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June 21, 2010
I’ve got a number of questions lately about carving tools. Which ones do I use, what do I recommend, etc.
Here is some of the answer. The carving tools I use are a mixture of new & old. They all generally work, some better than others. I have some English, German, Swiss, American.
I mostly lean towards the older tools; but I have many new (in the last 25 years) tools. Most of those are the Swiss-made tools, (Pfiel is the name of the company that makes them, I think). These days I have found some of their tools a little lightweight, which I don’t like.
I imagine the “antique” tools I use are not all that old, maybe early-twentieth century. I have never really studied gouge-history, but I bet someone has and there must be a rundown of various gouge-making firms, like Butcher, Addis, Buck Bros, Henry Taylor. I have tools from all these & mostly like them.
First, as for sizes. This picture is what I generally send people who ask what size tools do I use the most. A set of gouges like this will go a long ways in carving 17th-century style patterns.
carving tools' profiles
I’ve collected my tools here & there over the years; and some have come from Alexander’s collection as well. (as always, thanks JA) As for manufacturers, I guess most of my old ones are British. There’s no magic in the British ones, but they are generally nice.
The museum where I work once bought some tools, and in a money-saving mood, we chose the smaller versions of some Austrian tools, and I find them hard to use. I hit these things pretty hard, and the smaller tools feel like they can’t take it. I haven’t had a problem with them, I just don’t like the way they feel. I prefer a larger, full-size tool. Pfiel (sold through Woodcraft & elsewhere) make some carving tools in two sizes as well, so I recommend the bigger versions if you go that route. I bought some Ashley Iles last year from www.toolsforworkingwood.com and for new tools they seem well-made. They are large, and strong.
gouges old & new
This picture shows a bunch of tools I use a lot. From the top, two Henry Taylor gouges, one old one new. A W Butcher gouge, one of my favorites. Then a new Ashley Iles gouge, and a very nice, although small, Sheffield-made gouge.
Here is a comparison between the two Henry Taylor gouges. I don’t think the “old” one is all that old, (I’d guess 25 years or so?) but there’s a noticeable difference between the two. see the detail of the bolsters, the new one doesn’t quite fit the ferrule that well, and the handle’s a little cockeyed too. Not a terrible big deal, but it makes the old one more appealing to me.
Henry Taylor gouges
detail, Henry Taylor gouges
This is one of my favorite gouges. Again, I doubt it’s all that old. But nice & stout where it needs to be, and well made.
W Butcher gouge
NOW, the V-tool is the real killer. It’s a hard tool to find one that’s the right shape. I have a Pfiel one that I bought 20+ years ago, and have changed its shape through sharpening over time, and I do most of my V-tool work with it. I have since bought new ones, same size, same maker. Different shape. Some of those failed (chipped cutting edge!) – I also have an old German one that I use a good bit. It’s a very nice example. This photo shows, from right to left, Pfiel, Ashley Iles, one from Hamburg (no name) and a Stubai from Austria. Look at the detail of their V-shapes, that’s the thing to look for. The closer it comes to an absolute point at the junction of both “wings” the better it is. That’s where the Stubai in this group loses out, the Pfiel and the German ones have the best shape. Ashley Iles is pretty good, probably better than the newer Pfiels I have bought in recent years.
Here they run just as above, from the left, Stubai, German no-name, Ashely Iles, and Pfiel (Swiss-made). the German & Swiss are the best, cleanest cuts, sharpest lines. the other tw0, being a little rounded at the bottom, bump along a bit, leaving ridges inside the lines.
V-tool shapes & lines
To learn more about V-tool shapes, have a look at Chris Pye’s website. He has an e-book dedicted to just this one tool. I skimmed it, and there’s good stuff there about the proper shape for this tool. (one of the proper shapes, anyway)
Hope some of this helps with questions about carving tools. it’s a start anyway. I”ll be doing some more carving this summer, and will try to add some blog content here on the subject.
Here’s a recent, nearly-done panel I have been practicing, just so we have a carved panel after all this talk about the tools:
July 27, 2009
Richard Francis, one of the readers of this blog, was kind enough to send me some photographs he shot at the V&A in London, of the paneling I had been studying from published photos & drawings. Thanks, Richard. (well, I got this one sideways…) (here’s the previous discussion of this material: http://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/?s=bromley )
panel, Bromley-by-Bow, early 17th c
My first version was outlined with a V-tool, which leaves a characteristic beveled edge to the lines.
PF half-pattern, V-tool outline
I decided that was not what I was seeing in Richard’s photo. So today I tried another version, in which the curves were marked out by incising the oak with various carving gouges to define the shapes.
