Lunette & Floral Carving - Popular Woodworking Magazine

This traditional pattern can dress up any panel.

by Peter Follansbee

I’ve carved so many oak boxes that I lost track of their number long ago. I’ll sometimes bump into one, or a photograph, and say, “Oh, I forgot I did that one…” But one design I come back to over and over again is the first pattern I learned, which I did three decades ago by studying museum examples. The carvings on my finished desk box (page 40) are from a family of joiners who worked in Braintree, Mass., between 1640 and 1700. The half-circular pattern is called a “lunette” in art history terms; the full circle could be called a rosette. It’s easiest to learn the lunette first. There’s a bit of geometry and a lot of V-tool work. So once you’ve practiced with the V-tool a bit, you’re ready for this design.

First, draw it out on paper, following the steps below.

1. Scribe a margin top and bottom with a marking gauge. Mine are 4″ apart.
2. Strike a centerline for each lunette with a square and awl.
3. Set your compass from the bottom of this square line to the top margin. Then swing this arc so you scribe a half-circle between the margins.
4. Make two more arcs from this same center point, inside the first arc. Space these about 1⁄8″ apart.
5. Now open the compass about halfway past your first half-circle and strike partial arcs that hit the bottom margin, but don’t reach up to the 12 o’clock position on the top margin. Again, space three of these about 1⁄8″ apart.
6. Strike 45° diagonal lines from the center point out to the first arc.
7. Then use the compass one last time to strike two short arcs from the bottom margin to the centerline. I think of these as an inverted V, with curved lines. I want the top of it a little more than one-third of the way up the centerline. The center point for these arcs is somewhere on the diagonal line. Some tinkering with the compass will get you there.

After stumbling around on paper, it’s time to repeat the process on the board. I scribe all these marks. Most of them get cut away, but strong light often shows some remaining scribe marks on period carvings. I like mine to have the same effect – so for me, no pencil. The photos that follow lead you step by step through the carving. Note that almost all of it is done with mallet in hand. The photos are tight to show details, but the mallet is almost always just out of view.

– Peter Follansbee

Peter has been involved in traditional craft since 1980. Read more from him on spoon carving, period tools and more LUNETTE PATTERN at pfollansbee.wordpress.com.