There are times when you do not wish to work any carving cuts into the background space around your pattern. This style of carving is called Sunken Relief. After the pattern has been traced the outer edge of the design is cut using a v-gouge. The v-shape trough is what separates the carving design from the un-worked portion of background wood.
The v-gouge cut can be made in several layers, taking a little more wood with each new cut. The final depth of the v-trough is determined by the deepest point in the carved area along its edge.
Your background areas can be smoothed or textured depending on how much you desire it to become part of the design work. Textures can be created with your v-gouge, small round gouge, and u-gouge.
You can also distress the background wood area. Work the distress texture step after you have the level shapes well defined but before you begin any smoothing or detailing steps. This allows you to clean up any distress texture that gets onto your carving areas.
Try taping a counter set (counter punch for nails) to create a fine round indent pattern. A heavy wire brush will will add fine wood grain scratches and a broken piece of hack saw blade will create wide, deep scratches. You can blunt the end of a large nail on a hard surface, then tap the nail point lightly into the wood to create a diamond or star pattern.
If you have access to a band saw, scroll saw, or coping saw you can completely eliminate the background of your wood blank. Trace the pattern onto your wood then following safety procedures cut along the outer edge of the pattern.
When I create a cut out relief blank I often leave the edge slightly proud – leaving a 1/16″ margin of background wood along the pattern line. This gives me a little extra wood that let’s me clean up the band saw ridges without losing wood for the carving.