So I think the way I will approach it will be to layout with a compass, and then use the gouges & chisels to incise the pattern, then cut down the background, followed by shaping the surface. Next time I get to London I plan on spending a good amount of time studying this same pattern repeated umpteen times throughout the room…I’ll bring a flashlight/torch…
January 5, 2009
another form of scratch stock
I made this scratch stock like a marking gauge, and I use it when I need a molding that is not at the edge of the stock. Here it’s set up to form a small bead. In this case, the bead is the first step in some carved decoration. below is scraping the bead. As before, the green, straight-grained oak scrapes very easily.
scraping a bead
Next I use a small gouge to chop straight into the bead shape, to begin defining a simple pattern. I hold the gouge perpendicular to the stock, and strike once with a mallet. I eyeball the spacing of these cuts.
striking the gouge
The next step then is to angle the gouge behind the first cuts, and chop out the chip. I sometimes need to move the tool laterally at the end of the cut to get the chip to pop out. Avoid the urge to try to flick the chip up with the gouge.
finishing the carved detail
Here is a view of a section of this molding. I have been making some of this for a stool I have underway in my shop.
April 5, 2013
Snipe w its bill
Got a new snipe photo today, so I will refer you to an earlier post about hinges…this snipe photo is better. Somewhere I have a great one- but no time to look for it now. We saw about 6 of these guys rooting through the grasses in Marshfield this morning. http://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2011/12/14/setting-gimmals-you-might-know-them-as-snipe-bills/
I’m all grown up now & I know right from wrong. And the spindle in the bottom of this photo is wrong. These are for a bedstead I have to make in ash. About 12″ long, there’s a row of them at both the head and foot of the bed.
right & wrong
I blame Curtis Buchanan. I watched him turning his chair parts last week, and all those curves got in my head. http://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2013/03/15/how-to-make-a-comb-back-windsor-chair-w-curtis-buchanan/
The bottom one is more curvy than the piece I am supposed to be copying. With such short lengths, I can turn plenty of extras and pick & choose which I want.
defining some shapes w skew chisel
using large gouge to bring it down
Here’s an original:
I need five large & five small, so I’ll turn a bunch and get there in the end.
Meanwhile I carved some parts for a wainscot chair I’m building. My great big carved one finally sold & I miss having it around. I had some great wide quartersawn white oak to do the panel, 14″ x 16″ or so. I have carved these designs so much now that I make my own patterns by combining bits of this & that. Thus this panel is not a copy of any particular piece, but is firmly rooted in that Ipswich, Massachusetts/Devon England style. (so yes, David Cawthray, air-dried timber is fine & dandy. Quartersawn is best, but if you must use flatsawn, don’t let that stop you http://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2011/01/22/about-flatsawn-stock-again/
March 3, 2013
Well, two days in a row and I come up with my next all-time favorite turning wood. Last time it was the Bolivian rosewood, this time it’s East Indian rosewood.
It’s hard to judge based on one experience turning this stuff, but so far so good. It does require sharp tools, but that’s what we’re supposed to have anyway. I had long wondered about the Boston turnings of the 17th century that feature woods like this…what lathe did they use, how did they cut it, etc.
I finally decided the thing to do is try some and was glad to find that the pole lathe handled it just fine. Things clunked along, but mostly due to me trying to photograph every step of the way, in part for a record, and mostly for slides for the upcoming Furniture Forum at Winterthur…so juggling lights, camera, tripod, etc then checking the results and adjusting things.
glued up, octogon-ed, and ready to turn
long sleeves & gloves
the large gouge roughing out the shape
some burnishing w Roubo’s polissoir
mostly done, for the day anyway
Next time I turn this stuff, I will put the camera away & concentrate just on the turning. This example needs a little attention; but it should come out fine.
Meanwhile, I cut one of the small drawers I need…half-blind dovetails join the sides to the front. The rear is rabbeted & nailed to the end of the drawer sides. Spanish cedar moldings will decorate the pine drawer front.
test fit the half-blind DT
groove for side hung action
groove in drawer front for bottom
nailing drawer back to sides
ready for the Forum
February 28, 2013
OK first thing to tell you is that I have been thinking about writing blog posts, but haven’t made any good photographs lately, so not much happening here. But there’s been lots going on.
