Carving a Simple Flower
P. Michael Henderson
November 8, 2008
ago, I did a tutorial on a woodworking forum on how to carve a simple flower.
In an attempt to make that tutorial a bit more widely available, I'm putting it
If you find this tutorial useful, I'd really appreciate if
you would send me an
e-mail with the subject line of "Flower
carving" so I can
get some indication of how many people are reading it.
Note that I use the Swiss system to describe carving tools
in all of my carving tutorials.
Let me make a few preliminary comments before starting the tutorial. When you
carve an object, you're not trying to make a photographic reproduction of it -
you're trying to "represent" the object, which means that you need to decide
what the important aspects of the object are and make sure those are included in
People see objects in clouds. The shape of clouds is just random, so why do
people see objects in clouds? The human mind is a wonderful shape matching
device - so if the clouds have a shape that is even close to some object that
you've seen before, the mind matches to that object and you see the resemblance.
When we carve, we take advantage of that aspect of the human mind - we don't try
to carve every aspect of an object, but only the "important" aspects of that
object. If we select well, other people will see the object in our carving.
So with our flower. The "flower" we're going to carve probably doesn't exist in
nature, but someone looking at it will say that it's a flower.
The other point I'd like to make is that your carving can vary quite a bit and
it'll still look good. I'm going to give you some tools and dimensions but you
should feel free to adapt my recommendations to your tools, needs, and taste.
Here's where we're going. This is a carving I did on
a wooden plane I made - the carving we'll do in this tutorial will be a bit
bigger, and it'll be done in basswood (this is red birch) but otherwise it's the
You can use this flower in a lot of things. Here's a lid
I did that uses this simple flower in a repetitive pattern around the lid.
The ring is called a "guilloche" -
a repetition of a pattern with interwoven lines. A very nice decorative touch
around the top of a chest or on the apron of a table. But made up of this very
CLAMP YOUR WORK!!! I don't show the clamp in these pictures but the work is
always clamped, as yours should be. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, work on a loose piece
of wood - you'll eventually wind up in the ER with a gouge through your hand.
I'm going to use a piece of basswood. I have a piece here that has some defects
in it, so I'm going to use half of it for this project. The piece is 12" by 5
1/2" so I'm going to work with a 6" by 5 1/2" work area.
What I did was draw two circles that I thought would look good for a flower. The
outer circle has a radius of 1 7/8" and the inner has a radius of 3/8". I just
drew these without measuring. Then I measured the radius and adjusted it to an
even fraction - that's why you see two circles in the picture.
For your flower, you may want to go larger or smaller, especially to match the
gouges you have. I'll talk more about that later.
I now need to find a gouge that matches the inner circle. With my tools, the
best match was a #7/14 gouge. Note, however that this gouge is a Henry Taylor
and not a Pfeil, and I've marked the Henry Taylor (which normally is a Sheffield
system gouge) with the Swiss system equivalent. What you need to do is find a
gouge that matches your inner circle. You can adjust the circle to fit your
Cut downward around the inner circle. Do not use a mallet at this time - just
use hand pressure. Then use your #2/5 gouge to cut inward to your circular cut,
as shown in the picture.
You can use your #7/14 to make those inward cuts, but it's easier with the small
gouge. But once you get the initial trim made, switch to the #7/14 and cut
downward and inward until the center circle is sticking up about 1/4".
Now we need to find a gouge that matches the curvature of the outside circle.
With my tools, that was a #3/20. You can adjust the size of that circle to match
your tools - just don't make it too large or too small.
Outline the outer circle with your #3/20. Here, you can use a mallet on the
gouge - just don't go crazy with it. Once you've made the downward cut, use the
#7/14 to cut inward. When you cut inward, make your cuts towards the center of
the circles. You're going to leave those tool marks so you want them to look
good. Also, space the cuts so they show up well.
Keep cutting downward and inward until you've cut downward about 1/4". There's
nothing magic about 1/4" and if you cut more or less you're going to be okay.
Now, use your #7/14 to cut between the two circles, tapering the cut between
them. So on the outside circle, the height should be the original height. Next
to the inner circle, the height should be down about 1/4".
This step is optional, but if you want to, you can use the #3/20 to smooth out
the marks from your previous cuts.
next step is to layout the flower petals. The first question is "How many petals
should we put in?" For a small number of repeated elements, an odd number looks
better than an even number. I'm going to use five because it's odd and it's not
so many that the carving gets tedious. You can use seven if you want.
Next question: "How should the petals be laid out?" Since we're using an odd
number, I use a full petal at the top. So I put a mark at the bottom of my
flower, on the outer circle. Then I use a set of dividers to find five even
divisions of the outer circle. When I find the divisions, I put a mark at each
landing site of the dividers.
Then draw a line from each of those marks towards the center. Don't take your
line all the way to the center. Sometimes it's hard to get rid of the marks
where they meet the inner circle so just don't mark that.
Using your V-tool, cut along the lines. Don't dry to make the cut all in one
pass. Make a light cut and come back to deepen the cut.
After that, we'll round the ends of the petals with the #7/14. Align the edges
of the gouge with the side and ends of the petals and push downward hard. This
will give you the cuts shown in the picture.
Use your #2/5 to clean up the cuts.
Once you trim all the ends of the petals, your flower should look like this.
Now we want to dome over the center circle. It's important you make the cuts
correctly or you'll split the wood. Since the grain runs horizontally, you need
to make your cuts as shown by the arrows in the picture below. If you get
confused and make a cut opposite the arrows, you'll know it.
The tutorial continues here.