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Notes From the Net

By Loren K. Woodard
Email Loren at woodcarver@socket.net or visit his web site at www.natures naturals.net

Welcome once again to Notes From The Net, a compilation of tips and techniques that were shared on the several wood carving Listserves on the Internet. As is the case every month, the topics are varied and many.


Rotary Carving Bits

There has been considerable communication on the woodcarving lists over the last year or so concerning rotary carving bits. There was a question concerning Kutzall bits recently. Maricha Oxley, an Australian member of the Woodcarver's List answered the question with the following:

Kutzall is great - whatever shapes and bits you can get will serve you well and for a long time. I have a round bit, cone, and flame in the most abrasive grit. I use them for roughing out hard timber. If they get clogged, I use a wire brush or at the end of the day light a match and burn the excess dust that is clogging the bits.

Then I use the next medium grade abrasive bits, in whichever shapes I can get; the round wheel is great for carving hard spots that the others cannot reach. The thin long bit is excellent for feathering or when doing faces on the deep parts, such as nostrils, ear holes, deep mouth of birds etc.

The finest bits, of course, are for last for the refining and defining details etc. I have had my bits for over 16 years and they are still as good as new. I treasure them as they come in handy.

Kutzall also has some wheels that can be placed on the 45-degree angle grinders. These are produced similarly with the spikes, then the golden bits for refinement. They are very good and relatively safe to use as they do not get caught up like a chainsaw or other similar tools, but they do make tremendous dust and a complete dust helmet of good clean air is recommended as well as a good apron; otherwise you get covered completely. (Greg Wilkerson uses this blade on his angle grinder for some of his larger rough out work.)

Experiment with each bit as you get it. Also, take note of the instructions and what they were intended for but do not be afraid to try your own ideas.

Remember every tool is really an extension of your hand and it is up to you to use it wisely, safely, creatively, and to control it to the design or work you are doing. Learn to control it first, know what it will do and what it should not do and you will then be able to do masterful things to bring lots of carvings to life.


Dremel Hand Piece Maintenance

While we're on the topic of power carving, have you ever noticed your hand piece getting hot while using your "Dremel" tool? It may be that the grease on the shaft needs to be replaced. Jack Dangar, who demos for Dremel, tells us to pull the flexible shaft out of the casing, wipe it down good with a paper towel, removing all of the grease, and then recoat the shaft with thin coating of STP motor oil treatment. He says that it lasts far longer and, as we know, STP is made for high temps and high RPM. He indicated that he checks his shaft about once a year.


Using An Airbrush

Jeff LaSalle from the Fish Carver's List explained tips and techniques concerning using an airbrush. The following information should be useful if you are considering painting with an airbrush. While Jeff talks about the Paasche airbrush, the information is good for all brands. I have taken the liberty to reword a small portion of Jeff's comments so that it would pertain to all carving instead of just painting a fish. Jeff states in part:

The three main needles for the Paasche are the VL#1, VL#3 and the VL#5? The #1 is for fine detail, while the #3 is for larger areas and for spraying a little thicker paint. The #5 would be for putting a base coat on your carving or shading a large area.

Put a big piece of cardboard or paper on an easel and practice making spots where you are looking and painting thin lines that are even without having a big blob at each end. This will also give you an idea how the different needles perform and will let you practice all the kinds of markings that you will want to put on your carving. Thin your paint down to a base about like milk to start with and use a retarder that is for the type paint you have. I use rubbing alcohol as a thinner and retarder on water base paints. You will be able to see on the paper how more air will give you a finer spray and dropping the air pressure will give you more of a stippled look.

For the beginning airbrush painter, Dan Patterson added to the airbrush conversation with the following information. (While his comments were directed to fish carvers on the Fish Carver's List, it is good data for all carvers.)

Use a paint schedule that is as simple and as straight forward as you can find. Avoid competition paint schedules that are very labor intensive and include other things such as metallic waxes, foils etc. You can go to those later.

Before you attempt anything, get the best color references that you can. Study it intensively before you paint! Do not just look at the overall color, but look at and study the markings in any particular area. For example, are the worm-like markings on the top of the Brook Trout all the same size and evenly spaced, or are they more random in their characteristics? Are they the same thickness etc? Reference! Reference! Reference!

