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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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..

‘The Bound Heart Lovespoon’ WIP 3 Carving the Ball-in-cage Lantern

In this post I will be describing the first stages of the actual carving of the ‘Bound Heart Lovespoon’. I am going to commence with the ball-in-cage lantern because it seems at this stage to be the most difficult, or at least the most fraught-with-danger element in the design.

It would be nice to think that with a bit of experience under my belt I might know what I am doing. However as I commence the carving I have no clear idea about how I will remove material all around the intended hanging lantern with the captured ball inside.

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As I mentioned in the previous post, a large part of the designing will take place during the carving process. The design, as it is, in this plan view for the ball-in-cage hanging lantern, has come about firstly as the simple requirement in the brief, for a ball-in-cage to represent the client’s daughter. Its location is due to some changes in earlier designs and the adoption of an overall asymmetrical art nouveau styling to the piece as a whole.

The art nouveau asymmetric styling of the design led to the twin bowls and consequently, the paired, sinuously-curving and merging stems. These stems in turn, provided an ideal cradling-space for the cage feature. The space is a tapered space however, and so the cage has taken on its lantern-like appearance. Now, being a lantern, it would look best if it were to hang free. A hanging point would also also help keep the individual integrity of the two stems as theorise to their point of convergence concealed and blended into the rest of the design.

All very well except for how enough access can be had to this feature, through the sides of the lantern piece, to carve the ball in-situ.  I have a few home-made crank-shafted carving  tools for accessing tight areas, but even these would need enough access past the twin spoon stems to work the ball in the cage.

After lowering the level on the front of the lantern a little and then a little more away from the centre of the ball, I then considered the profile of the love spoon on both sides. There would be a need to pare away with a knife, enough material from the top, of both spoon stems, for access to the lantern sides. But not so much as to interfere with the thickness and downward-to-upward sweep of the stems into the twin bowls below.

The carving/designing process at this point is a matter of ducking and weaving around the project looking for ways forward, measuring material available, weighing up options and then cautiously proceeding. By using a strip of paper to measure and mark off the profile of the ball and  lantern corner posts I had prepared to begin lowering the level between the lantern posts on one side down to the face of the ball. Then with sloping under cuts the beginnings of the ball shape began to be formed.

Every now and then a little more realestate is resumed from the material on the spoon stems to get more access and a little more of each stem’s own design is settled in the process.

Gradually, stubborn persistence provides an encouraging glimmer of hope, and a foolhardy venture pays off as the shape of the ball in the cage begins to form. The tools I have made from music wire, cut well enough when sharp and polished but the steel is still soft enough to allow some further bending of the shaft to facilitate reaching difficult regions of the work.

So having come close to shaping the ball on one side, front and back. I can now set about a repeat of the process on the other side, from the direction of the other spoon stem. Again, this is going to require some thought about how much material, and where, can be left around the left-hand spoon stem while still leaving enough options for the design of all the elements that will be located there.

Most of the carving at this point has been by small incremental piercing cuts with small tools or the very corner of the edge, on slightly larger ones. The paring cuts that I have so far made with the broader edge of the tools, indicate that this piece of Japanese maple is, or seems to me at this stage to be, quite a bit harder and tougher than the rock maple I am used to.

Furthermore, consistent with what some internet research suggests, by reference to its tendency to ‘skip’ over planing cutters, I am finding a kind of toughness in the timber that causes even sharp tools to burnish the path before them and skip out of the cut. Not a big problem, but small and cautious cuts will be continually necessary.

A good characteristic of the timber, arising from its hardness and toughness, is its ability to hold fine detail. Though it doesn’t allow cutting against the grain without tear-out, or tolerate cutting across the grain particularly well.

I am also guessing that another of this timber’s characteristics that will make up for the difficulty of carving is that it should have some great finishing properties, including some interesting colour variation, by way of bright yellow streaking through the grain in some areas.

Because I am not sure yet how deep into the timber the puffin and the waves are to be, I am using broad gouge cuts to open access space to the lantern on the left-hand side. Again due to the hardness of the timber, especially across end grain I am following up the shallow cuts with some small rasp work to avoid the transfer of too much stress to weaker connecting points. Using the rasp here is also a way of testing how the timber responds to this kind of working, in case I need to do this in other parts of the carving later.

Just as some of the design takes place during the carving process I also like to experiment with different tools as I go along.  Building a repertoire of techniques to draw upon in the future and along the way.

Little by little working around the captured ball, it is finally loose within the cage and ready for as much refinement to its shape as can be safely done, without making it too small. It is now time to take the task of cutting the connecting links that will allow the lantern to hang between the two stems of the twin spoon bowls. With a narrow crank-shafted chisel I can work from the hole drilled in the horizontal link, with stabbing stop cuts up to and around the vertical link that merges with the junction of the twin stems.

