Where do you get inspiration?
Inspirations comes from nature, thoughts, dreams, even nightmares and from people watching. Try to think outside the box and not be constrained by guidelines, use your imagination and your sense of humor.
If when your carving you loose interest, or your way with your subject, don’t bin it, put it on the shelf and carve something else. Carvings can stay on the shelf for years, started but not finished, and then out of the blue you’ll pick it up again with fresh enthusiasm and a clear picture of the way to go.
How do you change the colour of wood?
I don’t ever put paint on my carvings, this is my personal choice, but I do like to play around with colour effects namely bleaching and ebonizing, The bleaching is a simple task of applying two components to the wood, I use Rustins bleaching pack, it does what it says on the box.
The ebonizing is a little bit more involved but easy, first wash out a normal size jam jar, half fill the jar with malt vinegar, take a bunch of wire wool and wash it with a drop of washing up liquid, this will get rid of any oil in the wire, pack the wire in the jar and top up with the vinegar, now loosely put the lid and leave on a shelf for about ten to fourteen days.
For the second part, collect all your old teabags and put them in another washed out jam jar again pack to the top, now cover them with boiling water, put the lid on loosely and store for the same time as the vinegar. When the times up drain the tea into another jar and discard the the bags, now drain off the vinegar into a clean jar through a fine strainer or a pair of tights [ask the wife first! to get rid of any scum that has formed.
For successful ebonizing the wood in question needs to contain Tannin. Oak has a lot whilst Lime has little, so if the
wood you are using is low in tannin, you need to introduce some ,that’s where the tea comes in, you will need to paint the tea on the wood quite liberally, Just before it drys paint over the top of the tea stain with the vinegar solution then put to one side to fester and wait, the acid in the vinegar will react with the tea and the surface will turn darker, depending on the wood being used and the strength of tannin, the wood will dictate the darkness of the ebonizing. This is great if you want to mount a light wood on a dark base to achieve a strong contrast.
What tools do you need and how do you store and look after them ?
Don’t bother about sets of tools, unless you find a good deal on eBay or a second hand tool market or even a car boot sale, that’s another good reason for joining a club, most have a reasonable selection of club tools for members to use giving you the chance to find your favorite chisels and gouges then you can start to build your own tool roll.
Talking of storage of tools don’t just chuck your tools in a bag and hope for the best, because they will get damaged and so will you getting them out of the bag. Investing in a good tool roll is a must or if you prefer an aluminium tool box which you can pick up on amazon or eBay quite cheaply, then you can put your tool-rolls inside the box for ease of carrying.
I have over the years treated myself to a selection of “special tools”, these tend to be quite expensive so they deserve to be cosseted, these are stored in an aluminium box lined with close grain foam.
If you decide to use this foam don’t get it on eBay, instead go to your local leisure center or swimming pool and ask if you can buy a swim float or two, they are made of the same grade foam, then cut the foam to suit the size of box, lay your special tools on the foam draw around them with a fine point felt tip pen and dig out the foam to suit the tool so that it sinks in and lays level with the top of the foam. This will keep them snug and safe from damage.
If you buy old tools, inspect them for pitting in the steel, when you sharpen them you might find the new edge will break down when you expose a pit, a good reason for keeping the tools dry when their stored. When you buy an electrical item or such, inside the packing will be a little sachet of silicone granules, most people chuck these away with the box, put the bags in with the tools, they will help to suck up any moisture in your toolbox, you’ll be surprised how many of these little bags come your way. Look after your tools and they will look after you.
What wood do you use or like?
First of all I would like to say “I love Yew “, its not every ones choice, it can irritate your skin, make your eyes smart, or make you sneeze. Yew carves well, it holds fine detail, you can achieve a fantastic finish and the colours can be absolutely beautiful.
It pays to experiment with any timber, push its limits see how thin you can carve the detail before it breaks, expose the grain. What finish can you achieve, if you feel all this “faffing” about is a bit sad, then think how sad you would be if you had spent hours carving your subject only to find the wood has a naff grain or it won’t take detail! A bit of faffing about is very worth the effort .
How much sanding is involved?
Before you start sanding your carving take time out to consider, do I really want an ultra smooth finish or would the piece look better with a tooled finish? If you decide to sand the work you must achieve the best possible finish with the tools before you start sanding, this extra work with the tools will save you hours of laborious rubbing, sneezing and sore fingers. That said consider using Abranet, brilliant stuff, doesn’t clog up and lasts longer than conventional papers, you can even wash and dry it, start off with hopefully 180 grit and work through the grades to 400. If you want a superior finish carry on using the grads which can go up to 800.
I also use Micromesh, I have grades from 1200 [this is the equivalent of 400 grit in Abranet or silicon papers] up to 12000 ,if you work through the grades and don’t skip one you will achieve a brilliant finish, you can also wash these sheets, most of the time I use a combination of Abranet and silicon paper which you can fold tight to sand in awkward places, work through the grades up to 400 grit to get an excellent finish. Normally I would then give it a coat of cellulose sanding sealer, you can put this on with rag or brush or even better spray it.
If you go to Ikea and buy a Lazy Susan base for about a fiver, you can stand your piece on the turntable and spray and turn to get an even coat, you can also get into any small areas that a rag won’t, this done now take a piece of 0000 wire wool and lightly rub over the carving to clean off any dust stuck in the sealer, your carving has now got a good base for applying wax and buffing to a fantastic finish.
Next time you go to a high street coffee shop grab a handful of their little wooden stirring spoons, they are great for wrapping a piece of silicone paper around to sand in those awkward little nooks and crannies .
How do you keep your tools sharp ?
Now that you have built up your selection of tools you’ll need to keep them sharp, spend time practicing on an old chisel. You’ve probably spent a quite a lot on tools so it makes sense to spend out on a decent sharpening system.
I use the Ashley Illes set up, the kit comprises of a rubberized grinding wheel, a stitched cloth dolly mop a stick of polishing green soap and a dressing wheel, last price i saw was about £70, once you’ve mastered the art, more than likely you’ll stick with this method, go on line and check out the best price, you’ll also need a 6″/150mm bench grinder, but you will have to reverse the direction of the motor, a normal bench grinder runs towards you, with this system of sharpening the rotation must be away from you.
Most modern bench grinders have a detachable foot plate so its quite easy to reverse the foot complete with switch so that when refitted to the body of the grinder the rotation of the wheels will be away from you. You will also need a small angle poise lamp, some grinders have a built in lamp, if not pick up a cheap one from Ikea or such. The details of using this method, when you buy the Ashley Illes wheels the instructions are in the box.
If you do a fair amount of whittling with a knife while sat in the garden or at a show or on the beach, then you can easily touch the edge up using 6″ length of leather belt stuck to a piece of wood about 1.25″ wide and 6″/ 8″ long, first soften the leather with a few drops of light machine oil then impregnate the leather with a metal polish such as “Auto chrome” from a car parts shop, it will cost about a fiver, now you have a portable strop as long as you don’t damage the edge of the tool this little aid will keep the edge sharp and serve you well, you can also use it to hone your chisels and gouges.