Wood Carving Celtic Dragon 3

Over the last two days we have worked on a relief wood carving project featuring a Celtic knot dragon pattern.  Today we will walk through the simple and easy painting steps to give this basswood carving the look of stone.

Wood Carving Celtic Dragon 1
Wood Carving Celtic Dragon 2
Wood Carving Celtic Dragon 3

Celtic Dragon Wood Carving by Lora IrishPreparing the carving for painting

14.  Basswood is an easy to carve wood that has a very clear, white coloring.  Because basswood is very porous it is does not take oil based stains well without the use of a pretreatment sealer as polyurethane or spray sealer.  For our project I used acrylic craft paints to create the stone effect.


Acrylic craft paints in:
Titanium White
Carbon Black
Payne’s Gray
Burnt Umber
Burnt Sienna
Driftwood oil stain
Water bowl
Glass tile, palette paper, or tin foil
Paper towels
Clean, soft cloth
Assorted soft-bristle paintbrushes
Splatter brush or old toothbrush
Masking tape or painter’s tape
220-grit sandpaper
Polyurethane spray sealer

More information on painting your wood carvings.

using a primer coat when painting a wood carvingPrimer coat for relief wood carving

15.  Begin by using painter’s tape along the uncut 1/4″ margin surrounding the carving.  Cut long pieces, place into position, and press firmly.  The painter’s tape will protect these areas from coloring.

Place a small amount of titanium white, Payne’s gray, and burnt umber on a glass tile. Thin each color with an equal amount of clean water.

Brush two wash coats of titanium white on the carved area of the plaque. Because you mixed equal parts paint and water, this coat will not give full, solid coverage.

While the titanium white coats are still damp, pick up a small amount of Payne’s gray and mix it with the titanium white on your tile. Working along the diagonal of the plaque,  brush a few random strokes of the gray/white mix over the white background. Pick up a little more Payne’s gray, mix it with the titanium white on your tile, and apply it to the carving.

Next, add a small touch of burnt umber to the gray/white mix and repeat. Add a small amount of burnt sienna to the mix and repeat. Your background should now contain many  shades of white, gray, and brown. Allow these coatings to dry for about half an hour .

splatter painting a relief wood carvingSplatter the carving with fine paint dots

16.  Clean your glass tile, and then place a small amount of each paint color on the tile. Do not thin these colors with water. Working one color at a time, use an old stiff toothbrush or splatter brush to splatter a coat of each color on the carving.  Do this by picking up a small amount of color on the end of the splatter brush. Hold the brush a few inches from the surface of the carving, and pull your thumb across the top of the brush. This action will spray a fine mist of paint drops over the carving. Thin the paint with a few drops of water if you wish to create a fine spray with small droplets.

Painting the routed border

17.  Remove the tape from the edges of the carving. Brush two thinned wash coats of titanium white on the routed border edges of the plaque. Streak this area with a mix of titanium white and Payne’s gray, just as you did with the center of the carving. Allow the carving to dry overnight.

Creating a vintage look to your painted carving

18.  After you have completed the painting steps and allowed the paint to dry , sand the carved areas, background, and routed edges of the plaque using 220-grit sandpaper to remove some paint from the high areas of the carving. Sand lightly in some areas to remove one or two layers of color; in other areas, sand the carving back to the raw wood. Clean the dust from the board using a soft, dry cloth.

Seal the work with two coats of polyurethane spray sealer. Allow the sealer to dry thoroughly. Following the manufacturer’s instructions to apply an oil-based stain to the carving . Wipe away the excess oil stain with a soft, clean cloth. Allow the stain to dry overnight. Seal the work with one to two light coats of polyurethane spray sealer. Remember to sign and date the back of the plaque when finished.

I hope you have enjoyed this in-depth step-by-step free relief wood carving project and will take the time to browse through the other free online relief carving projects by Lora Irish that we have posted on our blog.

Thank you for visiting – Lora Irish!

Lora Irish celtic knot pattern129_150x150Celtic knot patterns by Lora S Irish
Celtic CrossesCeltic Dragon KnotCeltic Knots 2

Celtic Knot Carving Patterns by Lora S Irish, ArtDesignsStudio.com

Celtic Dragon Wood Carving by Lora Irish

Wood Carving Celtic Dragon 2

We are working on a beginner level relief wood carving project with a free Celtic knot dragon pattern by Lora S. Irish.  Yesterday’s post worked through the basic tool kit, preparing your basswood board, tracing your pattern, and rough cutting the background area using a bench knife stop cut and the round gouge.

