Chip Carving Corner

by Jeff Fleisher - -

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"How do you create all those detailed designs?"

This article discusses the stages that us 'non-artists' go through when learning how to create beautiful chip carving designs. You'll walk through an example of how to adapt pieces of source materials that can be combined to create a unique and interesting carving.

I have recently started teaching chip carving in our club and in adult education classes. One of the biggest concerns is - "The chip carving designs I see in books are beautiful but how do I draw them?" As a 'non artist' I'd like to take this opportunity to discuss how the non-artist can create beautiful chip carvings.

There are three stages that we go through when learning to create designs for chip carving - copy, adapt, and customize.



When students are first learning, it is easy and instructive to use pre existing designs. You're more worried at this point about technique than layout - don't break out those adjacent triangles!



At some point you become bored with copying existing designs. You want to create 'your own' design. In this stage you modify and combine designs, pieces of designs, and pictures from other sources into your own creation. You are starting to apply your own creativity but still become faint at the sight of a blank piece of paper! Some of us will spend a long time in this stage.


Customized Patterns

This is where we all strive to be in the future. Based on previous experiences, talent, and hard work you can now start with a blank page and design your next creation.

The clock

pictured at my web site recently won a blue ribbon at our club's carving show and represents a project created in the 'adapt' stage. The process outlined below will walk you through the creation of the design of this clock.
The clock is done in the positive image style that is a favourite of Wayne Barton. In fact, the design for the clock was started during his advanced carving class. It is a mixture of my own overall layout, and adaptations of various sources for each portion of the clock front. Let's lay them out:

Overall layout

At the start, you need to visualize the overall effect that you want to create. In chip carving, one consideration is positive image, leaving the design element at the surface, vs negative image, carving away the element. In this case, the clock is based upon a positive image design. The blank face is set off in the center of the clock with a circle with a 1/4" width. This circle is supported by semi-circles of the same width. This defines the face, the leaf area, and the area framing the face. The clock body sits upon a long rectangular base.

Leaf area

The book 'Victorian Floral Designs' by F. Edward Hulme is a wonderful collection of floral motifs. You can adapt these leaf pictures to this area of the clock. Take a leaf or two and place them down in various positions and in various sizes. An example is shown here.

Face border

I've always liked the foliage on the cover of Wayne Barton's 'New & Traditional Styles of Chip Carving' book. This foliage is used in this area of the clock.


In designing the clock face, you want to create a contrast between the face and the rest of the clock so it is interesting to look at. Therefore, you should tend towards a simple geometric design to contrast with the foliage. I liked the clock on page 104 in the same Wayne Barton book as above because of the way the numbers were set off but the rosette was too busy. Therefore, you can substitute a simple 12-pointed rosette for the complex one in the book. This creates a simple geometric design that contrasts well with the organic leaf areas.


Again, you want a simple geometric pattern for the base because the rest of the clock is pretty busy. Also, it would be nice to bring the long flowing lines down into the base so it looks like part of the clock and not a separate piece tacked onto the bottom. Once again, you can turn to Wayne's book and adapt a design he used in a Gothic Cross for the clock base. The ribbing portion of the cross was combined with a simple 6 pointed rosette in the center. A 6-pointed rosette complements the 12 pointed rosette in the clock face.


Whew! Carving it out will be the easy part!

The clock is carved in butternut, stained, and finished. That could be a topic for another day.

In Closing

Well, that is a non-artist perspective to my initial question, "How do you create all those detailed designs?" I would love to hear feedback from you with your views on this topic. Please send them to me (Jeff Fleisher) directly at Also, please send me ideas via email for topics you would like to see in the future.

Bio - Who am I?

I have been carving for about 3 years. I started with a beginner's woodcarving adult education course that introduced me to all forms of carving - one type per week. I started to focus on chip carving about two years ago. I have taken a couple weekend seminars on chip carving and recently attended the Wayne Barton advanced chip carving class. I am a member of the Northern Virginia Carvers. My formal training is in photographic science (the technical aspects of photography) and computer science. I have a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Brent and Adam. We live in Herndon, VA (Northern Virginia).

I would like to be a continuing contributor to this e-zine but need your help. I would like to present information and carry on a dialogue from the students perspective. Please send me your questions, problems, hints, tips, and suggestions on what you would like to see here. Thanks.