Finding ideas for new things to carve is a common problem for woodcarvers. Carving the same types of projects forces many carvers into a rut. To become a more rounded carver, you need to try new things. Finding new things to carve can be challenging if you develop tunnel vision. But there are ideas everywhere.
Oftentimes, I find ideas in antique auction catalogs. Much of what we see in carving today has been done over and over for hundreds of years. It’s difficult to come up with a completely unique idea, so feel free to use the past for inspiration.
The idea for this Antique Pie Crimper came to me when I saw a nineteenth-century pie crimper that was carved from whale bone. A sailor carved it for a loved one who was waiting for him at home. The crimper is in the shape of an animal, though I'm not sure just what it’s supposed to be—it looks like a cross between a horse, a sea serpent, and a narwhal.
For this project, you'll need a piece of wood that is about 7' long x 3" wide x 1 /2" thick, and a small 1 /8" thick piece for the wheel. I used figured hard maple, but I would stick with clear maple or any other dense wood. Basswood is probably too soft and figured wood is more likely to break.
This carving is not difficult to make—most of the surfaces are smooth and round—but the details are challenging. You’ll need a few small, sharp tools and plenty of patience.
Start by laying the pattern on a piece of wood so that the grain runs parallel to the horns. Drill a hole for the tail loop first and position the template using the hole as a reference. If you don’t, the tail may not look correct when you are finished.
Use a saw to cut around the pattern. The wheel is separate, so omit that for now. When you cut around the horns, leave them at least twice as thick as the finished size. They are fragile and you will carve them last.
Now drill between the legs and the body to remove as much wood as possible. Use a knife to remove wood up to your template line. The rest of the work is done with files and rifflers. A good selection of riffler files will be a big help.
Continue to file all square and flat surfaces. The only surfaces that are not fully rounded are the horns and the wheel spokes.
Carefully separate the legs. The space between the front legs needs to be about 3/16"—enough space to leave 1 /32' on each side of the 1 /8" thick wheel.
Once you have finished shaping the main part of the body, leave the horns alone and work on the wheel. Use the template to cut the wheel from the 1 /8" thick stock. Drill between the spokes, and use a coping saw or files to finish the openings.
Notice the shape of the crimper. Use a small, round file and alternate filing on each side to create the ripple effect on the wheel. You can also use a triangle file to make the crimps sharp instead of smooth. Once the wheel is carved, position it between the two front hooves, and drill through everything with a drill bit that is the same diameter as a small pin or finish nail that you have lying around. Then drill the hole in the wheel a bit bigger so that it spins freely. Carefully insert the pin or finish nail, and cut or file it to length.
Now, on to the horns...
These horns are very fragile. Carefully cut between the horns, and separate. You should have left them thick. Gently file them until they look symmetrical and delicate. When making a pie, the wheel moves along the outside edge to crimp the upper and lower crusts together, and the fork (in this case, the horns) is used to poke holes in the top.
Use ink or paint to create the eyes. Finish-sand to 400 grit, and then apply linseed or walnut oil.
John Shorten lives in Mansfield. Connecticut and has been carving for 15 years. He specializes in Patriotic eagles. Americana, and antique restoration.
by John Shorten