Bound-Heart Lovespoon WIP 9 Carving the Celtic Cross

The Celtic cross, the daffodil and some unifying sculptural elements, in keeping with the art nouveau style adopted for this Lovespoon, are all the carved elements that remain to be completed on the front of the lovespoon. This will be the first time I have included the cross in any Lovespoon design. It is a Celtic Cross in this instance and together with the dragon and the daffodil, it signifies the Welsh heritage of the recipient.

Bound heart lovespoon Pattern Cross Detail 800W.jpgIt was as a teenager in 1965 on a QANTAS staff -travel trip my father had organised for our family, back to his birthplace at Llantwit Major, that I encountered the Celtic knot-work on Celtic crosses for the first time. The crosses were displayed at the ancient St Illtud’s Church and made quite a visual impression. During a couple of other trips to Wales much later I don’t recall seeing much in the way of Celtic crosses at all, but the earlier experience does lead me to easily associate these monuments with Wales.

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Attribution: John Salmon

In his landmark book on Lovespoon carving, The fine Art of Lovespoon Carving David Western makes note of  ‘the scarcity of spoons that include the cross as part of their design’ (regarding historic examples).  And this occurring at a time when ‘the chapel figured so prominently in daily life’ Whereas – ‘the cross is a common feature on modern-day lovespoons’.

I feel I can almost answer the conundrum as a Christian believer myself, in that I would tend to instinctively avoid crosses in my designs unless specifically asked for. I am not against portraying the cross, just not in a vacuum without explicit explanation of its meaning. A key to the reticence on the part of those for whom the ‘chapel’ figured prominently, is perhaps that word chapel. The Calvinistic Methodists were at the forefront of the Welsh revivals. Reformed in their theology and keenly evangelistic, they would instinctively, I think, baulk at mere symbols in place of explicit explanation and invitation .

The meaning of the cross is death and life for the believer. Firstly death – Death of death itself – Death of real moral guilt – Final judgement completed – Passed over. Then everlastingly – Life – Life through forgiveness and reconciliation once-for-all – Into bodily resurrection, new heavens and new earth to come .

The form and orientation of the celtic cross motif on the lovespoon has been decided and its upper surface prepared for drawing in the knot work detail. The form of the cross is inclined slightly to the left and its long axis has a very slight curvature to the left. This is to maintain its relation to the slow serpentine curve along the axis of the entire design and in keeping with the general art nouveau style of the piece.

The celtic cross in this design is comparatively small and so the decorative knot work cannot approach the complexity of the real thing. So it needs to be simple enough to carve at this size but still give a recognisable impression of a celtic cross. The knots at the top and sides are ultra simple and in the one with the longer knot work I have attempted to give an illusion of complexity by making it double stranded. A border around the perimeter is meant to add to this effect.

This Japanese maple timber has been very hard, as well as hard (tough) to carve but fortunately it holds detail well. The very narrow, in some places, areas that form the background to the decorative knot work can be deep enough to produce good shadow definition without compromising the integrity of the walls of the knot work and border. A bit of depth also allows for a very slightly domed effect on the background area for added visual interest.

Once these levels of cutting over the general form are established it is then just a matter of working the details to their completed form. The small micro chisels (shaped and sharpened music wire) accomplish most of this work, building depth slowly while handled with a pencil grip for fine control and naturally limited force.

A small cranked bend in these tools, which, incidentally can be added to or straightened-out-of the tool, facilitates deft cutting up to stop cuts at knot-work intersections and crossovers.

Carving Tools 14_06_2015_002 800W.jpgIn the next post I will describe carving of the third typically Welsh signifying motif on this lovespoon, the daffodil.

The Bound Heart Lovespoon WIP 8 Carving the Celtic Knot-work

The next design element o be carved is the area of Celtic knot-work on the right hand side merging at the top portion that encapsulates the swivel at the top of the spoon. This knot-work panel at its right-most edge will describe a line that is the overall spoon’s profile leading up to the crowning swivel and ring at the top.

A considerable amount of material needs to be removed to reach the thin edge of the knot-work panel. This material needs to be removed carefully however so as to not compromise the positioning of the dragon’s tail below or the level and orientation of the Celtic cross toward the top centre of the lovespoon.

With these profile lines drawn in the level of both the knot-work and the surface of the Celtic cross are worked down to. By using a narrow but deep gouge with a stabbing-fist grip, considerable controlled cutting force removes the very hard timber down close to the required level.

When the level is approached close to the finished top of the knot-work and cross a shallower gouge can be used to to smooth the furrowed tool marks ready for re-drawing the knot-work.

