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Notes From the Net

By Loren K. Woodard
Email Loren at woodcarver@midmo.com or visit his web site at http://www.woodcarvers-gallery.com/

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.


Sharpening With Sandpaper

As always, different ways to sharpen is always a hot topic. Thomas Horton wrote about this method on the Woodcarver's List. Check it out;

I have begun to use sandpaper tacked with spray glue on a piece of old TV glass. Any piece of glass is about the flattest thing around. If the tool is in rough shape, I will start with 80 grit and work my way to 2000 grit (available from Pep Boys, any auto paint store and Lee Valley Catalogue). No, I don't use every grit in between 80 and 2000. Usually, start with 120, 240, 320, 600 and jump to 2000 and then hone on a piece of bass wood using the dark green honing compound available from practically any on line catalogue.

On the wet and dry sandpaper, I will use water. To hold my angle the same, I will sharpen from side to side. This helps a whole heap in keeping the same angle on the blade. Uses up more sandpaper but it's not that expensive.

This system has been used by Mike Dunbar, Windsor Chair guru in Hampton, NH. for years and he refers to it as the Scary Sharp method.


Sharpening V-Tools

Another hot topic on the list always seems to be sharpening V-tools. Joe Dillett provided the following information on the Woodcarver's List.

The Flex Cut are a little easier to sharpen I think, because the metal thickness is less then most chisels. However sharpening a V tool is still not easy, even if it is a Flex Cut chisel. The V tool can be looked at as sharpening 3 tools. You have the two straight sides and the small radius at the bottom. Normally the problem comes from that small radius at the bottom or blending that small radius into the straight sides. Most of the problem in sharpening a V tool is if the tool develops a nick or becomes so dull that it needs to be reshaped using a stone or grinder. The easiest thing to do is to use your stone or grinder and flatten the cutting edge until you can see a flat all around the cutting edge. Then shape the tool, all the while watching to keep the flat a uniform thickness. Keep checking to make sure the entire burr is removed so all you see is the flat area. Work that flat down very uniform all around until it becomes so fine that you can't see it. Then the metal thickness should be uniform all around the tool and the small radius at the bottom should be blended into the straight sides. Now just a little touch up on a fine stone and the leather strop with buffing compound should bring it to a keen edge. I buff the inside of my V with my leather strop that has been sharpened to match the V.

Ivan Whillock followed up on Joe Dillett's V-tool instruction with the following information:

The technique Joe described for sharpening a V tool is the best method I have found, and I use it myself. If there is a hook at the bottom of the V it usually indicates that the outside edge is not exactly parallel with the inside edge. It seems like a painful thing to do, but the best way to correct that is to flatten the cutting edge so that you can see it. Then it will become apparent where the two sides of the wall have become out of parallel with each other. Then, as Joe points out, the next job is not to grind the edge sharp, but to grind the outside edge so that it is exactly parallel with the inside edge. You can do this best by leaving a visible thickness throughout the entire blade. Only after you have made the entire blade of equal thickness overall, inspecting the edge every step of the way, should you then make it invisible by grinding it very thin.

Occasionally the inside of the tool may have been ground incorrectly at the factory, with the "gouge" grinding of the bottom of the V a bit wider than the "chisel" grinding of the wall. This, too, is visible if you flatten the cutting edge. To correct this you would need to use a triangle slip stone to grind the inside of the V wall to make it straight all the way to the bottom. Also, a slight bevel on the inside of the V tool often corrects this problem.

If you are sharpening on a machine, be particularly careful about building up heat. You can very quickly lose the temper on those thin edges. Because of that, many carvers grind the tool from the tip to the heel rather than from the heel to the tip. Then the heat does not become concentrated on the tip.

In the same information that Ivan posted, he addresses a problem that occurs from time to time with all tools. Check this out!

While I have been very impressed with the quality of carving tools these days, it is still possible to run across a dud now and then. Not knowing a tool's history, it is sometimes hard to tell whether it was bad out of the factory or it was over-heated in the grinding done by the owner or otherwise damaged by horsing or other misuse. Virtually every high end tool sold these days is hand made. The advantages of this far outweigh the disadvantages, but along with "hand-made" come "irregular." It comes with the territory. Usually the variations are slight. However, a wall might be slightly thicker on one side of the tool than the other. The sharpening might be slightly different on one tool than another. For myself, I am happy to accept some of those irregularities to get the more compact steel from hand forging. However, if you ever get a tool hat you think is not right, return it. The companies I deal with have a "no questions asked" return policy. It also helps them find some overlooked flaws that may have developed in their manufacturing. Returning a bad tool is better for both you and the manufacturer.


Clogged Bench Stone?

Did you get your stone clogged up following the tips talked about above? If so, Joe Dillett told the Knothole group how to unclog you stone.

If those old oil stones are clogged they need to be dressed (the clogged surface removed). One simple way is to place them on a piece of concrete, like a side-walk, and scrub the stone on the cement. A dresser, such as a diamond point, used for dressing grinding wheels can also be used. Sometimes even washing the stone with kerosene may remove the clogs.


Saving With "Cheap" Tools?

While we on the topic of sharpening, let's slip in a note that Brian Ehrler wrote to the Woodcarver's List. Brian stated;

As Abraham Lincoln once said: "The more time you spend sharpening the ax, the quicker the trees are cut."

