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wood softening


tatonka

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I was flipping through and old woodcarving magazine last night and I saw a brief article in which a professional carver was carving rock maple, he stated that he softened the wood to aide carving by dousing it with paint thinner while carving? (Didn't state what type) is anyone familiar with this? Guess I have to experiment. I can't imagine its too healthy.

 

Kurt

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Paint thinner/mineral sprits work as a lubricant to aid the blade as it cuts, and does soften the fibers of the wood. Some carvers use mineral sprits, kersone, and one told me they use water. I have tried the mineral sprits, it helped some , but not enough to put up with the mess and the smell.

Like Janel said keep your tools sharp and take your time.

Ed

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  • 11 months later...

Was reading about the materials and wanted to relate my present experience with this.

I am carving a large ( 9 feet) totem pole type carving out of western cedar. The wood is brittle, splinters and has very little strength carved across the end grain. I went to Alaska a year or so ago and was lucky enough to speak to an Native American totem pole carver. He told me to spray the wood with water and let it soak in. This softens the fibers and causes the cell in the wood to swell. I use a garden sprayer on this job, occasionally spraying areas as I work and it has solved alot of the problems. It also has the benefit of keeping any dust down as western cedar is a major respitorary irritant even being listed as a toxic wood.

 

I am also carving a large figurative piece from northern hard maple using the same technique. This time it softens the wood so that I can do the small finish cuts without using a mallet and leave a smooth polished cut.

 

This may be a far fetched writing but a book I have states that Japanese wood carvers used to carve small delicate carvings with the piece submerged in water. Don't know how they could see anything and it had to be rough on the tools.

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[

 

"This may be a far fetched writing but a book I have states that Japanese wood carvers used to carve small delicate carvings with the piece submerged in water. Don't know how they could see anything and it had to be rough on the tools."

 

 

Hi Mark, this may not be as far fetched as you think, Water does have a limited capacity to magnify detail. I can remember Secondary School Biology classes where we dissected beasties under water it helped with viewing small details..... my tuppence!

Mike

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  • 10 months later...

I have to strongly agree with Janel here.

 

Using paint thinner, or other petroleum-based solvents, or worse still, turpentine, is a quick route to early health problems. Most solvents are rated with a measure of toxicity which is expressed as the TLV (Threshold Limit Value). This is a measure in parts per million of the amount of a solvent that you can be exposed to for an eight hour period. The TLV of ethanol, (grain alcohol) for example, is around 1000, whereas toluene (a close relative of the deadly benzene) is around 5, or at least it was a few years ago. Last I checked, the TLV of paint thinners ranged from 60 to 200, depending on the additives. This is low, and means essentially that if you can smell it, you have far exceeded the safety limit.

 

As Mark mentioned, many carvers in the Pacific Northwest, who work with red cedar, prefer wood on the slightly green side (not my preference) and will keep their work sealed up in plastic when not at work.

 

I would suggest you stick with some good sharpening techniques.

 

Phil

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One observation on spraying the wood with water. I am still carving the cedar totem pole and was spraying it pretty heavy every night before leaving the studio. I took several weeks away from the totem for other projects and the totem dried out again...only this time there were more cracks and the cracks that were there got bigger. My assumption is that by re-hydrating the wood and then having it dry out rapidly in a more climate controlled area these were stress cracks from to fast a drying process. Next time I will try to control the process better by misting, carving, misting and then carving so the wood never really gets wet but does soften the surface enough to carve efficiently. This may also apply to smaller pieces.

 

Mark

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When I work with larger pieces than my usual size and working with green wood I soak it in pentacryl. It slows the drying but allows you to work on your piece and doesn't interfere with stains or finishes. Unless you drink it, it is nontoxic.

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  • 3 weeks later...
I was flipping through and old woodcarving magazine last night and I saw a brief article in which a professional carver was carving rock maple, he stated that he softened the wood to aide carving by dousing it with paint thinner while carving? (Didn't state what type) is anyone familiar with this? Guess I have to experiment. I can't imagine its too healthy.

 

Kurt

 

I have tried the pentacryl on my small carvings - I am still using it, it seems to soften the wood and makes my tools move smoother. It is not advised to use power tools with this or they will load fast. After I finish my carving if I feel that I must remove what is left of the pentacryl, I simply dip it in alcohol and brush softly with a very soft brush. Pentacryl lubricates the tools and causing no damage to tools.

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