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Wood Hardness


Daniel

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I've just starting carving, but the wood I'm using is so hard. I'm using an 18mm chisel and I'm basically just scraping away saw-dust and tiny shavings. It's hard to take away a larger amount of wood than just tiny shavings or saw-dust, so it's taking ages, even after sharpening my chisel, and I'm cutting along the grain.

 

I cut the wood from a big tree branch I found lying over by the river. Then from that piece I cut a small 2x2inch section for my practice. I don't know how long the branch was lying out there for, but should age and death have anything to do with how difficult it is to cut? Is there any kind of 'norm' for how hard wood should be for carving?

 

I'm a beginner, so I lack any kind of perspective on difficulty when cutting. I'd like to know if this is typical or if I've just chosen the wrong kind of wood. Also, I have no clue what type of wood it is, and no pictures (sorry).

 

Cheers!

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Hi Daniel,

 

Are you using the right tool for the job? If you are just trying to rough out the waste wood, using a 3/4" (1.8 cm or 18 mm) tool on a 2x2" piece of wood is likely not the right tool for the job, in my opinion. Many carvers use a micro grinder, (low cost, less quality? Dremel, higher cost better quality Foredom or NSK, or other varieties) to remove the waste wood, to get nearer the surface where the subject will be. We all have favorite files, of various bite and shape to continue defining the form. When near the final surface, then it is time to use the carving tools. That is when you get to figure out whether to use a flat chisel, a gouge shape, a skewed chisel, knife or scrapers of various straight and rounded edges.

 

One very important piece of advice is to keep the tools sharp, and another is to cut always away from your flesh! A tip with a power tool, I use gloves, since the bit may catch and travel over the wood, fingernails and skin at a very fast speed, leaving behind a trail of ragged, um....

 

We have posted various ways of holding the material being carved. There are topics in the archives: one topic and another topic.

 

Use the SEARCH function to learn more! :huh:

 

I would say that if you are getting a blister, you are not holding the tool correctly. We all have our own styles for holding and carving. And, yes, scraping is also part of the carving if the material is hard and dense enough for that. One might consider it a bit like using a miniature plane, of various sizes and shapes.

 

Something to be aware of is that wood often cuts better in one direction than in another. Also, wood is made up of tiny vessels and fibers, which moved the sap and provided structure and strength. There are right ways and wrong ways to cut across those features. Cutting into the ends of the vessels will get you a big splintery cut, it is hard to describe this without illustration. Say you have a tightly held bundle of soda straws. Cut it at an angle, one way will cut the straws smoothly, the other will be grabbing against the tops of all of the straws...

 

I use very hard and dense woods, and rely on my power tool to remove the waste wood. I am not a glutton for punishment, not trying to be a purist who uses only non-electric, hand-tools only. I gave in on that one long ago, because I would rather be carving the piece than chipping away at a chunk of wood for days before the subject shows itself. I use the hand tools to bring out the subject and details, and while doing that I almost never use the power tool. It all flows together after a while, and the tools become an extension of your thoughts which help bring out what you want to see.

 

Very hard wood is OK in my book. Figuring out the tools which work for you will be a fun and enduring adventure. Of course, softer woods are also carvable, but there is not the opportunity for fine detail carving, something that I enjoy.

 

There is so much to learn and so much fun to have while learning it! Keep your hands safe, and keep asking questions! We all were beginners at some point and there is a world's wealth of information in the experiences of our members of TCP.

 

Age and death of wood, its condition whether rotted/punky or solid, green or dry... hmmm. I carve dry wood, hoping for a very stable material. Wood turners lathe turn green wood for the ease of it, and for keeping from not burning it with the speed at which their tools cut the wood. Learn how to sharpen your tools with a true, fine and sharp edge. Use the SEARCH function to see what comes up on that subject in the archives. I know we have discussed this and have some links to sites that describe ways and materials used for sharpening our tools.

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Thanks for the advice, I've now switched to my 25mm chisel, and it is much better I will say. I don't have power tools, nor do I want to buy any (I'm about to move country next month, so can't lug tools with me). The only tools I have are a set of 4 flat chisels and a Sarge chip knife.

 

Cheers,

Daniel

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I am going to show my ignorance of the metric system. Are there ten mm in a cm? Is 25 mm 2.5 cm? Or are you describing 2.5 mm (really tiny) and 1.8 mm (really really tiny). I am in the US, and try to use metric measurements by using a measuring tool that displays both inches and cm/mm. ...an inch being just under 2.5 cm or 25 mm?

 

Are you at liberty to say where from and where to you are moving next month?

 

I wish that it were easier to share some sorts of information. Using words can define clearly or in a muddle where watching an action or viewing a position can be so much more comprehensible. Well anyway, I hope that you don't get any more blisters, and are able to remove wood comfortably and effectivly.

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Yes, 25mm is 2.5cm. My project is progressing well, and it's becoming easier to cut the wood the more I do it, and the more I try different angles and such. I was just curious on whether the difficulty is typical, which it does seem to be, so my mind may rest now on this matter--diligence and patience will be my companions.

 

By the way, I am living in Scotland now, and am moving to China next month.

 

Cheers :huh:

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Good Grief! That is quite a move! You must be so exicted. Will this move be for a certain length of time?

 

The 2x2 inch piece of wood with a one inch (if I am getting the tool size right) chisel seems to me to be not what I would choose for a tool, but if sharp will work for some of what you want to be carving.

 

Really hard wood, when carved with small tools the right size for the details and cuts, will amass a very little pile of chips or shavings by the day's end. It is sculpture on a very small scale. I like to think that the only things missing is the rap of the mallet on the chisel and the dancing one might do around a large and fixed in place piece of wood. Oh, and the big pile of wood shavings and chips generated by the big tools on the big piece of wood... :huh:

 

Soft wood carves more easily and is favored by whittlers and other wood carving enthusiasts. I choose the hard woods for the detail and for durability which was necessary for netsuke when they were being used in every day life in Japan. Choosing the hard woods will make the work progress more slowly with hand tools, so I would say yes to your statement about "whether the difficulty is typical". Also being newer to carving is likely to add to the feeling of difficulty too, but with each day's work, you will learn, ask questions and find solutions, which will build upon itself. By the time you are done with the first piece, you may be thinking about the next piece, and what you might try to accomplish. You might use the experiences from the first piece as a guide for growth and departure, and it goes on from there.

 

Remember to keep the tool edge sharp. Hard wood dulls the blade enough to make clean cuts not so easy. There are topics in the archives about whet stones, strop use for some tools, or handy pieces of paper/cardboard (cereal boxes or the like) and honing compound for the inbetween touch up strokes. Several of my favorite tools are self-made. Others are commercially made and some of those are altered to fit my smaller hands (made for guy's most likely).

 

An assortment of my tools. Another group of favorite tools.

 

Hang in there!

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