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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.



What Tools To Purchase??

One of the carvers on the List sent in a question concerning the type of tool that he should purchase for a specific type of carving. Lynn Diel answered the question with his own advice and then forwarded Ivan Whillock's response to a previous but similar question. Both answered the question as follows.


Lynn wrote:

. . . . you will find many answers to your question and each of them is right. However to address your question, I think one should buy tools to fit their carving style. Awhile back someone asked the master carver, Ivan Whillock, about the right tool and here is his response. While this is a very good treatise on tools it does cover some major points, i.e. the type of
carving dictates the tool style.


Ivan's response to a similiar question:

Beginners often ask "what kind of tools should I buy?" Brand names aside, an important consideration would be "what kinds of carvings do you plan to make?" Do you plan to do small carvings, holding the wood in one hand and the carving tool in the other? Or do you want to make relief carvings, medium sized figures, or maybe fairly large carvings? Will you be using a hold down-device, a C clamp or a carver's screw? There are generally three types of carving tools, all appropriate for particular carving styles. Here are their more common uses:

1. One-handed carving. If you plan to carve mostly by holding the carving in one hand and the carving tool in the other, the tools of choice are palm-handled tools and carving knives. A palm handled tool is about 5 inches long and has a short, fat handle that fits snugly in your hand. They can be made in a variety of ways, from spring steel, ground from a rod, or hand forged. They should not be used with a mallet, nor are they the best choice for relief. Knives come in hundreds of shapes and sizes, with small detail blades or large rough-out blades. Some are specialized, as for chip carving.

2. Two-handed tools, mid-sized. The mid-sized tools are about eight inches long. They are not necessarily a "student-sized tool" or a cheaper version of the big tools. They are the preferred size for an area of carvers whose specialty is figure carving. The statue is held to the stand with a carver's screw so both hands are free to manipulate the tool. In certain carving strokes the tool blade is held in the fingers like a pencil with the off hand steadying the tool but not applying force. Thus, the shorter version tool is a bit easier to manipulate, as there is less tool mass behind the hand. Traditional mid-sized tools can be used with a mallet, and the rigid blade gives control with plunge cuts (with the tool held vertical) and obverse cuts (with the tool held upside down.) (Before using a mallet on a tool, always check to see that the blade has a shoulder which keeps the tool from being driven into the handle. Some brands of mid-sized tools do not have a shoulder and should not be used with a mallet.)

3. Two-handed tools, full-sized. The full-sized tools are about ten inches long. They are the "universal" traditional carving tool, the tool of choice for most relief carvers and many figure carvers. The wood must always be held down with a clamp, carver's screw or other hold-down device. (It can be very dangerous trying to carve one handed with two-handed tools.) The larger size allows carvers to comfortably steady the tool with both hands. These tools can be used with a mallet. They are generally tempered throughout the entire blade so they can be sharpened indefinitely--through many generations of use. Their
handles are not permanently fixed to the blade so that they are replaceable should they become chipped by use of a mallet. Because the blades are rigid, these tools, too, can be used for plunge and obverse cuts, standard techniques in traditional carving. The length and rigidity of the blade gives control in other ways as well. By holding the tool firmly with the wrist of the lower hand frozen to the desired angle, it is possible to maintain a consistent depth of cut throughout the entire stroke, helpful for V tooling around a relief, wasting, or making controlled veiner cuts.

While it is possible to make stop cuts in a relief with a knife, it is not the best tool for the job, just as one would not whittle with a full-sized gouge. Carving a relief with palm tools is not the best choice because the two-handed tools offer so much better control. A genius could probably carve a masterpiece with a dull screwdriver. We mere mortals are better off choosing the right tool for the job.

As an aside, buying tools these days can be quite an investment. Often the manufacture of quality carving tools is as much an art as the carving we do with them. The best have developed through the years into carefully made, finely tuned instruments. The professional carvers I know treat their tools with nearly the same care as a concert violinist treats his Stradivarius. They are always kept dry, well-honed, and they are never carelessly banged around the bench, as I see so many amateurs do to their tools. Buy the best quality you can and treat them like the best.



