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JOEL Joel's Blog

Transferring Patterns to Wood and Other News


Transferring Patterns to Wood  and Other News 4When you carve or saw out any design that isn't a straight line you need a pattern. These days we typically draw the pattern on some paper and the trick is transferring the pattern to the wood. Here are all the methods I know about or used over the years.

1) Draw the pattern in reverse, go over it in soft pencil, put the pattern pencil side down on the wood and rub the paper. The pencil pattern will transfer to the paper.

2) Lay the pattern on the wood over a sheet of carbon paper. Trace over the pattern, the carbon paper will transfer the pattern to the wood.

3) Lay the pattern on the wood and go over it with a pricker of some sort. You can use a single pointed awl, a revolving multi-pointed pricker, or even a ball point pen. The latter puts a readable dent in the wood and works pretty well. Just make sure you put a mark at all the important junctions in the design. I have had good luck with the ball-point method. With the rotating pricker, which I bought specifically for this purpose, the points were too small to see, and I had trouble steering the wheel.

4) Attach the pattern to the wood with a low tack spray adhesive. This is my current favorite method and when I first tried it I used what I had, which as Super 77 which worked great except that at the end of carving I could not remove the bits of the pattern that were not carved away. Most annoying!! Chris Pye showed me the error of my ways and I switched to a low tack spray mount which works perfectly. There are two things that are really important to do if you use spray mount. The first is that you have to make sure that the pattern is bonded all over the work. Otherwise when you carve, if you hit a dry spot, the pattern will probably tear and you will lose the design. If the paper is solidly bonded you just carve through it with no worries - as long as your tools are properly sharp. If your tools aren't sharp what happens is that you rip the paper as you carve and ruin the pattern. But to be fair if your tools aren't sharp enough to cleanly carve through a paper pattern, they also aren't sharp enough to cleanly cut wood in many situations. So a torn pattern is a good wake-up call.

5) Another method which I have never tried, is to print out the pattern in reverse on a copier or laser printer, and lay it pattern side down on the wood. Then pour some acetone (wear gloves and other safety stuff) over the paper which will release the ink from the paper and transfer to the wood.

In Other News:

Peter Korn, Author and Executive Director of the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine will be in New York City at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York on Monday, January 13 to discuss his new book, "Why We Make Things and Why It Matters"

In Conversation: Peter Korn and Glenn Adamson
Monday, January 13, 2014
Museum of Arts and Design
6:30-7:30pm in the Theater at MAD
7:30-8:00pm Book signing with Peter Korn
Join Glenn Adamson, MAD's Director and author and furniture maker, Peter Korn for a discussion on the nature and rewards of creative work, and how the practice of contemporary craft is transformational to the individual and society.

Space is limited and is on a first-come, first-served basis. -- THE EVENT IS FULL---
RSVP necessary by January 10 at 212.299.7758 or
Join the conversation
01/08/2014 Sylvain
Have a look at Patrick Edwards blog :

Joel maybe I'm missing something but if you spray mount the pattern to the wood how do you read the grain while carving?
01/08/2014 Sylvain
The paper picking technique is also used in quilting :

Look also for tracing wheel

It seems numerous pattern transfer techniques have been developed for sewing/quilting that might also be used by woodworkers.

You certainly can pay attention to the grain before you glue the pattern down and note any issues on the pattern, but as soon as you start carving the pattern is cut away so at worst it's a temporary caution rather than a real problem.
01/08/2014 Bill Dalton
I use the laser printer reversed pattern, but use a xylene pen (clear blending marker) to wet the paper and rub the back of the pattern with a smooth "burnishing" tool, I use a plastic smooth tool that potters use. I get great results on detailed patterns. I do carving and woodburning on turned vessels. The xylene pens do have a strong odor so make sure you are in a ventilated area. One trick I learned trying to place a flat piece of paper on a curved surface can be very frustrating, once you have cut the pattern down to the smallest size you can get away with, crumple it up into a ball the tighter the better, carefully unroll it in the shape you are going to place it over, you will find it fits much better and will conform to the shape without the usual creases.
01/08/2014 Wade Whitlock
If you used acetone or any other volatile organic solvent, make sure there is NO source of ignition and very good ventilation. Otherwise,
Whoosh, Bang, Nasty!
Do not use chlorinated solvents such as TCE, PCE, etc. Bad central nervous system effects!
OSHA will give you a Handbook which lists everything you might come in contact with. Every citizen is entitled to one.
01/08/2014 Varn
Prior to applying a spray adhesive (such as Super 77) to the wood surface try putting a painter's low tack tape (blue tape) on the wood. When the woodworking task is complete simply peel off the tape. This has worked OK for me when scroll sawing a pattern.
01/08/2014 Ryan
I second Bill above, I've also done the laser printer method with Xylene with good success. It works well, but is nasty. Gloves, a chemical respirator, and good ventilation are musts if you value what brain cells you may have remaining! Printmakers call this process "toner transfer" or "solvent transfer" if you want to Google for tutorials.
01/08/2014 Jason Black
The toner-transfer method can work very well, with some caveats:

1. Not all laser printer toners are born alike. Some with transfer with acetone, some will not. Experiment with different solvents to see what works for your printer.

2. If nothing seems to work, don't despair. Try a different laser printer. I didn't start getting good results until I tried a different laser printer, and switched from acetone to lacquer thinner. Obviously, do the transfer outside...

3. Having a very smooth, prepped surface on your wood helps get a better transfer too. I found that wiping the solvent onto the back side of the paper with a shop rag worked just fine. You don't need to drown the printout in solvent.

John Heisz of has a good video on YouTube where he demonstrates toner transfer.
01/08/2014 Amos Bullington
Ponce Wheels should be available in various sizes. I have two for transferring model airplane plans to wood.
01/08/2014 Brian
I use the toner-transfer method also but in place of a solvent (I'll have to try that too) I use heat. You can use an iron or I have a cheapie wood burning tool with an attachment for doing this exact thing. It works brilliantly. I have even used it to add a design element to a project, sealing it with a finish. I've had the most success with a spryed on finish.
01/08/2014 Stan King
By far the easiest, most effective, new way to do this is with double-stick scroll saw tape! Apply it to the wood and stick the pattern down.
I use it for scrolling and carving and find it does not slip during work and peels off cleanly. No harsh chemicals or sprays needed...
01/08/2014 Bill Solberg
For simple transfers, I recommend non-wax graphite transfer paper over carbon paper (available at art stores). Another method is to draw pattern in normal view, and then roub the back with very soft lead pencil. Then use tracing burnisher (art store) to transfer pattern to wood. This was a very good blog, Joel. Next topic on this theme would be to discuss generating patterns from 3D models, whether wood, clay, or living forms. I just finished doing this exercise using photographic methods. What are the possibilities?
01/10/2014 Sylvain
About pouncing, I just found this :

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