A modern masterclass by Tom Samuel, carver.
We are privileged to have access to Tom’s workshop where he filmed every stage of the process in a series of brief clips, with added commentary from Tom underneath.
Day 1 – Preparing for carving
Rosslyn’s wood : the sycamore ‘blank’
It’s thick enough for two boards – so I’ll work on the top surface of the upper, then the underneath surface of the lower (the ‘back’), then split them and complete two boards
Getting a truly flat surface:
I’m planeing the blank absolutely flat for the top of the ‘reeded’ blank
Finding the centre:
Leaving the planed-off wood on my left, I then find the centre of the blank.
Drawing the circles:
Drawing concentric circles around the centre to help position the hub
Lathe powered by legwork:
Here’s how the 19th Century lathe is powered for turning, by leg work
Showing the blocking up:
Breadboard makers would have had a special lathe with a much lower ‘bed’ or a chop-out in the bed to accommodate the width of the boards – the ‘head’ of my lathe needs raising, so I’ve ‘blocked it up’ (raised it on blocks of wood) so the head has extra space to spin the boards
The chuck screws onto the lathe and grips the hub. My hub is one I’ve used many times before. It’s much easier and stronger and impacts less on the finished breadboard. Often breadboards had a single hole or four holes in the base because they were screwed to a plate that screwed onto the lathe.
These are Victorian chucks that would hold the hub by friction (left) or wedging (right). The other sides of them show the threads which would have held them onto the lathe. Most of the best original boards didn’t have holes in the back. I can avoid having holes in the back of the boards using a hub in my more modern chuck.
Preparing the hub with straight chisels on its base:
Here I’m preparing the hub for centering on the top of the upper board…
… and round its edges.
Gluing the blank to the hub:
Attaching chuck to lathe:
Here I am attaching the chuck to the lathe and moving the tool-rest into place.
Turning the outer edge:
I’m pointing at places around the edge where I haven’t yet started rounding and I’m seeing how much I have to take off.
Getting edge perfectly round:
Cleaning off the outer edge to get it perfectly round – look at the right side of the screen to see what’s coming off as I turn the blank !!!
Cleaning the back rough face of the blank:
This will be the back of the ‘plain’ board.
After several hours, the base of the blank gets a recess. Traditionally this was done to prevent the board rocking on crumbs and may help to prevent warping!
Carving edge of blank:
Here you can see the shape of the back coming
Sanding the base:
Starting to sand the back of the blank. Often the backs were used for cutting bread so as not to wear down the carved top.
The bevel is to make it easier to lift when it’s sitting flat on a surface – at the end I am scraping the bevel.
Sanding and wetting to raise the grain:
Sanding and wetting the back of the blank (which is for the ‘plain’ board) to raise the grain
Fine sanding and resetting rest:
After the back is dry, fine sanding for a better finish – then resetting the tool-rest to start to divide the blank into two boards
Starting separation of blank into two boards:
Dividing the blank into two boards with a parting tool which has to be very strong, so it’s thin and broad and sharpened into a diamond shape – about a saw-cut in thickness
Depth of divide so far:
Trying to show how deep I’ve gone in so far – the board on the right looks thinner because I’ve bevelled it.
Starting to saw:
You’ll see, it’s quite difficult to go in more than an inch – here I’m starting to saw through about a foot of very well-seasoned sycamore – this is hard work and easy to go wrong!
Coffee break time. Blank left ready to go on with another saw, keeping the two boards apart
Block to steady the separation during a coffee break:
Little woodblock to keep the top apart having got further down the cut
Having to turn blank over to finish:
Sawing through wasn’t as straightforward as it is ideally and I turned the blank over to finish from the other side because the vice pinches the bottom together. In the end, I have two boards.
With the top of the upper board and the base of the lower board done, I now start on the base of the upper board and the top of the lower board to get both boards ready to carve.
Planeing face of second board:
Planeing the top of the lower board flat – the grain shows where it’s planed, indicating it’s getting smoother
Turning base of upper board:
Returning to the upper board with hub for connecting to lathe
Same as lower board turning:
Same process as on base of lower board before dividing
Patterns drawn on both boards
Patterns drawn on both boards, both ready to start carving
The following is an idea of how many days are needed for carving and finishing the tops, approximately 14 working days each
For the Vitruvian scrolled board with tapered reeded background
The upper board ready to start carving:
Here is the Vitruvian scrolled board with tapered reeded background (with hub) drawn out and ready to start carving
Marking out with a slightly curved chisel and cutting up to the marked line – using chisels corrects the drawing as I go along
Going in with a V shaped tool to get the depth
Rounding edge with a spokeshave which is a better tool than a chisel for this job
Raising the pips by taking down the background around them – starting second pass, rounding pips
Adding depth, taking down the background to ‘raise’ the pip – rounding off the scrolls
Separating out the ‘ tapered reeds’, as they start to emerge
Rounding off ‘ tapered reeds’- all the time correcting the spacing
A third of the way around
Half way arounD
Two thirds done
Three quarters done
Finishing 2nd pass and cleaning up using little scrapers and then sandpaper
Finding centre of base and branding – working out where the red-hot brand is going to land, pressing it evenly
Then I spent 3 days cleaning up the board
Wetting the tapered reeds:
Starting the wetting procedure for the top, to raise the grain – then this is fine-sanded again to get a better finish
The whole board with raised grain to be oiled
Finished glorious breadboard with vitruvian scrolls & tapered readed background
Vitruvian scrolled board with plain background
Marking out with the chisel, beginning to raise the scrolls by lowering the background using a mallet this time
Showing different chisels used ….
Getting a rise and fall on the scrolls
Getting voluptuous shape into the background
The plain background takes longer than reeded one! Here I am rounding off the scrolls.
Half way around
Three quarters done
Sanded and finished then oiling
Finished glorious breadboard with Vitruvian scrolls & plain background
Interesting how plain background is more difficult to get right than the tapered reed background!
Heather’s charming chest with her carvings
Lizzie’s Hunk 4, of oak, made on a carving course. What a work!
A George Lailey bread plate, 1930s, elm. George Lailey lived the turner’s life, in Brocklebury, with his own forest. Very worn and warped. A donation from Martin, his parents old board. On his arrival months after sending it, he said, ‘Good to see the old thing again’.
Franz Dingemans’ voluptuous Leda, Knife handles, Middleburg, Holland, 21c