With the knot-work drawn in and the negative spaces shaded, as a precaution, ready for carving. The edges are outlined with stop cuts to form the knot’s ribbon edges and the pierced openings between the knot ribbon strands.

I had decided not to fret out these openings because of the thickness of hard, dense timber at that point. I opted instead for holes drilled through the blank to expedite piercings with chisels. In retrospect It would have been more convenient to have done without these holes, as they offer little help and I now consider the option of not passing right through the blank preferable.

As the knot-work will not be shown in reverse on the spoon back the through holes will need to be utilised in the intended abstract ‘art nouveau’ forms on the other side.

The Celtic knot-work in relation to the dragon’s tail and the Celtic cross is established and now attention an be payed to the positioning of the Celtic cross and its spatial axis in that part of the overall spoon’s form.

To the left of the Celtic cross will be the daffodil, which will needs relating both to the Celtic cross and to the head of the dragon at the right level enabling a harmonious dimensional juxtaposition to them both. But for now the orientation of the left hand level of the Celtic cross will need carful consideration as this next element is layer out and carved.

Post-Christmas Season Catch-up with The Bound Heart Lovespoon WIP

I have had little time to devote to this project, or any carving leading up to and during the Christmas and New Year Season. However quite a bit of progress has been made on The Bound Heart Lovespoon since the last post. For this reason I will post mainly photos, to illustrate the WIP, with less written commentary until I reach the finishing process.

The dragon featured on this design is the traditional Welsh flag dragon except for his tail positioning, which overlays some of the Celtic knot-work, to be carved next. This overlaying is also intended to make the traditional heraldic style of the dragon fit with the overall art nouveau style of the lovespoon.

So as with the other carved elements in the design, the overall form of the dimensional space for the dragon to occupy, is shaped and then the dragon’s main forms are drawn over this prepared area, ready for carving the dragon’s form.

Levels are first established for the various parts and the carving proceeds downward through the form, re-drawing the various parts as their level is reached.

The ribbon structure upon which the dragon stands is carved in conjunction with the dragon as it bends downward around the left lobe of the heart. At the same time the dimensional travel of the doubled-over long ‘S’ bends of the tail, need to lay harmoniously and with fair curves over the intended knot-work on the right hand side.

Gradually the parts of the dragon form are carved with outlining stop cuts carved back to, with shallow gouges with sometimes direct chisel edged cuts, or at other times, long slicing cuts, almost parallel to the stop cut. The latter when cutting against the, often changing grain direction, makes it necessary.

With the main form of the dragon established and the bolder details added, it is time to leave the detailed refining of the dragon to a later stage. The next element for attention will be the Celtic knot-work and the overlaying dragon tail.

The Bound Heart Lovespoon WIP 6 Carving the Rose


The rose element on the right hand side of the lovespoon is redrawn over the shaped  portion of the lovespoon where it is located. Before any actual carving of the rose’s basic form its level in the overall design needs to be established. In addition the overall form at that portion of the carving needs to be shaped into the volume that will be carved into the rose element.

Once the outlines of the rose’s main forms; petals, leaves and the underlying scrolling terminals of the tendril lines are drawn in, the deep undercutting is commenced from those lines.


A balance of depth, delicacy of form and the necessary inherent strength required for the unsupported rose element here on far right hand edge of the lovespoon, means erring on the ‘chunky’ side. There remains the possible refinement of form later after many more hours of turning gripping and handling have safely passed. Even then the refinement to the rose’s final form will need to be cautious and sparingly executed.

I could have opted for an ornamental and robustly geometric Tudor Rose in this situation but it seemed a more naturalistic, only slightly stylised rose, would fit the art nouveau style of the overall design better.

In the next post the carving of the Welsh Dragon will be described.

WIP 5 – Carving the Puffin

A number of ongoing projects and commitments including the carving of the Bound Heart Lovespoon has made it difficult to post regularly and a bank-up of WIP posts has developed so I will provide only brief descriptions with the next several posts beginning with carving the puffin.

The puffin is carved in deep relief nestled between the left hand spoon stem and a bounding curvilinear structure that partly frames the various carved elements of the lovespoon.

To carve the puffin I have first carved down to the level of the foremost point just below the wing shoulder. Then by re-drawing the outlines of the main forms carved down in stages from stop cuts made along the outlines to shape the various main forms. Simultaneous to this work on the puffin some of the background of the puffin is established and this determines the depth of relief that will be attempted.

The background includes some water splashes and stylised wave forms beyond the rock which provides the he puffin’s base.

