Simple Carved Decorations

Pic 1: A turning from Terry Scott’s ‘Overflowing series’

If you are a woodturner, woodcarving offers you a multitude of ways to embellish your work. In this tutorial we will explore how the repetition of some simple cuts can help to enhance the edge of a turned bowl or platter. When accompanied by colour and texture, the effect can be very eye catching.

I make no claims of being a proficient woodturner. However, the majority of my demonstrations, both at home and overseas, are to woodturning groups.

The challenge of transforming a spinning lump of timber into an aesthetically pleasing form, is a pursuit that many of us enjoy. Once mastered, the challenge continues with an infinite variety of ways to add a point of difference.

Many turners strive to develop a ‘signature style’ that identifies the creator by their work. Woodcarving can offer this ability to create a point of difference and you can do this by using some relatively simple techniques.
New Zealand woodturners, Gordon Pembridge and Terry Scott, both create inspirational work. Pics 1 & 2 demonstrate how piercing, carving, texture and colour can be used to transform finely turned objects into works of art.

Many more examples can be found on the websites of each artist – Gordon Pembridge at and Terry Scott at

The photographs of their work included in this article were provided by Gordon and Terry and have been published here with their permission.

Two Areas of Study

When learning how to carve there are two distinct areas of study. The first area is the Foundation Skills (techniques) and the second is the Subject.
The Foundation Skills are the starting point where an aspiring woodcarver must begin. You focus on how to hold the tools correctly and how to use them with control at all times. You must become a master of creating and maintaining a razor sharp edge, along with other essential skills.
With a sound knowledge of these skills, they can then be applied to any Subject.
The Subject is the creation itself and this offers an infinite field of possibilities.

Pic 2: ‘Zebra’s Rest’ by Gordon Pembridge
Photo 3: Shaping a sunflower from a turned form
Photo 4: The finished sunflower (by Mike Davies) exhibits little of its original turned shape

My specialty subject is classical ornamentation. This requires a study of classical architecture and furniture styles throughout the various periods in history.

Other carvers specialise in areas such as the study of anatomy, wildlife or in the case of this tutorial, woodturning. Regardless of the subject, the same foundation skills are required and this is where the Carving by Numbers system has found its niche.

In any of my carving seminars, I teach the Significant Six techniques.
Along with some proficiency in the techniques, you must also ensure that you have a razor sharp edge on your tools.

Carving with dull tools is a futile pursuit, one that can only lead to frustration. With a razor sharp cutting edge, your tools will glide through the timber with effortless sweeps.

These techniques can be found in dedicated tutorial or by watching the foundations skills dvd.

Planning a Carved/Turned Project

It is important to consider your desired outcome, prior to decorating a piece of turning with carving. The following offers examples of how carving can be incorporated into your turning:

• The turning can be used as a platform to showcase the carving (Photo 5).
• The turning can be the template for the carving but the turned form is
essentially lost in the final carving
(Photos 3 & 4). Here, the blank was turned to give the circular outer shape and centre of the sunflower, but the subsequent carving removed most of the original turned form.
• Carving can be used to highlight and define the beauty of the turned form
(Photos 6, 7 & 8).

Simple Effects

The following are a few simple carving effects you can use to decorate the rim of a platter or other turned object. In Photo 9, I’m using tool #4 (refer to chart Fig 1) to take tiny scoops in a random formation. This effect is similar to a planished metal. By experimenting with colour you can achieve some interesting two tone finishes.

In Photo 10, tool #3 has been used to create a series of flutes, radiating out from the centre. Try to keep each flute a consistent width and ensure that the high ridge line, which is formed between each flute, retains the shape of the turning. In other words, the ridge line maintains the thickness of the original turning.

A handy tip to ensure that the ridge lines radiate from the centre of the bowl, is to mark a series of lines at regular intervals around the bowl, using a rule that is positioned so that it passes through the centre of the turning. Note the pencil lines on either side of the carved area in Photo 10.

In Photo 11 you can see how the ‘V’ profile of tool #8 creates an interesting pattern when used to form random lines. Once again it is important that the ridge lines maintain the thickness of the turning. Try not to allow the ridge lines to fall beneath the original surface of the timber.
You will need to ensure that you ‘V’ tool is razor sharp for this decoration due to cutting across the grain.

Photo 6: Decorative platter by Terry Scott
Photo 7: Close-up of carving detail to platter in Photo 6.
Photo 8: Carving detail on another platter by Terry Scott
Photo 9: Removing tiny scoops with #4 tool
Photo 10: Creating flutes with #3 tool
Photo 11: Random V-grooves with tool #8

Tool Selection

All projects in this series of education can be completed with this numbered set of carving tool profiles. Please refer to tool selection tab for further information. Click on photo below to view tool selection.