Curved Carving Templates

Curved_Templates_OpenerDecades ago, while working on a large order of chairs, another carver and I were brainstorming ways to speed up the layout process for knee carvings. Three-dimensional curves make using flat patterns difficult. And the thought of laying out 24 knees freehand was more than a little overwhelming.

When using flat patterns around curved shapes you inevitably get wrinkles that distort the shape of the carving. In order to get something that remotely resembles symmetrical, you need to “wrinkle” the template exactly the same for each side. What if there was an easy way to make the pattern follow the same curve as the knee of a leg, or the surface of a turning?

Sometimes an old childhood memory can provide the solution to a complex woodworking problem. In this case, Silly Putty inspired a sticky solution.

To begin you need a flexible material that can  be easily shaped to snugly fit over a turned or carved element, and it has to be able to retain its shape. The material needs to be able to have slits cut into it to define interior lines while remaining intact, so it needs to be easy to cut. And it can’t wrinkle – wrinkles cause asymmetry and that’s not a good thing.

We tried many different materials but none seemed to fit the bill. Somewhere in the conversation “Silly Putty” was mentioned. You know, the stuff you spread over the Sunday comics, peeled it up and had a mirror image embedded in the putty? (Yeah, we were easily entertained back then.) But the concept of putting something flexible over the surface and peeling up a pattern was what we wanted. With that we could sketch one half of the carving in place, then create a reversible template directly from it. What we came up with is an extremely simple way to make curved, flexible patterns, or templates.

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6 thoughts on “Curved Carving Templates

  1. Chuck, There is something called paper tape used in the medical field that is more transparent. I do not know if it’s adhesion would be the right amount or not. It is pretty sticky . Elmer

    1. Elmer,

      Hey, if you want to veer away from a technique that is neither time-tested nor traditional, knock yourself out. (sarcasm intended)

      Is the medical tape as strong as masking tape? If not, you may have to add a couple of layers to get it to work, but honestly the masking tape is fairly transparent and it’s readily available. I’ll check into the tape you mention simply because I (and by extension, we) might benefit from its transparency on more complex carving designs.


      1. Jim,

        Glad you enjoyed it and I sincerely hope you can benefit from it.

  2. Fascinating technique, thanks so very much Chuck.

  3. You explained this method to me many years ago at a woodworkers show. I have to admit that then I didn’t quite grasp the entire process, but this current presentation has clearly shown the steps.

    Many many thanks,


  4. Chuck EXCELLENT! This shows creativity and resourcefulness. I found this an excellent tip and plan on trying it. You guys are amazing with diversity of approaches and techniques; keep up the great work.


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