Saturday, 11 August 2012

Craft your own Medieval Sciapod - Part Two

There are many who say that they are no good at this or that, but we say how do you know if you don't give it a go? That said the Contributions Secretary is yet to try pouring flask tea with the lid off! His/her foolishness aside, It's true we should all push ourselves to try something new; for I had never had a go at carving until I a few years back and yet I am very pleased with this Medieval Sciapod staff that debuted in 'Craft your own Medieval Sciapod - Part One'. And here's how you can craft your very own...

The finished sciapod staff

First draw a rough plan of what you want the finished carving to look like as shown in part one of this posting, then study and/or photograph some feet and legs like this one below. In this case it is an anonymous leg as Mrs Many Coats has told me that she doesn't want anyone to know it's hers.

Nice calf, shame about the sock

Next you must find the correct tool for the job and for carving staffs  I tend to use a Swiss Army Knife, as it gives me a choice of blades. Although whether it stills counts as carving or should more correctly be called whittling is a debate I shall leave to sharper minds than mine. With a sharp knife start by roughing out - In this case I started with the foot, because it's at the top and the most important element to sorting the overall scale.

Roughed out foot

I then started on the leg using the pic above as my guide and as you can see initially planned to have the sciapod's gown rising up under him to cover his modesty. But Mrs Many Coats who had been thinking on the subject for more time than some might think seemly, pointed out that a one legged being probably wouldn't have anything 'between its leg' to be modest about, so I quickly re-carved the bottom of his gown to gather up around him. This would look more natural when the folds were carved in later and be far more ascetically pleasing.

Modest gown. Note also roughed out hands
Immodest but more correct gown. Note also the drawn arms. I don't draw everything and normally just mark where each part of the carving should begin and end. But for important elements like arms I do use more detail, although I don't always stick to it!

 It was now I started to see the problem with fitting something so detailed on a narrow staff, especially when it came to fitting his head between leg and body. And even though I had plenty of wood to carve back before I could think about carving his face you might be able to see below that I still drew it on just to give me some idea of where I was going.

Preparing to work on face and hat
The proposed 'sideways glance'

 The arrow on the face shows my initial plan to have him looking slightly forward in a more naturalistic pose (If a sciapod could ever be thought of as naturalistic of course!) Although lack of space put an end to that plan and the finished fellow looks straight to the side. You can also see that I drew on the folds of his gown. As I said I don't always do that, but I needed this to be right, so as to clearly show his leg is being lifted up from his body. I also carved on a belt with studs to add a bit of interest to the back of the staff, which is after all dominated by the bottom of a foot!

The gown and studded belt
Back of head of sciapod

I also had to work out what to do with the back of the head, as with so much wood to carve back, I had hoped to show the back of his hat. The more I carved back though the more I realised that there would not be enough room between leg and foot to achieve that and so I stopped thinking about it and set to work carving the gown folds and  finishing the arms instead. The main concern was with getting a nice fold in the sleeve. In this case not so much naturalistic, but simply pleasing to the eye and even more pleasing to carve!

Finished folds and deluxe studded belt
Pleasing left sleeve!

 Unfortunately the right sleeve was at more of an angle and as such caused me problems, but no matter for mistakes are easily rectified. As you'll see below I simply took a section of wood from further down the branch and glued it into a carved out section of the arm. When dry I carved it flat and then proceeded to re carved the fold in the sleeve. I actually enjoyed doing it and imagined I was a surgeon grafting skin from someone's buttock to a wound in some other place. I then carved detail into the hands. Not my best work, but hands are difficult and although they don't look brilliant I do pride myself on the detail. Each has tiny knuckles. I also ran the edge of the knife around the point where they touch the leg, which lifts them slightly creating a three dimensional feel. I did the same on other areas like the arms and back of the foot.

Problems with the right arm
Paging Dr Many Coats!

It was now time to start on the head, both 'fore and aft', but I was still uncertain what to do, so I carved the front back a bit more and redrew the sciapod's hat even though I needed to remove much more 'meat' before I could do serious work on it. But I liked my drawing anyway and decided to further divert myself by carving the year of production and other secret things on the stem of the staff;  the meaning of which are only known to me and other Ragged Ramblers in the upper echelons of our Learned Society.

