At the beginning of this year I was approached by a bespoke stair manufacturing company that had an interesting project that they were working on. The idea was to terminate the handrail of a custom designed flight of stairs with a large horse sculpture with the wild mane flowing into and becoming the hand rail itself. The first job was to design and produce a scale model in Plasticine, that (once given the “OK” from the clients) could be used to help calculate the wood requirements for the full size piece. As the entire flight of stairs and handrail were being produced in solid oak, so would the horse. No practically sourced, single piece of oak would be large enough and stable enough for the job, so it was decided to carve the piece from 3 inch thick boards, laminated together (see right).
Once the wood had been prepared, the fun part of carving on this scale could begin. A tried and tested method of scaling up a sculpture from a smaller maquette, is to build two frames (different in size relative to the percentage of increase one requires). These are then placed over both model and the carving to be. Very importantly these must be removable (for carving access), but must always be placed back in exactly the same position. Then measurements can be taken from the edges of the smaller frame to the surface of the maquette. This measurement is then multiplied by the correct percentage and this measurement is used from the corresponding point on the larger frame to indicate where the surface of the wood should be carved to.
Because the stairs had already been constructed and fitted into the clients house, it was very important that where the mane tapered down and turned the corner, it would have to match up exactly with the rail. Not just to meet up with a single point in space, but to blend in at exactly the same angle as the stair rail. This was possibly the trickiest part of the project, as I wasn’t carving the horse in location. Several trips to the clients home, with several different tapes measures (I took an average of the combined readings) were required to give me peace of mind. The actual carving went very well, oak is a lovely wood to get to grips with.
Once the carving was completed it was fitted into place at the bottom of the clients nice new staircase.
This process took two days; one day to joint in, glue and clamp the mane to the hand rail, the second (after the glue had cured overnight) was spent carving the last few inches of mane and blending it into the fixed rail.
The photo left shows the finished horse in place, just waiting for the French polisher to apply the final finish to match its colour in with the rest of the staircase.