Jump to content

Path of Toolusing

Jim Kelso

Recommended Posts

The thread on gravers under Tools & Technical has really impressed me with how we are such individuals when it comes to tools(it's a good thing! :)). Everyone, as they build their tool arsenal, makes decisions along the way, some more weighty than others, the end result being a unique set of tools reflecting their tastes and values.


One of the major decisions is to what extent to incorporate power driven tools into your methods.

We all find a comfort level with this. I view my power tools as apprentices, who if I didn't have them, I would not have the time to produce what I do and have it affordable. It sounds like a decision based only on economy, but frankly a lot of the early going is very tedious and I'm happy getting through it so I can savor the handwork at the end.


I often consider how my work would be different if I wasn't making a living at it. Impossible to say, of course, but I hope it wouldn't be too much different. I think one thing would be taking more time exploring new techniques.


Any thoughts out there.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In my work, I have to be cautious that the tool doesn't drive the design. I have seen far to many pieces where the decision to use a machine tool is apparent.


We do have to make economic decisions and time is the most significant factor in almost all that we make. Power tools are great to speed up dumb labor, they also save our bodies. There are some machines that I just don't want to turn on because of the speed, noise, dust and danger involved and if I can afford the time I will choose to do it by hand just because I prefer it. Also, tools have to pay for themselves.


Good topic Jim.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've just added a reply on another thread in this vein. Tool preferences can be very personal indeed. I find that as I get more and more involved in carving, I get more and more opinionated about tool use.

I try to use hand and human powered tools as much as possible. There are many reasons for this.

Economy- Hand tools are often cheaper, don't use electricity, don't need costly repair and in many tasks work just as quickly as power tools. I'm speaking from the standpoint of a woodcarver here- not a blade smith/forger.

Beauty- Pretty much speaks for itself. A well-used knife or chisel is just gorgeous. You've got a handle which has been gripped and caressed and shows polish, dirt and wear. The blade can been tarnished and scratched, but gently ascends to a gleaming, white, mirror finish at its razor edge.

Health- A knife creates wood shavings; a rotary tool just makes dust

A knife is quiet; a motor is noisy

Skill development- Keeping one's hand tools in working order is another skill to acquire, to lead us to being better craftspeople. It's down-time in the shop where our creative moments aren't needed and we can set the scene fot the next project.


I'm one of the sorts who can get all philosophical and purist about art and craft making. At this point I don't rely on my art to make a living. I don't have the pressures of production and quality vs. economy decisions to make. I've got a lot of respect for those who do, and are still able to have artistic integrity while paying the bills.


Finally, I notice that hand tool use gives an intangible look/spirit/mood to a piece which power tools just can't create. It is subtle, but apparent.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

My work has so many weeks of hand tool work, that the first day with the rotary micro grinder is a welcome start to an exciting new project. In the beginning of my wood carving life, I tried to use files, knives and saws to cut away the excess, but with boxwood or other very hard woods, I found the work very tough going. I am not a weakling, but the wood is very resistant to my wishes for seeing a piece taking some sort of form within a day. The machine enables me to find the form of the carving and to get me going with the files, then on to the knives and other tools.


I begin with drawing on the wood, and knock out the excess with the grinder. I prefer to leave work for the files and not abuse the surface wood, and stay away from the final surface depth. My imagination does not work as fast as the grinder, so anywhere near the surface of the final form is danger territory for the burr.


Now and then, a tool will not be able to take a bite when working in-under-behind and a tiny ball burr will open the wood just enough to get the hand tools going again.


I like working in silence when the piece is being conceived and found in the wood. To acheive the silence with the grinder and the dust collector's noises, I put in earplugs as deeply as possible and tune into my own thoughts. No one else benefits from that silence which is in my head though (more like a trip to the dentist for Will!)


When I carved porcelain, I used only bamboo tools made and used for scraping. I loved the quiet sounds associated with the changing of tools. Now, with the tools for harder materials, that is no longer part of my carving hours, and is not such a big problem.


