Canadian Woodworking

Carved maple leaf doors

Author: Rob Brown
Photos: Rob Brown
Published: February March 2016
maple leaf doors
maple leaf doors

Removing some material to create textured maple leaves on solid wood door faces will add a simple, natural focal point to any piece of furniture.


Since the rest of this cabinet has very simple, clean details, I wanted to add a little something to the door faces. I didn’t want to overpower the cabinet, just complement it. You can play around with almost any design, whether it’s from the natural or man-made world.

Curved Template
To define the outer boundary of the center area, Brown cut a template with his circle cutting jig, then used the template to guide his router.

maple leaf doors

Hand Guided
Once the leaves were drawn on the door blank, Brown guided a router freehand to define the leaves.

maple leaf doors

Background Pattern
Brown later realized he should have painted the leaves before detailing the background, so any paint that ended up on the background would have been removed by a rotary tool afterwards.

carved maple doors

Paint the Leaves
After sanding the leaves’ surfaces, start adding the paint to the leaves. Starting with yellow, Brown adds colours, working quickly so the paint is still wet, and blends them into each other.

maple leaf doors

Vein Lines
Create the vein lines with a sharp V-gouge, doing your best to stop at the same point on each leaf.

maple leaf doors

Add Texture
Brown adds texture to the leaves with a small gouge, working in the same general direction as the vein lines.

maple leaf doors


The first step for me when coming up with something like this is always to grab some scrap wood that’s easy to carve and, in this case, some fallen maple leaves from the backyard, and try a few things out. It always starts off poorly so don’t get frustrated. With carving there are many approaches to take. Do you remove the wood around the shape or remove the wood for the shape? Do you keep the carved texture right off the carv­ing gouge or smooth all surfaces? What is the overall orientation of the leaf shapes, and how they interact with one another? All these questions, and more, can be answered before starting work on the finished piece.


I made a tracing template with my router and circle cutting jig, then used the template to cut the groove that would define the two outer edges of the carved background.

Rough out leaves

Once the design was nailed down, I used a plunge router and narrow straight bit to trace the outer edge of each leaf. With the bit set just over 1/8″ deep I guided the router by hand and took care to stay as close as pos­sible to the lines. While laying out the leaves I was sure to keep them at least the width of the bit apart from each other. There’s nothing saying you couldn’t overlap the leaves and come up with a solution to deal with where they overlap. At this point I also removed much of the background wood. I then took the time to remove any burn marks with a selection of gouges, chisels and sandpaper. If I was to use this technique again I would use the sharpest bit possible to rout the leaves, as it would leave less burning.

The background

There are many options at this fork in the road. I chose to add a fairly sim­ple and even layer of texture across the background surface with a rotary tool. Patience pays off here, as does a steady hand. You’ll get the hang of the process, but don’t get over-confident, as you can either make a mistake or hurt yourself.

Add colour

With hindsight being 20/20, I should have coloured the leaves before adding the background texture, so any splattered paint would be removed with the rotary tool.

I had red and yellow latex paint, and mixed them together to get an orange, then watered down a bit of each paint with about 1/3 the amount of water. Starting with the yellow I added a light coat to the leaves. I tried to work fast so I could slightly blend the three colours as I moved outward.

Define with texture

Vein lines go a long way to adding life to these leaves. I added five vein lines per leaf with a V-gouge, running them into the tips of each leaf. Working between the vein lines, and aiming towards the stem of each leaf, I used a narrow gouge to create the textured surface on the faces of the leaves.

Now that the leaf pattern was done I split the doors apart. Once the doors were hung I adjusted the gap between the doors. I then eased the sharp edges of the leaves, and sanded all the surfaces, before wiping on a few coats of finish.

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. I would like to print this article or save as a PDF but I don’t have that option. Unfortunately my computer is not in my workshop..

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