Beginners Project # 2.  -  Relief Carving

Relief Carving can be described as "carving pictures in wood".  These "pictures" are carved into a flat panel of wood and project only slightly below the surface rather than standing freely in fully three dimensions. Regardless, a skillful carver can achieve realistic three dimensional effects through the use of depth, shadow and perspective.  Project #2,  is a classic relief subject, an oak leaf.

Begin by copying the following pattern onto a 4 x 4 x 3/4 inch piece of wood with the grain direction oriented corner to corner as in the drawing.

With a knife, trace a deep vertical cut around the outline of the oak leaves and acorns. This is called a "stop cut", and is used to separate and define different areas of the carving and to prevent wood splitting in one area from traveling into another area. 

Next, drill a series of closely spaced 1/8th to 1/4 inch holes 1/2 inch deep into all background areas of the pattern.  With a knife, remove the remaining wood fragments from the background area. The whole background layer should now be about 1/4 inch thick with the leaves and acorns towering above the background.

As the acorns will be the highest area of the carving we will leave them at full thickness for now and begin removing material over the leaves and stem, which will be at a level about half way between full thickness and the background level. As this material is being removed, you may have to deepen the stop cuts around the acorns to ensure they are not chipped out accidentally. For a more realistic effect, make each leaf a slightly different thickness so they appear to overlap, and add a little curl up or down toward the edges as a real leaf would. Now, undercut the leaf edges a little extending the background level slightly under the leaf. These undercut edges will be in shadow on the background and greatly enhance the 3D effect.

Finally, go to the acorns and carefully round them, continuing the roundness slightly to the underside of the nuts.  If you didn't create a center vein line down the leaves, do it now, and go over the acorn caps and background areas adding texture to finish your carving.

Tip:  A small sharp nail point can be used to texture the acorn cups and a large blunted nail used to texture the background.