‘Guilloche’, a French term, describes a decoration used widely in ancient Greece and Rome and which is particularly evident on the architecture of both these civilizations. The design comprises two or more bands interwoven to form a repetative pattern which is interspersed on occasions with other designs such as flowers. The same basic elements of the guilloche also featured prominently in Celtic, Anglo Saxon and early Scandinavian decorative arts, producing in some cases extremely elaborate and complex patterns. The guilloche was also used extensively in lslamic and Moorish artwork and was refined extensively during the Renaissance, drawing on classical, medieval and Moorish influences. The results of this development became evident on furniture dating from the sixteenth century onwards. At first, it was simply carved. However, it was later painted and inlayed into the fine furnishings of the Georgian period.
As mentioned, the guilloche decoration can be found in many different guises, but the continuous configuration of interwoven bands remains the ruling principle. It can be used to decorate rails, mouldings, or even panels.
Photocopy or redraw the design to scale referring to the illustration above.
It is advisable to use a compass to form the circles. Once the drawing is accurately reproduced, you could make a stencil, which will help for marking long lengths of the repetitive design. In section A you will see the required markings on the timber. In section B note how certain sections of the circles have been erased producing the continuous over and under configuration of the interwoven bands.
Section C shows how the outside perimeter of the largest circle has been defined. Select chisel No 5 for this purpose and very carefully carve the edges at 90 degrees. Stop the cut on one side where it meets the outside of the smaller circle and on the other where it meets the inner berry. Make sure you do not overstep the mark here as a mistake at this stage would be extremely difficult to correct.
Now develop the smaller circle as shown in section D. Place the cutting edge of chisel No. 4 on the circle, ensuring that the blade is vertical to the timber’s surface. Now set in the profile by gently tapping the handle with a mallet to create a shallow incision. Remove the chisel, reposition it and take a further cut towards the circle at a slight angle to the incision. The result should be the removal of a tiny segment which gives the circle greater definition. You may need to repeat this procedure until you reach the required depth of around 2-3mm (1/16 – 1/8in).
Now set in the smallest inner circles as shown in section E.
Then select chisel No. 4 to set in the profiles of the leaf shapes at the top and bottom of the design. This stage can be seen in section F. Define the outside leaves by removing the surrounding timber. This process will also define the edge of the border. Chisel No. 4, though it may not seem the obvious tool to use, is most appropriate for this task.
Clearing the waste should be done using two directions of cut. Carve towards the left for the left-hand side of each leaf and vice versa for the right (see Becoming Ambidextrous, page 14) to form a high central ridge. Then carve the ridge away using the square end of the chisel blade to get to the point where the two leaf components meet.
Chisel No. 1 is also useful for clearing the waste in this awkward place. Take extra care not to carve over the border line by mistake. It is important that it appears as crisp and straight as possible. The required outcome can be seen in section G.
Next set in the flower petals with vertical cuts from chisel No, 3 as shown in section H.
Shape the bands to create the essential interwoven pattern seen in section I.
Use chisel No. 1 or, alternatively, a 13mm (1/2in) flat bevel edge chisel for this purpose. The edges of the weave should be cut to a depth of around 2-3mm (1/16-1/8in) at their lowest point.
Section J shows the next step. Define the flower petals with chisel Nos. 4 and 1 by carefully removing the wood from the area surrounding each one. The procedure is the same as that used for the leaf shapes along the border.
Use chisel No. 4 to define the petals further as shown in section K. Make a single cut for each petal, setting in the curved cutting edge of the chisel in a uniform direction. A slicing cut should then be made on the right-hand side of each incision to produce a fan like appearance. Select chisel No. 3 and take a small scoop out of each petal towards the flower centre.
Now finish shaping the leaves. In section L you will see how the curved shape of each leaf has been carved down towards the perimeter of the larger circle with chisel No. 1. The centre leaves should then be carved gradually down towards the edges of the smaller circles with chisel No. 3.
You wil now need to mark more detail on to the design as shown in section M. You can use a compass for accurate marking, but avoid pressing too hard or you will risk making deep holes with the point. Section M also shows the development of the centre berries which are encircled by the bands. They are rounded over with chisel No. 4, which should also be used to remove a slight scoop from the surface of the circle in the centre of each flower, creating a dished effect. Take this opportunity to remnove any marks left by the compass.
Following your pencil lines, carve a channel into each band using chisel No, 2. These channels enhance the interwoven effect (section N). Try to keep the ridge lines as clean and flowing as possible without forming any unwanted ‘elbows’. Remember to slide your chisels (page 13) to maximize the effectiveness of the cuting edges.
This is especially relevant at this stage here as you will unavoidably meet areas of awkward grain.
To add the finishing touches, as shown in section O, use chisel No. 5 to form small veins on each flower petal and also on the centre leaves of the peripheral decoration.
It may be necessary to give the work a light sanding to remove pencil marks (section P). However, leaving a few remaining tool marks may give the project a more authentic look as carvings from this period were relatively unsophisticated.
For this design I recommend using a piece of oak measuring 450 x 150 x 20 (14 x 6 x 3/4in).
This is the timber traditionally used for this style of carving, However, ash or elm would be just as appropriate. As you can see, oak is a fairly pale wood so you may wish to stain it deeper (see Finishing Methods section). Once you have tried this design, why not use a different type of wood or a decorative finish on the guilloche variation shown below?