John Adamson’s Angelfish

A client asked me to carve an angelfish.   At first she wanted it for outside, but was put off by the price of really decent plywood. I had suggested plywood, as some parts of the carving are very thin and might break and fall off along the line of the grain, and I thought that the colours of the different the ply as they were exposed during the carving process would simulate the colours of the fish. I was not unhappy with that decision as getting a smooth surface on ply is difficult.   Finally we settled on a 30cm ( to include the base) fish in ash with a pine base.     This is lockdown so I could only offer the wood I had in stock.   The next problem was deciding which angelfish.   Look at Google shows lots of varieties, and I chose a drawing, as it gave a very good side view, and lots of the decisions and simplifications had already been sorted.     The other problem was the front view.    Google gave me a whole screen full of side views but only 2 front views.    I made a decision about the shape : that it should be almost round at the bottom of the fish and slope up to a narrower edge at the top.

Front view











side view



















Back View


Drawing found on Google and used as a guide for the carving











I flipped the drawing on the computer, printed each side, stuck one print on the wood, and carefully cut round with a bandsaw.     I stuck the other print on the other side, carefully lining them up using the mouth and the end of the back fin for accuracy.

1st stage of carving











I had left a chunk of wood in front of the top fin and for the first stage of carving held the carving by this in a vice.     The vice is fixed on a revolving carvers clamp, allowing easy access to all sides.   At this stage I have only roughly carved the top and bottom fins.   I looked carefully at the grain and bent the fin to the grain to give the fin long grain strength.

2nd stage of carving










I have removed the “holding” chunk of wood as this had become a nuisance, and used the tail fin instead for clamping the wood.      The body of the fish has been carved roughly to shape, but leaving the side fins untouched so that I could use them to hold the wood when the tail was carved away.   The face has been carved and is almost finished.

3rd stage










Here I have carved the detail on to the top fin.     I carved a pattern rather than attempt to be realistic.

4th stage










The bottom fin has been carved in a similar pattern to the top.   The ventral fins are a problem.   In many angelfish they are so ridiculously thin that they would be guaranteed to brake in the post or when someone dusted them.   I had very carefully chosen a fish with thick ventral fins to copy.   I left as much wood on them as I could.   The ventral fins are the first fins on the lower side of the fish behind the face.

5th stage












A front view of the fish.  I had spent sometime getting the two sides of the face equal and opposite, and sanded it smooth.

6th stage











The back fin has been carved but the side fins still have their paper on them as that is where I was clamping them.      The sides of the fish have been chiselled to shape but need a final scrape with the side of a knife.   The side fins were carved later.














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