I've been working on this carving off and on (mostly off, to be honest) since last December. I had wanted to carve a wooden chain pretty much since I started taking my dad's carving classes, just to see if I could do it - and now I have so I never have to do it ever again.
I was getting thoroughly sick of carving on it by the end!
I'm really glad I made it, though. I like it a LOT more now that it's finally finished.
I started with a piece of basswood that was 2" square by 12" long and used a table saw to remove all four corners (giving it a plus-sign shaped cross section). Then I traced out my links with a cardboard template I had made and started roughing them out.
I decided to put a key on one end and a lock on the other, to give it a bit of visual interest. Here's how it looked after working on it for one class (about two hours):
My first free link!
Taking out more unnecessary wood...
And then there was a lot more of that. It stopped being exciting and turned into drudgery so I quit taking pictures until I got all my links free:
Then there was a lot of cleaning up and rounding of corners and other things that take a very long time but are not all that interesting to see. Here's the end result!
When my dad makes wooden chains, he always sands them down nice and smooth, but I wanted it to be perfectly clear that this chain was painstakingly hand-carved
out of wood
so I left all the whittle marks and didn't sand it at all.
I finished my chain with a mix of linseed oil and mineral spirits to bring out the grain.
Oh, and the key fits in the keyhole. TUTORIAL
1. Find some wood you like! I like basswood.
2. Draw a plus sign on each end and connect them. (You'll be cutting out the gray bits.)
3. Cut off all the corners so it looks like this:
4. Make templates! Your links should be as wide as your wood.
5. Cut out what's between the red dotted lines, because you'll be putting the templates up against that plus sign shape.
6. Trace the templates onto all sides of your wood. Make sure you leave enough room between the links!
7. Roughing out! Cut up to the lines on the outside of your links. Also cut off the unnecessary sticky-up bits on your lock and key.
8. Cut out the gray bits. (V-shaped gouges are useful here.) Work from both sides.
9. Draw in the missing parts of your links so you don't accidentally cut off the curved edges.
10. Here comes the tricky bit. Using your smallest gouge and/or a knife with a thin blade, take out little nibbles of wood until you've separated each link from its neighbors. Work from all sides and pay attention to where the back end of your knife blade is, it's easy to gouge something you're not supposed to while you're concentrating on where the point is going.
11. When your link is free, smooth off the inside and outside of the curve so it looks like your original template. Try to carve with the grain rather than against it - so on the outside of your link, carve from the side toward the top or bottom, and on the inside of your link, carve from the top or bottom toward the side.
12. Repeat all the necessary steps until every link is free. Yay!
13. Drill a hole in your lock with a 1/2" bit, and drill a hole in the head of your key with a 3/16" bit. Use your knives and small gouges to carve out the rest of the key head and the bottom of the keyhole.
14. Round off all your links (keeping in mind the direction of the grain as you carve!), thin down the head of the key, make sure the key can fit in the keyhole, and just generally clean everything up. Try to carve off any remaining sawed surfaces because they'll take a finish differently than your carved surfaces will.
15. OPTIONAL: Sand everything nice and smooth. (I skipped this step 'cause I figured if I wanted a nice smooth chain I could just go to the hardware store and buy one.)
16. Finish your chain! Stain it if you want, or paint it, or just put linseed oil on it like I did. Marvel at how much it's stretched since you started.
17. Show it off.