Elemental Celtic Cross

Earlier this year I completed a carving in mahogany wood of an equal-armed Celtic cross – photos of the carving process are shown in the gallery below. This project brought me back to my roots in traditional Celtic design when my creative work was exclusively painting on paper – you can see a gallery of my earlier work HERE. The inspiration for my paintings originated with the manuscript artwork of early medieval Ireland, in the richly illuminated manuscripts of the Book of Kells, Book of Durrow, and the Lindisfarne Gospels. These ancient manuscripts were themselves inspired by metalwork techniques from designs rendered in relief, so the process of translating my designs from paper to wood carving has been a very natural progression, bringing me back to the original process of the source.

When I began this design I wanted to create something that was both traditional in its form – the ringed Celtic cross shape – but also contemporary in its content. I decided to represent the four elements – earth, air, fire, and water – along with the fifth element, the quintessence, using traditional themes rendered into new designs. The resulting design uses (clockwise from the top arm): spirals to represent water; tree-of-life trefoils to represent earth; spiraling flames to represent fire; and swirling trumpets to represent air. All four elements are joined in the center into a quadruple spiral to represent the fifth element, the quintessence. The spiral braid in the ring represents the bounds of our world, consisting of all these natural elements joined together.

I selected a fine grained piece of mahogany wood for this carving, one that would hold the details of this design, and provide a radiant warm color to the finished piece. I was pleased and amazed when I oiled this carving to find hidden within the grain a dramatic dark wave of color that runs through the fire element, making it look as if the fire itself has scorched the wood.

This carving is available for purchase through the Ninth Wave Designs Etsy shop. I am also very excited to have begun the process of translating this original design into a sterling silver pendant, that will also be available in the upcoming weeks. I will post an update when they becomes available.

Update: The Elemental Celtic Cross wood carving has found its home. The sterling silver pendants based on this design has been completed and is available on the Ninth Wave Designs Etsy shop HERE.

Shop Update: Irish Hare Pendants


Irish Hare pendants are back in stock in the Ninth Wave Designs Etsy store, with a limited number available for holiday delivery.

See the pendants here Irish Hare Sterling Silver Pendant

See the original wood carving they are based on here: Irish Hare Hand Carved Butternut Wall Hanging

I wrote about the process of creating the Irish Hare wood carving in 2016 – read about it and view the gallery here: Irish Hare Wood Carving

Abegglen Detail Knife: Carving Demonstration Videos

Bellow are two short videos demonstrating the use of the medium sized Abegglen Detail Knife while carving in butternut wood. I used this versatile carving tool when roughing out the carving shown in the earlier post, Pearl of Great Price. This carving knife makes quick work of the butternut wood, and creates a lovely sounds as well – be sure to turn up the volume!

The double-sided Abegglen knife takes a little careful practice to get used to using it, especially if you are in the habit of pushing on the backside of the blade when using a regular carving knife. The stout handle is designed to be held like a palm handled carving tools, and almost all of the control of the blade comes from the hand holding the handle. I use only a little pressure to guide the blade with my free hand, and am always careful to keep well up the shaft of the tool. This knife needs to be razor sharp on both sides to ease through the wood in this way, and to prevent having to use too much pressure guiding the blade, which could otherwise easily lead to accidents. Each time I begin using this tool I always spend a few minute on a scrap of wood familiarizing myself with how it works, that way I can do some practice cuts without focusing on what I am carving, and can instead get the feel of the position of my hands.



This third video shows the completed carving, to give a sense of how the rough cuts laid out in the earlier videos were resolved, using a combination of the Abegglen knife, sloyd knife, and other carving gouges. Although I found this knife a little intimidating when I first tried it out, it has quickly become a favorite for working the initial shape of my carvings.

There is an additional video of the Abegglen detail knife in action on an earlier blog post HERE.
(I do not receive any compensation for making these recommendations.)

Pearl of Great Price

Carved from butternut wood, the design for this piece is from a small drawing I did a number of years ago of my dog, named Pearl.  The title of this blog post, which is also the title of the carving, comes from a familiar parable about a merchant seeking to buy pearls: “Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Matthew 13:46).

