From the Workshop - Part 5 archive
Thursday 11 April 2013
Ben Hawthorne has some advice on carving with old tools and keeping warm in the workshop
The summer, such as it was, has now officially finished and we can look forward to a few months of even colder and wetter weather and the associated colds and flu that seem to be bred and distributed very successfully by the school system.
Apart from Christmas, when the whole family will be gathering here, I don't anticipate seeing much of Will, so I am taking the opportunity to get those jobs sorted out that I have been meaning to do for months.
Following the success of Will's first attempt at carving his runner in relief, he spent another session with me trying a bit of knife carving on a simple Christmas project for his mum. She was so pleased with the result she asked me to get him a knife and some cut-outs that he could carve at home over the holidays under their supervision. Not only would this give him something to do with his mum and dad, but there would also be lots of painting to do once they were finished, which should keep him occupied for hours. He has even got plans to get some of his friends involved in that part of the operation.
Keeping warmMeanwhile, back at home, I have been spending time cutting up logs for the fire in the house as well as for the stove in the workshop. Last winter it got very cold in there and I had problems with condensation that made some of my carving tools in the rack go rusty. I decided that I would line the walls with insulation board and fill the space with loft insulation. Also, whilst the stove keeps me warm when I am working there, it doesn't help at other times, so I have also added a small oil-filled radiator for the very cold days and nights. So far, the difference has been quite noticeable, but we will see as time goes on.
When I had the woodburner installed, the fitter made it very clear that I should only burn dry wood as this not only gives off more heat but also reduces the build up of tar deposits in the flue. As a result of this advice I have built a small covered area behind the workshop where I can stack the logs for a time to let them dry. Apparently this applies to wood burned on an open fire as well as in a stove.
Old toolsI was at the Club last week talking to some of the lads about why so many people have the opinion that the old tools you pick up at car boot sales are so much better than the new ones you buy. This got me wondering as there is no doubt that I tend to pick up my old tools in preference to the newer ones I own.
I came to the conclusion that there seems to be little difference in the quality of the steel or the ability to hold an edge, but in general, the older tools tend to be much shorter. I started looking at the other carvers and many of them actually looked quite uncomfortable working with long tools, so there might be some truth in that thought.
I started looking at some of my old tools and some of my favourites are actually quite well worn, particularly the spoon gouges and chisels, and this makes them much easier to use.
A lot of my tools are pre-war, but have a lot of life left in them, so I am wondering whether to shorten some of my newer ones. This goes against the grain a bit as I am of a generation that doesn't like wasting anything, but these tools could last a hundred years or so and who knows if anyone will ever use them after me. After all,
I might as well be comfortable and safe whilst carving!
One thing I have been warned about was to have a good look at the inside surface of old gouges to ensure there is not too much pitting as this will prevent achieving a good cutting edge. If you find a tool that you like with a minimum of pitting, you can grind a very small bevel on the inside until you get to clean, sound metal. As long as this bevel is small and flat, it will not affect the cutting potential of the tool. The best way to do this is with a slip stone with a rounded edge, or even by sticking a piece of fine cloth-backed abrasive onto a length of wooden dowel. The advantage of this is that you can match the curve of the dowel to the sweep of the gouge.
I have included a photo of my first attempt at creating an inner bevel in the gallery above and there is no doubt that it improves the cut, but there is still much room for improvement - a bit like my carving really! Oh well, it's back to the logs again for now.