This is more of a general guide than a strict how to.
Step one Meeting with the clients (Ok they are my parents) we established several things.
About 6 feet long so it wouldn't hit the bookshelves.
Above the fireplace higher than what they have now so some art will have to be moved.
Wood was chosen because it fit with the house but the species changed 4 times.. From Spruce to Pine Glue lam beam to Cherry. Finally Red Oak Stair Treads were Selected and used..
This was a bit of a issue.. The Client wanted unfinished, but wood needs to be sealed to keep it from blowing is self apart during seasonal changes, so I used Semi Gloss Spray.. This should keep the peace.. But Finish can be used to hide all kinds of flaws. If a client doesn't want the wood finished to save money or time my advice fight them on it..
I would suggest is not discussing price until you have made a proof... it will give you a better idea of how much time and effort a large project will take. Never apologize for your price.. If they can't afford it you can't afford to make it..
Step 1: Pencil and Draw
I would show about 3 to the customer.. More than three can confuse the issue. Another tip is show only the ones you like.. (why show a idea you don't want to do it if they pick it, it will just makes the project miserable)
Photo Mock up... This will give the client a good idea of what they are getting.
Informed Clients are Happy Clients. This is when you can talk price.
When taking photos for your proof use a yard stick (or a tape measure set to 3 feet) in the photo.
This is useful especially when your clients are 3000 miles away.
This will allow you to scale the photos and get a proper layout.
If you think you can read the numbers off the tape think again it is next to impossible so you end up counting little black pixels.
So setting your tape to 3' and then you can scale your photo to that..
(Celling tiles are 2' wide and doors are about 3' wide. Bricks and Cinderblocks are also standard size)
Step 2: The Layout...
I set the base shape in the computer using Aspire software. I hate to drop names but it really is the best thing I have found.
15" tall by 72" wide on this project. I also started on the fish. I outlined the major parts of the fish filling each one to give it a fish shape... Aspire also allows you to insert the original in to give it a texture... After the fish is built I bent and warped it to fit the layout.
Setting the thickness of the background
Aspire has a great feature allowing tiling of your shapes I felt this added more interest, but this makes setting the thickness and depth more of a challenge.
The mantel ended up being 1.875 thick. So using two 1" thick stair tread glued them together became the blanks.
Step 3: Setting tool paths
I also found a surprise, the whole thing would take 54 hours of carving.. That is just too long so I broke it up in to sections being 11.3" wide this allowed each part to be only 8 hours of carving time.
This was divided between two bits the 1” round nose roughing bit. Then the finishing was done with a special 2” long .25 round nose bit. It still hundreds of thousands of lines of code for Mach 3
That plus all the computer time I put in it came out to over 2 weeks of full time work..
Step 4: The glue up
It still took 7 treads to get all the wood it needed to finish it.
When I made the glue up I found clamps are more important that the glue. You can use white school glue, yellow wood glue or Gorilla Glue. The biggest problem I had was when I didn't follow the instructions on the back of the tube, and let the glue fully dry.. This caused all kinds of issues that I had to fix later.. :(