Sailboat Relief Carving

Sailboat Basic Carving Techniques Tutorial

By L. S. Irish

Shaping and Detailing Level 3

The level that contains the sailboat is next on our work list. Please look at the finished sailboat image below. Note that the sails are concave, curving away from you like the inside of a bowl. The boat, however, is convex, bulging toward you along the central line of the hull. Because the sails roll inward but the boat hull rolls outward more interest is given to the shape of the boat when completed. The sail at the front of the boat turns back upon itself. Hold your fingers together and look at the palm of your hand. Now bend your fingers slightly into a cup, this is the shape of the back sail. If you now fold your finger tips back towards the palm of your hand you create the shape of the front sail. The sail line of the front sail would run right in front of the first knuckles of your finger tips.

Click image for a larger view.

Start with your bench knife and carve a stop cut along the main mast of the boat, to the wood pole that lies at the bottom of the sail on the right side of the pattern, and to the second sail line in the front sail. Develop the gentle curve of the sails using a round gouge. The deepest point of the back sail is where the main mast meets the wooden pole at it’s bottom. The deepest point of the front sale is where the main part of the sail meets the folded back line of the sail at the boat’s top edge. The highest point for both sails is just below the mid point of the left side curved edge. Every part of the sail tapers away from this highest point. Lighter and lighter gouge cuts will keep your carving work in this area fairly smooth.

Work from the high point into the stop cuts along either the mast, wooden pole, or fold back area. Remember to develop the depth slowly by re-cutting the stop cut and returning to your gouge until the sails have a well established concave curve. Keep the gouge stroke light near the high point then add a little pressure as you near the deepest areas to take just a little extra wood. Once the curve of the sails has been established do a smoothing step using your skew chisel. A Bull Nose Chisel is excellent to smooth an inner curved area.

The main mast and wooden pole are now rounded over using the chisel. Next comes the second sail line using the same technique with a ruler as your cutting guide as you did the first sail line. See Straight Line Instructions to refresh your memory if needed. Both sail lines are tightly rolled over to give just a little rounding to their edges. Now round over the right side of the fold back area of the front sail using the chisel.

You should now have a bowl shape to both sails, a distinct main mast pole, wooden pole, two sail lines, and the fold over area of the front sail.

To add extra shadowing to the sails I have undercut the left sides of the sail, note the dark shadow areas in the image above. Undercuts are created with the bench knife and either the round gouge or chisel, depending on which is most comfortable for you to use. Holding the bench knife at an angle that points in toward the sails make a stop cut along the left edge of the sail. This cut should slant underneath the top edge of the sail. Next cut away the wood in the background to meet this stop cut. This carves away some of the wood underneath the sail edge. As with just about every other step in wood carving undercuts are developed slowly with repeated stop cuts and gouge strokes. Work the undercut until you have cut underneath the sail edge by about 1/8″. Because the fold over area of the front sail creates a space to undercut you can use dental picks, fine files, or rifflers to help tease out the gouge cuts. A 1/8″ deep under cut is enough to create the darker shadows in your carving, the shadows that will make the sails the focus point of the work.

Move onto the boat next and use a chisel or skew chisel to roll over the basic shape of the hull. The boat is convex so the upper edge and where the hull meets the water are carved deeper than the central area of the hull. Stop cut, chisel, and round over the railings. The detail lines in the sails and hull are carved using the v-gouge. The waves made by the boat’s passing are rounded over using the chisel then detailed with a v-gouge. A small amount of undercutting can be added where the wave’s meet the hull’s bottom. This makes the boat sit down into the water.

The water surrounding the boat is simple and easy to detail. Using the round gouge I have made small, uneven, and random cuts that are parallel to the bottom of the board. These small oval strokes create the impression of moving water or small waves on the water’s surface. Because you are carving against the grain be sure that your gouge is freshly honed. As you work the wave cuts from back to front you can allow the foreground cuts to become slightly larger. This will imply that the waves are larger as they are closer to you.

For more information about using shadows in your carving, please see:
Introduction of Dramatic Shadows
Undercutting Technique
Level Changes and Free Floating Elements

The sails of the boat curve away from you like the inside of a bowl with the deepest points of the sail near the boat or mast and the highest point of the sail just below the mid mark of the left side of the sail. All of the carving strokes are worked from the high point toward the deepest point.
Once the shape of the sails has been established carve the main mast, sail lines, and fold over area of the front sail. An undercut beneath the left side of the sails will add dark shadowing to the work. These dark shadows make the sails the focus point of your carving.
The boat’s hull is convex, bulging forward along the central section of the hull. This area is rounded over using the chisel, then the rails are stop cut and rounded. The detail lines in the sails and hull are done with the v-gouge.
The waves caused by the boat’s passing are shaped with the chisel then detailed with the v-gouge. Add a small undercutting where the water and boat meet to sit the boat down into the water.
The small waves in the water are made using a round gouge. Make small cuts that parallel the bottom of your board. Be sure that your gouge is well honed as you will be working against the grain of the wood.
As the waves come closer to the foreground let the round gouge cuts become slightly longer and wider. This will add to the impression of depth in your water.

1 thought on “Sailboat Relief Carving”

  1. I am taking woodcarving classes at our senior center with an excellent instructor. He is a retired occupational therapist and has been teaching carving for 40+ years.

    I found your website while looking for my next carving project and have found several tutorials that are very interesting. My next project will be your sailboat tutorial. This is fitting since I have enjoyed sailing and am a Navy veteran. The tutorial is excellent, but very long. Is it possible to download the instructions and print them out? I am 81 and find it easier to work with instructions that have been printed.

    I have found your web site to be very helpful and well set up. Thanks for your dedication to woodcarving.


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