Canadian Woodworking

The Bluenose

Author: David Bruce Johnson
Published: June July 2006
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Canada’s Bluenose was a positively magnificent ship and an important part of Canada’s history.

Many of us know the Bluenose because of its long-time appearance on our dime coin. Its splendid set of sails makes it a perfect subject for the “negative” carving process known as “intaglio”, which was introduced in my last article (Canadian Woodworking, Apr/May ’06, Issue #41).

The process of “intaglio” carving is much different than carving “in-the-round”. When carving in-the-negative (intaglio), the elements closest to the viewer are carved deepest while the elements furthest from the viewer require little or no wood removal. Usually, carving (in-the-positive) is a process of refinement; that is, general shapes are followed by the creation of masses, then the addition of details on those masses. For intaglio, one should think of creating layers from the background to the foreground.

A 6″ x 8″ x ½” piece of basswood is suitable for this project. Making sure that the wood grain runs horizontally will enhance the look of the sky and water.

The Bluenose pattern

Background land is shallow and textured

Establish shoreline with V-gouge

Taper water toward edge of block

Exercise care along water’s edge

Use a pin to refresh pattern

Tilt V-gouge to create deck

Make the hull concave

Create waterline in front of hull

Carve masts and booms with a veining tool

The sails are numbered in the order they will be carved

Carving sails requires several passes

Sails are overlapping concave surfaces

Rigging is made with very fine lines

Texture bow wave and add ripples



Create A Scene

As in an oil painting, the background is done first to set the scene. Since the sky just above the tree line is farthest from the viewer, the first step is to carve the land mass between the sky and the shoreline. Use a #7 gouge to remove a very thin layer of wood. Random texturing adds realism. Establish the shoreline by making a shallow, straight cut with your V-gouge. Then, create the water surface by tapering the wood from the shoreline to the front edge of your wood block. Try using a large #2 gouge and be very careful to avoid damaging the shoreline. With the background established, refresh the boat drawing. Use a pin to mark key points, then connect the dots.

Launch the Ship

Carving the hull of the ship places the boat in the water. The port gunwale is closest to the viewer so it is carved deepest. Use a V-gouge and carve a continuous line the length of the ship. To show part of the deck, tilt the V-gouge away from the near gunwale to make a sloped surface. Then, use a #5 gouge to carve the hull concave between the gunwale and the waterline. Finally, create a waterline with a V-gouge. Remember, the water is closer to the viewer so it is correct to carve deeper than the hull.

A word of caution – do NOT outline the bow above the waterline. Because the bow is closer to the viewer, the bow in your carving should be deeper than the water behind it. To separate the bow from the background water, incise the ship side of the bow very lightly.

Setting Sail

Carving the sails is the real fun part of this project. First, carve the masts and booms to give something to hang the sails on. The sails overlap so it is easy to see which is farthest back and which is nearest. Starting with the largest sail at the stern, carve each sail and sand it before doing the next one. That way, damage to your precise and excellent intaglio edges will be avoided.

Every sail is carved as a hollow using smooth entrance and exit cuts. Each sail will require several passes with your gouge. Make the first sail fairly shallow then make each subsequent sail slightly deeper. For the sails numbered 1 to 4, you might use a #5 gouge. For the last two, use a #7 gouge to create deeper pockets.

As a final touch, carve in the rigging lines with a small veining tool (i.e. 11/1) or V-gouge. Make very light cuts.

Finishing Touches

Now, the Bluenose needs to be placed more realistically in the water. To that end, texture the bow wave and add some ripples beside the boat. Finally, carve a frame around the picture. For this task, establish the outline with a V-gouge then carve away the bordering wood with a #7 gouge. The only tasks remaining are to sand as necessary and to apply a finish – lacquer is effective. With appropriate lighting, it should be difficult to tell whether this carving is positive (relief) or negative (intaglio).


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