Carving the ear

Carving the ear

Andrew Thomas carves a human ear

I am going to demonstrate the techniques necessary to carve the human ear. Ears are arguably the most challenging facial detail to carve correctly, not because of any awkward or difficult detail per se, but because of the almost nondescript shape and the subtle variations of depths across their entire form. It is therefore essential to enlist the help of a willing model, who can sit with you at various stages of the work so that you have a real-life, 3D example to study, visually understand and re-create. I have also supplied the real-life images for this exercise, which will be of some help when your model is not available.
Before you start the carving exercise let’s take a look at the anatomy of the ear to break it down into its individual parts, which will help you to understand all of the various details that you will be reproducing. Starting at the lowest position of the ear, the ‘lobule’ – or lobe as most people know it – attaches to the side of the face at its inner corner and is simply a fleshy flap of skin without much detail unless pierced. Just above the lobule is an area of cartilage called the ‘antitragus’, which generally projects outwards, in a bulbous form, from the upper surface of the lobule and extends around under the ‘concha of auricle’, and joins the ‘tragus’. The tragus is another firm area of cartilage on the side of the face next to the ‘canal’. Just above the tragus is the curved upper-part of the ear called the ‘helix’, which extends all of the way around and back down to the lobule. Moving to the inner ear now, the fold next to the helix, which extends from the lobule upwards is called the ‘antihelix’. This curves upwards and around, terminating inside the crease of the helix. The widest area of it has a concave undulation called the ‘triangular fossa’, which also flows into the helix crease. Directly below the antihelix is the ‘cymba cavity/concha of auricle’, which flows down into the ‘canal’; the deepest visible area of the external ear. Please study your model carefully to understand how these subtle anatomical details connect with one another and how their shapes and depths flow around and into the ear.
Things you will need
• Swiss:
No.2, 5mm gouge
No.2, 10mm gouge
No.5, 20mm gouge
No.7, 4mm gouge
No.7, 6mm gouge
No.7, 14mm gouge
No.8, 4mm gouge
No.9, 7mm gouge
No.9, 10mm gouge
No.11, 1mm gouge
No.11, 2mm gouge
No.11, 3mm gouge
• Knife
• Vernier callipers
• 3mm sphere carbide burr
• 3-4mm sphere diamond burr
• Power carving tools are not essential to carve the ears, but are far more effective in accessing the depths and hollows that are necessary to create the realism
• English lime (Tilia vulgaris) 60mm length × 32mm width × 35mm depth

Anatomy of an ear

A real ear

1: The first step in carving the ear is to scan or photocopy the scale drawings provided, enlarging them to the correct size for your wood and print them out onto card to use as templates. You can then transfer the side view design onto your block of wood, ensuring that the grain direction is running vertically. Next, cut or carve this side view out and accurately apply the rear view of the ear onto the rear side of the wood

2: Once your block of wood is prepared, it is then on to the carving. Using a No.7, 14mm gouge, carve directly along the outside of this line to pare the wood away around the shape of the ear down to the lobule

3: Using a No.9, 10mm gouge, carve along the outside of the line, in towards the centre of the ear until you reach a depth of approximately 10mm

4: The rear side of your ear should look something like this – the detail will be finished later

5: Next, accurately, apply the front view profile of the ear onto the front face of the wood

6: Using a No.5, 20mm gouge, pare away the waste wood from the rear edge of the ear, across to the outer edge of the helix and tragus on the front view

7: The lobule can now be carved in its approximate position. Use a No.9, 7mm gouge to pare away the waste wood from the inner edge of the front view position, to approximately halfway along its lower line on the side view position. The ear is now roughed out to its basic shape and ready for the anatomical details to be applied

8: Using the scale drawing, accurately draw the anatomical details in their correct positions onto your wood. The first cut to make is along the line separating the helix from the antihelix and down into the concha of auricle. The depth of the helix/antihelix separating line fades in from the rear edge of the ear and then increases in depth as it flows around and down into the concha of auricle. Use a No.11, 3mm gouge to accurately carve a groove all of the way around this line

9: Swap to a No.11, 2mm gouge and again to a No.11, 1mm, further deepening the groove as you work away from the outer edge and down into the concha of auricle