A continuing process of carving and re-drawing gradually brings the puffin’s main form into being ready for details to be added.

The level within the carving where the puffin locates, in turn has its affect on the best levels through which a fair and pleasing curve of the spoon stem would travel on its course upward to the lantern hanging link.

The puffin’s eye and wing feather details are added using a variety of small chisels and gouges with just the right curve. Whenever that is possible. While any curve can be effectively followed in increments wit a narrow flat chisel or shallow gouge a larger gouge that fits a curve, or part of it is the best choice for efficiency and neatness.

With the main form established and details indicated the puffin is ready for tweaking and final finishing at a later stage.

The next post will be the carving of the rose on the lower right.

Carving the Bound Heart Lovespoon WIP 4 Carving the Heart

The Heart at the centre of this lovespoon design is the title piece of the carving. The carving blank chosen, a piece of Japanese maple, mostly clear, but with a conspicuous knot, became an integral part of the design. The design brief called for a now-robust heart that had received the healing that the loose binding golden cords had provided. The knot in the timber would provide some focused interest, with a burl like grain pattern, centred on the carved heart.

Additionally with unsound material removal from the centre of the knot, there would be an irregular wound-like void in the heart. A combination of removing material from the knot and working down to the heart surface level, below the cords enwrapping it, would show the location, area, direction and depth of this feature.

I needed the voided-knot to locate, without interference to the second diagonal cord strand, or to the heart-cleavage in any way that might compromise the full rounded ness of the heart. Careful placement of the pattern, together with a little tweaking of the pattern ‘before the fact’ has provided clearance enough for the Lower cord-strand and the heart piece seems to have form enough at this point.

You never know how deep or which directions the unsound material in a knot might go and so I envisaged using the option of some resin filler in this region. Whether or not this is necessary will depend on how prominent the knot-wound needs to be to fulfil its purpose in the design and how it affects the heart’s overall form.

I used a narrow #5 gouge to remove the material quickly down to the heart surface between the strands and along its right hand edge. From time to time the surface was smoothed with a #2 gouge to help envisage the form of the heart and how deep it should be taken on the sides, pointed end and the top under the dragon’s base ribbon.

To establish the form of the heart I have first located the level of the highest point on its surface just below the strands. Then gradually lowered the levels on the strands as they curve over the sides and top.

This in turn necessitates a little attention to some of the surrounding elements, like the trailing curled end of the dragon base ribbon at the top, the area surrounding the puffin’s head and the under-cut area behind the dragon’s tail. Also below the dragon’s tail the right hand edge of the heart needs to ‘disappear’ as it gives an appearance of curving around to its back face, behind the spoon’s stem which in turn slides past it up behind the dragon tail.

The edges of the heart need to go deep to provide the heart’s roundness and yet the heart is essentially carved in relief and will not appear on the back of the carving. At the same time the spoon stem touching the heart edge is already at a depth that relates correctly to the hanging lantern link. So deep under cutting of the spoon stem, met by a deep convex plunge of the heart’s right hand edge under it, will provide the contrasting shadow/highlight to indicate a full rounded heart, nestled into the crevice formed by the spoon stem.

To establish this ‘crevice’ area adjacent to the heart edge I have used a wide shallow gouge with the gouge’s heal-to-centre-of-edge, slid in an extreme slicing cut along the line of he crevice. A number of consecutive slicing cuts, each shaving a spiraling chip, eventually build to the beginnings of a form that can be further shaped by a more direct cutting over the heart surface to the crevice area as a stop-cut.

By using a stabbing grip on the palm gouge, considerable force can be applied with a high degree of control. Because the limited arc of travel in the wrist, is a natural restraint of, and stop to, the cutting action.

By continuing to place incremental small stop cuts, and larger ones when a gouge fits the curve, along the lines of the golden cords. The surface level of the he heart is worked down to, across the surface of the heart, by removing the material in cutting up to the stop cuts.

With the heart form largely established the overlaying cord strands are brought to their various levels and forms

Using a curved knife the twist detail in the cords is attempted. The large amount short grain encountered along the length of the strands however means break-out between these twists and each correction ends in a lowering of the depth of the strands. For this reason I have decided to aim at an ‘impression’ of twist along the cords, at this point at least. The painting and gilding stage will be a guide as to how much detail can be safely aimed at and what will look best.

With the heart close to its final form some attention has been paid to visualising the ribbon base ribbon hat the dragon perches upon. It will need to relate correctly to the dragon atop it and also follow a fair curve across the top of the heart.

