Chinese Carving Tools archive
Thursday 12 November 2009
Iain Whittington purchases a set of quality, low cost laminated Chinese chisels from Dick Fine Tools to assess their merits
As an amateur carver, justifying the expense of Japanese laminated tools is difficult, so the attraction of a set of 18 Chinese laminated carving tools for about £40 from Dick Fine Tools in Germany seemed just too good. Before taking the plunge, I tried to find a review and although their Chinese chisels had been positively reviewed by Chris Pye in Woodcarving 73, I was unable to find the review I needed, possibly as it's only an amateur that would buy a set of tools. My solution? Buy them and then write the review myself! As a result, I ended up ordering not just the one set of 18 laminated tools at about £40 but also a second set of 18 detail tools for about £20. The resulting sets of ironware received are shown in the photo below.
Choice of handlesAs much of my carving instruction has been overseas through attending residential courses in Austria and Norway, I prefer octagonal handles. However, trying to locate a source of inexpensive handles in England was difficult, never mind wanting octagonal handles. As the British market is dominated by the major manufacturers with their ranges of pre-handled Sheffield Pattern tools, separate handles are scarce and expensive. Knowing that the Norwegian market is less constrained, I was able to source basic handles from Verktoy AS at £1.00 each and the tapered handles for the laminated tools from Woodware Repetitions in Sheffield at £2.00 each.
Turning & fittingI found an article in Fine Woodworking by Bob Smalser that gave guidance on fitting socket handles and finalised the design, which made no allowance for the socket shoulder because of the various different socket lengths. To overcome this, I had to hand-finish each handle to individually fit each laminated tool.With a chuck to hold the handles and the fabrication of a steady to hold the conical end, cutting each individual shoulder was an iterative process. The first handle took 30 minutes to trim and fit; by the 18th, the time was down to half that. By contrast, fitting pre-drilled handles to tangs should have been easy. Unfortunately, I had not thought through the wide range in tool size and tangs. The detail ironware actually fell into three group: small, mini and micro. each of which warranted a different handle shape. The larger tools were well suited to an unmodified handle; the mid-range tools needed to be slightly cut back to enable the shorter tool length to reach the work; and the smallest micro tools needed re-modelled handles. Back on the lathe, the modification for the mini-gouges was simply the fitting of the brass ferrule, achieved in about 5 minutes each. For the micro-gouges it took longer, as a degree of iteration was needed to get the tapered design right. The first handle took 30 minutes, with subsequent handles taking less than 10 minutes each. Before fitting the handles, the insides of the sockets were cleared of the remaining fire scale with a Dremel.
FinishingAfter fitting all the handles, it then took another 5-10 minutes to clean up and polish the rough-forged tools on a DIY linisher, followed by a medium grit composite wheel, and final polish on a rag polishing mop on a grinder. Back to the linisher for sharpening, then finally on to a waxed felt wheel for honing the cutting edge. In addition, an assortment of files, slips and the omnipotent Dremel were used for hand polishing the curved inner edges. All-in-all, the time to mount and finish a laminated gouge was in the order of 40 minutes, and for a detail gouge it took half that: a total time of some 18-20 hours spread over several weeks. Finally, the handles were given a couple of coats of varnish and a final rub-down with furniture wax and synthetic wire wool.
So how did they work in practice compared to tools that an amateur woodcarver might use such as:
1. The larger laminated gouges against Henry Taylor's professional tools.
2. Smaller laminated and the largest of the detail gouges with Henry Taylor's amateur tools.
3. Mid-sized detail gouges with a starter set for example, Crown Woodcarving Set.
4. Smallest detail gouges with the Ramelson mini and micro carving sets.