A decorative form of woodcarving, Chip Carving adds interest, beauty, and creativity to the objects it enhances
This style of carving has been used for centuries to decorate and adorn everything from wooden shoes and furniture to door lentils and other architectural features. Generally, you'll see the chip carving style applied to flat wooden surfaces such as; wooden boxes, display plates, wall plaques, cabinetry, furniture, and household items like napkin holders, trivets, shelving units, book ends, and so forth. If you see lettering carved into wood, it was probably chip carved.
I learned and developed my skills as a chip carver producing many traditional items like the basswood plate shown here. All of my formal training was received from Wayne Barton, the Country's preeminent chip carver. Wayne is an artist, a historian, and a carver, faithfully applying the key aspects of artistic design to everything he creates. Although well versed in all disciplines of carving, he specializes in Chip Carving and has won both National and International recognition for his work and contributions to the woodcarving community in general. He even designed and commissioned the production of his own Chip Carving Knife - the one shown in the "Chip Carving Classes" section above. I've tried numerous knives over the years, but I always come back to the Wayne Barton knife for my own carvings. Nothing else works or feels quite right in comparison.
Unlike many other styles of carving (relief carving, sculptural carving, caricature carving, power carving, etc.), chip carving requires very few tools. In fact, nearly all chip carving is accomplished with a single hand held "cutting" knife like the one just mentioned. A second knife known as a "stab" knife, is used to add small wedge shaped accent marks to "cuts" made with the cutting knife. There are no chisels, mallets, or "power carvers" (high speed rotary tools) involved in traditional chip carving. Using the cutting knife, the craftsman removes small pieces from the surface of the wood as "3-sided" triangular-shaped chips or as "2-sided" canoe-shaped chips. By altering the size, depth, shape, and/or orientation of these chips and how they connect or relate to other chips being removed, carvers can produce thousands of interesting patterns and designs. In addition to the traditional geometric and symmetrical designs (including "rosettes" or circular geometric patterns), chip carvers use "free form" designs (such as the outline of a flower, a leaf, or a bird), lettering, and grids or backgrounds.
The craft requires patience and precision. Creating the design, laying it out, and transferring or drawing it on the wood can be as time consuming as the carving itself. Most chip carvings include a lot of "cuts" that line-up directly next to one another, forming a ridge at the point that was previously the surface of the wood. These ridges must be sharp. When they're seen in a circular design, called a rosette, this becomes even more important as the ridges form what the eye initially sees as the design of the piece. Likewise, the "sharpness" at the bottoms of the cuts (where 2 or more cuts meet to form a "chip") are important. Chip carvers develope an ability to "see" where the tip of the knife is - even though it's buried in the wood and can't be seen while making the cut. Once a new chip carver masters these two requirements; knowing where the tip of the knife is during a cut and, holding the knife blade at the proper angle so that adjacent chips form a sharp ridge between them, he or she is well on the way to becoming an accomplished Chip Carver.
The carved basswood plate above shows what can be accomplished when one pays careful attention to those two important factors - the bottoms of each cut and the sharpness of the ridges formed between the cuts. When this is done right, the overall effect (when highlighted by light and shadow) will make people want to say "wow" when they see it.
What Customers and Students are Saying ......
"Boy oh boy ... what a terrific class! Great job Bill. Well done!" Harry M
"My wife absolutely loved the [Hawaiian Islands] carving! She said it was the second best gift she's ever received - the first was the actual trip to Hawaii. You certainly did an awesome job! Saying "thank you" does not go far enough! Patrick B
"Beautiful, Bill!! We get so many compliments on the piece over our door" Kerstin T
"I enjoyed your article in Woodcarving Illustrated. You have created a unique approach by combining chip carving with the aquatic elements. Good luck to your continued success." W Buck
"If you ever have the desire to learn Chip Carving, Bill Johnson is the best." Janice L