Posted by: Michael Keller Woodcarving | December 17, 2009

Woodcarving Tips, Tricks and Techniques That Work for me

For sometime, I have had listed on my web site, tips, and tricks for the woodcarver.  Someone recently suggested that I get those published as an article on my blog.  So, let us begin…

Important Disclosure: Wood carving and whittling may be habit forming and could prevent you from engaging in household chores and other unpleasant tasks.  Carving is enjoyable and you may be prone to sharing it with others; thus, causing them to experience the same distractions from less pleasant tasks as you may experience yourself.

Tricks, Tips, and Techniques:

When working with wood that is either too hard or too soft, to achieve good detail, I apply a 50/50 mix of rubbing alcohol and water to the area.  Once the mixture is absorbed into the wood, I find that it cuts much more easily.  This also works well for cutting against the grain or cross grain.  As an alternative, I sometimes also apply a coating of Howard Feed N Wax.  It is a mixture of orange Oil and bees wax that acts as a great finish.  But, it also absorbs into the wood and accomplishes the same thing as the alcohol mix.  One material difference is that it does not evaporate as the alcohol does.  This is particularly good for hard wood.

Wearing a carving glove when holding a piece being worked on is a good idea, such as with whittling.  Place the glove on the hand holding the piece itself.  It could save you from a needless injury.  I once knew a woman that drove a small palm gouge into the fleshy area at the base of her thumb.  Needless to say a glove would have saved her from a painful and expensive error… not to mention not being able to carve for some time.

I hone my tools approximately once each hour of use.  Doing so keeps a fine razor edge on the tool.  When honing a knife, make sure that the blade is absolutely flat against the hone.  Lifting the blade could cause it to round and became even more dull.

I don’t try to catch a dropped knife or chisel.  It is easier to sharpen a dropped tool than it is to repair a finger or toe.  If you are wearing sandals, jump back.

A small sliver can often be removed by placing a piece of tape over it and pulling it gently off.  While any tape can work well for this, duct tape works the best.

Good carving comes from practice and experience.  And a lot of that comes from bad judgment along the way.

It’s never too late to start carving.  Many artists have taken up carving after retirement.

Albeit, I do not believe in sanding, careful tooling and clean cuts save you hours of sanding.

Clean cuts provide a highly finished professional look.  When I use hand tools (versus mallet work) on cross grain, I use a slicing cut for much greater ease.  Take a look at my article on “Clean Cuts.”

I find that clamping or affixing my work to a hold down device so both hands are free is always worth the effort – not to mention the added safety.

If you use a vice hold your work, place wood over any metal jaws so in case you accidentally run your tool into the jaw, it will not damage the tool.

Using a template can offer many advantages in applying your carving project on wood.  A template: (1) can be moved around on your wood ensuing a good fit; (2) can be enlarged or reduced on a copy machine to better fit your wood; (3) can be used over and over again in cases where you are doing multiple pieces; and (4) can help you identify waste wood allowing you to band saw or chisel it off prior to getting into the meat of things.  Remember to make a top and side view template that can be aligned with each other on the wood.  Use carbon paper or a pattern makers wheel to transfer your work to the wood if you cannot use a pencil around the edges of your pattern;

When doing lettering and fine line detail, I use a hooked, razor sharp knife.  Doing so helps prevent my knife from coming loose from my cut and slipping or streaking across the wood.  If you have not experienced a hooked knife, I suggest you do.  The advantages are endless.  A small hook is the best detail knife that I have ever experienced.

When using palm gouges, it is easy to bang the knuckles or fingers of the pushing hand on the piece being carved.  Once you have banged yourself a few times, wrap the banged spot in vet wrap or elastic bandage material to soften future banging.  Banging yourself a few times will make it abundantly clear where to apply the vet wrap.

If you don’t have a tool box or tool caddy that keeps tools separated, place a rubber wine cork (vs a real cork) on the end of your tool to protect the edge.  When inserting the tool into the cork, place the cork on a solid wood or plastic surface and carefully push the tool into the cork.  DO NOT HOLD THE CORK IN YOUR HAND WHEN INSERTING THE TOOL.

Don’t loan your tools to your brother-in-law.

Stay Sharp and Happy Carving!

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