Today we will work on the general shaping steps, how to smoothly contour the dragon body, and using the bench knife to cut detail lines into the relief wood carving.

Wood Carving Celtic Dragon 1
Wood Carving Celtic Dragon 2
Wood Carving Celtic Dragon 3

general shaping of a reliefwood carvingGeneral shaping of the dragon body

5.  Any celtic knot pattern is created with a line that is knotted in an up-then-down pattern.  The line crosses over itself multiple times.  In our Celtic Knot Dragon pattern, by Lora Irish, the body of the dragon goes from the head under the tail, behind the front leg, under the tail again, behind the back leg, under the tail a third time, then it becomes the tail section that crosses over the body at the neck.

6.  On your pattern, with a pencil, mark each of the cross-over areas of the dragon body.

7.  Using either the bench knife or v-gouge cut a v-trough in the area of the dragon along the cross-over lines, in the background or under-tucked area of the body.  Example, where the tail crosses over the neck, the neck area is cut with the v-trough.

using a straight chisel to shape a relief wood carvingGeneral contouring with a straight chisel

8.  With a straight chisel or skew chisel, cut along the outer edge of each body area of the dragon.  You are carving away the sharp edge of the wall to begin giving your dragon body a curved contour.

Work with the grain of your wood as you shape the outer edges of each area.  Begin the cutting stroke so that the tool runs parallel with the grain and cuts away from the open ends of the grain line.  Turn your board as necessary.  More about Working with the grain of your wood.

Work the eyes, tongue, and teeth in the same manner.

using a v-gouge in relief wood carvingusing a straight chisel to round over a relief wood carvingshaping a relief wood carving with a straight chisel
A v-gouge is used to cut a v-shaped trough along the pattern line that separates one area of the relief carving from another.Hold the straight chisel at an angle along the straight wall edges of each element.  Cut a thin slice.  Work with the grain of the wood to create the cleanest cuts.Lay the chisel with the angle of the cutting edge against the wood for thin slices.  For deep, thick slices use this tool with the angle of the edge up.









Irish_celtic06Smooth the dragon body into a clean, even curve.

9.  To smooth the dragon’s body use your straight chisel or skew chisel held at a very low angle to the wood.  Dropping the chisel as close to the wood as possible allows you to shave extremely thin slices of wood.  Work this step until all of the wood in the dragon has been shaved, do not leave any area uncut or at the original wood plaque surface.

The original wood surface has a different texture and feel than those areas that we have cut.  This difference will visually show after the work is complete and can create a problem during the painting and staining steps as each area will accept coloring in a different way.  Make it a habit to cut the entire wood surface during the smoothing steps.

10.  Basswood has several outstanding qualities that make it a great beginner carving wood.  It is a tight, even grained wood that has a clear, white coloring.  Although it is classified as a hardwood it is easy to cut and take the finest detailing well.  This means that you, as a beginner, have the opportunity to learn how to use your tools, how to make your relief carving strokes, and how to work through the level changes of a relief carving.

Because basswood is an easy cutting wood it often leaves small fiber of loose wood grain after the cut is complete.  I call them Fuzz Bunnies!  To remove these left-over wood fibers re-cut where necessary with your bench knife or chip carving knife.

11.  Using 320-grit sandpaper lightly sand your carving to give a final, smoothing to the work.  You can also use rifflers, small profile-shaped files that fit into the deep edges, sharp angles, and undercuts of a relief wood carving.  Wipe any dust from the carving with a clean, dry cloth.

As your hobby grows you will advance into other woods as maple, walnut, and mahogany.  Because these woods are harder surfaced they seldom need intense sanding, the shaving steps give a clean finish to the work.

v-gouge detailing in a relief wood carvingAdding the detail lines to the dragon

12.  With a pencil mark the areas from the pattern onto your dragon carving for the inner detailing.  You can cut your pattern into small pieces.  Tape those pieces into position on your carving and slide a small piece of graphite paper underneath to make the tracing.