When I had Pearl in my life, I would think of her as my “pearl of great price,” and like the parable, I would tell her that I would sell all that I had to buy her. She was a mutt, a mixture of Terrier and Italian Greyhound and possibly a few other things thrown in – she was small and sleek and sweet, and I loved her like a child. When she was five years old I left an unhealthy relationship, and Pearl became an unfortunate focal point of the power dynamic of that ending. The result was that I left and I never saw Pearl again. It broke my heart, more than I could have imagined. Through processing that loss, Pearl became a symbol of sacrifice – I paid a great price for freedom, and I essentially sold all the emotional capital I had to gain it. So the title of this carving is really about the inverse of the original meaning of the parable, where instead, the Pearl is what is given up to gain the spiritual prize – in my case, my personal freedom and emotional well-being.

When I decided to create this carving a few months ago – which was over ten years after I last saw Pearl – I thought I had recovered from the emotional price of that loss. One thing about carving is that it gives you lots of time to think while your hands are busy, and I was surprised to find that the act of shaping her form out of wood exercised the remaining sorrow tucked away in the recesses of my memory. It was a good process, a healthy one, and in the end was very therapeutic. It also resulted in me having this carving of Pearl hanging in my home, my happy and healthy home, in a place where she can greet me as I come in the door – much as she did when she knew me and loved me as only a dog can.

Leaping Fox Carving Study: Demonstration Videos

I created three videos to demonstrate the carving and painting process involved in the making of the Leaping Fox carving study. These brief videos show the tools and process I used to created this small carving. This is a follow-up to my earlier post – you can see more photos and information about this project HERE.

The first video shows the use of the Abegglen detail knife in action. This freshly sharpened blade makes very responsive cuts as I refine the form of the body of the fox.


In this second video I apply the black oil paint finish to the front feet of the fox. I have left the natural color of the mahogany wood for most of the coloring, and applied the black paint with small strokes and dry brushing technique to blend with the reddish-brown of the wood.


This final video shows the application of the white paint to the carving. Once the black paint is dry I use a similar technique to apply the white brush strokes and dry brushing to the fox, working over the black paint in a few areas.


Creating a smaller scale test project like this is a helpful way to test out new techniques. It is also a great way to begin conceptualizing the form and movement for a larger scale project. I am pleased with how this scale model turned out, and it is a nice carving on its own, but its scale also represents less of a risk when trying out a new process or trying new materials. This little carving will also be a valuable point of reference when I begin working on the larger project, and the time invested in it will translate into time saved down the road.

Leaping Fox Carving Study

Earlier this summer I completed a small carving as a study for a larger project I hope to work on sometime over the winter – a red fox captured mid-leap, about to pounce on its prey.  I created this smaller version as a way to test the idea I had for the painted finish – one that would utilize the natural beauty and color of the mahogany wood combined with only a minimal amount of black and white oil paint. I documented the process on the @ninthwavedesigns Instagram feed, and have gathered the images together in the slideshow below.

One element of this project that I especially enjoyed was discovering the versatility that the Pfeil Abeggelen detail knives offer.  I was originally intimidated by the super sharp double edges on this tool, but after just a few minutes of practice I felt comfortable using the knife for both pushing and pulling cuts. After completing this project using the medium size knife I added both the smaller and larger versions of these to my carving tool collection. I am certain I will be putting these to use on a regular basis going forward.

I have included descriptions of the stages of the project with each image below:

Update: See more information about this project in the Leaping Fox Carving Study Demonstration Videos blog post.

Living With Craft 2017

I have some of my woodcarving work on display again this year at the Annual Craftmen’s Fair at the Mount Sunapee Resort, sponsored by of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. The Fair opens on Saturday, August 5th and runs through Sunday, August 13th. As part of the Fair, a special exhibit is being held in the lodge called Living With Craft – a showcase for some of the best work recently created by League members. The exhibit is set up in a series of room-like settings to inspire fine craft decorating ideas for your own home. I have three pieces at the exhibit:


One piece will be on display, the others available on request, and all will be available for purchase.

