Notes From the
By Mike Bloomquist, with Doug Evans
and Loren Woodard
Email Mike at m.bloomquistATverizonDOTnet or visit his web, Wooden Dreams
this issue off with a blast from the past, sorta. The topic is
ages old, but the thread is only a year and a half old gem that that
I'm been saving. After that? Well, you'll have to read for
...Not sure where the message is that
Ivan refers to here, but it starts a very interesting conversation on
burnishing. A little background... burnishing is a wood finishing
technique where the wood is rubbed with smooth piece of harder wood or
a polished piece of harder material and a lot of pressure. It leaves
behind a very hard glossy finish as a result of crushing the surface of
the wood. Ivan begins the thread questioning the longevity of the
point on burnishing is well taken. I don't do any burnishing
either. You recall my quoting Eduardo that the carving has to last "500
years." In time the compressed fibers will revert to their
original shape, spoiling that sharp edge you worked so hard to
create. The edges and surfaces that retain their shape best
through the years are those that are cut with a sharp tool. The
fibers are cut off clean rather than compressed. Even smoothly
sanded areas lose their sparkle before the tool cut surfaces do,
because the tool cut surfaces don't have imbedded grit.
carvers don't have to worry about these details, but for someone who
puts their work up "to last 500 years," these "picky" details are
NE 1st Avenue
my website at
up with a reply was Glenda.
To you both, I have to agree
with you - I had tried that, didn't know what it was called at the
time but to me it was a waste of time and also when I applied
water, the fibers stood right back up, so lesson learned.
Arnie related some experience he had
You're Welcome to visit some of my art at:
I haven't seen such a product but
could you use some type of smooth, stainless steel ball,
cylinder, or other in a rotary tool to burnish. If you
lightly brushed the carving with a oil like tung oil and then burnished
the area, wouldn't it stay longer? I bet someone would
have a good product if they could produce power
burnishers and a liquid that you could brush onto the
carving that would make the burnishing permanent.
Loyd offered some readily available
ways to burnish.
I haven't seen any reference to
burnishing wood using just the handle of a chisel or other smooth hard wood. that is an old trick and simple.
Dundas, Ontario, Canada
Bill offered more first hand experience, more techniques and defends it
for the ages.
I'll jump in on the "burnishing" discussion and offer a few
First, I often use burnishing in my carvings, especially on
facial areas, hands and the like. It is useful for
producing a hard-shiny surface on antlers, hooves, finger
nails, and hundreds of other surfaces, including raise lettering. The results
are more than satisfying.
I use a piece of hardwood - maple in preferred. I've also
used discarded drum sticks of late. They come to me
free, and can be shaped on a belt sander to fit most
About Ivan's comment that a person should carve for 500 year s...
I greatly respect him as a carver and artist, but it
seems to me that any carving that reaches 500 years
will face much greater challenges from air, light,
dirt, insects, humidity, oxidation, handling and misapplied
finishes than any burnishing that was originally applied to
Burnishing will serve its purpose as a valid technique for
texturing wood long after my great grandkids (God willing)
are gone, and anyone who happens upon one of my carvings
will be less concerned about the surface burnishing than
they will be about the fact that the carving survived that
long in the first place.
So my suggestion is "go ahead and burnish". But use hardwood like maple
to do this, instead of using a metal burnisher.
My books are for sale at: http://wwwoodcarver.com/Books/Books.html
46 Harvard Cres,
Sheri came out of lurk mode briefly
(you should do it more often Sheri).
My 2 cents...I was very pleased
when I discovered burnishing. Particularly since I
carve birds for the most part. Great for beaks/bills. Seal with
non-water bearing sealer or seal and burnish. The resulting gleam
sets it apart from the remainder, providing a contrast in
surface look. Good for metal, other hard surfaced objects
Then Ivan replied to Bill's earlier
I suspect if I did fine portrait carving, I would like it for face
detail, particularly if I used carved eyes rather than
..........back to lurk mode..........
..And Bill gently gets the last word.
Of course you know the "500 years" quote I cited is a metaphor
Eduardo used to make the point that a responsible artist thinks not
just of the present but how a work will endure. One cannot
control all of the many variables that might take place, natural or
unnatural - in even less than 500 years - but it behooves us to take the best possible course on those factors
that we CAN control.
We know the nature of the material, that certain effects that seem fine
now will reverse themselves in time. If we know how to prevent
that reversal, why not do it? We try to use glues that will last,
finishes that will endure, and carving techniques that won't put our
work in jeopardy.
Recall, I didn't say YOU shouldn't burnish. I said I don't and
explained why. I think that is useful information for those who
are deciding whether it is appropriate for their work or not.
To quote myself, "Most carvers don't have to worry about these details,
but for someone who puts their work up "to last 500 years," these picky
details are important." Arrogant, isn't it, for someone to aspire to
create carvings that will last 500 years : )!
Then, again, maybe it would be better if the work did crumble!
Look at all the attention Leonardo's failed fresco experiment has
Ivan Whillock Studio
Would that your carvings and mine both received as much attention
as they deteriorate over time <grin>
species, sub-species, how to identify them in the wild, and how to use
Not a complete course here, but a
couple good book references and descriptions of some unusual ones.
Charlie Briggs starts it of with several questions, and a wealth of
Hey Guys & Gals
of the list,
I have a question in
regards to using gouges that I am sure you can help me with. Over the
years I have noticed that there is very little written about how to use
gouges, there is plenty of info on how to sharpen them but not so much
on when to use what gouge. If the answer would be so long
winded and you tell me to buy a book, that's OK please just tell
what book to buy.
*Is the answer as simple as using the
flattest gouge that will work for you at that time?
* Someone once told me that gouges
are designed to cut across the grain, when I try that the wood usually
splinters and chips.
* Some gouges have a different angle
or bevel at the cutting edge, what is the reason for that? Does it have
something to do with the hardness of wood you are trying to carve that
determines which angle you should use?
*I have a few gouges that I inherited
that have the bevel on the opposite side of the gouge, it is like the
cutting edge is reversed. How and when would they be used?
Thanks in advance for your help.
responds first with a good book reference.
Look for a book by Richard Butz. Name of book: "How to Carve
Wood". Good Book!!! best
of luck. You need answers, this book has them.
(There are two beginner's
woodcarving books by Rick Butz. "How
to Carve Wood" is published by Tauton Press. -Mike B.->)
answers from Maura wrapped up with an unnecessary disclaimer.
... just tell what
book to buy. I recommend Elements of Woodcarving by Chris
Pye and Essential Woodcarving Technique by Dick Onians and it certainly
wouldn't hurt you to read anything by E.J. Tangerman
*Is the answer as
simple as using the flattest gouge that will work for you at that time?
Depends on what you are carving. If you are carving out a flat
surface, perhaps but if you are carving a rounded section of something,
you would want to use the gouge that is the closest shape and
size. If you are removing waste, larger, more rounded gouges
remove more wood quickly. Sometimes gouges are used to texture,
smaller for small detail.
* Someone once told me that gouges are
designed to cut across the grain, when I try that the wood usually
splinters and chips. Gouges pretty much work the same as
chisels, any time you go into the grain, the edge will ride into and
chip out along the grain. You can carve with the grain and right
up to about a ninety degree line across the grain. Edge needs to
be very sharp. To get the other 2 directions, you need to turn
the piece (or you) around or learn to become ambidextrous. (Editor's note - Ambidextrous is way better.)
* Some gouges
have a different angle or bevel at the cutting edge, what is the reason
for that? You need to account for both the hardness of the
steel and the hardness of the wood. Smaller bevels (approx.15-20
degrees) will give a more delicate tip and works well in softer woods
but will dull faster in harder woods. If doing mallet work or
working in harder woods, you want to increase the angle of the bevel
(approx 20-25) to give more strength and durability to the edge of the
*I have a few gouges that I inherited
that have the bevel on the opposite side of the gouge, it is like the
cutting edge is reversed. How
and when would they be used? These are back bent gouges, and meant
mainly for getting up and into hard-to-reach areas on high relief and
in the rounds. (They) can get where other tools can't . . . very
useful for the graceful lines of acanthus when backed into a corner.
The things I said are only my
opinion and the things that immediately come to mind. There is
lots to learn about gouges, chisels and their applications and
modifications. Read up a bit if you must have someone tell you
how to use your tools but the best teachers are practice and
experience. Some people do entire carvings using only a pocket
knife, some people whittle away with only one chisel or gouge, others
have complete lines of carving tools and use their tools for
task-specific purposes. Chisels and gouges are inanimate objects,
they don't really do much of anything, it is what you do with the tool
that either makes it dance or stumble.
Maura carvin' in nyc
Peter Watson chimed in on one of the
once told me that gouges are designed to cut across the grain, when I
try that the wood usually splinters and chips.
The first thing to remember is that the reason the gouges are curved is
so the corners are out of the wood this way it won't split. For the same reason the deeper gouges take of more wood because you can
and still keep the corners out.
It was only after they made them curved for this reason that they
discovered the use of the curve for shaping.
