I received an e-mail from Dale Bullock who has taken a woodcarving class from me when I taught in Atlanta, GA. He sent the following:
Here are some lessons which I have learned from woodcarving:
1) DMT stones are great, stropping is better.
2) No amount of sanding makes up for poor carving.
3) Super Glue is a carvers best friend.
4) You can’t carve your way out of a poor design.
These are great observations, and I would like to go into more detail:
“1) DMT stones are great, stropping is better.”
I started out using Arkansas stones (which are great sharpening stones) and a few years ago discovered the 1200 and 8000 grit DMT diamond stones (extra fine and extra extra fine grit). They really are amazing. I would say the 8000 grit is equivalent to the surgical black Arkansas stone, but will sharpen faster and produce a smoother finish.
Stropping – this step is so necessary in really creating that fine polished razor’s edge. I quite often just put my gouges on the strop while I am working, just to touch up the edges. How often do you need to strop? So much depends on what type of wood you are using, how often you are using a particular tool, whether you are doing heavy mallet work, or just pushing the tools through the wood. But a good practice is if you are using the tool a lot, it would be a good rule to strop it every few hours to keep it’s edge nice. If it is one of those “occassional” tools, then just when it feels like it is getting a little rough or does not “sing” through the wood as when it was first sharpened.
“2) No amount of sanding makes up for poor carving”
I have a reputation for not allowing sand paper into my carving classes. I see the look of fear and panic in many eyes as I mention this at the start of the class. But seriously, I DO use sandpaper, but as sparingly as I can help it – and only to remove facets of tool marks. Also, if you decide to carve after sanding, it is likely that your tools will become dull because the grit from the sandpaper will be stuck in the wood.
It seems a shame to spend so much time trying to get clean, crisp edges with the carving gouges, only to round them over or soften them with sandpaper. Also, once you start sanding on one part of the carving, it is a good idea to go through the whole carving because it does change the surface texture of the wood.
I guess my rule of thumb is don’t carve with sand paper – it goes a lot quicker with gouges.
“3) Super Glue is a carvers best friend.”
At those “ooops” times, either change the design slightly, or get the handy dandy super glue.
“4) You can’t carve your way out of a poor design.”
Not much more to add to that – it pretty much says it all. One thing I have found throughout the years is that my carving gouges can come up with a better design than my pencil. I often find that I may design something on paper, transfer it to the wood, and then discover that as I am carving it, the gouges find a better and more attractive way of getting the finished design.
If there are any other topics that people are interested in, let me know and I’ll write on it. Now that I don’t have a lot of carving work going on, I’ll focus on carving tecnhiques.