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Custom-Carved Corbels

Custom-Carved Corbels

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As part of a job finishing a side-porch addition to a Victorian home, I had to reproduce six decorative corbels. The original models were installed on the existing front porch as up-easings between the columns and railing. To begin, I traced a corbel onto a piece of paper and sketched in the carved details. Next, I transferred the paper pattern to a piece of 1/2-inch plywood, cut it out on a band saw, and sanded the edges smooth. I used this template to make the blanks, band-sawn from clear, straight-grained 2x6 framing lumber and cleaned up with a top-bearing pattern bit in my router. Areas tighter than the router-bit diameter took a bit of hand finishing. I transferred the leaf outlines to the corbels by poking a sharp pencil through the paper pattern into the wood, then carved the detail using razor knives, chisels, and files; I also did some hand-sanding. It took about 18 hours to complete the six pieces. For decay resistance, I soaked the corbels overnight in green wood preservative. I let them dry for about two months, then primed and painted them, and installed them with exterior trim-head screws. I believe this corbel design was originally intended as a metaphor for the three phases of life: at the base, infancy; in the middle, youth; and at the extremity, adulthood the leaves respectively curled, partially unfurled, and fully opened. — Brian Campbell is a carpenter in Minnesota City, Minn.