Incised wood carving

Incised wood carving
There are many wood carving techniques and some of them are very popular. But some are not widely known. And in this blog we want to share with you about the one of such techniques - incised wood carving.
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Incised wood carving

While you may not have heard of this carving style before, incised carving is a great option for people who enjoy relief carving. For these carvers, finding a new carving style to work with can be challenging. Relief carving is one of the most complex styles of carving out there.

Incised carving is also known as incised intaglio, hollow relief, or sunken relief. In traditional relief carving, you carve the images and designs such that they seem to rise from the wood, protruding out similar to 3D shapes. Incised carving is essentially the opposite. Instead of rising out of the background, figures are sunken into the surface of the wood background. Thus, it is known as hollow relief.

History of incised carving

Incised carving was first popularized by the ancient Egyptians, where it was used in everything from walls to hieroglyphs and cartouches. Over time, this carving style moved from being the domain of Egyptian artists to being of interest to people and artisans around the world, including woodcarvers.

With incised carving, the background of the design remains at the original level of the wood, and the figures are carved to create a hollow, sunken effect. This creates a 2D effect – the first of the dimensions is the background layer, while the second is the hollowed-out design.

An essential part of creating intricate incised carvings is being able to maintain a consistent depth. This is the part that makes it challenging for woodcarvers, as it is very easy to carve at unequal depths, and trying to fix errors can result in them worsening, particularly if your design uses delicate lines.

How to create incised carving?

If you’ve never created an incised carving before, the first project you work on may seem intimidating. However, once you’ve got the basics down, you’ll soon realize that the techniques of this form of carving are relatively simple. The challenge comes with the size of the designs and lines you’ll be working with, not the actual process.

Before you start carving, make sure you have all the relevant tools close by. Some essential tools that are a must when it comes to incised carvings include:
  • A depth gauge. The most effective incised carvings are done such that all the lines are of the same depth unless the design specifically calls for a variation in depths. A depth gauge will ensure your carving depth stays uniform and is especially important if you are a newcomer at incised carving.
  • A V-gouge. While there are many ways to remove material from wood, a V-gauge offers unparalleled control, which is essential if you are trying to make the delicate cuts that are such a necessary part of an effective incised carving.
  • A mallet. While the mallet does not directly affect the way someone carves, it does provide additional leverage, stability, and control when using a V-gouge. This can come in handy when you are working on smaller and harder to carve areas of your design.

In order to create an incised carving, you will have to:

  • First, transfer the design to your wood blank using carbon paper, or draw the design directly on the blank.
  • Once your design is ready, and your workplace is secure, you can start carving.
  • If the lines of your design are narrower than the width of your gouge, cut the edge of both lines.
  • When carving two parallel lines, ensure there is a clear, distinctive ridge between the lines.
  • When carving an ellipse, start with a precise cut, and carve carefully to ensure the lines are neat and clean. You will need to carve the length of the shape in one path to ensure the best results.
  • If the ellipse shape is wider than your gouge, you will require multiple passes to carve completely. Start carving at the center, and join the cuts as smoothly as possible so that the carving looks seamless.
  • Some shapes may require you to use a knife to help with the carving, especially ones that combine two types of lines, like a cup (which incorporates a curved ellipse with a straight edge at the top).
  • Circles and globes require a different carving technique. First, carve the outline of the circle. Then, make a series of passes from the edge of the outline to the center. After a few passes, you should be able to essentially “dig out” the circle of wood.
  • If necessary, go back over your grooves and make them deeper until you are satisfied with the depth. Use the depth gouge to ensure your carving is uniformly deep.
  • Use a mallet if necessary. A mallet can give you more control when carving on hardwood blanks, as well as when you carve more complex sections of the design. This includes ones with numerous corners and small lines. If you’ve never attempted incised carving before, a mallet can make the process much easier.
  • Complete with paint or a finish if necessary.