Update on the rosewood applied turning project, (http://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/this-aint-green-woodworking/ ) We’ve known the Boston joiners sometimes used tropical hardwoods for applied turnings for quite some time. Never having worked wood like this, I spoke to many woodworkers – and heard all sorts of nightmarish stories. It’s crazy expensive (nope, these are small bits I need,10 1/2″ long. bought blanks from Woodcraft. Maybe $12-15 each for Bolivian Rosewood and East Indian Rosewood), it will dull your tools something awful (the Bolivian rosewood was not too much of a problem in that regard), you’ll need to wash the surfaces w some noxious chemical to get the glue to hold the parts together prior to turning. (nope again. I even used the cheater liquid hide glue in a bottle, easy and it worked fine), and you’ll need to scrape the shapes on the lathe, rather than shave/turn them. This I assumed on my own, based on reading Moxon on turning “hard” woods like ebony. Nope one more time. My turning tools were pretty sharp, but nothing extreme, worked fine. It was the nicest piece of wood I have ever turned. I did wear long sleeves and gloves, just to be safe. I don’t want to find out that I am allergic to these weird woods. It’s clunky turning w gloves on though…I could hunt down some tight-fitting cotton gloves. It is a museum after all…
turning Bolivian Rosewood on pole lathe
I had wondered, after hearing all the stories, if the pole lathe could handle the program. I never should have doubted – when I think back to the 17th-century challenges it makes sense that turning these things shouldn’t be much different from working other woods on the lathe. I doubt these joiners and turners were going to a lot of trouble. I usually operate on the assumption that there was a straight-forward way to get this work done…
using the skew to finsh the maximum diameter
just about done on the lathe
I used a polissoir I bought from Don Williams to burnish the piece while it was spinning in the lathe. Great stuff all around. Now, for tomorrow – the East Indian Rosewood.
sawing the blanks
truing for gluing
glued up w oak filler
I can’t wait to turn it. Sawing it was weird – it felt like iron. the teeth of the saw barely left a mark. But it cut pretty easily. Very fine dust though…I carefully swept it up.
The other day I went to the MFA to research and study a turned bedstead in their collection. It will show up here later in the month of March…
Today I went to the North Bennett Street School http://www.nbss.edu/index.aspx to give the furniture students there a dog & pony show – and then wandered around the shop looking at all their work. And took a total of about 3 photographs – I was kicking myself afterwards for not shooting a lot of stuff. That place is an amazing visit. Chock full of furniture, parts, woods, books, tools – it’s great. I hope to go back before too long.
wall o’ legs NBSS
box o;’ feet
I forget if it was last week or the week before, but I taught a carving workshop at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking recently. http://www.schoolofwoodworking.com/ We had a great time (I did at least, and I think the students did too) – here’s a few shots:
CVSWW wall of samples
using gouges to mark out the design
I thought I had a lot of carving tools
Leslie diggin the posture
I’ll be back there in September for another weekend of carving. Bob Van Dyke supplied near-perfect quartersawn oak. Amazing stuff.
In the meantime, I am still hoping for students out west at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking. Right now, it sounds like we need 6 more students for each workshop. Otherwise, these 2 classes will get cancelled. One is a week-long “make a joint stool” class… the other a 2-day class in carving. It would be a shame it we have to scrap it, the school and I have dedicated the time slot and can’t really make it up if it falls through. I know time/money/logistics are all a concern for all of us. But I often get requests “When are you coming to X,Y, Z?” – I only get to come if we get students. I won’t harp about it again, just one last nudge if you know someone out that way, or wanting to visit out that way…dates are April 22-26 for the joinery class, and the 27th & 28th for the carving http://www.ptwoodschool.com/Home.html
I have 2 more days to prep for my lecture/demos at the Winterthur Furniture Forum… http://www.winterthur.org/?p=976 that’s what all the rosewood is about!
February 24, 2013
applied turnings, Boston, 17th c
This ain’t green woodworking. These applied turnings are on a chest of drawers from Boston, c. 1630s-1690s. I’m making some for a chest loosely based on the originals; the Boston joiners also used these turnings on cupboards, cabinets and joined chests, Some of them are “exotics” i.e. imported timbers from the Caribbean and other faraway places. I’ve seen rosewood and ebony used for these, I think. My notes are somewhere. (Or check American Furniture 2010 for an article I did with Robert Trent about the Boston joinery tradition – “Re-assessing the London Style Joinery and Turning of Seventeenth-Century Boston”) Often these turnings are done in local maple instead.
When I run across a straight-grained section of maple in the firewood pile, I split some out and save it for a time like this. The maple I’m working here was riven from green stock a long time ago, rough-planed, and stored in the shop until needed. Which is now.
riven and planed maple
I decided to practice on maple, and make my mistakes on that. The final ones will be in rosewood. Also not green woodworking.
