I’m back with another of my Tips & Tricks Blogs with some (hopefully!) useful tips for fellow sculptors! Hopefully others find it interesting too though!
I’ve recently completed a large dragon sculpture that needed several pieces adding on. I thought I’d walk you through that process and share some tips for constructing large sculptures. I hope you find it helpful!
Why Do Sculptors Use Multiple Pieces in Their Work?
Using multiple pieces for a sculpture definitely adds a challenge! However, it’s often unavoidable. I carve a lot of large-scale works, and in many cases need to add pieces for width or height. In the dragon I’m working on for example, it has widespread wings and long-reaching neck. Quite simply, there isn’t a piece of timber big enough to cover all those dimensions so I have to construct the sculpture in a few pieces and attach them.
This isn’t unique to me or uncommon. In fact, there’s evidence that artists created sculptures in multiple pieces since early Greek and Roman times. If you look closely, a number of ancient sculptures have visible joints with locating pegs. There are also lots of example of sculptures with pieces missing and we can see the flat surface where that piece was attached.
Tips for Constructing Large Sculptures: Ways of Attaching Pieces
There are numerous ways to add parts on to a sculpture, including use of screws or bolts, glue, or dowels. It’s worth noting that I always use glue in addition to any joint to ensure no water ingress into the join.
With much of the wood I use being green/wet, I’ve found the only glue that holds and sets well is polyurethane glue. This glue sets faster when it is on a wet surface, and expands to fill cavities, making it ideal for large wood sculpture construction.
Traditional style mortise and tenon joints are great if you can be really precise. However I’ve found they’re not ideal for my large-scale pieces. It’s hard to find a way of creating such joints when the grain of the timber may not necessarily be going in the right direction.
Metal fixings (eg timber screws or coach bolts) are a strong way of joining in conjunction with glue. However, it can be tricky if I need to do additional shaping or detail afterwards and I have to be super careful as chainsaws don’t like hitting metal!
Using Wooden Dowel for Constructing Large Sculptures
So, with mortise and tenon joints and metal fixings being less than ideal, what do I actually do when constructing large sculptures?
After years of carving, I’ve found that if a piece needs shaping afterwards, it’s far better joining it with wooden dowel. It holds the joint securely and I can easily cut through the any excess dowel afterwards without damaging my tools. Let me break down the process with some photos to illustrate…
Create two flat surfaces where the pieces will be attached
Join and glue the two surfaces. Clamp or screw until the glue dries.
Remove the screws/clamp. Drill holes through the joint in several places, ensuring they are the right size for the dowel.
Glue the dowel into the holes. Once dry, continue shaping the surface – as shown below!
This technique has proved extremely effective on my large-sclae sculptures, including The Dragon of Bethesda, Love Leading the Pilgrim, and many more. Did you find this walk-through helpful? What tips do you have for attaching large pieces? Drop a comment and let me know! And watch out on my socials for the finished dragon, coming soon!
If you would like to commission a sculpture contact me via www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/