There is such a wide range of creative work on display at the Fair that is makes for a wonderful summer outing. I hope you will visit, and take time to explore the Living With Craft exhibit while you are there.



Form Plaque Project Update






















For the last six years I have been working on a series of wood carvings commissions. Each class year has panels that list all of the students graduating that year, and above the name panels hangs a carved plaque depicting significant events from the senior year of that class, or Form, as it is called at SPS. This year I completed Form plaques for the forms of 2002, 2007, 2009, and 2016 and they are shown above. The plaques illustrate a wide range of themes, from environmental stewardship to the visit of the Stanley Cup. I keep a separate blog to document the progress of these carvings, The Form Plaque Project Blog, and you can read more information about each of these carvings there. I have completed 21 form plaque carvings to date, and already have designs in place to start working on new ones for next year.





Recommendations: Carving Tools

I often get asked for recommendations of what tools to buy from people interested in beginning wood carving. It can be a confusing process – there are many good brands and hundreds of profiles to choose from. A lot of people start by buying a big set of tools for a large sum of money, which can work, but you often end up with tools right out of the gate that have profiles that will only be useful from time to time, or perhaps not at all for the kind of carving you will be doing. When you have limited funds to spend on tools it is important to get a good mix of useful profiles to begin with to avoid the frustration of not having what you need to get started carving wood.

I am a primarily a relief carver, and I work almost exclusively in softer woods: basswood, butternut, mahogany and walnut. These woods, in most instances, don’t require the use of a mallet to move the tool blade through the wood the way species like oak, cherry and maple require. When starting out buying tools, take into consideration what types of woods you plan on carving – palm handled tools can’t be driven with a mallet, so if you want to carve harder woods you will need to buy tools with the appropriate handles.

When I started carving I had 6 to 8 Pfeil brand carving tools, all with palm handle grips, and I created the carving above – you would be surprised how versatile a #1 skew double bevel tool can be! I added more of the palm tools, a few at a time, until I had most of the profiles available, and used those exclusively for the first few years I carved. This was a good way for me to start carving relatively inexpensively, adding tools from time to time when I had some extra money. The more interested I became in carving and the more complex the carving designs became, I realized it was time to expand the tools I was working with, and it was then that I started adding Pfeil intermediate and full sized carving tools to my collection.

Based on this experience, I put together a list of 12 carving tools (shown above) that I feel are a good place to start for doing the kind of relief carving I like to do. These are the profiles I use the most, every carving, and if I only had these 12 tools I could get a lot accomplished. They are, from left to right: palm skew double bevel 1/8mm; fishtail 1/16mm; intermediate 2/5mm; intermediate 2/12mm; full size 2/30mm; intermediate 3/8mm; palm 3/12mm; fishtail 3/25mm; full size 5/5mm; intermediate 8/4mm; palm 12/1mm; palm 12/8mm.

If you are looking to expand upon these starter tools the following selection of tools will add nicely to the versatility of your collection – shown above, from left to right: palm skew double bevel 1/12mm; fishtail 1/25mm; palm 5/3mm; fishtail 5/16mm; fishtail 5/25mm; intermediate 7/4mm; fishtail 7/16mm; intermediate 8/10mm; palm 9/10mm; full size 9/13mm; palm 11/1mm; full size 11/7mm.

I recommend the palm tools and intermediate Pfeil tools because they are less expensive, but also because the smaller handles are a better fit for my small hands. If you have larger hands, or if you work with harder species of wood, these handle styles may not be the best choice for you. I use Pfeil tools almost exclusively because they are easily available in a wide range of profiles, and are excellent quality tools. There are other brands of professional carving tools that are going to work just as well: Henry Taylor, Two Cherries, Auriou, and others. Remember that any tool is only as good as your sharpening skills!

You can find Pfiel tools through Woodcraft in the US, and other fine carving tools through Lee Valley, and other similar online specialty stores.

For more information about beginning woodcarving resources I have put up a page HERE of book and sharpening recommendations.

(I do not receive any compensation for making these recommendations.)