Download: Daniel Clay’s Chip Carving Pattern
Building chip-carving skills is about repetition. Daniel Clay's pattern provides an excellent foundation, taking you from basic cuts to more advanced ones.
While a completed Swiss-style chip-carved pattern looks intricate and mesmerizing, when you break it down, it’s often just a series of repeating elements and motifs. Indeed, the bulk of designs comprise just two- and three-corner chips. These basic examples can appear in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, which can be assembled and combined into an infinite number of designs. Once you become familiar with these simplest forms, you’ll begin to recognize them in virtually every chip carving you encounter.
That’s where this sample board comes in. I’ve organized it to help you get in the necessary reps while still building your skill set from the ground up. It begins with small, tight, equilateral triangles—three-corner chips—and progresses to triangles with different geometries and spacing. The two-corner chips advance in the same way, starting with a basic lens shape before amping up the difficulty just the right amount. At the end is a series of tumbling three-corner chips with rounded sides.
As for the wood, start with basswood. Its fine, straight grain, virtually homogenous creamy color, and, above all, softness and workability make it ideal for chip carving. Other workable woods include butternut, Spanish cedar, eastern white pine, catalpa, and paulownia. Though it is possible to carve harder, denser woods such as walnut, I strongly recommend that you begin with basswood. It’s easy to carve, easy to find, and very affordable. I particularly prefer basswood that has tighter grain. Moisture content is also important. Wood that has been dried to about 10% to 12% moisture content is best, as it will carve easily and take detail well. Dry, brittle wood is much harder to carve. It will crunch and crush under the knife and is more likely to split.
Use heat to transfer a printed pattern to the board
To do this, place the pattern facedown on the wood and run a transfer tool, similar to a wood-burning pen and available from art-supply stores, all over it. The pattern must be printed with toner, such as that used in laser jet printers. Spot check as you remove the pattern. Starting at a corner, lift off the pattern slowly, reheating areas that didn’t transfer sufficiently.
This is an excerpt from Daniel’s article Start Chip Carving in Fine Woodworking issue #278