Relief carving tips

Relief carving tips
One of wood carving techniques is relief carving. And in this blog we want to share with you about relief carving tips.

Relief carving tips

Relief carving is the process of cutting a design or pattern into a flat surface; relief carving media include wood, stone, linoleum, clay, and synthetic carving blanks. To create a raised, dimensional look in a relief carving design, the background area of the carving blank is lowered using chisels and gouges. The lower the background is carved into the blank, the higher the design area appears to be.

The simplest form of relief carving is called sgraffito, meaning to scratch into the surface. Using the most basic tools of relief carving—the bench knife and V-gouge—a design can be created with thin, shallow cuts made across a flat surface.

Low relief vs. high relief

Low relief carvings, also called bas-relief, use shallow changes of depth between the layers of the pattern elements and simple, rounded-over edges. The sidewalls of the elements within the design have vertical, smooth walls. High relief carvings are not necessarily cut deeper into the wood or stone. Instead, a technique called undercutting places the joint lines between two elements underneath the higher element.

To get started you will discover a simple set of carving tools, a few sharpening stones, a stack of carving blanks, and a few tips from our experts below is all you need to create stunning relief work!

Relief carving techniques and tips

Remove wood fibers

Basswood and butternut are excellent woods for beginner carvers, as they are both very easy to cut compared to other common carving woods. This also means that more loose wood fibers are created during the carving process than with other woods. To remove these fibers I use sandpaper, foam core sanding boards, sanding pads, and a stiff brush. This extra sanding may not be necessary on woods that are harder than basswood and butternut.

Understand levels

In a well-balanced relief design, there will be at least four—and probably five or six—levels to the design. The first level is the background behind the main object followed by at least
three levels for the scene’s focus. Any item lying in front of or behind the focus adds a fifth level. A secondary area of focus adds a sixth level. Using more than six levels in a carving can be cumbersome.

Think about your lighting and shadows

Low-relief carving requires a principle source of illumination from one angle: overhead and oblique to the material. Without shadows, a relief work is nothing. The whole carving process is about cutting hollows in the wood that,
with the correct lighting, create the numerous shades and
shapes that depict the subject.

Measure your depths

Make a depth-gauge marker from some scrap wood and a dowel. Drive a 2″ (51mm)-long drywall screw through the scrap into the dowel, but do not tighten the screw down totally. You can turn the scrap of wood up and down the screw to adjust the distance between the scrap and the head of the screw. Sharpen the head to form a cutting edge that you can use to mark different depths.

Cut diagonally

When cutting diagonally across the wood fibers, one side of the V-tool or veiner cuts with the grain, and the other side cuts
against the grain. Put the “good” or smooth side of the groove next to the subject and the rough side to the waste at all times.

Create shadows with the undercut

The undercut adds crisp, dark shadows to the work. Potentially one of the most valuable cuts in your arsenal which is detailed in Lora Irish’s Wildlife Carving in Relief book. Portraits or full body patterns easily adapt to undercutting. Try undercutting around the entire body of an animal, separating it from the scenery and visually pushing it away from its surroundings. The soft shadows cast by the solid joints between the levels strengthen the darker and more defined shadows. The shadows halo the animal.

Bring the power tools

You can use reciprocating tools, traditional-edge tools, and rotary bits to create relief carvings. If you don’t have a reciprocating handpiece, use a piece of scrap wood to practice
lowering the background with aggressive carbide-point
bits in a rotary power carver.

Secure your work

The bench hook is a simple and easy carving jig that will become an indispensable asset to your relief carving, allowing you to anchor or brace your projects while using a gouge or skew.