Canadian Woodworking

Fundamentals of folds

Author: David Bruce Johnson
Published: August September 2006
Fundamentals of Folds
Fundamentals of Folds

To carve any realistic object, an understanding of its construction is essential. In fact, the more you see when studying a subject, the more you will be able to reproduce it.


To carve any realistic object, an understanding of its construction is essential. In fact, the more you see when studying a subject, the more you will be able to reproduce it. When the subject is folds (whether folds in clothing, folds in a draped cloth, or folds in a bent leaf), the best starting point is to thoroughly examine and analyze the object to be duplicated. I realize that an ‘Anatomy of Folds’ is a book length topic, so instead, this article introduces some fundamental principles along with a little ‘how-to’ exercise for practice.

Ripples compress on inside of bend

Ripples flatten on outside of bend

Direction of fold is perpendicular to both sides

Top surface is tapered smoothly

The taper connects the peaks of ripples

V-gouge starts gap between first tight folds

Gap widens toward the outside edge

Carve convex surface using gouge face down

Bottom half of ripple is a concave surface

Use drill to open gap in bottom of folds

Carve bottom to create a deep shadow

Fold Fundamentals

First of all, let’s consider the nature of the material being folded. Very few materials stretch unless they are being pulled. If they are pulled, they are flattened, thus eliminating the folds. This is logical. However, the dimensions of a material, even when folded, must stay reasonably constant. As a result, if the material is raised in one spot, the width must decrease. For the practice exercise, I have kept the ends the same length. Due to the bend in the material, the ripples must be adjusted for the sides to remain equal lengths. As a fold is flattened, it becomes shorter in height. The direction of a fold remains perpendicular to both sides.

With these basic points in mind, let’s carve a surface (like a piece of cloth) with a series of folds and a 90º bend.

Practice Exercise

For this exercise, I used a 5″ by 8″ piece of basswood that was approximately 1″ thick and cut out the curved shape with my bandsaw.

  • Begin by carving a gradual taper to the top surface. I always carve one surface completely (the top in this case) before doing any work on the opposite surface. The taper should connect the top of each ripple smoothly.
  • The first two ripples are the most compressed and touch at their widest point. The space between each pair of ripples is started with a V-gouge.
  • The gap between the ripples widens toward the outside edge.
  • The top surface is rounded using a gouge face-down. The curvature is flattened by using #7, 5, and 2 gouges, in series.
  • Half-way down, the ripple changes from a convex to a concave surface. The concave surface is also carved using a series of gouges.
  • A drill is used carefully to open the gap through the bottom of the ripples. The rest of this practice exercise is a matter of careful contouring, followed by an equally careful repetition to carve the bottom surface. Unless you plan to show both sides, the entire bottom doesn’t have to be completed. Instead, just carve the contour back far enough that the deepest part can’t be seen and the hollow is in a shadow.

The basic ideas presented in this article are widely applicable whenever folds are involved.

The next article in this series will present a project where folds are a major and significant element.

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