SHAPE UP Uncle Sam Five

   Posted by: woodbeecarver   in Carving Projects, Tutorials

The Uncle Sam Five carving project is a commission of five different poses of the character Uncle Sam.  Each one begins with a six and half inch tall by inch and half square block of basswood. The SHAPE UP process begins with the guiding concept of the Rule of Three for facial proportions and body proportions. The Wood Bee Carver has used the Rule of Three proportional guide since 1995 for carving and for instructions purposes for figures of various sizes since it is a “proportional” measurement of visual divisions of using eyes rather than a measuring rule.


The first “Shape Up” step is to carve the basic form of the head and head covering to approximate proportion at the top of the block. Begin by slicing the four corners which will create eight corners to slice away until a dowel shape is formed.  Next draw a center line across the top of the dowel to indicate the direction the face will be turned and then draw a line around the dowel to indicate the brim of the hat.  Using a slice and roll cut around the top edge of the brim line will begin the shaping of the top of the brim and the shape of the crown of the hat.  Continue to do these slice and roll cuts until an approximate size and shape of the top of hat is established. The bottom of the brim is next being made with a slice of the cutting edge making a stop cut under the brim followed with a gentle slice cut up to the stop cut of what will be the sides of the head. Do this slow and easy all around the bottom of the brim several times until the basic form of the face and head area are of approximate size by keeping in mind that more wood will be removed from the side of the head with less wood removed from the front to allow for the shaping of the face. The four photos below will show the progressive steps for the shaping of the hat and head portion.


Once the hat and head portion are carved to basic form, then the wood below the head portion is divided by the Rule of Three for Body Proportions ~ Shoulder to Waist; Waist to Mid Knees; Mid Knees to Bottom of Feet. An indication for the base is carved as a notch cut about a quarter of an inch at the bottom of the block on all four sides.  On one side of the block that represents the side of the body, make a dot with a pencil at the top of the shoulder area.  Between that shoulder dot and the notch at top of the base visually divide that area into three proportions by putting a pencil dot at the waist area and a pencil dot at the mid-knees area. Visually study the spaces between the dots to see if the proportions are about equal, if not move the pencil dots until there are three fairly equal proportions. When satisfied draw a horizontal line around the block at the Shoulder, a line drawn around the block at the Waist and a line is drawn around the block at the Mid Knees. Using these horizontal lines as a guide, the body parts can be drawn in each proportional area.

For example, for a male figure, the elbow is located a little above the waist line and the distance from shoulder to elbow and the elbow to the first row of knuckles are equal.  The arm laying at the side of the body will be drawn within the first proportion (shoulder to waist) and half way in the second proportion (waist to mid-knees) with the first row of knuckles in line with the crotch which is located half way between (waist and mid-knees). This example gives an idea of how one can draw various parts of the body, accessories, clothing, and hand-held objects or position of hands in the posture.

The next four photos will show the respective drawn guidelines for front, back and sides of each of the five Uncle Sam figures. The purpose of these guidelines is to guide the “design by carving” process of carving the basic form.  As wood is being sliced away using the drawn lines as guide towards which the design will appear as the wood is being removed.  The carver does not carve “to” the drawn lines but carves “toward” the line serving as a guide. While this is going on the design originating in the imagination can be adjusted, modified and positioned as the waste wood is removed and the design comes into focus.  This “design by carving” is still carving to the “basic form” and not the “detail” portion of the design.  Carving to “basic form” is to create a good foundation upon which to build in the “detail” final presentation of the design.  The “detail” step is to add the final refinement, adjustment and flair to the design or to add the proverbial “cherry on top” of the dessert.

The next series of photos will be highlighting portions of “carving to basic form” of each Uncle Sam with the first being the pose of the hands behind the back.


The second Uncle Sam is posed with hand in pocket and other hand on the lapel of his jacket.



The third Uncle Sam is posed with holding Bill Of Rights.



The fourth Uncle Sam is posed holding a scroll and a walking cane.

The fifth Uncle Same is posed holding both lapels.

The next series of photos will show the steps for carving the eyes in the basic form of each eye mound and then the progressive steps for carving the lips in the basic form of the mouth mound.  Carving the basic form of the face is guided by the Rule of Three for Facial proportions in three divisions: Hairline to Eyebrow ~ Eyebrow to Bottom of Nose ~ Bottom of Nose to Bottom of Chin.

