Stone Tori Gate

How to Make a Japanese Stone Tori Gate

The Initial Idea.

This sculpture was actually inspired by some good friends. Having met them after many years they came up with the idea of having me carve a Portland Stone Tori Gateway for their Zen garden. Life can be strange at times, recurring patterns of memories and coincidences. The very first stone I carved was for the Sculptor Phillip King, 40 years ago. A rough Portland Stone boulder carved into a bowl for his Zen Garden installation at the Tout Quarry Sculpture Park on the Isle of Portland.

This first carving became a catalyst, the start of a long relationship with this beautiful material. ( We have broken up at certain times! Well it broke or cracked. But we always get back together.) As I was carving the round basin I began to rub my knuckles against the sides of the stone. Which was quite painful so I angled the chisel to prevent this and the tool marks began to form a beautiful spiral. Phillip really liked this pattern. Very Zen.

Creating The Design

As with any commission we started by discussing the project. If it should be carved out of one block of stone or several? The rough size and design. How it would be transported. My friends sent me a very useful design which gave me a good base to work from. We agreed that it would be best to make the Tori out of separate elements, cutting the weight down making it easier for transportation and installation.

I then did my own research looking at all the different styles of Tori gates. Seeing which could be suitable in shape and proportion to be carved in Portland Stone. I decided to introduce a few curves to the design to soften the hard angles. Also to use different tooling textures to give the final piece some subtlety.

I needed a full size drawing to see the proportions, adjusting dimensions for strength and aesthetic reasons. Then making a list of the individual stones sizes. I sourced my stones at a local quarry on the Isle of Portland hunting around the off-cuts with their stonemason and found some lovely grained blocks that would be perfect. ( It was like being in a sweet shop as a kid!)

Carving the Stones and Fitting

The off-cuts of Portland stone first needed to be cut to size using a diamond bladed grinder. Then the faces honed using a spinner and sanding disc. This will leave some machine marks on the surface so I needed to hand sand using a tungsten rubbing block to get the effect I desired. The curves were then carved and finished.

Subsequently I prepared the pinning of the stones. Always measuring twice and drilling once! If not three times. Then I washed all of the stones making sure that there was no dust, especially in the drilled holes. Using 8mm stainless steel threaded bar cut to size I assembled the elements using an epoxy resin by Harbro Supplies Ltd (Stone-bond Vertical Mastic.) I always present the stones together dry with the pins in place to make sure that once the resin is applied everything fits. You don’t want to find things don’t fit properly as the resin begins to set. I’m talking from past lessons learnt.

The main stone is attached to the base with pins running through which are bolted into place.

The Viewing

The moment of truth! Will my friends like my interpretation of their initial idea? I moved the stones with the help of Andy, (a strong friend) down the 3 flights of stairs from my flat. Yes I always choose difficulty as a sculptor, keeps me fit (to drop) We then assembled the Tori in the garden being especially careful not to chip any edges. Awaiting with baited breath for their visit and response. Yay or nay?

Finished Portland Stone Tori.

Well it was a Yay. Yoopie. It surpassed their highest expectations. So pleased and of course one very chuffed Sculptor. Although this project was very different from my personal work it did inspire me in many ways. Giving me ideas for future sculptures. Watch this space.

In the Zen Garden

Finally the Tori Gate was installed in the Zen garden. Its so satisfying to see my work set in someones home and it will be interesting to see how it ages and patinates over time. Please take the time to visit my Sculpture page I would really appreciate any feedback. Can you see a connection between the Tori and my personal work?

My Latest Abstract Portland Stone Sculpture Time

My Most Recent Sculpture

I’m really pleased with this last sculpture made out of Portland Stone & Mild steel. It’s been a while since I had the idea and making it real is so satisfying. Only problem is that it’s given me loads of future sculptures to make. The variations are endless. I do like the advice of Sculptor Isamu Noguchi ” Just make something and the idea will come afterwards.” Also how the American Sculptor David Smith talked about not being able to physically make all of his ideas into Sculptures. The brains imagination leaps ahead to what could be. But the hands take a little longer to make them in the real world.


At times I have a job trying to remember what inspired me to make a particular sculpture. Could it be my School visit to Cheddar Caves and the fabulous Stalactites and Stalagmites? (‘mites go up and the ‘tites come down.) Or could it be my fascination with reflections in water. The half seen boulder eventually covered by the incoming tide? I think it’s a combination of these memories, milling around my brain. Combining with the knowledge of the materials I use and how to make the sculpture concrete. ( Mistakes are made until I find the solution!)

I particularly like the combination of different materials in my Sculptures. Contrasting their innate strengths. Steel for its tensile strength and linear sharpness. Stone for its Solidity, Grain and Mass.

Not forgetting that amazing force in nature called Gravity. The weakest force in the universe. For sculptors this is what we play with. How the Sculpture stands. Before sculptures were placed on a plinth disconnecting it from the ground. The sculptor Brancusi was the first to integrate the base with his work. Becoming a unity. His work is so inspirational. One of my heroes.

Now on Show at Sculpture by the Lakes

I am so pleased to be showing my work at Sculpture by the Lakes. Such a fantastic venue. The sculptures come alive when their placed in this setting. The trees striving upwards for light and the ripples moving along the lakes surface. A big thank you to Simon, Monique Gudgeon as well as Lyn who helped me install the sculpture along the trail. Do have a visit there is such a great selection of different styles of sculptures and material your bound to find something you like. Also great food. Yum yum.

John Davey Sculpture at Sculpture by the Lakes.
“Time” Portland Stone & Mild Steel. Sculpture by the Lakes.

Onto the Next Idea

As a painter can’t paint or draw without paper or canvas. Neither can a sculptor carve without any materials. So off to choose some nice blocks of stone at the Dorset supplier Southern Stone. They have a great range of tools and different marbles, soapstone’s. Lets see where I go from there? Tonnes of ideas. Feel free to follow me and any feedback is appreciated. Off chipping.

Stone carving Taster Courses Weymouth


Book your place on one of my Stone Carving for Beginners Workshops in Weymouth this summer. Set in a beautiful and inspirational garden overlooking the Ile of Portland were your stone was quarried. Quite appropriate.

£ 85 per person.

I have over 35 years experience as a sculptor and stonemason. Teaching stone carving to adults and children in England and France.

The workshops are set up for those wanting to take time, to situate, learn and find pleasure in discovering ways of expression through stone carving.

Providing starting points, encouraging the development of ideas, knowledge, skills, visual awareness and creative potential.

The stone carving courses will give you the opportunity to sculpt a small relief of your own design (or by using one of my templates ) on a slab of Portland Stone. This world famous stone is ideal for carving, neither to hard or soft, with a beautiful grain capturing all the sculptures detail.


The Workshops are aimed towards leaving you with a memorable and enriching experience, helping you look afresh at your surroundings and your own capabilities.


We start with an introduction to tools and chosen type of stone. This is followed by direct carving on a small piece of Portland Stone, to get the feeling of tools and material. The preparation of designs, templates for the chosen subject and an explication of roughing-out techniques for specific shapes.

Starting Your Stone

Advice on where to start, how to apply the templates. Tips on technique and guidance to help solve any difficulties encountered.

Perfecting and Finishing.

Introducing techniques to finish your work. How tool marks can be used to enrich the quality of your final piece.

First time Stone Carvers

Book your places by clicking on the following link.

( Stone Carving Workshops)

These Workshops are aimed towards leaving you with a memorable and enriching experience, helping you to look afresh at your surroundings and your own capabilities. Creating an inertia that will carry you on further to new limits….. getting that stone rolling.


John is an excellent instructor, he is passionate about his skills, everything provided and wonderful location. I took my own design and John was as excited as I was about bring the stone to life. Thoroughly recommend and will attend the expert course. (Graham)

John is a fantastic artist and an exceptional teacher. He seems to really understand YOU, as an individual, and to give you exactly what you need to achieve your goals. Nothing is rushed — everything is paced beautifully. Nothing is skipped — you get all the knowledge and skill you need to get the results. And not only do you come away with a sense of accomplishment in the art you have created, more importantly, you also come away with an unshakable CERTAINTY in the new set of skills you have acquired and the feeling that doors have opened into a whole new world of creativity. I highly recommend this workshop to all — EVERYONE can benefit from this. (Frank)
Abstract Sculpture by John Davey

Dorset Arts Festival 2020

I will be showing my Artwork at this stunning venue during the Dorset Arts Festival 2020 at Sculpture by the Lakes. Really looking forward to demonstrating my carving technique. There will be lots of other Artists and Craftspeople there working in different materials and techniques. You have to book online for a visit. I’ve copied more information from the Sculpture by the Lakes Website. Do visit and I hope to see you there for this fantastic event. It’s been a hard time for us all, so do support your local Dorset artists and creatives. Visit my Website to see my selection of sculptures.

Some of the Sculptures I Will be Showing

Demonstrating Stone Carving Technique.

Tutor Showing Stone Carving Technique
A Little Helping Hand

Dorset Arts Festival 3rd-5th July. 10.00-5.00

Dorset Arts Festival is a brand new three-day festival showcasing the best artists and makers in Dorset. We will have over 50 artists and crafters gathered together at Sculpture by the Lakes. They will also be demonstrating their skills. You will be able to watch paintings being created, pots being thrown, jewellery being made and a whole range of other arts and crafts disciplines. Our aim is to make the whole festival about seeing artists and crafters demonstrate their skills and exhibit their work so you can see and understand the process. 

Entry £12.50 Book online. No Children under 14 or dogs.


We are taking all necessary precautions to safeguard the welfare of our staff and visitors. Some of the challenges ahead are down to us as individuals – our judgment and our common sense. Social distancing and hygiene are of the utmost importance so please bring hand sanitiser with you

*We want to maintain social distancing so you must now book your tickets for entry to the park online. When you arrive just show your ticket at the window. Please do not come into the office. 

*The Gallery Café is operating a TAKEAWAY SERVICE so you can purchase food and drink to eat in the park. This includes picnics as well as drinks, coffee and cakes. Please do not come into the Café – we will operate from a table by the cafe and take your order. We are ONLY accepting payment by contactless credit card, no cash transactions. 

*We have spread all the tables and chairs out for safe distancing and scattered them around the park so you can find a safe place to enjoy your food.

Sculptor John Davey Dorset

Making a Stone Abstract Sculpture

The Beginning

When I start making a Stone Abstract Sculpture I don’t always begin with a sketch to inspire me. Sometimes I just start carving a stone and see where it takes me. But this time I did make an initial drawing for making this Abstract Sculpture. It evolved from other previous work that I had carved. At times my imagination runs away with me. All the permutations. So its good to get down to the making, seeing the volume in real. Then adapting, changing shapes, proportions to accomplish a piece that will be harmonious.

The Raw Materials

I always keep an eye out for my raw materials, visiting local quarries at Portland or local Stone Workshops. Sometimes I’m not looking for a particular size or type of stone. But I find it’s important to keep a stock to keep my creative processes moving into fruition. There’s nothing worse than having an idea and no materials to make it with. You may have to adapt the original thought to fit the stone but I always enjoy being led by the dimensions and character of the Stone. It is a partnership.

blocks of Stone for Sculpting
Lets see where we go!

The Carving

This piece is of the beautiful Kilkenny Limestone which can be polished. Working with diamond Tools I rough the shape out. At times using a paper template or just by drawing directly on the stone. Letting my tools guide me towards the perfect shape. To get closer to the form I use tungsten files to smooth out the surface. When I,m happy with the form, I then go on to the next stage.

Sculpture in Progress by John Davey
Roughing out of Kilkenny Stone form.


This was a piece of Carrara Marble that I was polishing for another Sculpture but the techniques are the same. I begin by working the stone in water with different grades of rubbing blocks 80 grain then 120 grain. Moving on to wet & dry emery paper. Working through the grades, 220, 320, 400, 600, 800, 1000, 1200, 1500, 2000, 2500. Phew! This is a laborious process and you have to be careful to rub out all the previous grades marks before moving onto the next grade. It’s a good idea to wait for the stone to dry between processes to see if there are any scratch marks.

Polishing Stones
Polishing the stones.

Assembling the Sculpture.

I then prepare the stones to be fixed together. Using stainless steel threaded bar of the appropriate thickness and a stone epoxy resin. I carefully mark out the positioning of the holes, always slightly bigger than the bar. Measure twice, drill once! Then I cut the bars to the right length for the depths of the holes. Always assemble the stones together dry, to make sure there are no problems or adjustments to be made. Wash all the stones and let dry. Prepare and have all your tools ready before using the epoxy resin. It can set very quickly!

The Final Stone Abstract Sculpture

You can treat the stones with a lot of different products. Here on the Portland Stone I used the Lithofin MN Stain-Stop impregnator and on the Kilkenny Limestone, Keda Marble Wax.

Abstract Stone Sculpture
“Touch”Kilkenny and Portland Stone. 40 x 28.7 x 10 cms. £ 1000

So I hope you’ve enjoyed this little insight into the making of a stone abstract sculpture and my creative process. I will be taking part in a local Art Festival at Sculpture by the Lakes, 3rd- 5th July 2020. Showcasing the best Artists and Makers in Dorset. Demonstrating their techniques and talent. Bookings are taken on Eventbrite. Hope to see you there.

Also, feel free to visit my Sculpture page if you would like to see more of my Sculptures.

Stone & Carving Tools Suppliers UK

  • Southern Stone has a great selection of tools and different stones. Malta Limestone, Alabaster and other Marbles.
  • Albion Stone has a great stock of Portland Stone, great for beginners and experts alike.
  • Harbro for tools and stone treatments.

John Davey Stone Sculptures

Bridport Art Exhibition Treasure Planet 2020

Artwey Group Exhibition

Allsop Gallery at Bridport Arts Centre

20th Feb-21st March

Fantastic art exhibition at the Bridport Arts Centre by the Weymouth based Art Group, Artwey. Really pleased to be taking part in this exhibition with such a varied style of art as well as many different media. Acrylic, Oils, Pastel, Ceramic, Wood, Encaustic Wax. Realistic and abstract styles catering for every taste. Also at very reasonable prices.

There is an incredible amount of work that goes into holding a group exhibition like this. I won’t mention names for fear of forgetting someone!

  • Booking the Venue
  • Contacting the Artists
  • Asking for photos, Artist Statements, Contact Details.
  • Publicity. Posters. Invitations. Press articles.
  • Organising the Stewarding.
  • Arranging, placing and hanging the works in a presentable manner.
  • Preparing the Private View. (Buying the Wine! And tasting Hic!)
  • Selling the Artworks. Receipts, card payments, cash.
  • Cleaning up afterwards.
  • Stewarding, taking care of Visitors.
  • Taking down the exhibition.
  • Tidying up.

It’s Not Just The Making.

For every artist, the pleasure is in the making of their creation. Making something from your imagination. Making it real. It never turns out as you imagined it and that’s why you do it. To find out what it may look like. As you create with the material they show their personal characters. Suggesting different possibilities. It’s this interaction that is so exciting. As a famous artist once said. ” I always do what I don’t know how to do. Because what I know how to do, I’ve already done”

After the making, you have to get your work out there. Galleries, friends, social media, Art Groups. Lots of time promoting your work and lots of perseverance. At times you may have lots of compliments but nothing sold. It takes perseverance and belief in what you are doing and to be honest I have to do it for my wellbeing. It’s part of who I am.

So getting ready for the opening night and looking forward to meeting other talented artists, friends and hopefully clients. A big thank you to Artwey and the volunteers who made this possible. If you would like to see more of my work feel free to visit my sculpture page and leave a comment. Always open to constructive interaction.

Favourite Painters

Some of My Favourite Painters

A small selection of my favourite painters whose work I adore. Would also love to have their paintings hanging on my wall! Will have to do some saving! Have to make do with reproductions.

Although in my art I work mainly with abstract shapes I do appreciate portraiture, still-lifes, landscapes. There is, first of all, that emotional response to a painting, which I think is the essential reaction.

After some time I can see the other layers and details that make them so pleasing to my senses. Their textures, geometry, composition.

Sean Scully

This is one artist whose work I discovered only a few years ago. The edges and sculptural forms are so suggestive. Reminding me of the stacked slabs of stone surrounding me, when I was working in a quarry. Also my lego days as a young child! Off course I wasn’t at all surprised later when I saw his large stone constructions.

Euan Uglow

Euan Uglow Painting is one of my favourite artists
Euan Uglow

I was lucky enough to have stumbled across Euan Uglow’s paintings on a visit to London. It was while I was studying Art at Brighton. We had to visit the big Art Exhibitions once every term. I always visited the little Art Galleries in Cork Street. It was there I was lucky enough to see his work in the real. Struck by the geometrical aspect of his images. The strong use of facets, lines.

Victor Pasmore

Painter Victor Pasmore one of my favourite painters
Painter Victor Pasmore

I particularly like this amazing British Painter. Who found a lot of his inspirations from the Cornish Landscapes. His mixture of abstract forms, lines, curves is so suggestive. Rock pools, granite outcrops. I happened upon a great documentary about his art. In particular, a section where they hid a camera in the gallery. Recording visitors conversations. There was a couple of adults who really didn’t appreciate abstract art. But luckily there were a couple of children who loved it. No preconceptions. When do we lose that innocence?

Patrick George

Patrick George one of my favourite painters.
Patrick George

As a painter from the Slade School of Art Patrick George used a certain method of measuring, constructing that remains as part of the finished painting. I find the brushstrokes and lines so sensitive. They really capture the personality of the sitter. His rendering of the light falling on his subjects is also so beautiful.

Art With a View Exhibition Garden

Learning to Carve Stone

Learning Stone Carving

I remember well the first stone I carved. Carving a Water Bowl for the Zen Garden created by the Sculptor Phillip King at the Tout Quarry Sculpture Park on Portland, Dorset. Grazing my knuckles against the rough Portland Stone. Stretching my tired muscles and becoming addicted to this beautiful medium.

