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Inlay Bell Flowers

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Alan Bain

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Having finished more or less making all the parts of a table that has been vaguely based on Federal styles I thought with some extra time I could add some inalyed bell flowers which is something I have never tried. Illustration shows one leg after inlaying the boxwood lines.There's a clear article by Steve Latta on this in FWW but I have a few questions.

He cuts each flower piece out by hand from light veneer (Holly?) using carving gouges (normal ones not incannel) marks round it with a knife and outlines again with gouge before routing out the recess. He used some dremel based attachment to do the routing and I was wondering about using the pantograph engraver I have.

Given how many identical pieces there are (each size flower has three pieces, there are four flower per face and each leg has 2 or 3 faces inlaid) I was very tempted to glue up a stack with paper between and cut them out on the scroll saw, but guess then there is a good chance I won't be able to match the curve exactly with a gouge I own. Does anyone have any advice - or even a pointer to another book or article on the topic?

Either way I'm going to need to get some more carving gouges....
DSC_3651 (Medium).JPG
 

barryvabeach

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I read the Steve Latta article, and did the bell flower inlay on legs for a federal style buffet . First, IIRC, he suggested using a carving chisel to cut out the petals so the edges would be sharp, and use the same gouge to cut the mortise so they match. I made a pattern of the various sizes- I did 4 rows of flowers - each slightly smaller than the next, and while the left and right are identical on each row, just reversed, the center is a different shape, so there were 8 different sized petals on each side of the leg. Once I made a pattern ( I think I cut out the pattern so the holes in the pattern were the different sizes of the leaves) I then used a pencil and sketched the petals out on the holly, then came back with gouges and cut them out. I made tons of extras and kept them in separate containers as I was cutting them out. Then I used hot sand to shade them, again keeping them in separate containers. When I was ready to inlay the legs, I used a pattern to trace out the general location of each of the leaves on a practice piece, IIRC, I then stuck a petal in place, used a sharp knife to trace the outline, then used chisels to cut out the waste, then inlaid each petal. When all were done I applied the stain and the finish. I don't always do a practice piece, but in this case I was pretty glad because the next day I came and looked at it and had the leaves pointing up not down.

I did a few more practice pieces just to get a feel for it, each one got better than the next, though I didn't go to the trouble of staining these practices pieces. I finally went ahead and did the legs, and even then, each one got a little better than the next. To your question of getting them identical , first, everyone will be impressed by the inlay and no one will notice if they are different. If anyone ever did notice, all you have to say is that is is supposed to reflect nature, and individual petals are not identical in nature. Below is a photo showing how I approached it - when you put in the middle leaf, you cut away part of the outer petals, which is why I inlay the outer leaves first, using hot glue, and when they were all done, I came back and cut out the space for the center leaf and the dot. You can see the little containers are marked for the different sizes, there are 9 containers, there are two of each container with the same number - the outer leaves go in one and the middle petal goes in the other, you won't confuse them because of the shape, and one container for the dots. You can barely see the glasses, and the black thing with the gray in the upper left is a series of magnifying glasses - I needed both to see what I was doing.
bellflower progress (Large).jpeg



This shows how I cut out the center leaf , though it is hard to see, I have cut out for the middle petal, and it is lying above that flower as I am going back and forth trimming the mortise so that it fit. I didn't use a dremel for anything , just chisels, though I ended up making a chisel out of an old file that was probably a 1/16 of an inch at the widest and went down to a point at the end - I used that to get out the waste for the tips of the leaves - You can see the pencil marks are from the original layout, and of course, they didn't end up exactly in that location, the pencil was just to get the overall location
cutting out center leaf.jpeg


This is what a leg looked like when done. Note that this is not my best, or worst, work, the middle petal of the top leaf does not line up with the dot on the next leaf , the curvature of the two petals on the next leaf down aren't very similar, and when you get to the third leaf, the petals on the left and right are widely different in shape ( recall that while I chopped them all out at the same time, I probably wasn't all that consistent, and even if I was, as I inlaid them, I would trim the leaf and the cavity to get a good fit, so that altered it some). On the smallest leaf, the petal on the right looks narrower than the one on the left - though that is likely because I put the middle leaf off center. The dots don't line up on center, and they differ where they sit in relation to the start of each flower.
One leg.jpeg


I can tell you a number of people have seen the finished piece, and believe me not a single one noticed any of that .
sideboard 2 (Large).jpeg



So my parting words of advice are : don't worry about getting it perfect, no one will see the defects; work in a comfortable setting because you will spend hours chopping and chiseling; get some strong reading glasses or other magnification to help with checking on the fit of each petal, make tons of extra petals and keep them in labeled containers, and make a few practice pieces. Any questions, let me know.
 

Alan Bain

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Well been following your advice and have one of those plastic component boxes filled with sand shaded petals. And indeed they did get better as time went by! I also found the need for a tiny chisel for the points.

I really like the buffet. The doors seem to fit the shape perfectly - it looks as if they have a gentle curve, is that right?
 

barryvabeach

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Thanks. Yes, the petals get better as you do more of them, and I made tons to make up for burning while trying to shade them. The buffet took a few years to make because the only straight things on it are the legs and the sides ( and the back, but you don't see the back). The top set of drawers are curved to match the serpentine curve of the top, and the lower two outer doors have a single slight curve, and the two middle doors, and the pieces they mount to, have a serpentine curve that matches the inlay below those drawers. It is pretty pronounced in person, though it doesn't show up much in the photo.
sideboard.JPG
 

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