Saturday, September 5, 2009

Boring Box Makeover

No wonder our ancestors used chip carving as a decorative feature. The sliding lid boxes, reminiscent of 18th c. candle boxes, that we made in the handcut dovetail class I taught last weekend are incredibly ho-hum if left unpainted, unstained, or unadorned.

So I decided to "flip this box" by adding a little chip carving.

One piece of advice from this newbie carver: your knife must be sharp, sharp, sharp, or you will not get good results.

Use a magnifier to check the edge all the way to the tip, and if you see any nicks or flat spots, keep sharpening. There must be no resistance from the knife, especially since you will be cutting with and against the grain. If you are getting ragged edges or tearout, and if you are not able to swing the blade to get a smooth curve, your edge is either not sharp or you are using crappy pine like I am.

I was getting rough edges on the carving and having trouble swinging the blade through a curve until I started stropping the knife. That helped quite a bit. Still, you will get a smoother cut with Basswood, Sugar Pine or Eastern White Pine.

Another bit of advice is to sand your pencil marks* rather than run a handplane over them. My plane blade lifted little chunks out of the carving on the lid.

The box is looking better, but I'm going to carve all over the sides and ends, so it's properly tricked out.

Chip carving is addictive and adds a little flair to otherwise dull projects. If you would like to learn how to do this, I recommend getting a copy of Wayne Barton's book The Complete Guide to Chip Carving.

*See comments section for other suggestions. Sandpaper can dull your knife if you sand your piece before you're finished carving.


Bob Tinsley said...

Nice work, Kari! As opposed to using sandpaper to erase your pencil marks, I would recommend using a scraper, particularly if you are not finished with your carving. The Devil's Paper inevitably leaves behind small pieces of grit that will play merry Ned with that nice sharp edge you worked so hard on. I never, ever use The Devil's Paper. If your edge is properly sharp, you'll never need it.


Angostura Bitters said...

nothing boring about perfectly air tight dovetails, my dear!

Ethan said...


You might want to give mineral spirits a try (re: removing pencil marks).

Doug said...

Gorgeous! And very tasteful use of the designs too!

Timberwerks Studio - Dale J. Osowski - Furniture Maker said...

Outstanding work Kari. It looks like you are a natural for chip carving.

Unknown said...

How do make the "boring" box? I'm new to hand tool woodworking.

Anonymous said...

You are truly an artist, Kari. It's not really the fact that you're pimping a well-proportioned, nicely dovetailed box through the use of excellent carving technique, but it's the design of your embellishments that leaves me slack-jawed! Maybe, when I grow up I'll get close...

Tony Z. said...

Use denatured alcohol to remove the pencil marks. Providing the pencil is soft lead and you didn't create scratches from bearing down too hard, the alcohol will do the trick.

Kari Hultman said...

Thanks, guys, for the pencil removing tips and kudos. :o)

Pappy, the box was made with handcut dovetails. I have a youtube video that shows how I make them if you're interested. Just go to and search Village Carpenter. For woodworking with handtools, there are tons of books, forums, podcasts, and blogs on the subject. If you go to my links page, there is a listing for blogs that focus primarily on handtools. Let me know if you need more help to get you started.

Mack, the designs are not mine; they are from Wayne Barton's book. He shows a number of simple to complex designs.

Jake-SawDustby said...

Girl, you are damn good at what you do. Great job.

Masso said...

very good work!
I like the carved flowers on the box sides.

Unknown said...


I have hand tools and know how to use most of them. I just hit a wall with respect to project ideas. That's why the box appealed to me.

Eric said...

Pretty Impressive.

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