There is even less room to move in this area and less material can be removed from the area around the stems as they merge with the hanging point link. a couple of extra bends in the tool shaft help a little, but some paring of the stems’ width, just a hair’s breadth on either side and from the outside edge of the lantern’s link is necessary. I have sawn these links a little on the full side for this  purpose and now, just enough space can be obtained to cut the aperture through on the vertical hanging point link.

I only really know it to be, just enough, because eventually it was, and the lantern was able to hang free from the hanging point link. Along the way this required small, careful cuts with whatever tool could reach in and contribute by the removal of even a few fibres from the right place, without encroachment on what needed to remain in place.

A tapered paring of the lantern-top link to a suitable fit within the interior space on the hanging point link, opened the way of access. Opened just enough, that the joining material, when all cleanly removed, provided the freeing of the lantern. Therefore with the lantern free, access to its sides, for cleaning up the four posts and the side windows of the lantern was possible.

With the lantern free and able to swing right out of range from the spoon stems, toward the front and toward the back, there is access enough for tidying the interior of the lantern with smoother cuts, refining the shape of the ball and smoothing it. There will be a limit to how ’round’ The ball can be made following the constricted location where it was first shaped, but so far as it can be made smooth and gracefully spheroid or egg-shaped, that will be the aim later.

Following this, refinement on the form of the hanging lantern could be carried out and then a thinning of the connecting links. The connecting links are thinned in proportion to the massed, thin, sweeping curved lines of the spoon stems, plant stems and scrolling tendrils that drift upward behind.

Next, it will be time to tackle the carving of the twin bowls with the two extruded hearts within. The bowls are not being considered next so much because of perceived difficulty, but having experienced the hardness and toughness of the timber, I know that quite a bit of heavy work needs to take place here, at the far end of the spoon.  I will therefore need some stout stuff to grip and perhaps clamp safely, while the heavy work is done.

So now the profile of the spoon design needs considering again. In particular the way it is to transition into the twin bowls. I won’t be removing more material here than I have to, in order to maintain the strength of this connecting area. The basic curve and thickness will need to be pencilled in along the sweep of the spoon stems and bevelled cuts made down to these lines as much as possible while still keeping options for the various included elements.

In the following post I will describe the carving of the overlapping heart-encapsulating twin bowls.

The ‘Bound Heart’ Welsh Lovespoon Cutting the Carving Blank WIP 2


The printed pattern for the lovespoon is pasted with spray adhesive onto the selected timber blank and cutting of the lovespoon’s plan-view shape can commence. In this case I needed to locate the pattern in precise alignment over the feature knot in a way that would locate the knot within an area toward the top of the heart between the two to-be-gilded cords winding diagonally across it. (1) By pressing an indentation into the paper pattern in the region of the feature knot the correct location of the pattern on the blank is accomplished . Since there was very little room to move in locating this, really none at all, I just needed to hope for the best, in the attempt to get it right. Even a couple of millimeters would make a difference to the flow of the cord’s curved path over the surface of the heart.

Maintaining fair and graceful curves throughout the carving process is going to be a constant concern in this design. The relationship of the various lines that describe the edges will be crucial to the task of relating all these elements of the carving.

There will be many third dimension unknowns in the final design that await inclusion, as the two dimensional pattern is transformed at the keen, wilful edges of knives, chisels and gouges, through a variably-compliant timber’s, one inch thickness, to the Lovespoons final finished form. This finished form will be accomplished with many irreversible tool edge incisions as the carving and further design work proceed concurrently.

It would be possible to plan the design more thoroughly, so that the whole three dimensional form of the carving was a known quantity, but this would require producing a marque. Then with this three dimensional representation available, the carving process would be mostly a matter of copying what has already been decided.

My preferred method is to spend a fair bit of time on the plan view of the carving and then work more intuitively in the carving stage. I can, however, see some benefit in producing a marque in clay or even a paper and card model, and I might try this approach sometime.

As I mentioned earlier, doing a more carefully rendered drawing of the pattern, has helped a little in this way by ‘modelling’ each of the carving’s elements, conceptually at least, as the shading indicates how the third dimension of the form might go and as enough time is spent dwelling over each element to consider how it might be carved.

The nature of timber together with the special geometry of each carving tool’s cutting edge are useful additions to the vocabulary of describing the carved form as chisels and gouges leave their peculiar tool marks. As the tool marks and developmental forms emerge and intersect there are suggestions the proceeding work makes, that can lead he design imagination, in directions that would not otherwise occur. This dynamic design process has its dangers but also its benefits.

