Power to the Tool
Thursday 08 October 2009
Peter Clothier takes a look at useful power tools designed to aid the carver from start to finish
In recent years there has been a massive increase in power tooling available for woodcarvers. Before looking in more detail at the available power tools, it is worth just considering why we should use them, what are the benefits and are there any disadvantages to be considered before parting with our cash?
Obviously power tools speed up work, but also they allow us to work with more challenging materials such as burrs and wild grain wood, as well as spalted and even recycled timber with its unknown qualities. The vast array of burrs and abrasive systems also make it possible to shape and get a very good finish on almost any timber.
Power tools can give people with restricted mobility access to a much greater range of projects.
If you feel that power tools will help your work then you should be aware of costs, not only of the initial purchase price but also replacing throwaway items such as abrasives and cutters etc. Power tools produce a great deal of chips and dust of various sizes and some form of extraction is essential. Other safety equipment will include eye and possibly ear protection.
Reviewing such a huge range of equipment presents a problem as to which category should individual tools be allocated and so I will approach the subject as though I am faced with a real piece of work to make.
The first stage on a woodcarving is to rough out the block of timber. Saws are the usual first tool for waste removal. Reciprocating power saws will handle timber up to 305mm (12in) or so, whereas handheld jigsaws will cut up to 75mm (3in) of timber.
Chainsaws are tools that require specialist training in order to use safely and are not part of this review, however they have given rise to a tool that uses the same cutting method.
The Arbortech range of cutters are fitted to the smaller type of angle grinder. The original tools based on the cutting action of a chainsaw are now joined by tungsten tipped versions. There is also a mini version which is very effective. These cutters are capable of roughing out to a high level of completion although more than one cutter would probably be needed.
Once the main waste has been removed, the next stage is to further refine the block by taking off smaller amounts of wood. One option is power chisels, which are basically a normal woodcarver's chisel but the wooden handle is replaced by a power unit with a reciprocating action that can have a variable cutting rate.
An alternative method of stock removal is to use a rotary cutting system and there is a wide range of options. Rotary cutters are generally referred to as burrs.
Tungsten carbide burrs are fast cutting and vary from very coarse to quite fine, it being usual to follow them with gentler cutting ruby and diamond cutters. Other burrs are made from high-speed steel and 'stone' points made from aluminium oxide and silicon carbide.
There are burrs and related attachments available that will cut and shape, grind, sand, wire and bristle, brush, polish and drill. As the woodcarving proceeds, finer burrs are used until the stage when abrasives become appropriate.
The multi-tool is a smaller unit comprising of a motor with a rigid shaft, which also holds the burrs and other attachments in collets or a chuck.
The burrs cut by being held against the wood as they rotate. The two main systems used are flexible drive shaft tools and fixed shaft multi tools.
Heavier work is best suited to a flexible drive shaft unit, which is a suspended motor that drives a flexible shaft to a hand piece that grips the cutting burr either in a collet or chuck. These tools usually have a range of hand pieces and collets to give a range of attachment holding options, allowing fine work also.
The final stage of carving is usually sanding and the rotary systems are ideally suited to getting excellent results - fast. Sanding attachments can be discs of various diameters which are hard or soft backed with Velcro systems to take a wide range of abrasive grit discs. Other sanding units include drum shapes from 25mm up to 150mm (1-6in) or more, and Guinevere has now produced a dome shaped sanding unit. There are flap and star shaped sanding units also as well as miniature belt sanders available with optional width belts of 6mm (1/4in) or 12mm (1/2in) width.
Final polishing can be carried out using rotary scotchbrite, cloth and felt mops.