Thursday, August 20, 2009

Do You Need a Gouge?

Kari Hultman over on The Village Carpenter blog tweeted a question to me asking if I ever use gouges, saying that she had trouble figuring out how to make certain cuts with a knife.

Well, Kari, join the club!

No, I don't use gouges, and sometimes I have a lot of trouble figuring out how to make a cut. It involves a lot of twisting and turning the piece and seeing if the blade will fit and still have enough room to move. All the cuts are easier if you use a slicing action.

The absolute best woodcarving video I've ever seen regarding how to make the various knife cuts is "Figure Carving Scandinavian Style with Harley Refsal". If you want something for free, check out Arleen's videos or Gene Messer's videos on YouTube. Both are excellent carvers and instructors, and both are primarily knife carvers. I spend time watching them when I should be carving!

So, you don't really need gouges to do hand-held carving, but you may sometimes compromise a little on the final look of the piece. Frankly, I think the knife "compromise" looks just as good as a gouge cut.

So, until next time, let the chips fly!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Pocket Knife Mods & Minis

OK, between Arleen's pocket knives and Don Mertz' Tinker Knives I decided I had to modify some pocket knives for carving. Yeah, I'm a knife freak. Any excuse to have another knife to play with is good.

So I went looking for a nice, cheap 3-blade stockman to experiment on. I found it at Sportsman's Warehouse: a Chinese-made stockman under the Winchester brand.

For a $15 knife this one is pretty good. Nice bone handle (or at least it looks like bone); fit and finish are a lot better than I would have expected for a knife of this price. While information on this knife is scant, I suspect that the steel is 420HC. In spite of the bad rap it has among the knife snobs, it's not a bad steel. It's capable of being hardened to a 57 on the Rockwell C scale (HRC57 or 57RC), which is about the minimum hardness you want in a carving knife. By the way, don't fall for the hoary old salesman's pitch that a knife holds an edge for a long time is also easy to resharpen. The knife that holds its edge a long time does so because the steel is hard. Hard steel is tough to resharpen. Period. End of story.

In any case 420HC has the compromise of being hard enough to give decent service without being too dificult to resharpen. Now, when you think about it, about the only time you should sharpen a carving knife is when you do physical damage to the blade. Normally stropping the blade about every half-hour or so during use should be about all the sharpening you need to do. I have some knives I haven't taken a stone to in almost two years.

To make a long story short (too late!) I wasn't too worried about the steel. I was more worried about the springs: that they were strong enough to keep the blades from closing too easily. Keep in mind that 99% of 3-blade stockman knives have no locking blades. Now since I never saw a locking blade knife until I was out of college, I know how to use a slipjoint knife safely. Slipjoints may not be a good choice for a knife novice. Nah, strike that. I was 8 years old when I got my first knife, and it was a slipjoint. I never had the knife close on my fingers (came close a couple of times; the accellerated heartbeat reminded me not to do that again). Become acquainted with the knife, opening and closing it until your fingers hurt. Then take small cuts and never try to force the blade through the wood. You'll be fine.

The blades you see in the photo above are not how they came from the factory. I used Arleen's method of sharpening to regrind the blades. Like virtually every factory knife that wasn't made in Scandinavia, the blades had a secondary bevel. I used 5" sanding disks in an electric drill to grind the sides of the blades to as near a straight line as I could get from the back of the knife to the edge. I started with 220-grit wet-dry sandpaper to do the main grinding, holding the blade to the sandpaper for a couple of seconds, the dipping the blade in a cup of ice water to keep the steel from overheating, then grinding again. I did this until the secondary bevel was gone. Then I sanded each blade with 400-grit, then 800-grit to take the scratches out. I finished off by stropping. I made the strop from a 5" circle cut from the back of a pad of yellow paper, used spray adhesive to mount it to the sanding pad, and loaded it with green polishing compound. I was able to get a very high polish on all the blades.

Then I got out the Dremel. With a grinding stone. The single blade on the left was a rather exaggerated spey pattern. I have come to really like the big sweep/sharp point profile, so I modified the blade to that profile. Touch blade to stone, dip blade in ice water, and repeat. At 30,000 rpm even that method doesn't take long. The shorter blade on the right started out as a sheepsfoot pattern. I'm slowly working it into a Wharncliffe. I left the main clip blade the same profile, though at 2.5" it is longer than I like. Once I get the Wharncliffe profile where I want it, I'll probably work on shortening the clip blade.

One more thing before I tell you the results so far, if you choose to do this, expect to have the blade edge roll on you the first time you use it. That's because the steel isn't hard enough to support the scandi-type edge at such an acute angle. A couple of good stroppings will put enough of a micro bevel on it so that the edge won't roll.

So, how did it work? I used the ex-spey blade to do these two 3" tall Santas. In case you can't tell, one of them isn't finished. The knife worked like a champ! It's not a Ralph Long knife, but it's usable.

I gotta tell ya, carving these little guys scares the peewaddin outa me! (That was a phrase of my mother's, a genteel Southern lady by all accounts; if someone could tell me what "peewaddin" is (come on, Thomp, Tom, Gene), I'd greatly appreciate it.) Not because I'm afraid I'll get cut. Got over that a LONG time ago, but because taking off a 5-thousandths of an inch shaving (yes, I measured; I'm an engineer; get over it) in the wrong place could be enough to convert a nice little miniature into fire . . . . um, kindling. Maybe once I've done 1000 of them, like Tom, I'll get over bein' afeerd.

Until next time, let the chips fly!

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Tale of Two Santas -- Continued

OK, I'm not sure whether Blogger is behaving itself better tonight or not, but here goes.

These are some in-process photos I took of the second Santa you saw yesterday. For the most part I'm going to let the photos speak for themselves. If you have any questions about any of them, just leave a comment, and I'll do my best to answer.

Now this last photo is to show the versatility of the Long knife. I carve both of these Santas, one 3" tall and one 6" tall, using only the Long knife. I'll have more about the little guy later. Until then, let the chips fly!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Tale of Two Santas, or Practice Makes . . . um . . . Better

I was talking with Don Mertz, The Woodbee Carver, about the shortcomings of my Old World Santa, the guy on the left with the lantern and the staff. It started out with a discussion of how to make a normally sober-sided old world Santa into a smiling Santa. I worked that out with Don's help and carved the guy on the left. I wasn't satisfied with the hands and arms. I always carve the hands too small. Don advised me to jump right in and carve another OWS and consiously try to make the hands too big. Thus, the guy on the right. This was my first attempt at doing hands with fingers. Turned out OK, I think. Hands still aren't big enough, but I'm getting there.

I learned something else while doing the second OWS. Actually I knew it all along, I just had never made it happen before. Compare the two profiles, particularly the nose and below. The first guy, on the left, I did as I have done all of my figures before: I made a straight, deep cut into the corner of the block to define the bottom of the nose. As I have mentioned before the face in profile should have approximately half of the nose behind where the filtrum (goove in the middle of the upper lip) and the septum (division between the two nostrils) meet. You can clearly see that this does not occur in OWS #1 due to the way I started the nose. On OWS #2, instead of cutting straight back, I cut into the corner less deeply and rocked the blade from side to side making deeper cuts on either side of the corner. This allows for the establishment of the dental mound prior to any detail carving and makes proper placement of the nose easier.

I had intended to make this post longer, with in-process photos, but Blogger is acting hinky, so I'll post what I have now and continue the post tomorrow.

Meantime, let the chips fly!