So in cutting the carving blank on the scroll saw I have cut as close to the outside of the line as I could around most of the perimeter of the design and have left a little more material in places where options might develop. I have used a ‘Flying Dutchman’ brand #7 modified geometry blade for the cutting the one inch thick blank. Cutting was quite slow and the Japanese, Maple seems to be a bit harder than the rock maple I am used to.

Inside cuts (shaded with purple coloured pencil) were then prepared for by drilling into the apertures. Because of the slow cutting which meant the possible wandering or bowing inside the cut I have only cut the larger of the inside cuts and have not cut as close to the line in critical areas. In some parts like the Celtic knot-work the apertures have not been cut at all. I might leave the cutting in these locations to when the timber is thinned at that point and then use a fret saw or piercing saw or perhaps just use the edge tools to work from the drilled holes.

When the cutting of the blank is complete the carving work and the continued design during that carving can get under way. With the carving work, I will commence with the elements that pose the most danger of failure. There are a few such areas in this design, the foremost being the loose-hanging ball-in-cage lantern. In the next post I will describe the roughing out of access to the area for this feature and the carving of this feature.

‘Bound Heart’ Lovespoon – The Pattern Design



This working pattern for the ‘Bound Heart’ Lovespoon has emerged from a collaboration of design responses and requested changes, through a couple of iterations, to arrive at the current working pattern. I have often done a fairly detailed rendering, even in the early stages of a design, where a rough sketch would have been more sensible, because of  likely changes.

One reason in justification of this is, I find the drawing and rendering of a design is a useful exercise and I am enabled by the slowed-down-drawing process to think through how, the actually carving of particular elements, might feel during the work and how their form might appear in the end. The later-to-be discarded elements and details would then have been ‘experienced’ sufficiently in doing a finished drawing, to become part of my design vocabulary for later use.


However as I draw and render the pattern I can’t help but feel it is starting to partly take on the role of a finished drawing in its own right, even while I am still thinking of it as ‘just’ a pattern to carve from.

The heart in the final design ( knot not shown)

For more complex works especially, I am tending, even as I think about it now, to feel that the whole process involved in design and making is, as a whole package, the actual artwork, not just the finished artefact. That is not to say that the finished object is incomplete.

It is not incomplete, because all the other parts of the entire process, mostly intangible ones, are included in it and can be rightly inferred, from the finished work piece, though not observed. At the same time the few, more tangible, parts of the whole art project; like the sketches, drawings, photo collections and the step by step descriptions of the working progress, have an additional stand-alone potential and can be observed.

Now this is and has been always true of any artwork, crafted or made thing. Nothing new here. But in our still emerging ‘Information Age’ the intangibles that go with an artefact, the context, inspiration, impetus, processes and the ultimate presentation of them, can all the more easily be delivered as a whole package art project/work.


It is common, especially in Instagram, to see, not scans of graphic works in progress or finished work, but photos of them that include the brushes, pens pencils etc and sometimes the work location. A sketchbook page for instance isn’t scanned but photographed in situ. The ‘flat lay’ is the purpose built, designer version of these inter contextual graphics.

I enjoy seeing this kind of presentation  myself because of the context and ambiance that is included. It adds to the story of the finished work, and it might as well be included, and or considered a kind of derivative work.

The whole-work of a commissioned lovespoon carving, begins with the back-story of its commissioning, and then, as with any artwork, the story of materials used, workspace, tools, the cultural location of the carver and the carvings own location in tradition. Additionally the carver’s individual motivation, inspiration, influences and philosophy of making when published are a meaningful part of the whole the human author/maker may have very limited input into the perceived meaning of their work but the author isn’t exactly dead.

This ‘Bound Heart’ Lovespoon design, consists of a complex montage of elements that are meaningful in a family-history and emotional sense to its recipient. The brief requires, for the front of the lovespoon; The Welsh Dragon, a daffodil, a rose, a heart loosely bound by golden thread, Celtic knot-work, a Celtic cross, a caged ball and a puffin. The lovespoon is also to be art nouveau in style overall.


An additional aspect to the design comes from a feature in the selected timber blank for the lovespoon carving. There is a slightly open knot at about the centre of the timber piece. The story for the ‘Bound Heart’ involves a substantially healed, once wounded, now healthy heart. This heart is loosely bound with golden thread as if from the healing, and so the knot could well be a unique asset to the meaning, as long as no other problems eventuate from it. The selected timber piece is Japanese maple, a hard close grained timber similar to rock maple but a bit darker.

Rather than describe all the elements in the design, their meaning, arrangement and individual characteristics at this point. I will leave it to the detailed descriptions of them in the carving process as the work progresses.

In the next post I will describe the cutting of the carving blank, ready for the carving.