Carving a Wood Cross with Rings – For Non-Christians Too!

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Here’s a woodcarving I designed almost 20 years ago. It just seemed like it’d be cool. I got around to actually making it only 3 years ago. Hey, I’m prompt: no matter how long it takes! There’s nothing particularly difficult about making this piece. Just pay attention to what you’re doing, be patient and it will come out just fine.

Laying out the cut lines
Laying out the cut lines

The first step is to lay out your cut lines. Mine began as a 3¼ x 5¼ x 10½” chunk of Douglas fir. Not the most carver-friendly species but I managed to chisel it without splitting it to pieces by using stop cuts and making small chips. Forget whittling Doug fir with a knife. It’s doable if you avoid the knots (there’s a big ole knot in this piece) but your sore hands and perpetually dull knife will hate you for it. This was a job for saws, files and chisels. Especially at this scale. But there’s no reason why you couldn’t whittle the Cross with Rings in softer, more even-grained wood. And, like virtually all “trick carving”, you can easily scale it larger or smaller as needed.

The cross itself (excluding the base) is nearly 5¼” inch wide and 8¼” inches tall: the “divine proportion”. Unintentional; But how fitting! The centerline of the horizontal “arms” lies right at 5¾” up from the bottom of the vertical. The diagonal ring is set at 45 degrees. I avoided that knot you see as much as I could, though it did engulf part of the lower ring, adding character (and a lot more work). I made the “head and arms” of the cross almost equal in length, with the head a tad bit shorter. The horizontal and vertical members of the cross measure a little larger than 3/4” square in cross section.

The front profile cut via bandsaw
The front profile cut via bandsaw

Cut the front profile with a band saw. Next, cut on the lines you see near the ends of the lower ring to make it square.

Photo 3

Lay the piece on its side and band saw the side profile, both above and below the horizontal ring. The areas marked in black need to be removed next; This should not be done with the band saw.

A hand-held mini hacksaw comes in handy at this stage
A hand-held mini hacksaw comes in handy at this stage

The waste wood above the diagonal ring can be removed with a regular handsaw. But the sections below are too cramped: Cue hacksaw blade in cheapie handle. The use of saws allows for quick removal of waste material while pretty much eliminating any chance of splitting during the rough-out stage.

It's starting to look like something here
It’s starting to look like something here

Now that everything is roughed out it’s time to begin carving. Work on the lower ring first. A bench vise served to hold the piece still while I used a ¼” flat carpenters chisel with a mallet to remove material from inside the ring.

Vise, vise, baby! A secure hold helps with the carving.
Vise, vise, baby! A secure hold helps with the carving.

Photo 7

For best results, work at it from both sides and meet somewhere near the middle.

The lower ring is free!
The lower ring is free!

And now that the lower ring is loose I can work on the diagonal ring.

Good clamping support in action
Good clamping support in action

Clamping this way provides lots of support, which is highly desirable when dealing with long areas of cross or diagonal grain like this, especially with such a crack prone piece of wood.

Photo 10

Photo 11

See how I’ve trenched around the cross? Do the same from underneath as well. Since the grain is running diagonally through this ring, the ends pose an extra challenge. Be careful not to tear out the inside of the ring at the ends. The grain will try to steer your cutting tool (1/4” chisel, in this case) right off the nearest cliff. Take charge: Grab the wheel and warn that grain that it does NOT want you to pull this car over!

Nibble away a little at a time, trying to keep as close to the cross as possible without cutting into it. You could also use a roto-tool to cut this ring loose and the grain may not be as feisty.

Measure twice, carve once - this was cutting it close!
Measure twice, carve once – this was cutting it close!

Be careful: If you open the ends up too much the ring will come right off. See how close mine is? That ¼” chisel was almost too wide to cut the ends of the ring loose with. I got lucky. This wouldn’t be an issue if the “head and arms” were longer.

Now begins the filing, sanding, a little bit of knife work, a bunch more filing and sanding. Then some more filing and sanding. The actual amount of which will depend on how accurately your cuts have been executed and how tough the wood is.

Things are taking shape nicely here.
Things are taking shape nicely here.

Here, the lower ring is almost done. It can take a lot of work to straighten, round and smooth this stuff. My choice of woods only added to the required effort. It was a labor of love.

If you're going to do the optional stippling, you'll need a palm gouge.
If you’re going to do the optional stipling, you’ll need a palm gouge.

Once the cross and rings portion is shaped and smoothed, grab a small curved palm gouge and stipple the base. Stippling is the process of making lots of small dimples to create a texture.

Photo 15

See how the small act of stippling added interest to the otherwise uneventful base? It gives a chiseled stone or hammered appearance. Visually, it really livens things up.

Behold, the final product!
Behold, the final product!

Finally, finish the piece with a bunch of coats of spray polyurethane or clear lacquer. In the end, this awesome piece probably won’t save many souls. But it’ll sure impress the “hell” out of them!

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About Steve

Steve made his first woodworking project at age 9 (in 1982) and whittled his first wooden chain at 18. He was also a consumer electronics repair tech and shop owner for a little over 20 years, until his impending obsolescence became impossible to ignore. Since then, Steve has focused passionately on manipulating his wood... in his workshop. Don't judge him.

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4 thoughts on “Carving a Wood Cross with Rings – For Non-Christians Too!”

  1. Wow i love this. Hopefully it doesn’t take me as long to get going on it. Although I have had a piece of walnut in my shop for many years waiting to be made into a table. Would pine be a more workable wood?

    • Thank you, Rich. Pine would definitely be more workable than the Douglas fir I used. If you make one, feel free to send me a picture and I’ll include it in a future YouTube video.


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