Dress Up your Furniture with Surface Carving
Synopsis: Walk past a piece of furniture with surface carving, and the light dances on and off the carved surface, creating highlights and shadows that are in motion from every vantage point. That’s the allure of carving for Michael Cullen, who uses it on his furniture. Drawing inspiration from the world around him, he favors simple, repetitive patterns that mimic raindrops, ripples in the sand, and plant leaves. Here, he explains the right tools, techniques, and patterns to use when adding carving to a piece of furniture.
from Fine Woodworking #221
Surface carving adds depth and richness to any piece. But what intrigues and excites me most is repetitive patterns and texture, and the dynamic quality they bring to furniture. Walk past a piece with carving, and light dances on and off the carved surface, creating highlights and shadows that are in motion from every vantage point. Although this may sound dramatic, the effect tends to be subtle: It intrigues and suggests, inviting the eye to further inspect and enjoy the piece.
What draws me to this particular style of carving, as opposed to more traditional period designs, is the informality of both the execution and the product. Surface carving is simultaneously irregular and regular. Inconsistency is apparent in the individual cuts and yet the overall pattern is predictable and consistent. I’ll take you through my process, from design to finishing. I’ll cover a clear finish in this article, and you can turn to Finish Line (pp. 90-93), to learn how I enhance the carvings with milk paint.
A good design is simple but not perfect: My inspiration comes from observing everything in the environment: an old fence, the bark on a tree, even the pattern in a box of nails. Beyond inspiration is whether the pattern will…