Newbie Relief Carving Clean Up Question

  • Advertise with us

« back to Woodcarving forum

Forum topic by hackery posted 06-28-2016 03:32 PM 1793 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View hackery's profile


49 posts in 1219 days

06-28-2016 03:32 PM

Topic tags/keywords: relief carving definition contrast clean neat tidy outline backgroud question

Hi Guys

I attended a one day relief carving class yesterday which was pretty good and I carved a leaf into a piece of lime wood I believe it’s maybe called bas / bass wood in North America.

Here is a picture of my efforts yesterday:

I know it’s really messy looking given it was my very first attempt ever at carving anything. But the leaf looked quite good whilst I was carving it and the contrast was pretty strong between the leaf and the background but once the teacher told me to sand the leaf it lost most of this contrast and now looks really flat and undefined.

So my question is… how can I clean up the edges of this carving so it’s cleaner / crisper without re carving the piece. I was considering using a some sort of engraving bit with a Dremel and cutting a bit of a outline on the background wood which would hopefully make the leaf come alive a bit better but also remove the numerous messing looking marks where my chisels have made a mess. I am just tempted to throw the work in the bin and never attempt carving again but would like to try something to improve the piece before throwing the towel in altogether.

Any help / advice / tips is very much appreciated.

Many Thanks


-- Notice woodworker and now metal worker - Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK

6 replies so far

View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2743 posts in 3430 days

#1 posted 06-28-2016 05:18 PM

You need to undercut the outside edge of the whole leaf. This is usually done using a skew or firmer. (straight chisel) This should give you the result you are looking for. I am surprised that you were told to sand this at all. I was not when I was learning. I would put in leaf veining with a “V” gouge and texture the background using a small curved gouge. I still have the first carving I did like yours. Mine is a fish though. I did it in 1985. Linden wood is also called Basswood in the USA and even here in Texas….<grin>

-- No PHD just a DD214

View hackery's profile


49 posts in 1219 days

#2 posted 06-28-2016 05:50 PM

Hi Jim. Thanks for such a detailed reply which is very helpful so thank you I will follow your advice. Yep I was annoyed at being told to sand it given the result as I was reasonably pleased with my first attempt up until that stage and felt the sanding ruined it. Was planing on adding some veining but wanted to clean up the edges first to try and get it looking a bit better. I currently have no carving tools I have plenty of normal wood working chisels so will try one of those for the undercutting and hopefully I can improve the piece in someway.

Thanks again Jim.


-- Notice woodworker and now metal worker - Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK

View WoodHoarder's profile


67 posts in 2789 days

#3 posted 06-28-2016 05:56 PM

Like Jim says, it helps to undercut the edges (remove the material under the edges) It helps clean it up and also gives the piece some depth, making it pop. I like using an x-acto knife with a #16 blade to do this.

I also have a set of small cheap import files to clean up some of the roughness on the flat. In order to get into the tight spots I needed to bend them at an angle.

To do this I heat the tip to red-hot with a torch and bend it over a piece of steel with a hammer to the angle I want. After that, I heat it back to red-hot and quickly dip it in water to get a temper on it.

Hope this helps. Keep it up.

-- Christ was a carpenter...a fact that humbles and inspires me.

View mpounders's profile


935 posts in 3403 days

#4 posted 06-30-2016 02:42 PM

You could also cleanup around the edges with a knife (utility knives are sharp enough). In carving, cuts are used to make shadows. The deeper the cut, the darker the shadow, which can show the edge of the leaf more. It would also look more realistic if you defined the stem and veins. One of the more difficult things to do, is to get the background smoothed and cleaned up! It requires a lot of patience and sometimes sand paper. But you could also texture the background as suggested with a gouge, or I’ve seen it stippled with a nail or awl with little dots to give the background a more consistent appearance. Don’t be discouraged! Like everything else, it will take more than one lesson to gain skills at wood carving.

-- Mike P., Arkansas,

View Phil32's profile


618 posts in 411 days

#5 posted 10-07-2018 09:31 PM

I have ruined more than one carving by trying to smooth it with sandpaper. Now I believe that tool marks show the work to be hand done. But that doesn’t mean torn or splintered wood surfaces. A good tool mark is the result of a very sharp tool. Most of it is smooth and shiny. It extends from the outer edge of the cutting stroke to the stop cut. It overlaps the smooth cuts beside it. The leaf should be outlined with stop cuts. The stop cuts should angle under the leaf edge. Use a gouge vertically or a knife. Then shaving cuts can be made from outside the leaf outline to the stop cuts.

Here is the first relief I ever carved at age 16 (1949): mahogany, 10-1/2×9-3/4 inches

-- Phil Allin - There are mountain climbers and people who talk about climbing mountains. The climbers have "selfies" at the summit!

View Dark_Lightning's profile


3583 posts in 3617 days

#6 posted 10-08-2018 01:50 AM

Well, damn! Any wonder you have the skillzs! You’ve been doing this since before I was even born! :thumbsup:

-- Steven.......Random Orbital Nailer

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics