A few weeks back, I did a few test carves of the Papal seal. Those were for my next project. My friend Dave had the honor of being in charge of building the altar and chairs for the Pope’s visit, back in 2008. Now, he has been tasked with building the furniture for Pope Francis’ visit in September. Dave asked me if I could create a relief carving of the Papal seal. The carved panel will be going into the seat back of the Papal chair. How cool is that?
I spent several days creating and tweaking a 3D model of the seal, until I came up with something that I could use on my Carvewright CNC.
Once it was approved, Dave gave me two beautiful pieces of cherry, and I got to work.
These two boards were cut side by side from the same tree. The blade of his sawmill is rather thick, so they don’t appear to be book-matched, but the grain-match is close enough that the joint shouldn’t be too noticeable.
I cut the first board to length, then cleaned up the sides on my table saw.
Dave cuts and air-dries his own wood, so there is a bit of a twist. I adjusted the stand-off screws on my planer sled, to support the twist, then ran it through the planer.
After flattening one side, I flipped the board and planed the other side parallel, and took the thickness down to 3/4″.
I had to upgrade the software on my carver to accommodate the new 1/32″ carving bit that Carvewright now offers. I usually carve with a 1/16″ carving bit and a 1/8″ cutting bit. The new bit is supposed to be able to achieve a higher level of detail, so I thought it would be worth the investment for this project.
It took about 6 hours to carve an approximately 9″x14″ area, but it turned out great. The new bit does do a finer detail job with the carving, but it still leaves quite a lot of fuzzy grain sticking out.
To tackle the fuzzy bits, I picked up a set of small brass wire brushes for my dremel tool, and gave them a try.
It did a surprisingly gentle job of removing the fuzzy bits without tearing up the details. I had to slow the speed down a lot when I started getting hit in the face with all the bristles that were tearing out of the brush. You can see all the loose bristles in the picture below.
I pretty much wore out one of the brushes and had to switch to a different one, but they did a good job. Well worth the $3 I spent…
The next challenge is getting the rest of the surface of the board down flush to the background of the carve. I started by running the board, on edge, through the table saw in an attempt to re-saw most of it away.
Figuring the rails on either side of the carve would be more difficult to do later, I cut them out by hand first.
I had hoped to be able to re-saw the main areas on the band saw and save the veneer, but I failed. I probably should have loaded a wider blade, but the blade bowed and cut through the surface.
Giving up on that notion, I decided to make a router sled and use a bowl cutting bit to hog out the excess.
After setting up a backer board and clamping some parallel rails to it, I grabbed a piece of flat 3/4″ plywood.
I traced my router base plate and drilled out the mounting holes.
After counter-boring the holes, I attached the plywood to my router and installed the bit.
I attached stops to the end of the sled to prevent damage to the rails, and added some stops to the rails to keep the router away from the carving.
It was a bit crude, but after a couple passes, I was able to take the router down to my desired level.
I finished up both sides. Taking my time, it still took a little under an hour to do.
I cleaned up the sides, next to the carve with my block plane, then took my smoothing plane to the rest of the surface to get any high spots.
Setting that panel aside, I ripped the remaining cherry board in half and cut it down to 5′ long. Neither side of the board was straight enough so I drilled a couple counter-bored holes into my planer sled and added a couple of hold-down clamps. This effectively turned the planing sled into a straight-line cutting jig.
After a couple of passes the edges were straight enough for joining.
Next step was to adjust the planing sled to flatten these boards as well.
I planed them both down to just a few thousandths thicker than the carved panel, and applied glue to the edges.
I used most of my longer clamps to clamp the whole thing together.
I worked all evening till about midnight, so I am knocking off for the day. Hopefully with just a little sanding and scraping I will have a nice flat carved panel to turn over to my friend Dave for finishing and installation into the Papal chair.
It looks beautiful!
What an honor this job is and very well executed by you
Thank you both. It is always fun working on new challenges. I get really self-conscious working on something a lot of people might see though.
so exciting to see your photos and progress. thank you for taking on the challenge and creating beautiful artwork for The Pope.
Wow, just Perfectly Papal! Good job, also to the photographer
What a wonderful team!
I am dazzled by the dedication to detail and precision.
what a special privilege! would this friend Dave be my Deacon Dave?
Of course. He always gets the fun projects.
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