Heart of the Ginkgo Carved Leaf

This is my latest carving. I start with an angle grinder and hand sand from there. This was a donation to the Memphis Child Advocacy Center for their yearly silent auctions. The size of this leaf is 14″ x 48″.

I have been carving boxes and art vessels for a while, but about 4 years ago, I started carving leaves, larger than life. This Ginkgo leaf was especially challenging, as the leaf is one I have always loved for 2 reasons: The shape of the leaf and usually the curl that comes in from the edges and the length of the stem, so delicate.

Usually, when I carve wood, I make a clay model, but this time, I really relied on nature (and will do the same in the future). I had collected many Ginkgo leaves this past fall in a baggie and whenever I got “stuck”, I would refer to the real deal.

To craft the sculpture, I needed to use a close, but straight grained wood. Yellow heart seemed to fit the bill perfectly both in color and grain. I even looked for a bit of a curve in the long straight grain of the wood so the curl of the stem would stay strong. I cut the leaf with a much longer stem, in case I had to shorten it or if it broke during the grinding and sanding process. I bought a 5.5 ft board and cut the bottom 1.5 ft off and attached it to the top. This was my “leaf”. The remaining 4 ft was the stem. I cut the shape out with my band saw, cut a hole in the “leaf” to imply where I was going to cut the curl (this clean drill process allows less sanding inside the curl) and started grinding away the yellow heart. I wear a Air Shield Full Face Mask with Filters when I pick up the grinder to work. It’s a very safe and comfortable solution. I use a very aggressive concave bit on my angle grinder. When finished, the entire shop was covered in yellow heart, about 1/8 inch everywhere.

I waited to round and lighten the stem until I was almost finished making the leaf. This way, the leaf kept it’s strength while most of the grinding was taking place. A hard lesson learned, with lots of broken stems.

After the leaf is rough carved, I start by hand with 60 grit sandpaper to smooth out the grinder marks. Power tools usually don’t come into play with the sanding, as my work is always so curvy. Air grinders and small round air sanders help with shaping the stem from square to round, then more gentle hand sanding.

At first the weight of the wood was so heavy, it was hard to mange. By completion time, it is very light. I always sand my sculptures to 2,000 grit sand paper/fabric and one of the nice benefits of this yellow heart, it allowed me to skip some grits of this process, yet yielded the same quality finish. All my pieces are meant to be touched.

I also learned that presentation is everything! By placing it on a black surface, the contrast of the wood and the boldness of the Ginkgo just made it POP!


  1. Marie March 18, 2013


  2. This is a fantastically beautiful piece accentuated by its scale. On the black surface I had assumed the leaf was roughly the size of my hand but seeing it on the bench gave me a moment of “whoah”. Incredible. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Paul March 18, 2013

    that is incredible – beautiful!

  4. Barron Bail March 18, 2013

    Impressive work and very inspiring. Any other samples of your work?

  5. Very nice! I looks like you have quite a shop too. Do you have pictures of your other work, etc. I’d love to see more.

  6. Tom March 18, 2013

    What angle grinder and wheel do you use. I make spoons for xmas presents and have a hard time getting into tight places. Any other suggestions would be helpful too.

    Nice work on the leaf!

  7. bmchan March 18, 2013

    I suddenly feel SOOO inadequate. Great work.

  8. Eric March 18, 2013

    Beautiful. Fantastic work there.

  9. Really nice! Do you have any pictures of your other work? It also looks like you’ve got a pretty nice shop going too.

  10. Thanks for sharing, Ellen.
    That is a lovely piece. Delicate, yet dramatic.
    Enjoyed the description of your process and the hints of lessons learned.

  11. Wow, thanks so much for the feedback! I feel honored.

    The angle grinder disk that I use with my Porter Cable grinder is this one: http://www.woodcraft.com/produ.....m-red.aspx

    This disk will absolutely rip through some wood so be super careful! I am always wearing a full face mask and respirator while grinding away the wood.

    Here is a link to our website http://www.goodadvertising.com.....index.html

    Our shop is in our 3rd car garage and sometimes spills into the other 2 garages. Dust control on these projects is a real project all into it’s self.

  12. Iris March 22, 2013

    beatiful!, excellent, best wishes from Uruguay

  13. That is awsome.. Great craftsmanship.

  14. Nancy March 22, 2013

    This piece and Ellen’s generosity is a gift to the Child Advocacy Center and the children we serve. This year’s leaf was over-the-top-of-the-ginkco-tree beautiful. Ellen, you are an amazing and creative ‘Heartist”.

  15. Skip March 22, 2013

    Ellen, All I can say is awesome! You can really see the superb finish in the leaf close up. It really pops!

  16. Phil November 24, 2013


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