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Saturday 11 April 2015

From a log to a carved plaque - making a carving from a cedar tree that had been cut down.

I recently completed an interesting carved plaque for the St Monica Trust in Bristol. The trust runs retirement homes and nursing homes around Bristol and wanted a gift for the chairman Gerald Lee, who is retiring from his post.

A much-loved Himalayan cedar (deodar) tree was recently felled in the grounds of the Cote Lane site and the Trust wanted to use some of the timber to create a gift for Mr Lee.

The tree surgeons took away most of the timber, so there were only sections of branches that they didn't want left behind with diameters of 18cm (7") or less. The tree was also felled a matter of months ago, so the timber was unseasoned and would not be seasoned by the deadline for the presentation of the piece. Two interesting challenges to think about. I obviously told the clients about these considerations before beginning work!

I decided to quarter-saw the timber so that the rings were at right angles to the widest flat faces of the 'boards'. This means that, when they are glued together, the wood of the plaque will shrink and expand sideways and will hopefully not warp as it seasons.

I was not so worried about the timber cracking, as cedar seems to be fairly stable and not too badly prone to that. Carving the logs in the round seemed risky though, as the tensions set up as the wood dried would make such a sculpture more likely to crack than a flat panel would be.

The quarter-sawn pieces were quite small, as the logs weren't big to begin with, however they glued well to make a board that was big enough. The smell of the cut cedar was very strong; I don't think my workshop will have moth problems for a long time to come. Let's hope the smell of cedar repels other insects too (like furniture beetles!)

After the glue had dried, the boards were trimmed and run over a planer thicknesser to get a nice, even thickness throughout.

The design was to be a sundial, which is the logo of the St Monica Trust,  together with the motto 'Tempus fugit, caritas manet' (which means 'time flies, love remains') and a short text. It was laid out on paper and then transferred onto the surface of the timber. The sundial was carved in relief using traditional hand tools and the lettering, in an informal 'Chancery' style, was carved using a Dremel multitool. The cedar proved to be lovely timber to carve.

And here's the finished plaque:


  1. It must be quite moving to work on such old wood. There is an ancient (relatively speaking) Cedar of Lebanon tree, planted by the botanist Jussieu, in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris and as dating back to the 18th century must have witnessed so many events. I went to the Sequoia National park a while ago (relatively speaking!) and the sight of the Big Reds there actually brought tears to my eyes as they are just huge animations of ongoing history, I suppose in the way that whales are too...

  2. It is, although it was a shame that I never saw this tree before it was cut down. It feels very humbling being in the presence of really old trees doesn't it, even the small stunted oaks on Dartmoor. Mind you, even the treeless areas of Dartmoor can feel humbling!