Scallop shells, stylized sunbursts and fans were popular carvings applied to Queen Anne, Georgian, and Chippendale furniture throughout the 18th Century. Carved by hand, decorative motifs like the one at right were commonly found on the aprons of highboys. They were also used to adorn the knees of cabriole legs and the fronts of central drawers.
Sculpting the shell surface
Draw the shell pattern full-size on a sheet of paper, then transfer your design to a hardwood blank of the desired thickness. Cut the edges of the blank on the band saw and fasten it to a backup board. Secure the backup board to a work surface. Start sculpting the surface of the shell using a flat gouge (above, left),
working in the direction of the wood grain. Then transfer the vein lines from your pattern to the blank, and use a parting chisel to etch the lines into the wood (above, right). Cut from the bottom of the blank to the top; to avoid tearout, stop each cut near the top and complete it from the opposite direction.
Rounding the rays
Once all the veins have been cut, use the flat gouge to round the contours of the rays between the vein lines. Start by making the surfaces of all the rays convex (or crowning outward). To finish carving the pattern, carve a concave valley into every second ray with a narrow-blade gouge (left). The surfaces of adjacent rays should curve in opposite directions, alternating between convex and concave. Use a parting tool to carve the veins in the wings at the lower sides of the shell (photo, page 136). Once you are satisfied with the shape of the shell, sand the surface lightly. Then detach it from the backup board and glue it in place on the front of the lower chest, using brads to help locate it (page 123) and clamps to hold it in place while the adhesive dries.
2 Cutting away the remaining waste
Once you have finished shaping one edge of the volute, detach the molding from the waste using the band saw. To keep the blade from binding in the kerf, make a release cut through the waste, stopping at the pattern line. Then saw along the line, feeding the workpiece with both hands (right). Make sure that neither hand is in line with the blade.
Shaping the volutes on the router table
The curved moldings, called volutes, which decorate the apron of the lower chest, are shaped partially with the router, as shown at left, and partially by hand, as in step 3. Start by making a cardboard template of the molding, then transfer your pattern to a workpiece of the desired thickness. Leave enough waste on the stock to feed it safely across the router table. Cut along one of the pattern lines on the band saw, exposing one edge of the molding. To shape this edge, install a piloted round-over bit in a router and mount the tool in a table. Rather than making the cut freehand, clamp a pivot point to the table in line with the bit, using a brace to steady it. As you feed the workpiece into the bit, brace the stock against the pivot point (left). Make sure you keep the workpiece flush against the bit pilot.
3 Hand-shaping the second edge
Secure a backup board to a work surface and clamp the molding to the board. Round over the second edge of the volute with a gouge, copying the profile produced by the router bit in step 1 (right). Shape the edge until its contours are smooth; try as much as possible to cut with the grain. Remove the molding from the backup board and sand the surface lightly.