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        An Overview            

The following pictures and text demonstrate the setting up and carving process of two ships' figureheads - recently completed.



This picture shows the planks of wood laminated into 500kg blocks ready for carving. The gluing-up process was done in stages, over several days and clamped and doweled in all directions. The grain of the wood is all in one direction and careful assembly is exercised when end grain falls in critical areas -  i.e. face, hands  etc. (difficult to carve).







The two blocks have now been roughly cut to reveal the Britannia on the left and the Mermaid. You can now see the laminated planks on the left. Both figureheads have been hoisted to an approximate 45 degree angle to get a 'feel' of what they may look like.



I've used a chainsaw to remove large pieces of wood to get a workable shape. Usually though, I use controlled splitting of the wood to reach this stage. In the course of the carving process both figureheads will be raised, lowered, placed on both sides and carved resting on the front and back. The final carving process of a figurehead is usually carved at the angle for a particular ship's bow. In this case however, these two figures will be for a large resort on the east coast of the USA.

Embedded in the body of both figureheads are steel plates - one between the shoulder blades and the other behind the knees. There is a thread tapped into the plate for a large bolt. These plates must be center and the correct size to hold the weight of the carvings.



Here is the first cut of the mermaid's torso and face. This is made with the correct angle of the figurehead, as in this case - 45 degrees. Proportion is all important,  i.e. face, neck, shoulders and arms. There is nothing worse than an arm or neck that is too long or too short. Careful measurement and keen observation is always needed.





This is the first cut of the Britannia's face and arms, making sure that the cheek bones and the muscles in the arms are correct. Leaving everything on a slightly larger scale is good practice. As the carving progresses, you take a little off here and a little there as you look at the "whole"  body, stepping back a distance and viewing from "all" angles.



The Mermaid and the Britannia's faces have been shaped and will need a lot more work to finish. The decorative work is next - scrolls, anchor, fish, shell etc on the Britannia, while the Mermaid will have two seahorse, scallop shell, scales and small scrolls.




At the base of the Britannia, I've carved an anchor and rope. The rope is wrapped around the anchor shaft. Above this are two sea monsters (ancient dolphins), with shell. Above them are another two small nautilus shells and decorations. On both sides are scroll wheels.


Carving the Mermaid's scales is next. I've already carved the shell which she holds in her left hand. The two small scrolls, scallop shell and decorative work are almost finished. By the way, all the shells, 




scrolls, fish etc, are from the same laminated original block, they have not been carved separately and then added later to the figurehead,  as some have asked.








The two faces have been worked on now. Working on the contours, especially the cheek bones.



Here are the two figureheads in their semi-finished and raw state.





The figureheads are now finished and painted ready for shipping.






Ship's Figurehead Carving Message Board


and maritime carving site


Click on the James Craig figurehead pictures

to view the carving process of this matronly lady

Ship's Figurehead Carving Message Board

2001 Martin Jeffery