Another carver on the List was asking for help in the sharpening department. It seem that he thought that he was about to waste a carving knife by using the wrong sharpening techniques. However, Joe Dillett came to the rescue. Joe advised the carver as follows.

Don't worry about screwing up the Stubai carving knife. You won't hurt it at all because I suggest you don't practice on that knife. Find an old pocket knife or buy a cheap one to practice on. This also goes for practicing sharpening on chisels. If you have a cheap V- tool or gouge that you bought to save money but it never measured up to the qualities of a good tool, those make wonderful tools for practicing sharpening. If you buy a cheap V-tool for about $10 or less it would be the most inexpensive sharpening lesson you could have. Sharpen that cheap tool until there is nothing left. Try different angles and different shapes. Work it until you get the best edge ever. Than grind the whole edge off and do it again and again, testing different methods.


Work Bench Height

A carver wrote to the Woodcarving List concerning the height of a work bench that was going to be used to hold a dust collector for power carving. Paul Guraedy gave the carver some advice concerning the height of the bench and dust collectors. Paul wrote:

I am primarily a power carver. I did not realize how much dust floats around until I started carving cedar. The red dust shows up everywhere.

I think that the height of the work table will depend on the height of the chair you use for carving. I carve from a stool and my work area is higher than those who use chairs. Standing requires a higher table than sitting. The main thing is to be comfortable because you will be there for a while.

There are two areas of concern for dust collection. The first is the general room air, dust will escape the best work station air filter. For this you could use the "squirrel cage" from a home heating/air-conditioning system. My brother is in that business and throws them away on a regular basis. I had him mount one of the smaller ones on angle iron for one that I could move around (use it like a fan). I now intend to have one put in a duct system to remove dust from the whole room. Since they are thrown away, they should come fairly cheap (he is in commercial air conditioning and will not chance using an old fan in a new system, you may need to check with someone who does mainly businesses).

The second area of concern for dust collection is at the work station. For this you need small fans that move a whole lot of air. These can be purchased or there are several plans around for building them yourself. If you make one, be sure and use a filter intended for dust collection. A regular air conditioning filter is almost useless. Noise is a factor when selecting motors, but you can use ear protection, you only have one set of lungs and no filter on them so a face mask is advisable. But, I can guarantee that there are few among us who never do at least some "quick" work without a face mask. Choose the motor for the amount of air moved not for its noise volume.

Hope this helps and you continue to enjoy your power carving.

Paul Guraedy
Alpena, Arkansas


Clay Models

A fellow carver wrote to the Woodcarving List about a clay model he was developing for a wood carving. Sensahumor wrote back the following information.

I was interested in your post of making a model first. In fact that is the single most important element in woodcarving is the design. Most people work from a very good drawing and carve the piece. More often then not they are done carving with the final thought of ... I should have done something different. Here is why they have a mental block in which they work, and they work out the details as they carve. Sometimes ending in a redo or a piece if they are not satisfied with what they had imagined it would look like. Designing in any form of clay allows the carver to alter without the slightest waste of material or time. The greatest advantage, however is the execution of the original design and how it might appear in 3D.

Sensa challenged the carver as follows.

I challenge you to go one further and start using clay as a primer in all your woodcarvings. You will not only begin to understand mentally but your design work will improve. I model and save my clay designs by making rubber molds and make the master blank out of lightweight hydrocal. If you have time try making a wood template and cover it with a clay design, perhaps a practice capital bracket with Rococo ornamentation or a simple volute, even fancy moldings. I think you would have fun with it. Perhaps one of the best bird sculptors on the net that I've seen is Lori Corbett of Whispering Eagle Studio. She makes all her sculptors out of clay before she carves them.

I enjoyed your post

As always, I hope that you have found something in this information that will be useful to you in your carving endeavors. One of the best places to find additional information concerning woodcarving is the archives found on The Carvers' Companion. Take some time and browse these web pages. I'm certain that you will find them more that just worthwhile. (WOM back issues HERE: Woodcarver Resource Files HERE)

Until the next issue, keep carving and strive to make each carving your best one yet!

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 - Fishcarving List

Editor's Note: Disclaimers and Cautions