Sailboat Relief Carving

Sailboat Basic Carving Techniques Tutorial

By L. S. Irish

Straight Line Instructions


The Sailboat in the pattern has a fine, thin line called the sail line. This is a rigging rope that runs from the side of the boat, paralleling the main sail, and connecting at the top of the mast. Since this line needs to be thin and straight a little special attention is needed during the roughing out stage.
To start this step you will need a steel ruler that will be used as a knife guide as you create the stop cut along each side of the sail line. Avoid using wood or plastic rulers for this step! If your bench knife is properly sharp it will cut not only the wood plaque but also the edge of these rulers, shaving a thin layer of wood or plastic away from the ruler’s edge.

The steel rule in my carving kit has a cork backing. From a 1/8″ thick sheet of cork board I have cut a strip that is the size of my ruler minus 1/4″ per measurement. For a ruler that is 12″ long by 1 1/2″ wide this would be a cork strip that measures 11 3/4″ long (12 – 1/4 = 11 3/4) by 1 1/4″ (2 – 1/4 = 1 1/4) wide. Using contact cement and closely following the directions on the package, I have glued this strip the back of the ruler, centering so that there is a 1/8″ margin along each side. Cork board and contact cement are available at most hardware stores. The cork backing offers two assets to the steel ruler. First, it grips the wood reducing the chances of the ruler sliding out of position as I work. Second, it raises the rulers edge slightly from the wood surface. This allows me to clearly see the tracing line underneath the ruler’s edge.

There are three stages to cutting a straight line. First, use the steel ruler as a knife guide. Lay the ruler on the wood surface along the pattern line for the sail line. Let the side of the bench knife lie against the ruler. As you pull the cutting stroke keep the side of the knife blade against the ruler’s edge which will guarantee that your cut will be straight.

The second stage is done using the v-gouge. This tool is bent into a v angle so provides two cutting edges, one for both sides of the angle. By holding one side of the v-gouge against the sail line and keeping that side perpendicular (at a 90 degree angel) to the line you can carve a straight sided trough along the outside of the sail line. This makes a wide trough cut that will keep the roughing out cuts away from the sail line.

Third, use your fingers as a bracing tool as you work the wood background away from the sail line. Place the tips of your fingers against the opposite side of the sail line to your rough out cutting strokes. Don’t press your fingers into the sail line, instead set them firmly against the floor of your work. You want to brace this thin strip of wood to absorb the pressure of the cutting stroke.

Start by placing your ruler along the straight line that is to be cut. Use a bench knife to stop cut along both sides of the line using the ruler as a guide for the side of the knife. Keep the bench knife as vertical to the board
as possible. Make several thin passes with the knife, developing the stop cut slowly.
With a v-gouge carve a shallow trough along both sides of your line. Hold the v-gouge so that one side of the v is square to the line. Again, develop this trough slowly using several shallow strokes.
Use a round gouge to rough out the surrounding background wood. Keep with the direction of the wood grain as much as possible.
As you are working the rough out stage use your fingers to brace the sail line. This way the pressure of your cutting stroke is caught by your fingers not the thin wood line.

OK … everyone makes mistakes once in a while. We all, occasionally, have a tool slip or we take too deep a cut! Even the most experienced wood carvers sometimes ends up with a project that is only suited for firewood kindling …

If you should split the sail line or remove too large an area in the rough out from the sail line you will need to glue this chip make into place using wood glue.


Sailboat Basic Carving Techniques Tutorial

By L. S. Irish

Roughing Out Level 2

Level 2 of this design contains the mountain ridge in the background and a small section of water behind the sailboat. It is noted in green on your Level’s Map. Please refer to the section of Roughing Out Level 1 for the basic steps for dropping this level to it’s desired depth.

The roughing out of Level 2 gives a good example of how to deal with corners in your pattern. Crisp corners and joint lines are found through out any design, they appear wherever two lines meet. For this example let’s look at where the mountain area of Level 2 lies behind the piers in Level 4. Start with your bench knife and make a stop cut on each side of the corner joint. This stop cut is more of a push stroke than a pull stroke as I want the tip of the knife to cut into the corner point at about the depth of the level. Then lay the bench knife at about a 20 to 30 degree angle to the wood. Make a slice that runs from one side of the corner joint to the other which will remove a small triangular chip of wood. This is the basic Chip Carving stroke and will leave clean, crisp corners.

Once the corner joints have been established I complete the roughing out using my bench knife for stop cuts, round gouge for dropping the wood to the approximate depth of the level, then end with my chisels for a general smoothing.

Corner joints are found in any carving pattern where one outline meets another. For this sample it is the where the background mountains touch the foreground piers.
Push the tip of your bench knife into the point along each side of the corner. Holding your knife at an angle to the wood slice from side to side to remove a triangular chip of wood.
A stop cut has been made along the border of the pattern with the bench knife.
The round gouge is used next to remove the excess wood, dropping this area to the general depth of the level.
The final smoothing for Level 2 has been done with the chisel and skew chisel.
In this close-up you can see the clean, crisp corners that were first created with the Chip Carving strokes.

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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