View Full Version : Acanthus leaf carving

Doug Mason
10-15-2009, 1:14 AM
Here are some pics of my finished acanthus leaf legs. They will support a coffee table. I was not trying to copy any particular stlye--but rather just trying to improve my carving skills. The wood is walnut--and not very good quality.

Having finishing the ball/foot, I pondered adding the leafs--torn between the possibility of ruining what I already had, and the thought of not having made an attempt. So I went for it--and it was easy; it is simply a relief carving. But I'll qualify that last statement by saying that even though I was able to carve it, to carve it well will require alot more practice at the fundamentals. I specifically had trouble using the V-tools accurately and trying to round over the convex rays; and by carving them one-at-a-time, they all turned out a bit different.

Timewise, these took me a WHOLE lot of time (as in months). But the next ones will go much quicker. After cleaning these up I'll apply shellac--which will make then real pretty!! I'll post pics of the completed table in the project forumn soon.

Here are the four finished feet:

130166 130169

And with the apron attached:


And experimenting with knee blocks (I'm still working on these):


Mike Henderson
10-15-2009, 1:30 AM
Very nice job. I especially like that you used your own design - people should put themselves into their woodwork and not just copy what's been done before.

And walnut is a difficult wood to carve.

I see the variation in your rays. What I do is sketch them in but when I use the V-tool I watch the spacing and don't feel bound by the line. Also, make your first cut shallow then deepen it over several passes. As you make your subsequent passes you can "steer" the V-tool by twisting it slightly. Watch the spacing and turn to the left or right to get the spacing you want. You'll also need to put pressure in the direction you want to go in but you'll get the feel for it with practice.

The other point I'd make is that I don't think you need to go that deep (that much relief) on the knee. A very shallow relief shows up quite well.

Your ball and claw feet look very good, also.

All in all, an excellent job. When you do those kind of legs in Honduras mahogany you'll be amazed at how much easier it is.


[Oh, and don't worry about variation in legs. They're separated in space so it's difficult for people to compare them side-by-side. And hand carved legs should have variation - you certainly don't want to make them look like a machine made them. Even simple hand turned legs have variation.]

Phillip Bogle
10-15-2009, 11:57 AM
I wish I could do that nice. My only critique is that your shop doesn't look messy enough to be a real shop. I can't let my wife see your photos since she would now say the reason my work doesn't look that good (like yours) is because my shop is not nice and neat.

Good work!

Christopher Fletcher
10-15-2009, 4:43 PM
Very nice job! I can't wait to see the finished product!!

Barry Bruner
10-15-2009, 7:23 PM
Doug, you are doing a terrific job. I read a lot of the posts on carving and it really interest me a lot. I always make it a point to read Mike`s comments and I really like his work. I bought the Ron Clarkson book on the Tea table and has really enterested me. I have not been able to find many acanthus leaf patterns. It appears that I am going to have to buy several chesils, I have about a dozen but they are cheap ones. Keep up the posts with pics, thanks for posting. By the way, I can't carve a lick but I am going to give it my best shot. Barry Bruner

John Schoonover
10-23-2009, 10:22 AM
Really nice! cant wait to see the finished table.

I have been interested in carving B&C feet for a while and have carved a practiced foot and that was a fun learnign experience. I have the leg blanks (walnut) for either two chairs or one stool, but have not decided on which to build yet. For me, carving the ball and claw part is not scary at all, but the knee carvings are.

Barry Bruner
10-23-2009, 6:29 PM
I bought The Ron Clarkson book, Making the Piecrust tea table book. Then I bought patterns, castings and dvd`s on carving the ball and claw and the acanthus leaf from www.marymay.com (http://www.marymay.com). I thought the dvd`s were real good, I think the combination was $85.00. I still need to buy some chesils and the more I read the more confused I get. Maybe Doug will take the hint and post his chesil selection he used. I keep looking at everyone`s pictures and noticing about 75 chesils in the background. What would be the minimun amount I can get by with? That is another matter I need help on. None of the lumber yards had any 4" x 4" cherry, so I found a cherry tree that had been down about one year. I had it sawed up on a bandsaw mill but it is not kiln dryed, so will it crack when I turn it? Barry Bruner

Doug Mason
10-23-2009, 10:22 PM
Thx for all the replies.

