Working with the Grain of your Wood

Working Against the Grain Line Angle

As you carve you will be creating contours, areas of the carving that curve or roll away from a high point. When it is time to add the fine detailing you can work against the grain line angle to create shallow, well controlled cutting strokes.

In the images below Santa’s beard has been contoured to curve away from a point approximately 1/3 of the way down from his mustache. The areas of his beard above this point flows down to his mouth and those areas below that point flow down to the tip of his beard. This contouring changes the grain line angle at that high point in his beard.

Because I am detailing Santa’s beard with the v-gouge I want to work against the grain line angle. I want to remove just a small amount of wood and I want to have total control over where the v-gouge goes. Start by knowing where the highest point in the contoured area is. The detailing cuts are made by starting at this high point and working against or away from the grain line angle. The v-gouge detailing to Santa’s beard is therefore made in two v-cut strokes. One cut is made working from the high point into his mustache, then the work was turned around. The v-gouge was placed back into the cut at the high point and the second half of his beard v-cut was made working towards the beard’s tip.

Click the images for a close-up view.

You can see along the outer edge of Santa’s beard how this area is contoured, rolling away from a point about 1/3 of the way into this area.
The first half of the v-cut hair detailing was done working against the grain line angle from the high point towards his face.
Santa has been turned so that the second half of the v-cut hair can be worked, again by working away from the grain line angle, towards the beard’s tip.


Working Diagonal to the Grain and End Grain

There are times that your area calls for working at a diagonal direction to the grain lines of your wood. Diagonal cuts to the grain tend to have rough or tattered edges along the cutting stroke. Here you are pulling up small amounts of wood because of the grain along the sides of the knife. These cuts need to be made with as sharp a knife as possible to reduce the amount of tattering. Once an area has been rough cut you can re-work that area by shaving. This is a technique where the tool barely touches the wood, taking extremely thin slices. Shaving will remove the tattered or torn edges of a cut made diagonally across the grain.

Every project has some areas of end grain. These are areas in the wood block where the board has been cut at a 90 degree angle to the grain lines. For Santa’s the end grain is in the top of his hat and at the tip of his beard. Just as with diagonal grain cuts use a very sharp knife. Roll areas of end grain over slowly, taking thin cuts to create the curve. Avoid placing a highly detailed area of your pattern in an end grain area when ever possible.

Click the images for a close-up view.

Working diagonally across the grain can cause the cuts to have ragged, torn or tattered edges. Once the rough out work is complete lightly shave the area to remove the tattering.
Every piece of wood has end grain. These areas do not take detailing easily so try avoid end grain areas or highly detailed work when you are tracing your design.


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