25 October 2012

VIKING EPICSAUCE: Behind the Scenes (A Very Long Entry)

Today I'm going to talk about the process I used to make the Viking Casket, aka The A&S Project That Wouldn't Die, or The @$%#^%&!! Viking Box.

You guys know what Scope Creep is, right?  YEESH.  This was a nifty project to work on, don't get me wrong, but it ended up involving a LOT more work than I thought it would, and took a LOT longer than I thought it would, and was a LOT harder than I thought it would be.  I bled.

So, this was a $3 hobby store unfinished wooden box.   I really wanted to simulate the look and feel of ivory on the finished piece, but I wasn't sure how - clay? Jewelry plastic?  I'd never worked with either of those things.  I decided to go with what I knew: decorative painting and faux finishes.  There was a bit more to it than that, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

First I primed the box with white paint.  Then I went looking for designs, LOL.  I did a bit more research than simply finding two extant Viking caskets on a website somewhere;  I wanted to make this fit my recipient's persona as nicely as possible, so I learned about various styles of Viking carvings and art through the ages.  (And yes, I looked at more than Wikipedia, for you research nuts reading this).  The two designs I chose are in the Borre style of Viking animal carvings.  The oblong design on the top of the box is oblong for a reason - it's copied from a rather common style of Viking brooch. The other motif along the sides is based on some modern recreationist jewelry pieces I found that were themselves based on, I believe, extant horse tack hardware.  (And no, I don't have documentation on this, as only minimal docu was required for this project).  Anyway, I sized the images on my computer and printed them out to the scale I needed, and then traced them onto the box with sewing tracing paper.  Because the chalk from the paper was rubbing off like crazy, I traced over the lines with a pencil.  Which I should NOT have done.

I gold-leafed my nails, lol. 

Here's me doing the first round of carving the designs into the wood.  It's hard to tell, but because of the pencil marks, all the cut lines came out black.  I really wasn't happy with that, because it meant more work for me to correct it.  But first I also had to go back and bevel the edges of each cut to widen the marks and soften the edges.

Keep in mind, here, that I am not a wood-carver, and have NEVER carved wood before.  What was I saying earlier about sticking with what I knew?  Yeah.  I have no idea where the carving idea even came from.  Originally I was just going to straight-up trompe l'oeil this thing.

These are my "carving tools".   I mentioned I'm not a wood carver, right?

  • butter knife
  • paring knife (I used the back of the blade, which required me to layer my fingers with several band-aids, a glove ,and wrap the blade of the knife in leather, since I had to press against the blade of the knife to control it!)
  • a small awl, which didn't work at awl
  • a crochet hook, which I actually used to trace the designs onto the box with the sewing paper
  • an X-Acto knife, which I used to make all the initial cuts, and which gave me a MASSIVE blister on top of a callous, which I didn't even know was possible.  I thought that's what callouses were *for*.  

there's kind of a sneak preview in this picture. 
Anyhoo, the next step, as I said, was to fix those black carved lines.  I wanted the finished effect here to be very warm, aged, but not dirty looking.  

Enter the first paint color:  Weird Tan (that's what I'm calling it).  It's a 99c generic acrylic craft paint.  I smashed it on with a small stippling brush to get it into all the lines, and then smoothed off the excess with a wet paper towel, which also served to "stain" the background a bit and make it look aged.  It accentuated the wood grain on the box a bit, but I liked the effect. 

top: another necessary part of this project - CAFFEINE

With the same paint, on a moist brush, I started painting in the background shadows of the designs etched into the sides.  

Since my carvings weren't very deep, I used paint to give the impression of a much more serious carving than I'm capable of delivering.  I really, really loved the way it came out.  

After the tan background and "shadows" came some highlights with plain white acrylic paint.  

Easy 2-step paint process?  Nope.  I actually went back over the design about three times with both colors, adding and shading and lightening, until I had a soft but obvious 3-D effect.  I paid special attention to the eyes and the ridges on the snake's (?) back, which were very pronounced in extant animal carvings. 

I love this paint, but I don't have brush cleaner.  
I used nail polish remover.  

Here's where it gets cheesy.  I really wanted to do the edging on this box in real metal - not that I work with metal, but hey, I don't carve wood, either.  At first I couldn't find gold-colored metal thin enough for this project.  Finally I found some sheets of stamping/etching metal in the jewelry section of my local Michael's, but (a) it was really expensive, and (b) it came in packages of 2 pieces each of gold, copper, and silver - I would have to have bought three packages, and then what would I do with the other colors??   And so we have:  popsicle sticks painted with Liquid Leaf gold leafing paint.  I'm not even kidding. 

The next step is where we go from plain ol' painted wood to faux-ivory finish.  It worked out so incredibly well, I'm actually impressed that I thought of it, although I have no clue why it even occurred to me to try it - it just did. 

Wood glue. 


You know what wood glue feels like when it dries; and how it has that sort of creamy, yellowy-clear sheen to it?  That's exactly what I wanted.  So, with a very soft, wide fan brush, I painted the entire box with wood glue.  The fan brush was so that I could sweep the glue on very evenly, without leaving streaks or ridges in the glue.  It wasn't hard to paint with, but it sure was different.  

After one smooth coat over the entire box, basically to seal and color it, I glued the popsicle sticks on.   Then I painted another coat of glue on each panel of the box individually, staying away from the very edges, to give the appearance of a slightly-raised panel.  

The glue fell into the cuts in the wood, just like I'd envisioned (thank goodness), and it really does feel smooth and hard, just like ivory or bone or horn.  The top of the box came out a leeetle bit more yellow than I wanted, but it does this nifty thing where it very gradually and evenly gets darker towards the center...just like an old natural material would, so, I'm actually pretty pleased with it. 

After that was dry, I used wood filler to putty the small gaps in between the pieces of popsicle stick, and then painted over all the trim with the gold leaf paint again, and then sealed the trim with Polycrylic. 

the inside is just painted purple. 
The "rivets" in the gold edging are actually the heads of teeny-tiny brass brads from the scrapbooking section of the craft store.  I looked high and low for gold nails or tacks of the right size, and they were nowhere to be found.  ARGH.  But these guys were just right.  The brad "stems" were far too flimsy to nail into the wood like nails, though.  I clipped them off with a toenail clippers (the only thing I had that was both strong enough to cut this thin metal, and small enough to get in there - scissors and nippers were far too large for the job), leaving about half a millimeter of stem on each one.  

I simply glued them in place with more wood glue, and then tapped them in gently with a small hammer, so that the remaining stem on each head would grab the wood underneath and help it hold. 

Later, a friend of mine asked me why I hadn't just drilled tiny pilot holes and tapped in the brads with a bit of glue.  Genius!  I totally didn't even think of that.  

So, there you have it!  



  1. AS I said before: FAB-yoo-LUSS!!

    A note on the tranferring of desing--in case you go completely insane again and wish to make a similar item *eh hem*--using tracing paper, trace your design, then on the bottom side, use a soft colored pencil in the desired color rub the color fairly thickly over the lines. Cut the paper to the size of the box top or side where you want the design, then take one of those big pencils we used in kindergarten to trace fairly hard over the lines. I say use that kind of pencil for two reasons--oh and don't have a sharp point on it--one so that it's less likely to tear your paper, and two, you can see where you've already drawn.

    And? Call me to borrow my wood carving tools. LOL Although I think you did a marvelous job with what you have. <3

  2. I left out taping the the paper to the box...but you'd figure that part out.

  3. Oh, cool, thank you! You know, I MIGHT do this again. It was just fun enough to make me think I might actually love doing this if I had the proper materials. :o)


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