Mike--yes, I went too deep in the relief (I couldn't help myself!!); this will probably become very evident when the project is complete and the shellac finish is on. Also, next time I will use honduras mahagony (I have never carved with it).

Barry--keeping in mind that I myself am a beginner, for the Ball & Claw, I would recommend the Eugene Landon article in FWW--and he lists the chisels to use (not too many). I would find this article.

For the leaf, I googled a bit and found something I liked. Then I did a freehand copy of it on paper and taped it to the leg and traced, as per below. One error I made (that I realize in hindsight) is not making a knee block drawing that fit to the leaf drawing. In the pick below you can see the result--in that the rays on the leg seem out of sync with the rays on the knee block.

I have attached two knee blocks thus far--and they are both different. Still experimenting.

Jeff Nicol
10-25-2009, 7:48 AM
Doug, I have been carving on and off for 30 years and have never really gotten to doing a complete piece of furniture with all the carved legs, apron or embellishments. You give me hope to get there some day! No matter what small flaws we see in our own work most people see the whole thing and are in awe of what it takes to get the piece to a finished state. As always practice and repitition to get the muscles to remember the moves to make the nice cuts come with time. You are definitly on your way! I have been adding new tools to the ones I have and since I am basically a spinny turner kind of guy, most of what I plan to carve will be bowls and vessels.

Great inspiration,


Skip Spaulding
10-28-2009, 8:02 PM
That is a beautiful project, the carving is great!

Matt Bickford
10-28-2009, 10:01 PM
buy #5 (or 3, or 4 or 6) straight gouges 1/8, 2/8, 3/8, 4/8, 5/8 and 6/8 + a 60 degree V and you'll be able to do most things. The reason it's hard to find things listing specific sweeps is because they may not be using the same gouge on one leg as they do on another or even because they don't have the ideal gouge for what they're doing and don't want to be sharpshooted (?) on the internet because they're making due with what they have. My guess is that most people don't have so many gouges, they're just making do.

Once you get a couple and actually sit down to do something you'll know what you need next.

Jim Paulson
12-13-2009, 9:41 PM
Hey Doug,

I'm really impressed with your work. I haven't carved a B&C foot yet, but it is exciting to see what you've done here. I too have been doing carving for some time and look forward to carving acanthus leaves in mahogany.

Barry, my first carving instructor told me something smart about buying chisels. Instead of buying sets of chisels, buy chisels when you need them for a project. I've still accumulated a bunch of chisels, but it helps you avoid buying chisels you'll never use.

Best wishes on your project. I look forward to seeing more pictures too.


lou sansone
12-14-2009, 7:46 AM
they look great.. I have done b/c and yours look pretty decent. keep up the good work

Joel Ficke
12-14-2009, 10:40 AM

You have a real good start on these and it's great seeing a new carver make such good progress on their own. One suggestion for you in the future...try to keep the carving from staying flat. Essentially what I'm saying is that you have two heights...the background and the ancanthus...which end up looking like steps in the carving with no transition between them...very flat. Try rounding edges, having leaves be at different heights, leaves going over/under one another etc. to give the carving a 3D appearance. Here's a few photos of something similar I carved this past weekend which will hopefully emphasize the point.



I'm not trying to disparage your work at all....it's a great first step...but in the future avoiding flat will improve the carving quality. Looking at originals in the museums along with photos of original works is one of the best ways to help train your eye for elegant carving technique. Best of luck and great job!

Jim Paulson
12-14-2009, 3:15 PM
Joel, those pictures of your work are quite inspiring to see. You guys are really making me think about doing B&C carving. Great job!

I guess your point about avoiding flatness is all about achieving a somewhat smoother/softer transition in the relief. Makes sense to me.


Doug Mason
12-14-2009, 10:53 PM
Hey Joel,

I totally get what you are saying.

Having finished the above project, I have been practicing from a pattern called “Nine-Point Shell with Flowers and Leaves,” from the Lora S. Irish pattern book--and have been experimenting in giving a 3D appearance to the relief carving (i.e., making the leaves different hights/undercutting/rounding/having a scroll gently taper down, etc). It does make a world of difference.

Thx for all the input--I am going to concentrate on improving my skills in basic relief carving; then I'll come back and have another go at a variation of this project.

Robert Grinsell
02-17-2014, 6:58 PM
Hi Guys;
Great looking projects here. Heres a few from my workshop, made from cherry.282723282722282724282725