Carving

Signing your name in wood…

It’s easy enough to sign your work with a Sharpie or branding iron…and I’ve done both many times in the past. But what if you are looking for something that will give your work that extra flourish? Or work on a massive scale like a timber framed barn? Or be a new sign for your shop? Often the best solution is to carve your own sign or inscription.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to take a two day workshop in letter carving with Janet Collins at the North Bennet Street School.  I had a great time. Below is a quick recap of how I spent my Superbowl Weekend.

Demonstrating how to make the first cuts
Demonstrating how to make the first cuts

Janet is a graduate of the NBSS CFM program, instructor, former workshop director and accomplished artisan. She has a passion for woodworking and loves sharing the craft with others.

Laying out your letters
Laying out your letters

After sharpening your tools the first step is laying out your text first on paper or a computer.

Transferring your pattern
Transferring your pattern

Transfer your pattern on to the workpiece.

Carving
Carving

Now for the fun part — carefully carving your letters into the piece. You want to take a light touch, always be aware of the grain direction and strive for an even depth of cut.

Carver's natural habitat
Carver’s natural habitat

Just as you can never have too many clamps, you can never really have too many carving chisels and gouges.

Completed name carving
My completed name carving

A raking light and solid platform to secure your work are requisites to success in this sort of work.

Gilding lesson
Gilding lesson

Beyond the carving exercises we were also treated to a nice demonstration on how to gild this sort of hand carved sign.

Janet Collins with completed sign
Janet Collins with completed sign

Pictured here is Janet with her carved and gilded number sign.

Chip carving samples
Chip carving samples

Beyond letter carving, these kinds of woodworking skills can be applied to may other forms of carving…

More chip carving
More chip carving

such as chip carving…

Chip and relief carving samples
Chip and relief carving samples

relief carving…

Celtic knot and floral carving
Celtic knot and floral carving

organic designs, geometric designs, anything you can imagine. The above sample boards are just a few from the large bag of samples Janet brought to show the class.

Carved and Gilded sign at NBSS
Carved and Gilded sign at NBSS

Above is a hand carved and gilded sign honoring the founder of NBSS — Pauline Agassiz Shaw. If you study it carefully you can see how it was clearly laid out by hand and shows many of the tool marks and design cues you’d expect to see in hand work. Pictured below is a nice old sign in the Cabinet and Furniture Making department at NBSS which is a combination of painting and carved details — “All Kinds Of Woodwork Done Here” which is an apt description for what goes on in the upper bench room. I am also partial to the “Please don’t feed the woodworker” sign.

"Don't feed the woodworkers" and "All Kinds of Woodwork Done Here" signs by the entrance to Cabinet and Furniture Making department at NBSS.
“Don’t feed the woodworkers” and “All Kinds of Woodwork Done Here” signs by the entrance to Cabinet and Furniture Making department at NBSS.

After taking this course I have a new sign for my workshop, and a whole new appreciation for hand carved signs. Next time you are walking around your town take a moment to look at some of the carved signs and see if you can differentiate the ones that were carved by hand versus those which were made by machine. After looking at a few of them you’ll likely see that many of the signs with the best details were carved by hand.

I’m looking to make some signs for my barn and workshop and will be sure to post them here on the blog. In the meantime you can learn more about Janet Collins and her work via her website here and here. And if you are interested in taking workshops at NBSS you can find out more here.

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