Craftsman Allan Breed Turns and Carves a Duncan Phyfe Bedpost

Uploaded by metmuseum on 06.01.2012

I am reproducing a section of Duncan Phyfe's bed. It was about seven feet tall so this is
just a small piece of it.
And this is a piece of mahogany and
I'll be turning it on a modern
powered electric-powered lathe. I'm looking at this original to get an idea of the flow of
the vase section here because this pretty much has been done by eye.
And so
I'm turning
this section here and this will be rounded over
into a nice vase form. So i know that this is
the maximum diameter; this is the smaller diameter, which I'll caliper.
I'm shaping the vase
with a gouge.
I'm coming from each side into the low spot.
This is the skew chisel and this will take the last few little
bits of the gouge
tool marks away.
Most of this will be carved away so
it's just the low of it that needs to look good. And now I can take it off the lathe and start carving.
What Phyfe did here was he wrapped his post in leafage, carved
water leaves here,
and so he's taking an essentially unornamented turned mahogany post
and putting leaf carving on it to ornament it.
So I'm going to start
at the high point
of the vase here
and follow that line.
And so, from the high to the low here, I can cut this way because all the fibers are exiting
sort of the edge of the canyon wall that way.
But from the high
to the low here, I can cut this way because the fibers are all
exiting sort of the edge of the canyon wall that way.
I'll put the tool
right on my ribcage and just lean into it
like that
and so I'm getting a lot of power. It's not justÑ
I'm really not just using my hands and arms, you have to use
your whole upper body.
The hollow part that separates one leaf from another, this is where this trough
is happening right on these points. And once you start carving, you immediately erase
all your lines and so
drawing in the initial cuts is okay, but after that, you're kind of on your own.
Actually, sound is pretty critical. I will be
listening for it to start snapping. If it starts to make a snapping sound,
it means that I'm running into oncoming grain and I want to turn around and come the other way.
Because you do get into a
certain rhythm
and a certain motion that's repeated
and it's a lot easier to do those repeated cutsÑ
Do similar cuts one after the other
instead of going from one type of cut to another then switching back again.
So now I'll go to a tool
that's going to
scoop out
this rib that I've left in here
and leave the hollow space between the leaves.
So once this
once this space between the leaves has been cut,
I'll just check these V cuts again and clean them up.
So here we've gotÑ
the divisions between
the sections of the water leaf
have been modeled with a V cut and
the hollow cut
and now
I'll round off
what's left.
And I'm trying to cover
the entire width
of that piece with one cut.
Now I have to go back and round off the other half of these
and so I'll probably have to come in the other direction. This is a back-bent
gouge and this moves the handle out of the way
so I can reach in there and cut this
part of the carving. So I'm going to turn it over and come in
from this direction because this is the way the grain wants to be cut on this
particular part.
And then there are a couple more things need to be done. One of them is to round off the end of
each leaf. This gives it just a little bit more
three-dimensional roll.
See the rhythm I just got into doing all of those one right after another?
Chop, chop, chop.
You don't want and straight surfaces anywhere.
That's kind of my mantra with carving, especially with Rococo stuff. I mean,
there's no straight line anywhere.
The last thing I
do is to
round off this rib, and I'm just going to detail this rib a tiny bit.
Another instance of where this tool might sit in the drawer for
ninety percent of its life but once in a while,
it's the perfect tool for this job.
So that's rounded over
and now what he did was
take a cut
from right about here.
And I've got to go in two directions because the grain switches right here.
within the proper half of it from europe
So I'll do the top half
of it from here up and the bottom half from here down.
I really only have one chance to get that, so here we go.
I would not normally carve one leaf from start to finish.
All these cuts, all these V cuts I didÑ
I would just keep spinning it and do
all the ones with my right hand, spin it, do all my left hand ones,
then go back and do all the next cut on everything.
Just slowly melt it down in,
bring it into focus.
making a nice contrast between the high spots and the low spots
and ruffling the edge, all of a sudden,
it has some motion.
It's crawling up here in the process it's sort of waving,
and by making these deep cuts and then rounding these off,
it gets a little
rhythm going.
And it breaks up this turned post. You've got this stark turning here
and here and then all of a sudden you've got leaves wrapping around this so I think
you get a lot of power
in the contrast between carved and uncarved.