Before tackling this however it will be best to work on the lower sections such as the puffin and its abstract water swirl background and then the art nouveau swirls and tendrils behind the rose.

In the next post I will describe the carving of the he Puffin and its surrounding background.

The Bound Heart Lovespoon, WIP 3 – Carving the Twin Bowls

The ball-in-cage hanging lantern has been carved and now it is time to tackle the twin bowls of the, lovespoon. The carving of the bowls will be next, not because it is the most critical part of the project after the hanging lantern, but because there is quite a bit of material to be removed and this means fairly heavy handling, especially with the toughness of this timber.

It is often necessary to make decisions about the order of doing things when carving, in order to minimise potential risks. At other times it is to make access available and at yet others, to be able to visualise the way forward.

Carving down to the line that marks the rim top in the bowl profile, is heavy going in this timber. So a smaller but deeper gouge is needed and only a little sliver at a time can be removed, even while using a fair amount of force.

A stabbing-fist grip provides the necessary force, together with the kind of control that the natural, limited travel, of wrist-arc provides. I find however that holding the work at its far end or at other non-vulnerable parts of the carving, is awkward from some angles, as I cope with the changing grain direction.

Most of my carving is done at my jeweller’s-bench-like carving station, with palm tools, knives and purpose-made tools for miniature carving. To shape the profiles of the overlapping bowls of the lovespoon I decided to use bench tools and mallet to remove the material more quickly, and in this case with more control.

I have taken the precaution of stabilising the lantern with a rubber band and the work is securely clamped to the bench. Almost the entire work piece is flat on the back and can be firmly clamped to the bench. A small piece of cedar presses against the upper bowl to prevent lateral movement as it is carved.

After carving down to the line of the bowl profile, it is time to carve the interior of each of the twin bowls. There is still a large amount of material to be removed from the bowl interiors but this time the material can only be carved away in small increments. This is mainly because the bowl interiors each contain features and details that need to be ‘crept-up-upon’ with deliberation.

Bound Heart Lovespoon WIP - 26_08_2018_02 800W 800W


The best I can do in order to speed the process is to use a 4mm #7 gouge to cut deep overlapping channels inside the bowls and around the hearts that emerge from the bowl interior. These emerging hearts are to be blended down to the bowl surface with a swirl connection in keeping with the general art nouveau style of the lovespoon.

The curved arises on these connecting swirls need to describe fair curves that are in turn, properly related with the bowl sides and the hearts they merge into. As the carving of these features proceeds, design decisions need to be made about the depth of the swirls, and the sharpness of the arises on the swirls, especially as they become ‘lost edges’ at their graduated blending points on the bowl surfaces and hearts.

Bound Heart Lovespoon WIP - 26_08_2018_03 800W 800W

Eventually these features are formed with appropriate sized gouges and cleaned up with a shallow round-ended gouge. With a freshly stropped edge and not much more force than the weight of the gouge, tiny slivers are shaved from the bowl surfaces. This is carried out with a necessarily high cutting angle, levering from the bowl rim. In this way the interior features, swirls, hearts and splines are adjusted in shape, form and surface quality, ready for final finish preparation much later.

Once the top bowl interior was shaped, the right hand outer surface could be partially carved, enough to define the left hand rim of the lower right hand bowl. At this point the interior of the second bowl could be carved along the same lines as the other.

The full depth of the bowl interiors is gradually approached in tandem with the form of the features the bowls contain. The lowering of level within the bowls, in turn alters the curves, depth of shadow and the general relationship of the features to the bowls, and this necessitates slowly working the one part and then the other.

With the interiors fully formed, the bulk of material, especially toward the front of the bowls is removed. The stems of the lovespoon around the junction of the bowls needs leaving fairly full, both for some precautionary strength in that region during the heavy work and for later options, with the details designed for that area.

To remove the material I began with the small deep gouge and eased the curves with the large flatter gouge.

When the juncture of the overlapping bowls is approached, the form of each bowl needs to be visualised and each bowl surface carved incrementally, in much the same way as was necessary with the bowl interiors and their included features.

By working right across the entire structure of the two bowls and not separately carving each bowl in turn, an integrity of the pair is easier to realise and the degree of separation of the two, at the point of rim contact, can be well defined.

As the work is continually turned and examined during the carving of the outer surfaces. The lines of the profile are able to be scrutinised for fairness of curve and adjusted accordingly. Likewise the whole form is worked to achieve a smooth flow of concave to convex surfaces and transitions from surface to edge.