During the painting process, have a board or something to do practice spraying on before you spray any paint on your carving. What ever you use to practice on, put the same colors on it as you do your carving. It will save you a lot of frustration. When I first started, I used a glass jar because the shape was a round cylinder kind of like a fish. I painted it right along with my fish so that when finished I had two completed paintings, one carving and one really gaudy looking glass jar. A piece of heavy construction paper doubled over and stapled works fine also and when finished you can file it with your references. This allows you to see what the color will actually look like when you spray it on your fish. It also allows you to adjust the intensity of your spraying when you paint on the actual fish. If you make mistakes, it will be on your practice piece, not your carving.


Band Saw Blades

If you are a carver, you most likely cut out carving blanks or will do so in the future. The band saw is one of the saws of choice for most carvers. These saws will do much work for you including re-sawing wood, cutting out carving blank, etc. There was a thread on the Knotholes list concerning band saw blades. Donna Menke, who works for Woodcraft, posted the following information:

The best band saw blade is a new band saw blade. The wider (3/4") blades do a better, smoother job of re-sawing and cutting up large, straight-sided blanks. However, the smaller blades, including a 1/8" blade, can do the job if you go slowly enough. Thinner blades (1/8") are capable of making tight turns. Larger blades can accomplish fairly tight turns if relief cuts are made at the right places. Coarser blades, 3-4 tpi (teeth per inch), cut faster and cooler, but leave the wood with a coarser finish. Finer blades (10-14 tpi) need to be pushed slower and they leave a fine, smooth, surface. Timberwolf makes a great blade for about $35. They are bi-metal so that the teeth can be harder than the band, which is more flexible. They are also very sharp, like the Japanese saws. It is debatable whether or not they are worth 3X the cost of the regular (Woodcraft brand) blades. I use the Timberwolf most of the time, especially for re-sawing, but they break too.

If I could only have one blade, it would be a 1/4" 6 tpi. There is not much I could not do with it.

Richard Carter responded:

I agree with Donna on blade selection. If you go with the 'purists' you would be changing blades with every different thickness of wood, based upon the general rule of (having) 3 to 4 teeth in contact with the wood. Donna's favorite general-purpose blade is a 1/4 inch, 6 tpi, mine is a 1/4 inch, 4 tpi, skip tooth. I have tried different manufacturers, with mixed results, and found that Olson blades give me consistently good results and their blades usually wear out, before they break. I've picked the brains of a lot of craftsmen who do re-sawing (including those who use band saws for timber milling) and the majority do not use a blade larger than 1/2 inch. A well-adjusted band saw helps.

As you can see from the two comments, everyone has their favorite tools. My suggestion is to try the different blades and find the ones that work for you.


Which Tools To Buy?

A new carver on the Knotholes list writes that she doesn't know which tools to consider purchasing for her new carving vocation. This brought several different answers from knowledgeable carvers. Joe Dillett gave the most comprehensive response with the following:

When advising you what to start out with is difficult because we don't know what type of carving you are interested in doing at the start. If you are interested in carving statues (in the round) about the size you can hold in your hand than a knife is the tool I would start with. There are good knives that sell under the $20 range.

The next thing to learn is how to sharpen. To do good carvings the tools must be razor sharp. This requires a piece of leather and a buffing compound. If you don't have leather, you can apply the buffing compound on cardboard and even wood but most people find the leather strap like an old wide belt works best. Buffing compound can be bought at the local hardware store in most cases. Or you may buy it from several that participate on this list. Just ask them to email you off list and request a catalog.

If you are carving a plaque, (relief carving) you may need some chisels and a mallet. The chisels would be a small V shaped chisel and a smaller gouge. You sharpen the chisels with the same leather and buffing compound.

You should also have a coarse and fine sharpening stone.

All this is assuming you are using hand tools. If you are using power tools, you may choose from a whole variety of tools. Check out the catalogs from members of this list.

Another suggestion is to find a local carving club in your area. Also, subscribe to a woodcarving magazine like Chip Chats.


Antiquing Finish

Finally, you've got your carving completed and finished with light washes of your favorite paint. It is time to antique the carving. What should you use? Here's one answer, Jan Oegema's Umber Juice. The recipe is as follows:

Cover your carving with this mixture thoroughly and then use Burnt Umber paint (OIL BASE). Smear it ALL over with brush liberally then wipe off as you see fit. Let dry for 24 hrs.

Well that wraps up this issue of Notes From the Net. May you always strive to reach the next level with your carving efforts.

Loren Woodard

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 Resource Files, or click the links below.

Woodcarver's List - Woodcarvers' Porch - American Stickmaker's - Knotholes List - Fishcarver's List