Canadian Woodworking

Inspiration comes from everywhere

Blog by Rob Brown

I often get inspiration from the most unlikely sources. Rivers, and their rushing water, have inspired me to bring certain curves into a table.

The shape of a Valentine chocolate was the perfect inspiration for a carved wooden drawer pull I made. Shadows often show unique lines that you otherwise might not notice. Both the natural and man-made worlds bring so much to the table when it comes to lines, patterns, and 2D and 3D shapes.

A few weeks ago it was quite cold. It was about -30° when I got in the car to drive to the shop. I scraped the outsides of the windows but when I got inside I realized frost had left a nice pattern on the inside surface of the windshield. Lines that were almost perfectly straight crisscrossed the entire windshield, and very short, almost leaf-like, lines extended off the main lines, creating a pattern. It was impossible not to stop and appreciate it for a moment.

Windshield Frost

While getting in the car the other day I was struck by the pattern frost left on the inside of my windshield. The main lines were very straight, yet there were thousands of tiny leaf-like bits of frost that extended off the main lines. It’s quite amazing how Mother Nature works.


That reminds me

Although I haven’t done anything with this specific pattern, I did design and build a coffee table about seven years ago that was inspired by the gorgeous pattern frost can leave on windows. At the time I was struggling with some inspiration for a table, though I knew I wanted to try my hand at carving a pattern into a double layer of veneer. The upper layer would be one species and the layer underneath it would contrast in colour. When I carved through the upper species and into the lower one it would reveal the different colour. Once I saw the pattern that frost can make I knew I needed to experiment with it to see what I could come up with.

Playing around

I took a bunch of photos of a frosted window and headed into the shop to see what I could do. Often things look so much nicer in my mind than they do after I start experimenting with them in the shop, but making adjustments often works, as long as the initial idea I have is a good one.

I glued two layers of contrasting veneer to a piece of solid wood. Once it was dry, I started playing around with some carving chisels. Before long I could tell how deep I needed to go in order to remove the top layer of veneer, but not go through the second layer of veneer. The result was pretty good, and the contrast would show through nicely. Now I just needed to figure out a pattern that would not only mimic the frost, but also be pleasing to the eye.

After some more playing around I thought I had what I was after. I added a few coats of finish, just to make sure, and I was pleased with the outcome.

While planning the carving on the table, I had to ensure the pattern was somewhat even across the area where it would be added, but not so even that it would look machine-made. I kept this in mind as I laid out the pattern. I started with the larger, curved lines that made up the main portion of the pattern, then I filled in the blank spaces with triple crosses. In between these details I used an awl to press in what seemed like a million tiny divots. Both the crosses and the divots helped round out the pattern and create a slightly realistic looking frost.

I was pretty pleased with the final outcome of the table and have played around with layering veneers and solids since then, though I’ve never made another piece with this technique. One of these days. All I need is just a little bit of inspiration from something and I’ll be off to the races.

An Old Sample

I keep most of the samples I make, especially if it was texture that I was playing around with. This sample was from about seven years ago when I was trying to figure out how to bring a pattern of frost I found on a window in our house into a piece of furniture.

An Old Sample

Frost Table

This is part of the coffee table I made with the frost pattern around its perimeter. Curly sycamore was the outer veneer and black cherry was just below it.

Frost Table

Not Too Deep

I used Baltic birch for the core, as it’s strong and stable. I had to make sure not to carve too deeply to prevent hitting the core when I was adding the textured frost pattern to the table.

robs blog
Last modified: February 23, 2023

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches


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  2. That is absolutely beautiful and it so impressed me with your creativity. How did you actually carve something like that without causing errors in the carving?

  3. Hi Ralph,

    Good question. I find the V-gouge I use to create this sort of texture goes wherever I tell it to, as long as it’s sharp, I’m not cutting too deep and I’m not making turns that are too tight. I’ll see if I can make a short video on how it works in my column next week, as this week’s column is already done.



  4. I appreciate how you and others get inspired and apply sources of your inspiration to furniture design. I have great challenges in doing that – hence I’m more of a 2×4 guy (kidding). But I certainly don’t have that gift of translation. Question: how do you carve the various curves in your patterns? I understand straight lines but how do you carve curves so your carving tool doesn’t wander where it likes?

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