From the Workshop - Part 1 archive
Thursday 14 February 2013
Ben Hawthorne imparts some wisdom on drying wood and discusses suitable tools for youngsters
I had a visit from my neighbour John the other day. He asked me to help him cut down an old apple tree in order to make way for his new conservatory, and as he has helped me a lot in the past, I agreed to give him a hand.
Personally I think I would have rather kept the apple tree because I think conservatories are somewhat overrated. Most of the people I know who have one don't use them in the winter because they are too cold or noisy when it rains, or they have to shade them in the summer because they get too hot. One advantage I suppose is they can be useful to keep plants in and bring seeds on early. But these are just my opinions and I certainly have no intention of expressing them to John!
We managed to get the tree down without any disasters and John duly presented me with the larger pieces of wood that resulted from our efforts. I usually refuse most offers of trunks or branches of trees as I don't have the space to store large pieces of timber and, by the time I get round to using it, it is either so hard that I can't do much with it or it has split so much that it is of no use.
Drying woodI met a professional carver the other week who is also an arboriculturist. He gave me a lot of very useful information about the best way to dry lumps of wood that haven't yet been cut into planks. I always thought that it was best to only carve kiln-dried wood, but as he said, carvers have been working very successfully since well before drying kilns were available and much of their work is still around.
Most carvers favour lime (Tilia vulgaris) as their choice of wood. Lime needs to be cut into planks as soon as possible and then dried thoroughly before use as it breaks down very quickly when wet. Most of the other native timbers carve better when wet, or at least when they're not completely dry. The drier and older they get, the harder they become.
I was advised that, if anyone offers you logs, make sure that they are cut no shorter than 1.8 metres or they will split and become useless. Stand them on end and leave them alone until you wish to use them. The top 150mm or so will not be much good but below that should be fine. The sooner you use the wood, the easier it will be to carve. You do, however, have to be careful when you use it. Each time you finish carving, oil any end grain thoroughly and cover the wood with a plastic bag, but do not expose to any great changes of temperature or humidity. This way you should encounter no problems with the wood splitting.
Car-bootyMy workshop is coming along very nicely. I have a good bench with a vice that I picked up at a car boot sale for next to nothing. It is amazing what you can find nowadays. It usually means that you can get excellent quality pieces of equipment or tools for less than the price of a cheap import.
I am now on the lookout for a good bandsaw or scrollsaw; I am not sure which to go for as each has its advantages and disadvantages. The bandsaw will cut thicker wood than the scrollsaw, but it won't cut holes.
I will have to think about it and ask the carvers at the club next time we meet - you never know, I may end up with both!
Tools for WillAfter the discussion about wood and how best to use it for carving in the last issue, Will has been very keen to learn a bit more and has asked his mother for some carving tools. She is not very happy about it as he is still a bit young to be let loose with tools that could be dangerous for him and those around him. We came to a compromise when I suggested that he could have a few tools of his own, but they had to stay in my workshop and could only be used under my supervision. After all, he has tried a bit of carving with some small tools of mine and hasn't hurt himself - or me! As he is still quite small his hands are not big enough to handle even what are known as 'ladies' tools' so I will get hold of one or two palm gouges to get him going. These are small enough for him to manage but will do a very good job. Most of them have quite chunky handles and short blades of a wide variety
of sizes and shapes.
A word of warning here if anyone is intending to buy similar tools: make sure you go for tools from a reputable manufacturer, as there are many cheap versions on the market that look good but are almost useless. They are not easy to sharpen and don't hold an edge; you get what you pay for!