There's another little snippet to add to the information you are going
Woodbutcher Jan suggested a solution to
difficult cross grain cuts (In addition to a sharp tool).
across grain carving I use skew chisels which are on an angle.
Works great for me Charley
Lloyd Smith addressed the same issue.
think that your gouges are not sharpened properly; it sounds as if you
have a fingernail shape (edges
swept back -Mike B.->). this will cause splintering. It is ok
for turning but not for carving. The edges should cut before the centre
of the gouge (edges swept forward).
OK, I may have been wrong... between
Maura and Ivan, we may have a complete course. Read on....
There are many types of gouges.
Some are designed for one-hand carving--palm handled tools, for
example. Others are designed for two-hand carving and mallet
work. Those you can identify by the fact that they have a
shoulder that keeps the tool from being driven into the
handle when it is malleted.
(You may even have some gouges that
were intended for shop work--carpenter's chisels, or even turning
tools. Some of these might well have incurve sharpening.
These are not all that useful for carving.)
In the aggregate the tools are called
chisels. A gouge is a chisel that has a curve from corner to
corner which is called the sweep. The sweeps vary from almost
flat (usually stamped with a #3) to U shaped (usually stamped with a
#11). The higher the number, 3-11, the deeper the
sweep. (A flat chisel is usually stamped with a #1, a skew or
corner chisel with a #2.)
In general, you use the tool that
will keep the corners clear of the wood. If you are leveling
a background, for example, you might use a #3 gouge, because that
has just enough sweep to keep the corners clear, but not so deep that
it makes grooves. On the other hand, with a flat chisel--a tool
that has no sweep--the corners would likely dig in. When you make
a deep cut, then, you would use a deeper sweep--again, to keep the
corners clear of the wood. (Some have a rule of thumb
whereby they use a tool at no more than 3/4 its depth to always keep
the corners clear and to never force a cut.)
There are three basic uses of a
gouge. (1) a concave cut--with the tool "rightside up," (2) a
convex cut with the tool "upside down," and (3) a plunge cut--with the
blade nearly perpendicular, as when you make a plunge stop
cut. As you see, you can make a wide variety of cuts with a
single gouge. (Efficient carving generally dictates that you use
as big a tool as you can for the space or the shape, to avoid
pick-picking at your project, which usually results in nervous, fuzzy
If the wood is good carving wood, and
the tool is sharpened to a fine edge, you can make clean cross-grain
cuts. Those are big Ifs because sharpening a carving tool is an
art of its own which takes some practice to perfect. It's
worth the time an effort to learn, however.
Most carvers avoid against-the-grain
cuts because in the wrong direction the grain snags the tool down
into the fibers and causes tearing. If you feel that the tool is
being pulled into the wood by the grain, reverse the direction of the
cut. If the cut is not then clean, take a good look at the
sharpness of the tool.
Gordon suggested a second reference
that's on my top five.
Your questions are producing all sorts
of answers and I hope you are setting up a file to keep anything that
appears to answer your questions , especially anything that Ivan
Whillock posts in reply to a carving question, you will not get any
better "free" advice that is carving related. I can't count the number of
Ivan Whillock posts I have filed away over the years, everyone a gem in
I know someone suggested a book by
Rick Butz , it's a good suggestion, but if you really want all your
questions answered about woodcarving gouges /chisels etc and
something you will continue to use in the future as a reference fun
years to come, do yourself a favour and buy Chris Pye's two volume set
second edition called, Woodcarving, Tools, Materials and Equipment,
it is the woodcarvers bible on gouges and chisels . Pye's book came out as a single
volume originally and some copies are still available , so if you find
one of these that is available buying it would still be a good
(I have a copy of the original,
single volume issue. Even so, the added material was very
much worth buying the more expensive two volume edition so now I have
both. -Mike B.->)
OK, Gang, you now have the last of the gems from my
archives. Time to ask new questions out there. Till next
keep them edges keen, the chips piled high, and don't let the warm
Spring weather and outdoor chores keep you too long from the
Keep on Carvin'
Please take some
time and check out the wood carving lists on the Internet. There
is a lot of knowledge free for the asking on all of the list serves.
For information regarding the various email
lists for woodcarvers, visit The Carvers' Companion
Files, or click the links below.
Woodcarver's List - WoodcarvingFun - American
Stickmaker's - Knotholes List - Fishcarving
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specifically so noted.
- Advice and opinions expressed in this article are those of the
original poster named therein; when in doubt seek additional
- Woodcarving and shop work are potentially hazardous activities
and should be undertaken only with safety a constant and primary
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work area should always comply with local and state codes and