10: Use a 3mm carbide cutter to deepen the groove further as it flows down into the concha of auricle. Or, continue with the No.11 gouge until you reach the point where the straight tools are no longer effective, then swap to spoon bend tools. The ‘crus helix’ curves into the ear at a considerable angle. Study the reference material supplied and your model. Use a No.2, 5mm to start curving the end of the crus helix into the concha of auricle

11: You should now have enough access in the ear to start curving over the edges of the antihelix into the groove created in steps 8-10

12: Transfer the precise position of the triangular fossa onto your wood and check that the line of the antihelix/concha of auricle hasn’t wandered. Use a No.7, 4mm to cut a deep groove into the fossa

13: Study the reference material and your model to gain an understanding of the hollow area inside the helix. This generally flows from halfway up the helix on the outer edge of the ear, around to the termination of the crus helix in the concha of auricle. Use the 3mm carbide cutter to create this hollowed effect, or use the 3, 2 and 1mm No.11s, carving inwards into the helix

14: Deepen the concha of auricle until you reach around 14mm deep, using a Vernier calliper to verify this. Then, continue developing the angle and shape of the crus helix into the concha of auricle

15: Now onto the tragus, antitragus and lobule. The tragus is the first detail to form. When observed from the front, its form at the highest position next to the aperture of the concha of auricle, can clearly be seen to be at a lower angle from the adjoining antitragus. Use a No.7, 6mm to pare the wood away from the lowest position of the concha of auricle up to the crus helix. Use the same tool to pare away the area to the left of it to create the slightly raised inner edge

16: The shape of the antitragus is quite bulbous in its form. This detail is produced quite simply by reducing the depths of the adjoining antihelix and lobule, leaving it naturally raised. Start by using a No.8, 4mm to carve a deep groove underneath the antihelix, into the concha of auricle

17: Curve the sharp upper edge naturally into the concha of auricle and then sand the complete area with 100 grit abrasive to blend all of the depths evenly together

18: Use the No.8, 4mm to carve a deep groove underneath the antitragus into the lobule area. Use the No.7, 6mm, to blend the depths of these details together to create the raised and bulbous appearance of the antitragus over the lobule underneath it

19: Delineate the lower edge of the lobule by simply cutting around its shape with a No.11, 2mm, then sand over all of the details with 100 grit abrasive

20: Produce the deep canal at the position of the inner corner of the concha of auricle, behind the tragus and also make a slight curved undercut of depth all of the way around the shape of the concha of auricle. Draw the exact location of the canal onto your wood and use the 3mm carbide cutter to burrow deep down in this position and then create the curved undercut around the shape of the concha of auricle. Alternatively, use a 3mm brad-toothed wood bit to drill a series of small holes carefully in this position and then make good with either 100 grit abrasive or a small riffler file. The curved undercut can be made with the No.8, 4mm

21: Use a 3 or 4mm diamond burr to smooth over the wood into the deep canal and around the entire inner surface of the concha of auricle and helix/antihelix. Alternatively, use a piece of abrasive rolled up tightly or around a small piece of dowel

22: The inner and outer edges of the helix can now be rounded over to their natural form. Caution must be made here as the grain changes in direction as you work around the curvature of the helix. Use the No.2, 5mm on this side

23: Use the No.2, 10mm on the rear side

24: The rear surface of the ear is fairly simple in its form. Use the No.7, 4mm to carve these grooves. When you are sure that all of the details are as lifelike as possible, sand over the whole piece with 100 grit abrasive

25: The final detail to add is the fine crease/slit that can very often be seen between the helix and antihelix, at the position where they emerge on the outer corner of the ear before the helix starts to hollow. Use a razor-sharp knife to cut this slit and then sand with 240 grit to soften the edge of the antihelix into the knife cut. Sand the complete surface of the ear through grits 150, 240 and 400, using the hot water technique in between each abrasive

26: The completed ear should look something like this

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1 Comment

  1. Great project with good instructions! I finished my ear in a single day, using mainly a power carving tool. I did not work with a stand attached to the ear, which is what it looks like in the instructions, instead I drilled a 2 mm hole in the bottom, behind the lobule, then I put a metal wire (e.g. part of a bicycle spoke) inside and added a cherrywood base.
    Some small comments on the instructions: the small line between the triangular Fossa and the Concha Of Auricle in reality dives under the helix, an undercut can make this effect nicely, but you need to leave this part at the height of the helix instead of deepening it out together with the line next to the antihelix in step 9! In step 11 you can deepen the antihelix more than indicated here (check your own ear!)

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