IVY HILL FARM
Big Prairie, Ohio
Chip carving on gourds is done with a U-shaped wood gouge. The "chip" is removed from the surface of the gourd by making a U-shaped stop-cut (by placing the gouge at a right angle to the surface of the gourd), moving the gouge backwards a short distance from the stop-cut, and then using a gentle rocking motion to move the gouge (at about a 45° angle) toward the stop cut while slightly increasing the downward pressure. When the gouge reaches the stop-cut, a chip (indicated below by the grey area) pops out of the surface of the gourd. Although the chip is nothing spectacular, it is possible to produce intricate carved designs by aligning the pattern of chips. In general, a line of carving is made where all the stop-cuts face the same direction as shown in the sketch below. The gourd is then turned so that the carving is done in the opposite direction. The red lines indicate pattern layout lines which can be erased from the surface of the gourd. Note that when the carving changes direction, the stop-cuts of the two rows touch at the tip of the U. This is called interlocking the stop-cuts and it is the "secret" of clean chip carving designs. As the gourd is carved, the chipping reveals the lighter more porous areas of the gourd below the outer surface. Because there is not much contrast, it takes an application of stain (any wood stain or leather dye) to really reveal the pattern. The stain soaks into the cut out areas faster, turning them a darker brown, making even the thin stop-cuts stand out.
The information presented so far is all that is necessary to carve the pattern of gentle S-shaped curves on the birdhouse shown at the right. To lay out the design, a line is drawn around the widest part of the gourd (corresponding to the horizontal red line in the pattern above. Then vertical lines are drawn at equal intervals around the gourd to indicate how long each chip is be carved above the horizontal line. The first line of chips is then carved above the horizontal guide line. (If the gourd is to be a bird house, it is easier to make the entrance hole before carving.). The second line of chips is carved below the horizontal guide line, taking care to interlock the stop cuts. Succeeding rows are carved by reversing directions and interlocking stop cuts until the desired amount of gourd surface is carved. If the gourd narrows, the length of the chips will shorten, and if the gourd flairs out again, the chips will lengthen again as shown in the bird house. If desired, a chip can be omitted from time to time to keep the carving looking more even. As the carving progresses to the bottom of the gourd, it turns automatically into a circular pattern around the center of the bottom. Again, if the gourd is uneven, it may be necessary to improvise a little to even out the carving, and definitely some chips will have to be skipped toward the center of the bottom. An excellent beginning project in carving is to make a band of carving around the middle of a gourd bird house. A band pattern eliminates carving the more difficult areas of the gourd (neck, top, and bottom) and sets the carving off with contrasting areas of smooth gourd surface. (More about chip carving.)