The original carvings that must have once been on 'De Delft' were first recorded as good as possible. In addition to using drawings and paintings of 'De Delft', examples of material from VOC ships from the same period was also used. The colours of the carvings are also derived from pictures of VOC ships in paintings from the time that they actually sailed the oceans.
Materials and tools
Various sizes and weights of mainly wooden mallets are used for carving. Because of the characteristic shape of these mallets – a round handle with a barrel-shaped round head attached to the handle – these mallets were known as 'bottles'. The shape of these mallets means that you never miss and the 'bottles' and the chisel and gouge handles remain intact. The 'bottles' are usually self-made on a wood lathe.
Many types and sizes of chisels, straight gouges, spoon gouges, v-parting tools and fishtail gouges are required for carving. The tools must always be sharp, hence the reason they are sharpened regularly using a grindstone or whetstone. Tools are not piled on top of each other but put away individually in sleeves. Carvers are careful about these expensive tools and take great care of them.
A pencil, ruler, carpenter’s square, bevel square and a marking lath are used for marking out. For drawing the patterns a semi-transparent tracing paper and carbon paper are used.
For processing rough timber there are various types of saws and planes, such as spoke shaves , block planes, rebate planes and trimming planes.
Gluing clamps are used for securing the work piece and for gluing together composite work pieces.
Various types of wood are used for carving. Carvings that are to be fixed to the outside of the ship are often made from oak, which is better able to withstand moisture. Carvings for the inside of the ship are usually made from the less expensive and lighter elm. Carvings on VOC ships, both inside and outside, were generally painted.
An apprentice carver first learns how to handle various types of wood and tools by making a number of small carvings, such as a scroll or a rosette. Once the carver has gained sufficient experience from doing that he or she progresses onto more complex carvings. Carving is undertaken in the following steps:
- Start by preparing the necessary tools: workplace, gluing clamp for securing the work piece, mallets, chisels and gouges, pencil and paper.
- The job starts by selecting or making a template. This is a piece of tracing paper on which a pattern is drawn which subsequently has to be transferred onto the wood. This template is transferred onto the piece of wood using carbon paper (a round piece of plank for a rosette for example, or a beam for a thicker and longer carving). To do this, place the piece of wood onto the workbench, place carbon paper on top and then the template on top of this. Trace the template using a pencil; the pattern will be now transferred onto the piece of wood.
- The drawing on the wood is one-dimensional and is in a flat plane. By cutting away the material along the lines of the shape that has been copied onto the wood the pattern becomes profound and three-dimensional. By concentrating on the final appearance of the carving you create a three-dimensional representation of where the wood has to remain and where it has to be cut away.
- Using the chisels and gouges you cut the contours of the various shapes from which the carving is built up in what was up to this point a flat piece of wood. To do this you select the chisel, gouge, fishtail or v-parting with the shape that best suits the part of the line that you want to cut. Position the tool perpendicular to the piece of wood and hit the handle with the ‘bottle’ (mallet) until you have cut a line of approximately one centimetre deep in the wood.
- Now broaden the contour lines by cutting away material using a chisel/gouge and a ‘bottle’.
- Depending on the pattern it is possible that the contours of the carved shapes have to be cut deeper. That can be done in the same way as described, by cutting deeper into the lines perpendicular to the wood and then cutting away more material from the sides in the direction of the line, as a result of which it becomes deeper and broader.
- Carving more of the required pattern is undertaken by cutting away more material each time using the various carving tools where depth is required in the surface. This is done by sight. For this it can be handy to work from an example or a photograph or drawing of the carving required. You constantly make a three-dimensional representation of how the final carving will look like. As you work, the structure of the required pattern becomes more and more visible in the wood.
- Attention (1) – It is important that the carving tools always remain very sharp in order to prevent chips of wood breaking off from the work piece due to excessive force having to be applied to blunt tools. The tools must be ground and whetted regularly. This is done using a grinding disk and then a whetstone. Whetting is always undertaken in the same direction so that the molecules in the steel continue to point in the same direction. The steel stays sharper as a result of this. Carving tools are expensive and cannot be obtained everywhere. That is another reason why it is important that they are handled with care: never drop the tools and never stack them on top of each other. Always place them in a storage case with separate pockets for each individual tool.
- Attention (2) – When producing a carving make sure that you cut away the material in the direction of the solid part of the wood and not towards the ends. In this way you will avoid splinters, chips and wood coming loose on the ends of the wood.
- Attention (3) – Small work pieces are made from a piece of plank a few centimetres thick. Large work pieces can be made from thicker beams. If these are too short for the complete work piece the carving can be assembled from various pieces. A very large carving, such as a figurehead for example, can be made from various 'slices' that are glued together. It is also better to make a complex pattern from various pieces of wood that are glued together. This will prevent the work piece from splitting or warping.
- Attention (4) – Carvings are not finished smooth, which is especially the case for carvings that are to be fixed to the outside of the ship. Sandpaper is not therefore used. You have to be able to see that this is work undertaken by hand. Carvings are also generally painted, which is particularly the case for carvings on the outside which are some distance away from the viewer so that the details can not be seen.
NB – In addition to the necessary practice, carving specifically also requires concentration and enjoyment when working. It is work that requires patience and care. In addition to knowledge about the material and the tools, spatial understanding, creativity and a critical eye are necessary. It is helpful to take a good look at how colleagues do their carving and also to practice carving copies of existing work.