Carving Out the Details
At this point, I decided a bit of relief carving might be in order. After much head-scratching and a number of studies in scrap wood, I made up a simple design to carve into the panels. Whenever I carve, I always do lots of studies in scrap to determine exactly what I’m trying to accomplish with the design before committing to the “money” wood.
I used MDF story sticks to transfer reference marks to the chest panels. It took just two tools — a #41 swan-neck V-gouge and a mallet — to cut the cross-grain and then long-grain relief lines.
Mesquite carves surprisingly well and holds nice, crisp details. Just be careful in those cross-grain areas that are close together, to avoid a potential chip of wood breaking free. If this happens (and you can find the chip), simply glue it back in place, like a real woodcarver would do. Go nice and slow with the gouge and mallet; you’ll maintain lots of control that way. As you go along, make minute adjustments to the angle of your gouge, in order to maintain appropriate depth without digging too deeply or cutting so shallow that you lose your cut. Carving simple lines like these effectively should only require one pass, but if you need to make another one to refine certain areas, read the grain and “work” each side of the cut to avoid unsightly tearout.
A few swipes of shellac in the carving lines completed the project. There you have it. Feel free to sit, stand, jump or park a tank on top of this bench. You won’t find a much sturdier piece of furniture or a tougher wood from which to build it. It’s gorgeous, too, just like the great American Southwest.