The premise I operate on is that these turnings are made by gluing up two blanks with a thin piece between them. The function of this sacrificial piece is to prevent the points of the pole lathe from wedging the glued-up stock apart. Everyone I know who has made these used an electric lathe, with various types of drive centers/dead centers. If I just glue the two maple pieces together, the points of my lathe will, when tightened, wedge them apart. Not good. So here you see them centered on the oak strip, not bearing on the glue joint.
lathe points on center strip of turning
So here’s what it looks like in stages. I true up the maple bits, these need to be dead-flat so you can glue them together. Likewise, make the center strip, In my shop, it’s usually oak. Hide glue is used to make a sandwich out of them.
ready to glue
Scribe the diameter on the end grain.
circle scribed on end grain
Next, I plane chamfers on the corners to get them nearly octagonal.
Then turn them. I have good photos of the originals, but I never measured their details. I have a good idea of the scale, so I am working out my proportions in the wood. I turned one pair and knew they were wrong – but I finished them anyway, so I could use them as a guide for the next pair.
shaping w skew The 2nd set came out better. By “better”
Here are both turnings. The bottom one is first. Too much taper, too exaggerated. I find I have to get them off the lathe sometimes to see their shapes more clearly. I photographed them against the window and this showed me the details clearly. The second set is closer to the shapes in the originals.
On the 2nd one, (top in photo) I almost had it just the way I wanted it, the vase/cup near the top has its greater diameter too low, its widest point should be right near its top rim. So I put it back & trimmed it some. It’s overall too thick, next one will be more slender. But its proportions are what I am after.
I have some Bolivian rosewood to work on next.
next blank is Bolivian Rosewood
For planing that, I used this toothing plane that I got in the Alexander hoard.
toothing plane iron
But this is not true rosewood, from the family Dalbergia. I have some East Indian rosewood on the way…need gloves for that stuff. Maybe a mask…
PS: here’s where I learned all I know about toothing planes - http://anthonyhaycabinetmaker.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/the-toothing-plane-a-tool-of-our-time/
January 14, 2013
Back to some carving. The riven oak panels I made a month-plus back are in perfect condition now for carving. This pattern is a panel for the chest with drawers I am building. http://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/a-joiners-life-is-tough/
This style of carving uses no V-tool for outlines. The shapes are all derived from the gouges & chisels. For me, that means it’s slower than using the V-tool. But a distinctive look to it… There is for some the inclination to make a template for a design like this, but clearly the period ones were not done that way; the approximate symmetry indicates that this stuff is freehanded.
Folks who have seen me work, or worse, have taken a class from me, know that I won’t use a pencil on a carving. But I will use chalk to rough out a pattern like this one.
starting to incise pattern, following chalk outline
There is no layout that I could discern on the original this is based on. I strike a centerline and margins. Then go in with some chalk, and block out three sections. These aren’t really thirds; the top tier is quite a bit shorter than the middle and bottom section. I just eyeballed this off the photo of the original. Then I use the gouges to start defining the curves and shapes, aiming generally for the chalked-in outline. But the gouges rule, the chalk is just a sketch.
first section chopped in
I tend to tackle one side of the bottom section first, then work that same design on the other side of the center line. Then I move up a bit to define the large flower head at the top of the panel.
matching right & left, mostly
defining major elements of the design
The scrolled volutes that flank the flower are another area that deserve concentration to get them “right”. Then you fill in the spaces between with leaves, etc.
defining the upper volutes/scrolls
Once the whole thing is outlined,
then I remove the background with a shallow gouge (a #5 in the Pfiel measuring system, for those of you who want specifics). This background need not be dead flat – in fact it shouldn’t be if you want your work to look like 17th-century carvings.
The nice thing about chalk versus the pencil is that removing the chalk lines just requires a slightly damp cloth to wipe them away. A few gouge-cut details decorate the main surface, usually I texture the background with a punch. Or you can paint the background too.
I think this one used 5 gouges for 99% of the design, then I picked up a very small gouge to finish some detail here & there. And a broad chisel for the outline, and chopping along the center stalk of the design.
December 13, 2012
Even before the Joint Stool book came out, and certainly since then, the number one question I get is where can I get a hatchet for joinery? What do I need, etc.
If you can stand some more about hewing hatchets, here goes. Last time I discussed a few ideas about how to use both single-bevel and double-bevel hatchets for joiner’s work. http://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2012/12/04/new-to-me-hans-karlsson-hatchet/
While it’s true you can make either work, the single-bevel hatchet is ideally suited for hewing stock prior to planing it. Joseph Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises (1683) wrote:
“its use is to Hew the Irregularities off such pieces of Stuff which maybe sooner Hewn than Sawn. When the Edge is downwards, and the Handle towards you, the right side of its Edge must be Ground to a Bevil…”
Here’s my everyday hewing hatchet.