The bottom of each bowl is pod-like in form, with splined edges at the tip and at the base of each bowl. The edges loose their sharpness gradually toward the centre of each bowl, where they are ‘lost’ in the continuous smooth curved surface at that point.

A tendril like detail joins the tip of both bowls and a similar detail on each bowl trails from the outer rim behind the love spoon stem. These details also include the lost and found shadow lines produced from the blended, sharp and smoothed edges. It is the proliferation of these various curves that produce the art nouveau styling of this piece. Some of these details have been planned at the beginning in the original design drawing, but there remains opportunity to include more such detail during the carving process.

Because carving is a subtractive method of forming the object, experimental details can be tried on the fly and left in place when they add to the aesthetic of the design. Tool marks themselves often suggest such details, and can be further developed or reproduced elsewhere in the design.

Though it is not generally good practice to use abrasives while edge tools are still being employed, ( left behind grit will dull their edge ) a wide abrasive face, working over a surface will reveal humps and hollows and even them out to a continuously smooth form. Larger discrepancies in the integrity of a fair surface can be revealed in this way, where they may have been camouflaged, in the light-scattering facets of tool marks. With some careful cleaning of the surface, edge tools can again be used subsequent to sanding, both to do the heavy work that that abrasives have shown necessary, and also to finesse detail that sanding has compromised.

dsc08122 dd mm yy (date)g 800w

Abrasive tools in the form of rasps, rifflers, files and various grit abrasive papers all have their place when highly polished surfaces are to be a feature in the carving. They even have a place as a useful aid to arriving at desirable form, before edge tools are used for a finishing that features a decorative textured network of tool marks, when that is the aim.

I tend to think of abrasive papers as tools in their own right, especially when attached to some substrate that will allow the deliberate and purposeful delivery of an effect. They have nevertheless, some undesirable side effects, because of their being, not perfectly precise, and so un-like the finely honed, stropped and polished edge of knife, chisel or gouge.

Abrasives tend to even things out, blur the edges, soften the detail. This can be the perfect foil, the perfect contrast to crisp detail, but the crisp detail will need restoring when abrasive softening has been applied.

Edge tools generally provide precise ,crisp definition, in contrast to the softening effect of abrasives. They provide it where surfaces intersect and they provide it when working their potentially beautiful tool-mark texture over a surface, from the dynamism of ocean-wave rippling texture to the tantalisingly, nearly but not quite, dead-smooth, yet paradoxically lively texture, of fine aged leather.

dsc08123 dd mm yy (date)h 800w

The inner beauty of timber on the other hand, the opalescent chatoyance not yet visible with timber ‘in the rough’, cannot be revealed without a perfectly smooth evenly formed surface. A surface that has been polished to the point of being a transparent window to what lies below. For such a surface, a series of abrasive ‘smoothings’ down to the thousands is necessary. The coarser abrasive tools prepare the ground work for this result and finer and finer grits with oils, thinned varnishes and waxes bring it to completion.


By orchestrating the achievable results obtained from edge tools for the most part and the additional aid that abrasive tools provide in achieving the forms of each element. The carving as a whole is prepared in stages working toward an integrated form ready for its final detailing and polish.


dsc08118 dd mm yy (date)d_1 800w

The basic forms of the twin bowls are now formed ready for the tidying up and detailing that will follow when all the elements of the work have been established.  The rounded-bead ends of the lovespoon’s twin stems are nestled into their coved recesses in the widening rims at the bases of each bowl. The flowing paths of the stems themselves now have to be considered and established as graceful slow curves, passing the hanging lantern and then merging beyond the lantern’s hanging point, up to the right hand side of the bound heart.

Likewise some lowering of the blank’s surface, toward the bottom portion of the dragon, the ribbon on which the dragon stands, the tail of the dragon and part of the celtic knot-work, will all need to carried out. These levels will establish working parameters that governing achieving the desired form for the bound heart.


A degree of twist will need to be imparted to the stems as they travel up to the heart, which will be the next object of attention. The final form of the stems, especially around the lantern’s hanging-link region will need blocking in first, in preparation for determining the levels and depth of carving of the heart.

So the form of the bowls is now established and while the bowl area is not the most prominent detail in the whole lovespoon, carving the bowl, or bowls in this case, are the crowning element. The bowl is always in any lovespoon, not an overly prominent element, but it is the definitive element. As such the twin bowls have commanded a great deal of attention and will continue to, in the finishing processes.

In the next post the title piece, the bound heart, will be carved into its location and at the level in the design, that relates it best in form and position to the other elements and the love spoon’s story..