13.  Using either the stop cut made with a bench knife or the v-gouge, cut along the traced inner detailing lines.  If you chose the v-gouge cut the v-trough detail line in several light, shallow passes.  This slowly lowers the line and avoids the corners of the cross hatched areas to chip out.

14. Chip outs happen.  If your tool lifts a corner of wood or complete pops the corner off the board, reset that chip by licking up a small amount of yellow wood glue on the end of a toothpick.  Place the glue dot onto the wood where the chip came off, and place the chip into position.  With a water damp brush clean up any glue that seeps from underneath the chip.  Allow the glue to dry for about 15 minutes.  You are ready to continue carving.

straight chisel shaving in wood carvingrelief wood carved flower patterncarving detail lines using a round gouge
Shaving can be done using a straight chisel or round gouge.  Hold the tool low to the wood to cut very thin slices of wood.Check your carving for any loose wood fibers, rough cut corners, and harsh contours.  Use 320-grit sandpaper to lightly smooth the finished carving.A v-gouge is used to cut thin, detailing lines into your carving.  Use light pressure and recut the v-gouge lines as necessary to slowly drop the depth of the lines.









Irish_wood_flowerThe woodcarving steps for this Celtic Knot Dragon pattern by Lora Irish are complete.  You can leave your carving in the wood finish coloring or join me tomorrow as we work though the painting technique to create a stone-look to this relief carving.  Thank you for joining me today, Lora Irish.

While you wait for tomorrow’s post, here is the practice flower pattern that you can use in your free relief wood carving project.

Celtic Dragon Wood Carving by Lora Irish

Wood Carving Celtic Dragon 1

Beginner Level Wood Carving Project

This quick, easy, and fun Celtic Dragon pattern is perfect for your first endeavor into relief wood carving.  It uses a very basic set of carving tools, a bench knife, and a pre-routed basswood plaque.  Your dragon carving can be completed in just one weekend.

Over the next several days I will be posting all of the step you need to create your own Celtic knot relief carving project.  Please bookmark our blog so that you don’t miss any of the fun.  I hope that you will share this link on your favorite wood carving forum or message board.

Please take a moment and download our free PDF e-book, Your First Carving.  This is an in-depth look at the woods, tools, terminology, and techniques used in relief wood carving, written and shared by Lora S Irish.

Wood Carving Celtic Dragon 1
Wood Carving Celtic Dragon 2
Wood Carving Celtic Dragon 3

Celtic Dragon Wood Carving by Lora IrishSupply List:

8” x 10” x 3/4” (203 x 254 x 19mm) router-edged basswood plaque
Bench knife
Large and small round gouges
Wide sweep round gouge
Straight chisel
Sharpening tools and strop
220-grit sandpaper
Graphite tracing paper
Painter’s tape
Ruler and/or compass
Soft, clean cloth
Stiff toothbrush or brass wire brush
Thick terry cloth towel or non-slip mat
Depth Gauge

free celtic dragon knot by Lora IrishPreparation of the carving board

1.  Most of the supplies used in this project can be obtained online at your favorite wood carving supply house, through Amazon.com, or at your local large craft store.  The sandpaper, painter’s tape, ruler, compass, and brass wire brush are available through most hardware stores.

2.  Using 220-grit sandpaper lightly sand your plaque, working the sandpaper with the grain of the wood.  Avoid sanding against the grain or in circular swirl strokes.  This will leave fine scratches that can appear during the painting and staining steps.

3.  Sand again using 320-grit sandpaper.  Remove all of the sanding dust using a dry, clean cloth.

free wood carving celtic knot dragon pattern by Lora IrishTransferring your Pattern

Click on the pattern images to the right and save a copy to your Desktop.  Print one copy of each pattern – the outline tracing pattern and the shaded contour pattern.

Center the pattern to the board, secure one side using painter’s tape.  Slide a sheet of graphite paper under the pattern paper with the graphite side against the wood.  Using an ink pen and light hand pressure trace along the outer boundary lines of each element of the dragon.  Remove the pattern and graphite papers.

Learn more about how to work with your patterns and tracing.


wood carving tool setGather your wood carving supplies

For this carving I am using a nice quality Japanese carving tools set which includes a large round gouge, small round gouge, straight chisel, skew chisel, and v-gouge.  Carving tool sets can cost between $25 per set up to several hundred dollars.  I strongly advise any beginner to start with an inexpensive tool set while you discover which style of wood carving will be your favorite.