So, the micro grinder has a place in my tool chest, but for the majority of the time spent carving and detail work, the hand tools are my choice.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

One of the major decisions is to what extent to incorporate power driven tools into your methods.

We all find a comfort level with this (kelso)


where i,m at now!!!???

my small amt of carveing is an extension of file work o knives

i have a paragraver and a fordom tool both rottery


i spent a few days w bob weinstock a couiple of yrs ago and now all i feel comfortable with r some gravers an some bastard tools i have made

its all yoiur fault bob!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

i want to use the power tools but they intemidate me!!!

by hand is soooooooo slow but i dont screw up

i feel like i,m in little league tlaking to the yankees locker room here:)


carveing possum

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 years later...

This topic is now brought to the surface, for the benefit of members who joined in the past year or two who may have not had the fortune to find it. This topic, begun in the second month of The Carving Path, has had other topics addressing the nature of the tools we use in our work, hand tools vs. power.


I invite you to resume this thread with your contributions.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't know what I can say to add to the words already said here but let's see if my 2 cents is worth anything.


I find pure enjoyment making a new tool, taking my time getting it just the way I think I want it - sellecting the steel, sizing it to the proper shape I want it, grinding away what doesn't belong, clamp it in the right vise to file the edge I want, taking it to the stones and getting just that perfact edge, temper it if I choose. Then the selection of the perfact wood for a handle and shaping it for the right grip for my hand, fileing it, sanding it to a nice finish.

Then introducing the tool to its handle and make a permanit connection.

I then try the tool out for its intended purpose.... I have quite a collection....

Some days when I think I have a great idea for a new tool I open a box I keep in the corner under one of my tables behind a parts cabinet in the far corner of my studio.... I like the tools I have - they work great.


working with hand tools in the quietness of my studio in the middle of the night intrances me - I have been told 'anything that totally occupies your mind and you find yourself one with the activity as if it is an extension of your total being is meditation of the highest form' thus you will find gratification of your mind body and soul from this activity or any activity that takes you to this point. (this sounds so 60's).

I only use power tools on large pieces of wood or materials that will not cut with a knife. I have a variety of vices, saws, and files to move alot of material in little time (and it is great aerobics and great frustration vent).


For over 40 years I have carved wood sometimes I have butchered a poor little piece of wood that did nothing to deserve what I did to it. I have not found the perfact carving knife, the perfact saw, or the perfact any tool for working with wood; my taste change along with the way I hold my tools. Not much has changed with the metals for making tools but certain metals are easier to get now. The woods that were almost impossible to get 30 years ago and cost a small fortune are just a phone call away and much more reasonably priced.


Many times I'm asked questions about what is the best carving knife to start with, they look at me as though I'm going to revel the secret of life or or something, it's a big letdown when I ask if they carry a pocket knife,they reach in their pocket and pull out a nice little schrade or buck or other nice little knife. I ask them if that knife feels good in their hand if the answer is 'yes' I say you've got your carving knife; if 'no' I tell them go out and spend some money on a good brand name pocket knife that feels good in your hand.

Then the question comes around to wood 'what is the best wood to start with, I tell the to go find a stick and start whittleing and always push the knife away from your body.


I hope my great words of wisdom help or intertain - eitherway - thank you for your time!



Link to comment
Share on other sites

My preference is to use whatever tool will do the work that I require, efficiently and quickly. For example, if an electric chainsaw or a high-speed rotary tool will remove stock more quiclky and effectively, that's what I reach for. However, more often than not, I find that the rignt drill and saw, or a properly sharpened gouge or chisel, of the right size, with the right mallet, will remove wood much more quickly than any rotary tool ever could.


Where rotary tools shine, at least for me, is in small-scale stock removal and delicate undercutting of hard materials, but only to prepare for hand-carving of the final forms.


Often, I will make a special tool to do a job more efficiently. As Clive mentioned, the ability to make one's own tools opens up many possibilities. Many carvers, in my opinion, tend to rely on power tools too much, and I feel that it often shows.


Power tools are often a great asset, so long as you don't leave any evidence of their use.



Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...