Carving a Tortoise
Bob Jubb shells out some top tips for carving this charming creature
There is confusion around the world over what a tortoise is. In the UK we call the land-dwelling shelled creature a tortoise, and his sea-dwelling cousin a turtle, but in the USA they use only the term ‘turtle’. Whatever its name, the tortoise comes in nearly 30 varieties and is relatively unchanged since its appearance more than 150 million years ago. They can also live to a great age. I am always amazed that tortoises have survived for so long as they seem so slow and vulnerable, but somehow they survive in many environments around the world and they vary in size from quite small, to the huge Galapagos tortoise.
Many years ago my sons were asked by our neighbours to look after their tortoise while they were away on holiday. Much to everyone’s dismay, it disappeared… only to reappear two years later! So, my first tortoise was carved in honour of this incident. The dimensions of my tortoise carving are 180 x 90 x 115mm.
I have carved quite a few tortoises over the years, at natural size and also as netsukes and mostly in boxwood (Buxus sempervirens), but also in lime (Tilia vulgaris). The grain runs along the carving, which means the back legs should not break off. There is short grain across the front legs, so I carved them quite thick to minimise the risk of fracture. The eyes are inlaid with buffalo horn.
After carving, I coated the whole piece with three applications of finishing oil that I allowed to dry and then sanded it down with very fine abrasive between coats. Afterwards, I polished it with a slightly darker wax in the form of Liberon Antique wax, to highlight the shell and scales on the head and legs.