Made in 2012. Note also the re-carved fold of the right arm. If you look closely you can see the lighter section of new wood yet to be dirtied by my grasping horney hands. See also tiny knuckles!
A heart carved into a sun. But what does it mean?

Typically the secret symbols are the last things I carve upon my staffs, but I was struggling to know what to do about his head. Alas though I realised with some trepidation it was now time and that I had no choice but to resharpen my Swiss Army Knife and go to town on his features. The only thing I knew for certain is that I wanted strong features so that they stood out from between foot and leg. For that reason I gave him large brows and nose and big eyes with no eyelids. It was also important that he had a beard both because the bench end which initially inspired me had a beard and also it served as a cheat of sorts that would help blend the head into the shoulder without the problem of  having to make room for a neck!

A simple 'Bunn ' hat to  fit and roughing out beard and moustache
A big face to stand out against a monstrous foot

Finally I carved the beard choosing at the last moment to turn it into a 'goatee' rather than have it long and flowing over the shoulder as planned. I did have a go at a longer beard, but it just looked wrong. I also contented myself with carving hair flowing out from between the back of the leg and foot and was very pleased I did. As you'll see below it too just works.

The finished face. A bit more grumpy than intended, but then again you would be to if you had to balance on one large cheek!
What you lookin at?
Note the inserted wood on right sleeve
I like the idea that anyone seeing my staff from the back will think "what the ...."
Nice hair (Look closely) Note also thin sliver of light wood inserted into a scratch near top of foot
The hair flowing out the back seems to help balance the face at the front

Having finished the first stage of carving the sciapod it was time to saw it off the donor branch and join it to a longer staff. This is a first for me  as typically I carve them straight onto a longer piece of wood. This however was a special case as I needed a thicker piece of wood than normal to carve the desired detail and the Contributions Secretary who supplied said bough had nothing that was both thick and long. So much for that rumour then! No matter though, for I relished the chance of try a mortise and tenon joint to join my sciapod to another stick, a piece of beech that I found in my local woods. First I stripped it of bark. I don't always do this, but I knew that the beech bark would fall off quickly anyway and so preferred instead to stain it dark and so blend it with the bottom of the carving (See below) I then cut the mortise and tenon, chosen because they are strong and also because they are a very ancient joint and popular in medieval times. Both were roughly cut because the strength would come from glue and also from two pegs that were to be inserted into drilled holes through the side of the staff.

A medieval joint for a medieval sciapod
A tenon joint cut into the bottom of my carving
A mortise joint cut into the waiting beech staff already stripped of bark
The pegs in place

The mortise and tenon was easy, although drilling the holes for the pegs was problematic. Not least because the dry beech wood crumbled near the edges and I needed to insert tiny wedges around the pegs to hold them in place and to make all look neat. Once that was done all that was needed was some stain and I went for different colours, for even though the carving in the suffolk church that originally inspired me was not painted, many carvings, both stone and wood in medieval times were. And anyway as I used coloured wood stains, it was in effect a compromise, because the wood still shows through.  I did use silver paint on the belt studs and to highlight my secret symbols, because I wanted a flavour of medieval gaudiness. Once that was done all that remained was to wax the whole staff to feed and protect it and to make it look dam fine. Finally I added a leather thong knotted and tasselled as a finishing touch and tied about a notch cut at the joint between carving and beech staff, which also helped to disguise the join. I then spent the rest of the day feeling pretty pleased with meself and you can to.  So if you want to bask in your own creative genius why not get wood and even a Swiss Army Knife to carve it with.

Or do I mean whittle?...

For more pics of the finished staff see 'Craft your own Medieval Sciapod - Part One'
 +Many Coats+


  1. Why, oh why have there been no comments on this blog? I think the first picture put them off (the one with the raised leg), as it looked a bit like a serving-suggestion for a finished Sciapod to me, or the preliminary stages of a hip-replacement operation.

    I'm going to hide in a church 'till it's blown over.

    1. I'll have you know that Mrs Many Coats has two very fine and fully functional hips Tom. Although it isn't actually Mrs Many Coats of course. But if it was ....

  2. It's Tom Daley in the Pike Posistion!

  3. Masterly Sir! Although you weave a living through your tongue, your long lineage of carpenters clearly handed you a talent for handling your wood - a great gift indeed!