Sailboat Relief Carving

Sailboat Basic Carving Techniques Tutorial

By L. S. Irish

Shaping and Detailing Level 1

I am sure that by now you have noticed that the rough out stages for this project were worked from the background to the foreground levels. Shaping and detailing is also worked back to front, so we begin with Level 1.

The shaping in this level is very shallow simply because there is only a thin layer of wood at this depth. If you are working on a 5/8″ thick plaque and have dropped Level 1 to approximately one half the thickness of your board there is only about 3/8″ to 1/4″ left to work. So keep the pressure on your tools very light to insure shallow cuts.

I begin with the v-gouge and outline around each of the elements in this level: the sea gulls, sun, and clouds. Next I choose either the chisel or skew chisel and round over the edges of each of these elements by running the chisel along the angles created by the v-gouge. This is called shaving. Taper the background area into the v-gouge line gently using the chisel.

When you have completed these steps notice that you have not dropped the level of the entire element, instead you have rolled over the edges or tucked under the background areas. As an example, the sun lies in front of the sky but behind one of the clouds. Where the sky and sun join the sky is tucked under the sun and the sun’s edge is rolled. Where the sun lies behind the cloud it is the sun that is tucked under and the cloud’s edge that is rolled. The central section of the sun has remained un-worked during these shaping steps.

Once each element has been shaped I return to my v-gouge and gently re-cut the joint line between the elements. This gives me a clean and distinct joint. Also at this point I begin to smooth out all the elements and background areas. Any ridges or scores left from the rough out work need to be removed. Fine shaving with either the chisel or round gouge will eliminate the ridges. For extra fine smoothing I hold my square chisel so that the edge is perpendicular to the wood surface. Working with the grain drag the sharp edge of the chisel over the wood. This is called scrapping and will leave a very fine flat finish to the worked surface.


Begin your shaping with a v-gouge. Make a very shallow trough along each of the element’s outlines.
The sharp edges of each element is next shaved with the chisel to round over the edge. The chisel is also used to taper the area behind the trough into the front element. You can see the v-gouge trough along the top of the lowest left cloud. The chisel work shows on the background of the upper cloud.
This is the time to remove any remaining ridges or score lines left from the rough out stage. Use either the round gouge or chisel with light pressured strokes to carve these away.
Final smoothing for each element is done with chisel by gently scrapping the wood.

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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