Carving a Braided Pattern


This finished version of the braid can be further cleaned up with light cuts of the gouge, or left as-is. There’s a wide spectrum of what works with this carving.

This is an excerpt from “Joiner’s Work” by Peter Follansbee.


The bottom margin, the angled strike of the #7 gouge, the horizontal centerline and the punched mark just to the right of the gouge cut – the foundation for this pattern.

A braided pattern builds on the previous example (of the gouge cut). It’s cut with the same technique, but this time, for those who like measuring stuff, it is marked out in a measured spacing. For the braid, the layout is the key.

Start by striking the bottom margin with a marking gauge. Then use 3/4″ #7 gouge and strike it just as in the first exercise, only now the incised cut is not perpendicular to the margin, but tilts a little to the right. The top of this incised cut shows where to strike the horizontal centerline. Mark that line, then strike a round punch just to the right of the gouge cut. My round punch is an old 5/32″ nail set.

Now mark the height of the top margin, making it the same distance off the horizontal centerline as the bottom margin. It’s simple really. Strike the gouge from the other side of the punched dot, aiming in the other direction. Its tilt angle is fixed by the margin/centerline spacing.


Now it’s automatic pilot. Position the gouge between the punched mark and the margin and go.

With a compass, pace off the spacing of the punched marks on the centerline. These are either the width of the gouge or just a bit more.

Once they’re stepped off, strike each of these with the punch. Bang, bang, bang. Then, take the gouge and strike all the cuts that go down to the left of the punched marks, then those that go up to the right. It’s very orderly.


All struck, the design almost could stop right there and look just fine. But keep going.

Fiddle around with your spacing on some scrap. You can do it on paper, but you might as well just start working it on wood. It only takes a few minutes. The amount of tilt to the design is determined by the spacing between the centerline and margins, the size of the gouge(s) and the paced-off punch marks. Too steep looks dull; leaned over too far looks stretched out. You’ll know it when you see it.


Now it’s starting to look like something. Shadows start to make things look better.

Now go back and remove the chip. This chip is shorter in length than what you just did above. Think fingernail parings, crescent moons, that sort of stuff.

Using the same gouge, extend the arcs from the margin curving down into the neighboring cuts. Repeat this at the top and bottom margin.


This step begins connecting each element.

Now using the narrow #5 gouge, just take its corner and nick the small area from the margins to the curved cuts. You’re just taking a small chip out here; but it helps. The cut comes from the margin in toward the previous gouge cuts.


The beginning of hollowing. It’s quite a scoop, and a quick turn for the gouge.

You can enhance this carving by hollowing the braid with a more deeply curved gouge (mine’s an antique, similar to a #8 in the Swiss numbering system), modeling the overall pattern. To do this, you need to be aware of grain direction. Start at the centerline and cut down to the left, and repeat this all down the line. Then turn around and work up and to the right. The gouge takes quite a turn in each cut – essentially 90° in a very short space. Hollowing the braid really makes it come to life, creating more light and shadow interplay; that’s what all this carving is about.

Meghan Bates

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