The first photo below is the basic form of face with notch cuts under the eyebrows and notch cuts forming the bottom of nose and smile line including the ridge line of the mouth mound. The second photo shows a three cut triangular cut chip opening for the beginning of the eye mound where the eyes and bridge of the nose meet.


The next first photo below shows the eyes beginning to take shape which occurred with an eye mound carved for each eye is the shape of a football. In the football shape a small three cut triangular chip cut is made in the inside corner of each eye. With the tip of the blade a slicing stop cut begins in the chip cut with an arching slice to simulate the bottom of the upper eye lid ending at the bottom of the outside corner of the eye. Next, very fine and gentle slicing cuts up to the upper eye lid stop cut to begin to shape the eye ball with a small triangular chip cut made on the outside corner of the eye. Both the tear duct triangle chip and the outside corner chip with aid it rounding the eye ball at its sides. The second photo shows the rounded eye ball with a eye pupil formed by using the tip of the blade making a narrow stop cut under the upper eye lid and then with the tip of blade slicing under that narrow stop cut making a slice and roll action to take out a divot chip. The point of a lead pencil will be twisted in each pupil divot to highlight the pupil and then a pencil line with draw in the outline of the eye iris.


The next two photos highlight the completed face carving of the eyes, mouth mound and lips.


The steps for carving the mouth mound and lips are described in the following illustration which will be followed with a description of the six steps.

Step 1. Illustrates the shape of the mouth mound with the ridge of the mound being one third down between the nose and chin and is barrel shaped as it reaches around towards the smile line.

Step 2. Illustrates two shallow notch cuts that form a V shape to represent the cupid’s bow portion of the upper lip. (a notch cut is two angled slicing cut that meet where the two angles come together as in the bottom of a V of the notch.)

Step 3. Illustrates that one half of the lip is formed using two notch cuts with the first one beginning in the shallow cupid’s bow and slices towards the smile line and stopping in line with the nose nostril to open the upper lip. The opening for the bottom lip is the second angled cut beginning at the bottom of the cupid’s bow notch slicing under the first cut made for the upper lip creating a notch from center of cupid’s bow to the outside corner of the mouth.

Step 4. Illustrates carving the other half of the lip on the other side following the directions used from the previous step. When completed, the lips will begin to look natural realizing that there is more steps to continue to refine these opening steps.

Step 5.  Illustrates establishing the corners of the mouth by making a perpendicular cut in the bottom of the lip notch at the end of the lip as a stop cut so that it will be in line with an imaginary line down from the center of the eye.  Place the tip of the knife blade at the outside end of the stop cut on the bottom lip area, make a small slice and roll slice to remove a divot from the bottom lip on both of the outside ends of the lips.  This cut will give the appearance that the bottom lip at the outside corners of the mouth are recessed under the upper lip. The upper lip and bottom lip are gradually shaped to widen or thicken the lips to refine the notch openings of the lips. The bottom of the lip is now refined with slice and roll cuts down from under the bottom lip towards the area between the lips and the chin to form the upper area of chin at the same time. Begin angling from the corner divot towards the chin on each side of the bottom lip and then under the center area under the bottom lip do the same slice and roll cuts.

Step 6. Illustrates the continuing refining and detailing cuts to blend the mouth with the rest of the face around the jaw area. The philtrum is formed by standing the front end of the cutting edge of knife blade at the upper curve of cupid’s bow imagining that that the knife blade is an ice skate and as the blade is sliced gently forwards towards the nose in its standing position, roll the knife so that a thin sliver wood is slicing in a slice and roll action to create a soft grove or trough.


Ninety percent of any carving project is carving to the basic form and ten percent is reserved for the final carving in the details.  Keep in mind a rule of experience that “One cut is not a cut to end all cuts but is the beginning of more cuts to follow.”  Carvers learn by carving with the experience of learning that the more one carves the better one carves. A well know carver and instructor, Gerald Sears, said, “Every carving project is practice for the next carving project.”  It has been said that “Practice makes perfect,” but in the reality of creativity in the arts it is more correct to say, “Practice makes progress.”


“Keep carving and carving will keep you carving,” says the Old Carver.

The WOOD BEE CARVER Motto: “Would be carvers would be carvers if they would carve wood.”


Click on   Gallery ~ Uncle Sam Five to see the finished Uncle Sam five in their colored presentation.










This entry was posted on Saturday, April 27th, 2024 at 12:04 pm and is filed under Carving Projects, Tutorials. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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