Saturday, February 11, 2012

The carvers friends

This is going to be one of the longest posts I've ever written, so make a coffee, sit back and welcome to the hidden world behind my carvings. I hope you enjoy it and aren't too bored.

I've realised after reading others blog posts over the years that some carvers do a piece on their tools and some shy away from it, others use the space to offer tutorials on use or sharpening. I have decided to do a post or what may become posts on the tools I use, which are my favourites and which are my life long companions as long as I'm carving, a sort of Blogger "Show and Tell".

I guess I should start by saying that my carving is a hobby, I do sell some pieces but not enough to keep the dog in the luxury she's getting far too used to' let alone me or my wonderful family.

The hours spent chipping away, stemming blood flow and easing blistered and sore fingers is my escapism, my relaxation from the day job. For those who don't know I'm a senior manager (Deputy CEO) for a youth homeless and social welfare charity here in Gloucestershire. I have responsibility for all of our child and adult protection and some days I just need to escape into my carving. Just because I feel I just might not have enough to do I am also the Chair of Governors for my youngest sons Junior school as well. So if you get frustrated at the lack of posts sometimes now you know why.

I will start with this post looking at the main tool roll I have with my knives and other implements that help me produce what I do. The tool roll I have is just a general universal Plano roll purchased from the great EBay for about ten pounds.

This shot shows the roll open and the contents on display ready to be drawn and used. As you can see there are numerous pencils as well all with varying hardness from a 6B to a 2H with more than one HB stolen from a small child's pencil case.

I will start from the left to the right top to bottom.

First is the pocket diamond embedded sharpening stone, double sided and Scandinavian designed. One side is metal impregnated and coarse and the other is ceramic impregnated and very fine. A great knife sharpening system indeed. This is a more recent item and I still have the wet and dry paper sharpening home made system I've been using for years.

The next is my small tear drop knife used to whittle and get some good detail into faces. This was an online purchase, so a bit of a risk re knowing what your going to get. I just live the look and feel of the knife. It's manufactured in China but has a surprisingly good blade which holds a sharp edge, maybe not as long as I would like though.

I find I have to finish off most knives I get as they can come quite rough from the manufacturers. This one was sanded and re polished to show off the grain on the handle.

This next shot shows the size. It fits lovely into my hand and is a joy to use.

The next is a Pocket knife bought in Shropshire from a traditional Iron Mongers and General Store. That had a number I wanted but this one took my fancy. I needed (wanted) a straight edged blade and I like the simplicity of this knife. It holds a razor edge.

Again I removed the cellulose spray finish, sanded the pins flush and oiled the wood to get a really comfortable tool to handle.

Cellulose spayed handles to my mind are just plastic feeling and don't age that well. An oiled handle will darken with use and get a patena that is just not replicable other than by using the knife a lot.

The next two knives are actually Victorinox Swiss Army Knives that I've de-plastic'ed and fitted solid hardwood cheeks to. You loose the toothpick and tweezers but that's a small price to pay for such a beautiful finished knife. Once again the wood through use will age, will take on character and a life that plastic cannot ever have.

Look through my blog history to see the post on changing the cheeks of a Swiss army knife. follow the link to the post

This picture shows my oak handled basic knife which has no corkscrew the other in the roll has a hard fruit wood handle. Both will in years to come be aged and beautiful the oils from my hands colouring and polishing as I use them.

This picture shows how the blade of a Swiss Army knife can be ground into what you need as a carver. This flatter shape makes for a better detail and carving knife blade where the larger blade is a good waste remover and as such is left rounded as manufactured

Now if you want a general pocket knife that does it all then look no further than the French Opinel. My old Cabinet Maker Tutor at Rycotewood College, a wonderful guy called Mr P (Roy Padgington) recommended on day one of my course for us to equip ourselves with an Opinel and I've never been without one since. They hold an edge for what seems like forever, the blade locks and it's a great waste remover. This one I think is a No6 which is the size Mr P advised us all to get.

As a carving blade I don't find it that useful, but as a tool to remove waste, quickly and cleanly it's fantastic. I have to say the French make some good knives.

Next to the Opinel is the newest addition which was a gift from my wife. This Beauty is a Laguiole with a Damascus blade. A great pocket knife, large enough to be a rough waste remover but just beautiful as well.

This fella has a small issue in that the blade has not been ground enough and touches the backplate when closed on highs spots so blunting the cutting edge in the middle of the blade. Through continuos sharpening this will be remedied, it will just take time and the blade will shape itself into where it wants to be.

In my experience no knife (except maybe the Swiss army knives) comes perfect, unless you pay allot more than I am prepared to pay or can afford to pay, though the Swiss Army Knife is a little soul less when first purchased and needs careful work in that area.

