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Sculpture timber durability
Shapes within a log
Drying defects
Stiff chain syndrome


Shapes within a log

A question often asked of woodcarvers is "how do you visualise your carving in a piece of wood". Here are some tips that might help.

First of all, it helps a lot if you actually model the subject you wish to create. Use Plasticine, clay, wax, or even carve a miniature in some harder substance. This helps greatly in converting a 2 dimensional image from a picture, to a 3 dimensional model.

It will immediately become apparent how all the surfaces and curves that can only be guessed at in the picture actually relate and flow into each other in the model.

Now you have your model (also known in "arty" circles as a maquette) you can move to the next stage of visualising it inside a piece of wood.

There are a few ways of doing this; here are four that I have tried.


Marking Out

This usually involves squaring of at least 3 sides of the timber. The dimensions of the model are scaled up and drawn as front view (or rear view), side view, and top view directly on to the sides of the timber.

As the cutting to shape progresses the image will have to be redrawn on the newly cut faces.

This technique can be wasteful in terms of the best utilisation of the timber available. A lot of the timber is removed in order to produce flat, square sides long before the intended carving is plotted on.

Paper templates (lining paper from the home decorators) can be used to make sure the marking out remains consistent.

Building Back

In this technique a hard model is used (in this case a plastic frog).

The detail is gradually filled in with Plasticine or clay and resolved progressively into easy to understand geometric planes. This can then be carried through into the recreation of a scale model of the basic sized log, or section of log, that might be required.

Filling up detail
Under the chin
More simplified shape
Top view
Side view
Back view
Built up to even simpler shape
Inside a clear tube that represents the size of log required

Once built back to a basic block, this can be taken on site and progressively stripped back to the model using a suitable blunt modelling knife to simulate a chainsaw bar or other carving tool. This means that there is a constant reference point for all of the cuts as they happen. The sculptor can anticipate how much effect a proposed cut might have on the intended end result.

Imaginary Log

This trick enables the sculptor to visualise how the model looks actually inside a log. The main blocking out cuts can then be planned on an actual log whilst referring to the model inside its "log".
The model can be hard or soft so an original could be modelled in clay.
The principal is to re-create a hollow "log" in clear plastic sheet that is to the same scale as the model.

If the sculptor is starting with the model, then the plastic sheet should be formed into a regular tube around the model making sure that it is an easy fit. The overall measurements of the tube correspond to the scaled up log that would be required for that model.

If starting with the log, then the plastic sheet should be rolled into a cylinder corresponding to the scaled down version of the logs measurements.The model should then be made an easy fit inside the cylinder.

Remember not to include the bark in any measurement.

Stylised wise monkey carving (imported) placed inside a clear plastic tube that is just big enough for the carving to fit easily.
It can then be seen quite clearly which major areas of wood need to be cut away on the scaled up version.

If the model was much larger, then a roll of wire chicken netting would to represent the "log".
Remember also that most logs are narrower at one end.


A large potato can be a useful medium on which to try out the chunkier subjects in chainsaw carving.
The knife used should have a blade modified with a round tip and parallel sides to imitate a chainsaw guide bar. This then cuts in a similar way to a chainsaw when using it on a raw potato.

The model can be cooked and eaten afterwards, providing the sculptors hands were well washed before carving.

Knife and potato at hand
A head