Well, time for the rest of my section, up above the cages.
Anyway - I was thinking the cages would have been the hardest part. I was wrong. I seriously under-estimated something. I have carved my share of fretwork before - even tight fretwork like this - but there were two key differences this time: 1) there was a LOT of it, in a relatively small space, and 2) it was mostly pretty irregular, not in repeating patterns. While there was no single element that seemed so unusual, having a whole bunch of detail all crammed into a relatively small area added a substantial challenge I had definitely overlooked. I actually felt the need to keep a print-out of the design with me while I was carving, just for reference.
However, the really hard part came along when I'd flip it to carve the back. I found it incredibly difficult to keep track of where I was, and keep the exact part I was carving in my mind's eye. I think it was the irregularity that made it so difficult, because once I marked out the over/unders on one of the little knots surrounding the tree, the rest weren't really any trouble. In hindsight, if I ever do something like this again, I'll simply draw out the back, too, so I have it for reference. Why I didn't stop and do that this time - I couldn't tell you. But had I done it, that probably would have spared me many hours of staring and thinking. :) The fretwork was so tight, I couldn't see the over-under of the other side from the back, so I had to think it through from the front-side print-out I had. This was even after I'd scooped away as much of the excess depth as I was comfortable removing. I guess I usually have quite a lot more open space involved in my fretwork. I thought that was just my design sense, but now I see there was an added benefit I didn't even realize before!
Oh, and I held off on carving that leaf sticking off the side there, higher-up on the handle, so that I wouldn't break it off while I was carving up there. I'd carved the leaves sticking out near the bowl, but I'd already gotten used to keeping them safe, so they were pretty much out of the way now.
The plan was that I'd carve probably up to somewhere around the tips of the tongue and tail, and I'd probably get into the knots that the other parts of my carving would touch on the lower part of the medallion. As I was carving away the back, I realized that those vines that reach most of the length of the spoon (into Dave's section) could end up at a variety of depths, depending on what Dave wanted to do. So, near where those met Dave's section, I didn't completely carve them, so I could leave him some flexibility in his placement of those.
In the same way, I wanted to carve some of those little knots next to the medallion, since the other stuff I was carving next to them touched them, and they sort of inter-acted. Also, the part where the words will be seemed like a good stopping point, since I could keep the back flat pretty much where Dave will be sawing, too, and its shape is relatively straightforward.
So, eventually, I decided enough was enough, and it was time to move on to sanding! I inevitably find little pieces that I think need to be thinner, or corners that need to be sharper, etc., when I'm sanding, so there'll be a little more carving (even though that's bad for my tools) while I'm sanding. But, for the most part, here it is, finally - "carving part a" complete. Yay!
Well, that took - oh... about 3x as long as I expected. Hmm. So much for getting better at estimating! Ahh, the dangers of lack of experience...... Sorry, Dave! One day, you'll get your chance at it!!!
Next - SANDING!