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Carving Cherry wood question

Jellyrug's picture

I have a carving question, but wish to give a bit of background.

I have started a big project with American Black Cherry, and there is quite a bit of carving. Most of the carving is pierced carving and not too complex, as I can cheat on the rounding over parts with a router. Some pieces are a bit more complex though.

I'm probably somewhere between a beginner and intermediate carver, read a number of books, know which chisels to use, how to sharpen etc. I started with the most difficult carving, being a floral design, about 6" x 6", two different depth levels, quite a bit of hollowing, with some fine detail. Probably real easy for an experienced carver, not for me. The first attempt was OK, but not good enough, so I'll start over and try again. Think I'll get it, second time.

My question is, how difficult is it to carve Cherry wood, do most carvers avoid it, or do I have to hone my technique?

I don't have other options, as the piece must be Cherry, left to darken with age, so everything has to be Cherry.



tted's picture

(post #76377, reply #1 of 10)

Hi Jellyrug:

Cherry isn't as over-the-top easy to carve as limewood, but I'd put it in the top tier.

The only trouble I've had is with carving through or around pitch pockets (mineral streaks) or in dealing with exceptionally figured areas. Past that, the stuff is a dream.

Have fun,


LeeGrindinger's picture

(post #76377, reply #2 of 10)

Furniture makers don't always get to choose the species of their victim.

I have two favorite woods for carving, cherry and walnut. I place cherry one slight notch above walnut because of the color, cherry shows shadows a bit better than walnut. Cherry is a terrific wood to carve, very evenly textured and straight grained. On a one to ten scale I'd rate cherry at a nine. Mahogany follows these two pretty closely.

I once did a bubinga dining table, try carving that sometime.

I don't know any carvers that avoid it, perhaps a few sculptors who prefer basswood, but the furniture makers I know love cherry. I'd much rather carve cherry than basswood, I suppose it's because I'm a furniture maker first, a carver second.

Perhaps if you described your problems I could help. My wand is in the repair shop but once in a while my drivel will hit the mark.


LeeGrindinger's picture

(post #76377, reply #3 of 10)

Do you have microbevels on your tools, both faces?


Jellyrug's picture

(post #76377, reply #4 of 10)


No, I don't have micro bevels and have read your earlier post. I will add these to my chisels.

I got some rough sawn Cherry from my local dealer who specially selected these for me 140 Bdft and the stuff is absolutely beautiful, quite a bit of figure though, which does not help for carving.

Think it's just inexperience, but I'll get it, persistence always delivers. My biggest problem is when hollowing out the inside of floral leaves, which are adjacent to each other separated by fragile edges.  The leaves are concave and the design requires a 1/4" drop from the leaf rim with a radius leading into to the concave surface. It's impossible to carve with the grain all the time, as I have to carve all along the rim towards the center of the leaf. It's really not a difficult piece, now that I know the problem is me and not the Cherry, I'll try harder.

What angle do you grind the main bevel on a sweep bent gouge? 25, 30 ?

Thanks for the help

LeeGrindinger's picture

(post #76377, reply #5 of 10)

Jellyrug, your honesty is really refreshing,

My best advice to you is to learn how to properly sharpen a carving tool. This means microbevels on both faces unless it's a speciality tool and ornamental carvings don't use speciality tools. If you get through this you'll be miles ahead of the game.

Allright, dishing out leaves. I know exactly what you're talking about. I use one of three different techniques to deal with the grain when it runs afoul of perfect direction. A microbevel might be all you need to solve this immediate problem but I'll list the three ways I deal with this issue.

The sweep of the gouge should be slightly less than the hollow you're after. The easiest way to cut a cantankerous leaf is to skew the gouge to favor the grain. Rather than holding the gouge in a straight line with the direction of the cut set the line of the tool so the gouge is cutting skewed, entering the high side of the grain first. You'll be dragging the gouge sideways to do this but it's quite effective once you get the motion down. This works well if the grain is not too skewed to the direction of the cut

Another technique is to set the depth of the hollow with a v-tool. You need a sharp v-tool but they can deliver a clean bottom in many instances when a gouge cannot. After setting the bottom of the hollow simply go back with a narrower gouge like a #4, 4mm and shape each side individually going in the direction the grain asks. This can also leave a vein if you're careful, it's a nice effect depending on the leaf you're carving.

A third way is to set the depth with either a skew in a slicing motion or use a gouge that is precisely the same arc as the lateral curve of the leaf. Slice the center point, then work each side with the narrow gouge as the grain dictates.

As to grinds, it's more useful with carving tools to discuss grinds in terms of length rather than angle. The longer the grind the less the angle. The reason is that some tools don't give you a face to measure the angle of grind from, a back bent gouge is an example. I grind between 20 and 25 degrees on straight tools but, again, I look more at the length of the grind as an indicator than the angle.

I was asked to give my opinion on Stubais a couple of years ago. They arrived with far too long of a grind, around 15 degrees I'd guess and I rolled the edge over immediately chopping a mortise in some white oak, the tool was a #3, 5mm. I reground the tool with a much shorter grind, honed in the microbevels and chopped right through the same board. I blasted them for having too long of a grind. The steel was not the problem, it was the grind.

All manufacturers these days are trying to sell ready-to-use tools. By lengthening the grind they make very sharp edges but these tools are not ready to use. It simply is not so. True, they arrive very sharp, but a carving tool is not properly sharp without a microbevel on each face, a paring knife is but a carving tool is not.


Edited 2/7/2005 7:23 pm ET by Lee_Grindinger

Jellyrug's picture

(post #76377, reply #6 of 10)


That was good advice, thanks.

I tried your tips and they all work. I'm half the way to completing the item second time round and it's perfect, only problem is now I'm too careful, making me real slow.

I have looked at your website and can see you know your business.

If you offer training, please email me as I would be a keen customer.


LeeGrindinger's picture

(post #76377, reply #7 of 10)

Great, I'm glad I could help.

A school of sorts is in the plans but it's still a year away. It takes quite a lot of time to set up a curriculum that's productive and stimulating especially when I've got this job of making furniture hovering over me.

Come to MontanaFest, I'll be doing a basics workshop to last about an hour but I would expect to be doing a fair amount of one on one too.


Patto's picture

(post #76377, reply #8 of 10)


I was in New Zealand a year ago and purchased a book on bone carving (this is a great style used mainly for necklaces and pins and worth a look) in which the author spends a lot of effort to decribe making the small number of tools required. His principal tools was something like a tiny skew (for turning) used on its side. Aside from size the differences were that it was ground from round (3/16) stock and had a convex grind. The handle was like a palm chisel.

The history of these is a combination of engravers burins (the Euopean) and bone and stone carving tols used in South East Asia.

I had considered making one to carve gidgee for a couple of small things - the gouges and knives will barely touch it - and to have a go with some bone for accents and a couple of bits for the daughter. I wonder if this would work for detail on your bubinga?

LeeGrindinger's picture

(post #76377, reply #9 of 10)

I got through the bubinga just fine with my regular old wood carving tools. It was a dining table and I actually enjoyed carving bubinga.


withthegrain's picture

(post #76377, reply #10 of 10)

I agree very much with Lee about Cherry being a sweet wood to carve. I also rank Walnut high on my list. My favorite (this week) is Mahogany. Seems like it is always a trade off between hardness of wood (more force and dulls tools quickly) and ability to hold sharp details. Most of the more experienced carvers I know move towards the harder woods. One drawback is that the darker woods, because of less shadow, don't show off detail as well. And of course Cherry will keep getting darker and darker.  All these trade offs, as long as I can keep carving its still all good.