Chip Carving Diverse Design Motifs within a Single Project
The Compass Rose
I decided to challenge the chip carving skills I’ve acquired over the years by designing and carving a large compass rose incorporating a variety of motifs and including all 128 named compass points. Normally, we only see compass roses with four, eight, sixteen, or in some cases 32 compass points. Rarely do we see compass roses that incorporate the “by points” and, even less frequently, do we see the incorporation of the “quarter point” indicators.
The trigger to the concept of this project resulted from my father’s completion of the last of a trilogy of books on the subject of American merchant sailing vessels with the publication of this 3rd volume in the trilogy at his age of 101. (He is now 102.) As an aside, all of the drawings and the manuscript for this 3rd volume were done after his attaining the age of 100 - a remarkable achievement. The trilogy of volumes has been reviewed as “…one of the most important studies of the glory days of American Merchant sail ever published.”1
Some time ago, my dear friend Wayne Barton obtained a 21” diameter butternut plate for me which I held in abeyance for several years waiting to be inspired to do a carving that would be both complex and also possess a design that would be able to withstand the test of time. This particular compass rose certainly seemed to fit that category. I further wanted to incorporate the following elements into the overall design: geometric layout; geometric elements; script lettering; numbers; and also some freeform positive imaging. The design had to be one that would require precision (which the layout of the 128 points demanded) and force repetition of difficult elements with no variance in their execution. Part of the challenge was to tie all of this together into a comprehensive design that would have the varying elements complementing each other rather than being at odds with one another.
I started by laying out the compass point segments keeping in mind that I would have to have them of a size in which I could carve the appropriate lettering of each compass point. This took multiple attempts (on paper first) before I arrived at the layout seen here. Having satisfied myself that they were of sufficient dimension to allow me to carve the lettering, my next task was to layout the “degree” points on the compass rose. You’ll notice that the degrees are expressed in two concentric circles. The inner circle expresses the degrees in reference to the quadrants of the circle, each quadrant containing 90 degrees and progressing either increasingly from the North and South cardinal points of the compass rose or decreasingly from the East and West cardinal points of the compass rose. Inside of this I laid out two concentric circles with “hash marks” connecting them every 10 degrees around the circle to further indicate the compass position. The outer circle of degree indications is one that progresses increasingly from 0 to 360 to complete the circle in 10 degree increments. Inboard of this circle of degree indications is a concentric ring with connected geometric diamonds to further designate the degree position in 5 degree increments. Thus, this compass rose carried the degree indications that allows it to be read using multiple methods.
Finally, I designed a freeform positive image framing ring around the entire plate to create a border that would ‘capture’ the compass rose.
Now came the challenging part of the design - forming script letters that would, by necessity, need to be of different sizes within the same segment dictated by the dimensions of the particular segment. You can see how I did this (again, on paper first) in the two accompanying scans of my design sheets (scan#1 and scan#2). I first laid out the outline dimensions of the compass segment and then sized the varying letters to fit.
The numbers used to form the degree positions were copied from a book of calligraphy fonts and sized by scanning and then enlarging or reducing as necessary.
The carving began with excising the compass segments followed by the carving of the outer positive image ring. Now all that was left to do was to carve the rest of the various elements repetitively and consistently so that each would appear the same as any other of similar value. Easier said than done! For instance, there are 96 “quarter points” (the four cornered diamond chips) that had to be carved without encroaching on the ring that surrounds them. Next came the lettering. In total, there are 92 letters that had to be carved - the smallest ones measuring just 5/16 “ in height. Finally, I had to carve all of the numbers. The numbers on the outer ring were also just 5/16 “ in height (with the exception of the 90, 180, 270, & 360 which were 7/16 “ in height). The challenge was to carve all 169 individual digits so that any number of similar value looked the same. Somewhere along the way I began to question my sanity for taking on this personal challenge.
In the end, I’m glad I did take on the challenge. It was a valuable exercise in focus and attention to detail. The plate now hangs in the entryway of my house. I would encourage anyone to accept a challenge that will test your skills, tenacity, and force you to stretch out of your comfort zone. It doesn’t have to be in chip carving, or for that matter in carving at all. It just has to be something you didn’t think was within your reach to accomplish. Whether or not your endeavor turns out as you originally envisioned, you find yourself doing things beyond what you thought possible and will feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment for simply having accepted the challenge.
As a final note, the 21” diameter plate may not be the upper size limit of my ability to carve an object in my lap while seated - but it sure is approaching that limit! Also, the plate was entirely carved with only one knife. It is simply marketing hype that different size knives are required. The truth of the matter is that if you can’t excise a segment with the Barton knife it is because you haven’t yet developed the skill level required for delicate cuts or tight radial cuts. That will only come with practice and attention to technique - so persevere. A smaller knife can not impart technique! And yes, the entire carving was done in my lap while seated.
1. The trilogy of books authored by William L. Crothers (my father) on the subject of American sailing vessels of the 1850s are:
American Built Clipper Ship 1850-1856 Characteristics, Construction, Details
American-Built Packets and Freighters of the 1850s: An Illustrated Study of Their Characteristics and Construction
The Masting of American Merchant Sail in the 1850s: An Illustrated Study