heavy, subject to considerable shrinkage and warping. A micro-photograph (multiplied 10 diameters) is shown by Fig. 18. It is a nice wood for cutting, but being so light in colour, generally requires staining. In colour it is white to greenish-white, and it approaches ivory in colour and texture more than does any other wood.


Pearwood comes from Pyrus communis L. (natural order Rosaceœ). It grows chiefly in Europe and Western Asia, and is also cultivated in other countries. The height of the tree is from 20 ft. to 50 ft., and the diameter from 1 ft. to 2 ft. Fig. 19 shows a micro-photograph of pearwood, the multiplication being 30 diameters. It is a close-grained, moderately hard, and heavy, tough, and firm wood, being very difficult to split. For carving, pearwood works well, cutting easily in any direction. If kept dry it is very durable. In colour it is a light pinkish brown, darker towards the centre.


Chestnut is the wood of the Castanea vulgaris Lamk. (natural order Cupuliferœ), a large tree which grows to an enormous girth. It is a native of the continent of Europe, and a closely related variety, americana, is grown in the Eastern United States. Its specific gravity is about ·450, and it weighs 28 lb. to 41 lb. per cub. ft. It is a moderately hard wood, but is much softer than oak, which it resembles in colour, toughness, and solidity; it is light and coarse-grained, and is very liable to split with nailing. A microphotograph (multiplied 30 diameters) is presented by Fig. 20. The sapwood of chestnut is white to a yellowish-white or light brown, and the heartwood darker brown, but distinguished from that of oak by the absence of broad pith rays.


Mahogany is a wood concerning which there is much misunderstanding. Spanish, Honduras, and the bay mahogany are all three produced by the true mahogany tree, Swietenia mahagoni L. The distinguishing names were originally given in reference to the localities from which the wood was principally shipped. Thus, Spanish mahogany came from Cuba, and some other West Indian Islands and ports belonging to Spain; Honduras mahogany came from the province of Honduras in Central America —chiefly from the neighbourhood of the mouth of the Rio Hondo; while baywood or bay mahogany was obtained from various places around the coast of the bay of Honduras. The mahogany procured from these three districts varied considerably in colour, in hardness, and in figure—the Spanish wood being much the best, and the baywood the poorest. Now, of course, mahogany wood is obtained from many other districts and ports in Central America, as, for example, Tabasco, Minatitlan, Tecolutla, Panama, Costa Rica, and St. Domingo; but to the average woodworker in England only the three grades mentioned still exist, namely, Spanish, Honduras, and baywood, chiefly because each of these three names has come to represent an arbitrary standard of quality, colour, and figure, regardless of the origin. Beyond saying that the baywood is the soft, light, straight-grained, and pinkish (nearly white) material, and that the Spanish is the dark, ruddy-brown, often cross-grained, and curly wood, no definite rule can be given; observation will soon disclose the ordinary limits of each term. Some regard the chalky deposit in the pores of dark-coloured mahogany as conclusive evidence that the wood is of Spanish origin, but the occurrence of this substance is by no means an infallible test. Mahogany has the advantage of being durable, taking a fine polish, and improving in colour with age. Baywood is soft and easily worked. It may be obtained in widths up to 2 ft. 6 in., but the price per foot is much higher for wide than for narrow boards. Spanish mahogany is harder than the other varieties, and is often beautifully figured; considerable skill is required in cleaning it up. Mahogany unites with glue better than any other wood.

Spanish Mahogany.—Spanish mahogany is obtainable in logs from 18 ft. to 35 ft. long and from 11 in. to 24 in. square. The specific gravity varies from ·720 to ·817, the weight per cubic foot being 53 lb.

St. Domingo Mahogany.—St. Domingo mahogany resembles the above, but the logs do not exceed 10 ft. long by 13 in. square, except occasionally. It is a wood of a horn-like substance, being extremely hard. More suitable for carving is Nassau mahogany, which is the favourite mahogany for turning; this rarely exceeds 5 ft. in length. Honduras mahogany is obtainable in 25-ft. to 40-ft. logs from 1 ft. to 2 ft. square. This wood is liable to be brittle when thoroughly dry.

Pine or Fir

Pine (Northern Pine), known also in commerce as fir, red deal, yellow deal, etc., is produced by the Scotch fir (Pinus sylvestris L.). It is grown in Europe and Northern Asia, and the character and quality of the wood vary very much with climatic conditions. The height of the pine tree is from 80 ft. to 100 ft., and the diameter 2 ft. to 4 ft. Its specific gravity is ·774—·478, and weight per cub. ft. is 34 lb. to 47 lb. Fig. 21 shows a microphotograph (multiplied 30 diameters). Yellow pine is a good cheap wood for carving; being soft, it requires careful working, as it splits easily. In colour it varies from pale to deep reddish yellow. If thoroughly seasoned it is durable.

American Whitewood or Basswood

Basswood is the wood of the Liriodendron tulipifera L. (natural order Magnoliaceœ); it is also known as tulip-tree wood, saddle-tree, poplar, yellow-wood, whitewood, Virginian poplar, canary-wood, canoe-wood, American poplar, yellow poplar, and American whitewood. It is grown in Eastern North America, the tree reaching a height of 100 ft. to 150 ft., with a diameter of 3 ft. to 10 ft. Its specific gravity is ·423, and it weighs 26·36 lb. per cub. ft. It is soft, close, and straight-grained, compact but not very strong or durable. It is easily worked, and of a remarkably uniform texture; it shrinks and warps somewhat in seasoning. In colour basswood is yellowish green or greenish white. It is readily obtainable in all ordinary lengths, and in widths of from 2 ft. to 3 ft.


Sycamore comes from Acer pseudoplatanus L. (natural order Acerineœ). It is grown largely in Great Britain, Central Europe, and Western Asia. In height it grows from 40 ft. to 60 ft., and in diameter from 1 ft. to 3 ft. When newly cut it weighs 64 lb. per cub. ft.; when dry 48 lb. to 36 lb. Distinct pith rays with a beautiful satiny lustre distinguish sycamore wood from limewood (see the micro-photograph Fig. 22, multiplied 10 diameters). It is of uniform texture and fine-grained, tough and rather difficult to cut; it contains gritty matter, which blunts tools. In colour it is white, and is therefore used for the manufacture of domestic articles.


Satinwood comes from Chloroxylon swietenia DC. (natural order Meliaceœ), which is grown chiefly in Central and Southern India and Ceylon, another variety being grown in Australia. It grows to a height of 30 ft. to 60 ft., and has a diameter of 12 in. to 15 in. Its weight is 64·3 lb. to 55 lb. per cub. ft. It is close-grained, heavy, and hard, and is susceptible of an excellent polish. It is somewhat apt to split, and darkens if not varnished. It is not much used by carvers, as the figure in the wood is apt to mar the effect of the carving. In colour, satinwood is a light orange. Logs are obtainable 9 ft. long.


Sandalwood, the wood of the Santalum album L. (natural order Santalaceœ), is grown chiefly in the south of India, attaining a height of 30 ft., 8 ft. to the lowest branch, and a diameter up to 2 ft. It is hard, close-grained, and fragrant, and is sold in billets weighing from 50 lb. to 90 lb. It is chiefly used in carving for fine delicate work, and is of a yellowish-brown colour.


Excerpted from Manual of Traditional Wood Carving by Paul N. Hasluck. Copyright © 1977 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Manual of Traditional Wood Carving 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous 4 months ago
A very detailed book. Exellent!
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