The Laguiole cannot be called soul less, it's a beautifully crafted knife with a good weight and just a beautiful shape. You can't mistake a Laguiole.

Almost like chalk and cheese sitting next to the pricey end of my collection is the cheap end of the tools I use, though by no means the cheapest. These are carving chisels from Draper and are extremely useful. The set cost less than most of the knives at approximately £14 but they allow detail and texture to be applied with little effort. They hold a good edge when sharpened properly and all have bitten me once or twice.

I use Flexicuts sharpening system to get these fellas sharp.

Next in the line is a strange little tool that's totally home made and very useful. I got the idea from reading a book on Netsuke carving and proceeded to make myself one. This is a piece of gorse bush from Pembrokeshire that I salvaged from a beach, it had been hanging around for months and months; the business end is a diamond embedded grinding fitting for a model hand power tool.

So what does it do I hear you ask?

Well it has a Multi function in that it's course so can be used for targeted sanding in tricky inaccessible areas but it's main function is to allow me to apply through pressure little dents in the carving to create texture. Those little dents can be left as dents or the wood around them removed just back to the depth of the dent; if warm water is then applied to the dents they swell back up and you have perfect little round bumps. Clever eh!

As you get to the end you will see a sharp scribe, which is just a watchmakers screwdriver ground to a sharp point to scratch the wood or make pinholes. There is a folding utility knife that has replaceable blades, which I use to cut day to day items so as not to blunt my carving blades.

However there is at the end an aluminium scalpel which is great for detail and cleaning or trimming. This is a good quality one thats strong and robustly clamps the blade. Just a good quality craft scalpel. Its worth paying about £5 to £10 for a good scalpel craft knife as the thread on the part that clamps the blade will be quality and won't wear and loosen. Cheap scalpels are false economy, usually the ones that come as a Multi tool arrangement in a folding plastic box and cost just under a tenner. In my opinion, useless. Spend the tenner on a single scalpel.

What I've saved until last is a few home made scalpel handles that I use specifically in the eye area and on the small faces carved into the Sphearoblasts. These guys were invaluable in carving the Council of 29 recently posted here in the blog.

My favourite is a bamboo handled knife which emerged from a shoot of bamboo cut from the garden and an old blade I was going to discard. I decided to make a knife instead. I sharpened the blade grinding it into a more useable angle and secured the blade with florestry wire. It's comfortable and light and very easily manipulated to help create the eyes and other detail.

Then handle has never been oiled but through use it's taking on a patena of its own and is smooth and warm to use. The other example is a knife made from an old paintbrush handle and another blade to be discarded. Again used in some detail work.

There is a third in the tool roll picture but it's a similar design so I didn't do a detail photo.

These guys are the cheapest tools but in reality, the 'bamboo baby' is one of my most useful and most used tools; especially recently with the Council of 29

I love using homemade tools in my carvings it gives me a sense of satisfaction that I have crafted a tool that meets my needs and is finished to my standards.

That's the top line of tools covered in my tool roll of carving tools.

I will post another that focuses on the bottom line. I do use all of the knives and chisels in this roll and always have a dilemma when I go away, in regards to what do I take with me.

That dilemma was somewhat resolved with the item in the middle of the roll as shown in the first photo and on the left hand side. I will start the next post with that; my Carving Jack from Flexicut.

I hope you have found this post interesting and informative?

As always your comments are always welcome


~ Dave ~


Valerianna said...

Fascinating tools of the trade and a beautiful collection. Love the ones you made, love the idea of doing this. I sometimes change brushes a bit, but haven't made one completely.

ArtPropelled said...

Far from being boring, I found this the most interesting post I have read in a long time.... but then I'm a carver. So many gems within the post. I love the fact that you replace the handles with beautiful rich wood. Art pieces in themselves. One thing I have never mastered is sharpening my chisels. My godfather used to do this for me up until a few years ago when he passed away but now I've had to resort to the cheaper chisels you've shown and they are thrown into the back of a cupboard when they become blunt. Another knife I use quite a lot is the good old Stanley knife. I have been searching for a good pocket knife that fits comfortably into the hand. I covet the Tear-drop knife so beautifully finished and polished (can almost feel it in my hand). I also like the idea of the tool roll. For someone who has been carving since childhood I am really slow. Why didn't I think of that?! Looking forward to more posts like this. Thanks so much for sharing Dave.

Waldgeistman said...

Dave, fantastic post. I found your comments very informative and has given me some fresh ideas about tools. Looking forward to the next post. I watched somebody use the Flexcut Tool.

Dave Jones said...

Thanks all. Some lovely comments. Robyn I hope your well. Glad to show you sometime how to sharpen a chisel. Valerianna, I love my little tools I make. Paul , the Flexicut is my favourite. The next installment is going to be posted soon.