This section is from the book "Arts & Crafts Magazine Vol1-2", by Hutchinson & Company.
One who is unfamiliar with the use of carving tools must be on his guard against cutting too deeply, or of cracking the wood across the design. Always carve out the wood going across the grain, and not with it, as this will obviate the danger of tearing and dragging the wood, particularly if it is at all soft. When sufficient has been cut away, the knife point can be brought into use again for smoothing down irregularities and giving it its proper burnt colour. The flat side of the point is used for this, and every endeavour should be made to get the round as even as possible.
The burning away of certain parts of a design will cause a good deal of smoke, and to minimise this the worker should keep the point at as great a heat as possible, so that a flame is produced thereby, and consumes the smoke as it rises. Should this flame - it is a small one - be extinguished, it can easily be brought on again by increasing the pressure on the bellows and rubbing the point backwards and forwards on one spot.
Alter a little practice one will find out the peculiarities of the knife point, and use it in different ways, according to the part of the work for which it is best adapted. The flat side is obviously intended for modelling and smoothing away large surfaces. For the liner and more intricate work one uses the tip. The tip, however, must be used with proper reserve. The beauty of Relief Burning lies principally in the soft and rich appearance of the result, and too much striving after details should be avoided, because the point cuts only when in an intensely heated state, which partly takes off the sharpness of the lines and edges by charring the wood. But this cannot be helped, and one should take it into consideration and not be too anxious to bring out every little detail; rather endeavour to treat the work in a broad and decorative manner. Quite sufficiently artistic and striking results can be obtained by the aid of a few but effective lines put into the right place. In the representation of leaves and blossoms, strive to express as much freedom as possible, following carefully every twist and curve and undulation that will suggest the natural growth; otherwise they will look like specimens that have been pressed. Of course, branches, leaves, or blossoms in the background must be kept in such low relief as will suggest their natural relative distances from the principal objects.
It will be apparent before one has proceeded far that the work presents a very scorched appearance, and, if not repeatedly cleaned, the design would become indistinguishable. The use of the wire brush (Fig. 6) easily rectifies this trouble, effectually clearing the wood of the charred surface. The burnt parts should be vigorously brushed every now and again, for the charred wood soon hardens, and it becomes difficult to remove if left too long. A good plan, to avoid excessive charring of the wood, is to pass a damp sponge occasionally over the surface. Finally, when all the burning has been finished, the work can be smoothed over with steel wool, or a wire brush; it should then appear a delicate brown colour, with the parts that are highest in relief showing almost the bare wood. Altogether it will be much fresher and brighter, and in a better condition for staining.
It is impossible to lay down any fixed rule as to the way a piece of wood should be stained. Individual taste is extremely varied on the subject of colours: what one would call artistic, another, probably, would describe as hideous. I am, therefore, not anxious to lay myself open to criticism by suggesting any specific way of colouring a design. I would advise, however, the use only of those stains which suggest the various woods in their natural colours, and give the brighter stains a wide berth, except for blending with the others for obtaining any required variation of tone. Either the water or the spirit stains may be employed; the latter are the quicker driers and obviate the delay experienced when using water stains, which are apt to remain on the surface some time. With water stains, however, there is little danger of the colours running into each other.
Owing to the irregular surface of the wood when a design is executed in relief, a French polish finish is out of the question. It is therefore advisable to apply a good wax polish, which is a much easier process and more in keeping with the character of the work.