Canadian Woodworking

Hanging Hanky

Author: David Bruce Johnson
Illustration: Mike Del Rizzo
Published: October November 2006

To practice carving folds, there is no better exercise than copying the real thing.


For this wall hanging (of a hanky hanging on a wall), I pinned a square handkerchief by one corner onto a board. Then, I arranged the folds in a fashion that appealed to me. Next, I made a pattern and transferred it to a piece of basswood 1½” x 8″ x 14″.

Before starting to carve, two major anatomical characteristics are noteworthy: on a square handkerchief, the corners are square; and the visible edges of the handkerchief (not the folds) are either parallel or perpendicular to each other. These features add significantly to the realism of the carving.

Transfer pattern to wood

#2 and V-gouges to relieve carving

Keep all edges and corners vertical


Identify highest and lowest spots

Leave enough wood for later shaping

Longest slope requires approx. half depth of wood

A long gentle slope for highest fold

Use #7 gouge to scoop from highest to lowest level

Edge is rounded between guiding lines

Round full length of top fold

Establish vertical edge before rounding

Folds are linked with flowing curves

Secondary ripples define underlying shape

Continue lower surface flat under upper surface

Undercut sides of folds with a knife

Remove wood at a sharp angle to upper surface

Remove wood and round simultaneously

Create the Background

• For a carving like this one, there are several options: cut out the pattern with a bandsaw (thus, no background); reduce the background with a router; or, remove the background with hand tools.

• I prefer the hand tool approach with a background. Hand tools are quiet and don’t make a huge mess of dust and woodchips. I learn all about the wood grain while doing harmless work. I also like to have a pattern on the background.

Define the Layers

• Several areas of the handkerchief are flat on the background and are the lowest parts, but there is only one highest point on the folds. To separate the various layers, start at the left side and reduce that corner to approximately ¼” deep, but leave enough wood for shaping later.

• Carve each layer in sequence from left to right. The longest slope is second and requires approximately half the depth of wood. The highest level has a greater amount of slope and is a gentle curve.

• Finally, use a #7 gouge to scoop the right corner from the highest level to the lowest.

Round the Edges

• With the layers established, use your #2 and #5 gouges to round the edges of each layer starting with the left side of the longest fold. Draw centre lines to define the boundaries of the edge, then carve between those lines without removing them. Do this for each curved edge.

• For the right hand edge of the highest fold, it’s alright to carve the entire length because the bottom tip of the handkerchief will be carved lower than the highest fold. For that last, short edge, first establish a vertical edge with a V-gouge, then round that edge.

Link the Folds

• To link the folds, draw the edge of the handkerchief as it winds its way between the surfaces. The curves flow like two semi-circles joined in the middle. Use a V-gouge to outline each curve, then adjust the rounded edges to refine each fold.

• In this demonstration carving, there are underlying folds. To more clearly define the hidden part of those folds, secondary ripples can be added. Sand the handkerchief thoroughly at this point. It is essential that you are completely satisfied with the top surface before proceeding to the next step, from which there is no return.

Separate the Layers

• The folds are separated and given final form by undercutting the edges and the tips of the corners. Once the wood is undercut, it is impossible to do anything significant to the top surface. Also, the three corners of the handkerchief will likely become fragile.

• Undercut the ends of the folds with two actions: extend the lower surface flat under the upper surface; then remove the wood at a sharp angle from the higher surface. The undercut doesn’t have to be very deep to create an adequate shadow. Your undercut is deep enough if you can’t see the back of the cut when you are viewing your carving in a normal fashion.

• The sides of the folds are also undercut. Again, extend the background under each fold using a knife or a #2 gouge. Then use the gouge face down to carve the curve of the fold (away from your earlier centerlines) to join the underlying surface.

Add Finishing Touches

• For this wall hanging, you’ll need to carve the pin. Bevel the edge of the background, then add a small seam around the edge of the handkerchief with a #11/1 veining tool. After some judicious and careful sanding, apply your finish. I used a penetrating lacquer. Adapt these techniques on any carving projects containing folds.

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