Learn more about creating a basic wood carving tool kit.

Suggested tool list at Amazon.com :

Ramelson 6 Piece Palm Set Tools, 1/8″ to 1/4″ Profile
Raemlson 6 Piece Long Handle Beginners Carving Tools
Flexcut 3 Knife Starter Set
FLEXCUT Carving Kit – 5 Piece
FLEXCUT Carving Kit – 11 Piece
Flexcut Slipstrop
Power Grip Carving Tools, Seven Piece Set
Walnut Hollow 8-Inch by 10-Inch Basswood Rectangle Plaque
Walnut Hollow 8″ by 10″ Basswood French Corner Wide Edge Plaque

stop cut in relief wood carvingCutting the background area

1.  Mark a 1/4″ margin using a pencil and ruler along the outer raised carving area of your plaque.  This 1/4″ area will remain uncarved, at the original level of the wood. During the next two steps treat this margin line as if it were a boundary line to your pattern.

2.  This project begins with dropping the background area of the plaque to free the dragon pattern for carving.  With a bench knife or large chip carving knife, cut along the outer boundary lines of the dragon pattern.  Hold the knife vertical to the wood and slowly pull along the tracing line.  Stop cuts are made in several shallow cuts instead on one deep lunge of t he knife tip.

3.  Using the small or large round gouge, rougehout the background.  Lay the center of the gouge about 1/2″ to 1″ from the stop cut tracing line.  Glide the gouge into the stop cut.  This will release a small chip of wood.


stop cut using a bench knifestop cut using a chip carving kniferoughing out the background with a round gouge
1.  The background rough-out step begins with a stop cut made with a bench knife or chip carving knife.2.  Hold the knife vertical to the wood and make several shallow cuts along the tracing lines.3.  Use a round gouge to carve from the background area into the stop cut line at the pattern edge.









rough out cuttingthe background of a relief wood carving4.  The rough-out stage may take several layers of round gouge cutting.  As you deepen your background re-cut the stop cut along the outer pattern line to slowly drop the straight-edged wall along the dragon.  My final layer of round gouge cuts was worked with the grain (vertical to the plaque) to set all of the carving strokes in one direction. More about Background treatments for your relief wood carving.

Determining the depth of your relief carving

The depth of your carved background and carved design is determined by how thick your carving board is.  As a general rule the carving is cut to approximately 1/2 the depth or thickness of the wood at the deepest point.  For a 3/4″ board this makes the background drop about 3/8″ deep.  More about Determining the depth of a carving.

Please join me tomorrow, November 16, 2013, as we work through the shaping and contour steps for this Celtic Dragon Knot pattern.  Thank you, Lora Irish

First Carving Project

Your First Carving Pattern was my first published free tutorial, 1998.  Today I have updated this classic carving project, bringing to this article over eighteen years of wood carving book authoring experience and wood carving joy.

It is ready for online reading or download our 22 page free e-Project which focuses on the basic terms, carving woods, beginner’s tool set, basic cuts and strokes, walks you through your First Carving Pattern Project, plus three extra free  patterns.

Please, bookmark our site!  Over the next few weeks you will lots of updates, new revised articles, and tons of new patterns.


Sharpening Your Wood Carving Tools

Sharp carving knives, gouges, and chisels are a must for any wood carving project, whether it is a 3-dimensional little cowboy, relief landscape, or a whittled animal.

If your bench knife seems to drag through the cutting stroke or if it leaves behind fine, thin scratch marks in the cut it is time to get out your sharpening stones, leather strop, and rouging compound.  Dull knives and rough cutting edges can be dangerous as they cause you to apply excess pressure to make the stroke.

I start every carving session by first checking the sharpness of my tool edges.  You can do this several ways.  First, make a few cuts on a basswood practice stick.  Your tool should push through the cut smoothly, if it seems to drag or hang-up on the wood it needs sharpening.  You can also look at the cutting edge of the blade under a bright light.  If your tool is dull the cutting edge will appear as a white line or you may see white spots where there are dings or dents.

I also check my sharpening stones on a regular bases as they can become bellied or bowed in the center from use.


Let’s look at the simple steps to sharpening your wood carving knives, gouges, and chisels.

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