This applies to wood carving; it is an error to think a tool that is cheap but will not hold an edge to be a good investment. Many of the tools I use I have had for 10-15 years or more. When I started carving wood at age 14, I could not afford a lot of tools and had to limit some of my carvings. I bought some poorly manufactured tools at the age of 18 and soon threw them out as I purchased a few high grade tools to replace them. As I could afford it, usually every 5th paycheck or so I would buy one or two tools (I chose Ashley Iles, however let me say this before the boat load of flaming e-mails arrive, Sorby, Marples, Swiss Made, or any other reputable brand of your choice would have also sufficed).

I would purchase many of my tools based on what was used most. I purchased my tools in the following order: 6mm V, 13mm 3, 5, 7, and 9, 6mm 3-9, 13mm V etc... It took me almost 2 years to buy these tools. I still purchase 6 tools or so a year adding to my set.

When I carve I can tell you one thing, what I do not spend much time doing is sharpening tools. Each of my tools has been honed, and polished. If a tool is dropped (happens more often than the latter), or is becoming dull (after hours of use) I will stop and polish the edge. I hate stopping to sharpen tools. However it is a necessary evil.

You will soon have great disdain for carving if you buy cheap tools. You will either grow tired of sharpening or wonder why you have a lot of tear out from dull tools.

I meet people often at carving clubs that are having trouble carving. Ninety percent of the time dull tools are the culprit.

To finish his not, Brian says to remember the following:

1. Value has very little to do with Cost.
2. You can only Pick 2 features (Quality, Cost, Speed)."



Now that we have discussed the tools and how to sharpen them, let's talk about doing some carving. You readers probably are already familiar with Ol' Don, as in "Ol' Don" Burgdorf from the Nashville, Tennessee area. Don has patterns in Woodcarving Online Magazine, Chip Chats, The Woodcarver's Porch, etc. In addition, Don had portfolios of different carving subjects available from his web site. Check him out at http://artofdon.com. You'll be glad you did.

Now to get to the good stuff! :o) Don writes;

For whatever help it might offer, I have just signed on with PictureTrail and have posted two reference drawings for your consideration. One has to do with laying out the features on the face and because of its size will probably have to be saved and enlarged in order to read it. The other compares the male and female profiles showing their primary differences. Click on the following PictureTrail link below if you'd like to view them. http://www.PictureTrail.com/carveroldon.


Framing A Relief Carving

Ivan Whillock, a long-time list member and nationally known carver, wrote to the Woodcarver's List in answer to a question about carving a framed relief carving. Ivan wrote:

You can easily make a relief carving with a large un-carved frame. Just carve the section you want, leaving the rest flat (or decorated however you wish). In making the carving you don't work from the center outward, you work from the deepest point to the highest. Draw your pattern onto the wood and then carve the relief using these four steps:

1. Grounding out. In this stage you carve away the deepest point. For many carvings this will be the background. In a landscape the deepest point might be the sky section. Before you go on to any other step, carve away all sections that are on this deepest level.

2. Layering. Once you have removed the deepest section, you then determine the levels of the rest of the carving. For example, a landscape might have a sky, background hills, middle ground trees and a foreground animal. A flower carving may have leaves and flowers at various depths. You layer by taking away the deepest sections first and then working your way to the highest.

3. Shaping. The next step after you have done the layers is shaping. At this stage you round the branches, say, and put in the concave and convex shapes of the other elements of the carving.

4. Detailing. This is the very last step and should not be done before the other three steps. Here you put in the final touches: the veins in the leaves, the hair on an animal, the bark of the trees, etc. My advice: "Don't do the detail until you have to." Because many beginners find the detail more fun than the other steps, they often rush into it too soon and often have to cut away detail to readjust layers, etc.

As I said, beginners often jump ahead on the steps, finishing an entire section before grounding out another, or finishing the eyes before blocking out the whole face. Try to avoid that and follow the four steps in order. That will help you achieve balance and consistency throughout the whole carving and will prevent your having to "do over" sections that you jumped ahead on.

The best tools to use for relief carving are the full-sized tools that allow you to hold the tool with both hands, giving you complete control. Palm handled tools are more appropriate for one handed carving such as figure carving. They should also be mallet tools so that you can use the mallet for controlled plunge cuts into the wood. Most training involves learning to switch hands so that when the grain changes you can simply switch hands to carve in the other direction to adjust to the grain.


Fish Carving

Would you like to try your hand at fish carving? Frank Adamo wrote the following words of wisdom to the Fish Carver's List.

Welcome to the magical, mystical world of FISH CARVING ! Whether you're carving a fish, mouse, or a flower it's all basically the same.

A- Find and USE as much reference materials as you can,
B- Always get the BEST TOOLS and MATERIALS you can afford,
C- Be open to what ever works for YOU. Don't struggle with a particular tool or method just because that's how "Joe Carver" does it,
D- Know when to say "it's done". You don't want to add more detail than you can do NICELY, and
E- Now this is critical......HAVE FUN ! !

I though that was a great bit of wisdom from Frank. Check out his web page at http://www.capecarvedfish.com and enjoy.


Painting With An Air Brush

Okay, now you have just finished carving a fish, bird, etc, and want to paint it with your new air brush. Larry, at Hide and Beak gives us the following suggestions.

I do general painting (wide coverage) at 30 to 35 PSI, and for fine work (spots, vermiculations, etc.) I use 10 to 15 PSI and sometimes even go down as low as 5 PSI.

Check out Larry's web pages at http://www.hidebeak.com.

Since I missed the last issue, I had quite a lot of material to present herein. As a matter of fact, this article could go on for many more pages. However, I will give you a break and save some of the material for later. :o) As always, have a great time carving and I'll see you on the net.

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