So when I teach and think of the skills I’ve learnt over time. I can really relate to my students on their first Stone Carving Workshop. Learning how to hold the tools. Getting the right angle and hit from your hammer. Trying to execute your idea and making it real.

Portland Stone has its character and needs constant adjustments when carving. Being a Sedimentary Limestone its made up of tiny sea creatures, shells, changing its hardness. Around 70 Million yrs old and used to famously construct St Pauls Cathedral, designed by Sir Christopher Wren.

Students Hard At Work

These are a few examples of Stones I’ve carved over the time. Some personal Sculptures and others decorative. Carved for the restoration of certain classed buildings. The techniques are always the same. Roughing out, refining and finally finishing.

There is a real satisfaction and sense of accomplishment when you take a block of Stone and transform it into your unique design. Using hand techniques that haven’t changed from bygone times. Its very meditative and I adore the sound of stone being chipped. Music to my ears. Much nicer than the noise of machines. Although I’m sure if the Romans had electricity they would of been the first to use them!

So if you feel inspired? Why not have a go at some chipping? I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you can create.

Stone Relief Carving

Learning to Carve Stone

I remember when I first tried my hand at stone relief carving I was full of trepidation. Worried about chipping off the wrong piece. How to make a sculpture that described the forms with only using a few centimeters of depth.


As always preparation is vital. Choosing the right design. Not to complicated to begin with. Details can be added afterwards. I usually begin with a drawing, outlining the important contours. I then transfer this onto the stone.

Depending on the design I might make a template by cutting around the shape. Or by using carbon paper and tracing paper.

I select a good quality of stone. Finding the finest grain. Looking out for any signs of cracks, big shells that might make it difficult to carve.

Celtic knotwork man
Celtic knotwork man


Having a basic set of tools is all you need to begin with. Pointed chisel, flat edged chisel, claw chisel, small hammer. With each chisel, you can carve lots of different textures. ( With softer stones I find old wood carving chisels can be quite good if you’re on a small budget.)

Having transferred my design onto the stone, I then decide what areas will stand out the most. Carving around these shapes with the flat chisel. Then roughing out the depth with either the pointed or claw chisel. This is repeated several times until I’m happy with the depths.

Flower Relief Carvings
Flower Relief Carvings

Next Step

Once the profiles are in place I then begin rounding off the forms with the claw and flat ended chisels. Its quite important to keep turning your stone to see how your relief is shaping up. Depending on your light source this can really change how you see your carving.


I try and use lots of textures to accentuate the design. This helps give the illusion of depth. Some surfaces can be smoothed using sand paper. Others left with the tool-marks.Its really up to you to experiment and see the possibilities.

Stone Cross
Stone Cross

Going Forward

If you become bitten by the stone carving bug? You can always look out for Stone Carving Workshops to help you on your way and perfect your techniques. I’m still learning!

Day Stone Carving Workshops at Whitestones Portland

The Stone Carving workshops are set up for those wanting to take time, to situate, learn and find pleasure in discovering ways of expression through stone carving.

Providing starting points, encouraging the development of ideas, knowledge, skills, visual awareness and creative potential.

Stone Carving Workshops for Beginners

23rd March and the 20th April 2019


  • The Stone carving workshops will give you the opportunity to sculpt a small relief of your own design ( or by using one of my templates )  on a piece of Portland Stone.
  • The course is suitable for ages 12+
  • Tools and materials are supplied as well as protective safety glasses.
  • Appropriate clothing to be worn (i.e. enclosed shoes)
  • The stones vary in size but to give you a rough idea here are some sizes. 22 x 20cms, 18 x 22cms. If you have a design in mind and can print out different sizes that would be great.
  • Coffee & Tea supplied. 
  • If you decide to use your own design please bring images/drawings.

The cost of the one day course is £85. To reserve a place or make an enquiry you can E-mail me. or phone 07460467116

There is also a wide selection of tasty, locally sourced cakes and lunches available in the adjacent White Stones Art Café. All participants receive a 10% discount on food and drinks purchased in the Café.

Come and have a go. Let your creative side come out.

Sculpture is easy! You just carve down to the skin and stop! Michaelangelo.

Whitestones Eco-pods

Alongside the Studio are three ECO Artist retreats accommodating up to three adults each. If you would like to make the most of your time on the Jurassic Coast why not include an overnight stay. 

Visit the White Stones web address for accommodation booking information.

Portland Stone Quarry Blocks
Portland Quarry Stones