I was a bit vague last time about its configuration, and Robin Wood chimed in, helping to clarify some stuff. The back of the hatchet I often have called the “flat back” but it ain’t that at all. So I shot some views illustrating how it’s shaped. Think of it as a very large, very shallow, in-cannel gouge. Here is a straightedge held along cutting edge on the “back” i.e. the side w no bevel:
straightedge on hatchet’s “back”
The benefit of this shape is readily apparent when you try to use one that is NOT shaped like this. Then the tool digs into the wood, and here it scoops the chips out. I next put the straightedge perpendicular to the cutting edge, to show relief in that direction as well. Some of this is the shape of the tool, some is exacerbated by honing:
the other way
I have another hatchet, same maker, JFR Fuchs, Cannstat, Germany, c. early 1930s. This one has a cranked eye, to keep your knuckles safe when hewing. This leans the handle away from the plane of action, without having to make a bent handle. I use this one particularly when hewing wide panels. Here the back of the hatchet is sitting flat on the board, and the handle is lifted off:
the “other” Fuchs hatchet
The shape of the back of the head is about the same as the previous.
BUT – you ain’t gonna find one of these hatchets in the wild. I doubt it anyway. Nobody gets rid of them. Mostly. When I recently discussed these tools with Drew Langsner, he said “probably the best hatchets ever made” or words to that effect. A strong & un-provable statement, but it gets the point across that these are mighty fine tools.
One type of hatchet you will find readily in the UK and US is the so-called Kent pattern hatchets. (A hairy-handed gent, who ran amok in Kent…) This one weighs about 3 1/2 lbs, about the same as the Fuchs…
Kent w straightedge
Nice thing about these hatchets – you can find them. They aren’t expensive. They can work. and they are reversible for lefties. Knock the handle out, and put one in from the other end. Often the cutting edge is straight. I prefer a curve to the cutting edge. So do others, I didn’t do the alteration on this one.
Here’s an earlier post about some of the same tools:
December 11, 2012
Posted by pfollansbee under Leave a Comment
As of now (Dec 2012) there’s one book and three DVDs.
Make A Joint Stool from a Tree: An Introduction to Seventeenth-Century Joinery
Make a Joint Stool from a Tree
2012 will for me always be remembered as the year I got The Book out the door. Here’s the link to Chris Schwarz’ Lost Art Press where you can order a copy and see what goes on inside an oak log, and how to convert it into the most solid furniture you can imagine.
The DVDs are all produced by Lie-Nielsen Toolworks in Warren, Maine. The first one, “17th-Century New England Carving” is an introduction to carving patterns and techniques based on my studies of period work. The disc covers tools and materials, then some important postures and grips. From there, it’s cutting designs – starting with a simple gouge-cut decoration, and working through progressively more developed patterns. 88 minutes.
17th century New England Carving
Here’s a sample from Lie-Nielsen
The second DVD follows along after the introductory one. This time, it’s one motif – laid out and cut a number of different ways for different effects. The “S-curve” is one I employ endlessly. There’s six variations of it in this disc…
17th-century New England Carving: Carving the S-scroll
The newest (fall 2012) DVD, “17th-Century Joined Chest with Peter Follansbee” is a full-blown project, part of Lie-Nielsen’s Master Workshops series. This is instead of a series of techniques like the carving ones above. This time we take an oak log, split it apart, hew & plane it into stock and build a joined chest, fitted with mortise-and-tenon joints – and made up of frame-and-panel construction. It’s all here, from the log to setting the hinges & closing the lid. The chests in the disc are carved, but the carving is not repeated in this disc…it was enough to keep track of just building the thing!
New DVD from Lie-Nielsen
Here’s a link to a set of still shots from splitting the log for the DVD http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.444969838865640.115456.181880515174575&type=1
busting open an oak at CFC
HOW TO ORDER:
The book you can get from Lost Art Press and other places that carry their line of books. http://www.lostartpress.com/
The DVDs come from Lie-Nielsen http://www.lie-nielsen.com/
I am currently also selling copies of the S-curve carving video and the Joined Chest disc as well. The S-curve disc is $27 and the Joined Chest one is $42. These prices include shipping in the US. For both the S-scroll and the Joined Chest DVD from me, $62 will do it. Send a check to me, or I can send a paypal invoice. Email me with any questions Peter.Follansbee@verizon.net
3 Landing Rd
Kingston MA 02364