Like chip carving, incising is a process of decorating wood by cutting a design below the surface. It is done, however, with one or more of the wood-carving tools, usually gouges, V-tools, or vciners. Letters, monograms and freely curving patterns are more easily achieved by this method (fig. 64).
The tool is held in the manner described above with the left hand guiding its point and the right supplying the power. A little experience will show you the best way of manipulating it, but the following suggestions may help. When two grooves intersect at right angles, cut the one that runs across the grain first, then the one with the grain. Otherwise the edges will have a tendency to split where the grooves come together.
Cuts which are curved or which run diagonally across the grain are often rough on one side and smooth on the other. This is due to the fact that the two blades of the V-tool or veiner meet the grain at a different angle, and that one side tends to cut more sharply than the other. To avoid this, incise your line lightly in one direction then reverse the tool and go back over the same line in the other direction.
Incised designs are particularly well adapted to borders and frames or to flat surfaces, such as chair backs and table tops, where a raised carving would be undesirable.
The most elaborate form of decoration is relief carving. It can also be used to produce wall plaques of birds, horses or other figures. It requires skill and a number of carving tools, but the beautiful effects which can be achieved are worth the effort.
The easiest form of relief carving is flat surface relief, which is simply the reverse of incising. Instead of cutting the lines of the design into the wood, they are left standing and the background is lowered by gouging it out (fig. 65).
With a design drawn carefully on the wood, proceed as follows (fig. 66) : First, outline the long, more or less unbroken contours by shallow grooves made with a veiner or V-tool. Second, the edges of the short and sharp curves are cut by driving a chisel or gouge straight down into the wood with a mallet. This acts as a stop cut for the final operation, which is shaving away the background with gouges and extra flats.
A more advanced type of carving is full relief, illustrated here in a wall plaque (fig. 67). The preliminary steps are exactly the same as in the flat-surface relief above. When the background has been removed, the figure or design is modeled by rounding contours and paring away the portions that require lowering with appropriate carving tools. While this does not sound difficult, it requires skill and great care in cutting as a slip of the tool at this stage can spoil all the preliminary work.
Carving human or animal figures in the round, that is, as three dimensional pieces, is not as difficult as it seems if you start with a fairly simple form such as the elephant illustrated (fig. 68). It is possible to whittle such a figure with a knife alone, but a chisel and a few carving tools will make the job easier.
The three principle steps are shown in the same illustration. First, select a block of soft wood such as pine or bass with the grain running in the direction indicated. It is possible to carve it with the grain running in the opposite direction, but there is more danger of splitting. Mark all surfaces of the block in squares of uniform size and outline the form of the elephant. The profile view should be drawn on both sides of the block and the other views on the two ends, the top and bottom. The squares will help you to get these views in perfect alignment.
The second step is to rough out the general form. If you have a coping saw, you can save time by using it to remove the largest areas. The sawing should be done along the outline of the profile view. The taper of the tail and head, the division between front and rear legs, etc., can then be roughly carved with the knife or chisel.
In the final stage, the sharp edges are rounded and the finished shape of the elephant is achieved by careful cutting. In this process, turn the work frequently and do not work too long on one part. This will help avoid the lop-sided appearance which is common in beginners' work. When the shape satisfies you, add the small details such as the eyes, toe nails, etc. The elephant may be left rough with the tool marks showing or may be smoothed with the knife and then with sandpaper to a highly polished finish. The same method of carving can, of course, be applied to any other type of figure.
Figure 67. Wall plaque illustrating full relief carving.
For sanding, garnet paper is better than flint or sandpaper. Work on large areas should be done with the paper wrapped around a hardwood block. For fine details, roll it into a small cylinder and use it with extreme care. Always sand with the grain wherever possible. The best grades for finishing are 4/0, 6/0 and 8/0.
Varnish, shellac and lacquer can be used on wood, but are not advisable as they change its color to a considerable extent. A good grade of paste floor wax, on the other hand, will provide a soft finish without too much shine and will not discolor the wood. Simoniz may also be used, particularly on walnut, mahogany, or poplar.
Wax or Simoniz are applied with a soft rag and polished as soon as they arc dry. Three coats are generally sufficient. If you wish to bring out the grain and darken the wood slightly, several coats of linseed oil may be rubl>ed on at 24-hour intervals before waxing.
Discolored surface spots on wood can be removed by applying a little laundry bleaching solution and allowing it to dry. Rinse with clear water, then wiih a wash containing some white vinegar or acetic acid. Sand as soon as the surface is dry.
Wood can be colored by cither staining or painting. The best stains are water stains; cloth dyes diluted in water do very well for this purpose. Unless wood is to he placed out of doors, water colors are the most satisfactory paints to use. They should be applied thinly in two coats and the piece waxed as above.