Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Spoon Carving Addendum

Thanks to everyone that came out to the spoon carving presentation at the Western PA Woodworkers monthly meeting. I had a great time doing it and I hope everyone enjoyed themselves. As usual I have some thoughts after the fact that I'd like to share.

Apparently I totally neglected the finishing aspects of the project so I'll say a little about that. The most popular finishes among those I follow on the 'net are Raw Flaxseed (Linseed) Oil, this is food grade oil available at health food stores and better supermarkets. Also popular is Walnut Oil, again food grade but you have to be careful with people with tree nut allergies. Bee's Wax can also be used. These oils will polymerize over time into a film, just like Boiled Linseed Oil, but they take a few months to do so. You should not be tempted to use Boiled Linseed Oil since it contains chemical drying agents that are not good for you.

I also wanted to say a bit about finding inspiration. Here the internet is super helpful and if you are on Facebook there are several good groups to join where people share what they do and are super helpful with questions and ideas. Also I find a lot of ideas following people on Instagram. There's a very nice bunch of people sharing woodworking on Instagram and I get a ton of ideas there as well.

There are also some knives left. If you're interested in one I'll have what remains available at the next WPW meeting.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Gouges and Hooks

Left to right, Mora 162, 163, 164
The bowl of the spoon generally requires a curved cutting tool since it's dish like concavity soon keeps you from being able to work with a straight knife without cutting the edges of the bowl away. Generally people choose one of two types of tools for carving out the bowl of a spoon, a gouge or a curved knife.

The gouge is probably the more readily available of the two. Quality gouges of many styles are available from every woodworking catalog I can think of. I've carved a couple of spoons using the gouges I have, some Buck Bros bench gouges. It works but I find it a bit awkward, perhaps due to the length of my tools and the weight. Perhaps I'd like a proper carving gouge better but I don't have one in a width and sweep I like as well.

Curved or hook knives also come in a variety of styles and shapes. They can be semi-circular, semi-elliptical, or of a decreasing radius. So far I've only found them from either some dedicated small production blacksmith makers or from Mora of Sweden, who's straight knives I've covered in a previous post.

Let's start with the Mora hook knives. While their straight knives have a wonderful, almost legendary, reputation the hook knives could only hope for such status. Mora offers 3 models of hook knife, one in each of the above styles. While the steel is pretty good and they are inexpensive they do not come with the level of finish that the straight knives do. The edge needs work to cut well and perhaps a bit of re-profiling, this can be a bit daunting. The way the stock blade is beveled at the edge actually makes this task even more difficult in my opinion. It can be done though and the knives can be made to work acceptably. This video describes the process for the Mora 164 decreasing radius single edge hook knife which is my favorite of the three. The 162 and 163 just haven't caught on with me.

I have no direct experience, yet, with a hook knife from a small blacksmith. That said there are at least two people in the US, probably more, that make them. I've ordered one from Del Stubbs of Pinewood Forge and will review that knife when it comes in late January. The other is Kestrel Tool which which offers a variety of hooked knives in the Pacific Northwest. Both are well regarded.

Monday, January 5, 2015

A Good Axe for Carving?

Left to right, Gransfors Bruks Wildlife Hatchet, GB Swedish Carving Axe, and Husqvarna Hatchet
Well, I was thinking about how to go about providing axe info for this upcoming presentation on woodenware. I own and use two axes for carving work and borrowed a third from a friend, but I don't feel like I've used enough different axes to say what's great.

That said, I have the Wildlife Hatchet and the Swedish Carving Axe from Gransfors Bruks, made in Sweden. I like and use both of these regularly as do many people. I bought them based on the recommendation of others and their reputation. Also, they come sharp, which many axes do not, which lowered the knowledge threshold necessary to get started.  I've not been disappointed. They have high quality steel and are well made as you'd expect but they're also on the more expensive end of the spectrum. I have re-profiled the edges a bit as I learned more, more on that later. 

For info on carving axes I'll refer you to this article, "Which is the best axe for carving, bushcraft, general use?" from Robin Wood in the UK. Most of the axes he discusses are available in the US as well.
Bit profiles, Same order as above.
Ok now that you're up to date its time to talk about that re-profiling. Mostly that involved flatting the bevel on the side of the axe that is against the workpiece. For right handed folks this is the left side when holding the Axe for use. The original convex shape is usable but the flat bevel provides much more control. I used my Wildlife Hatchet as it came for quite some time before I worked up the courage to change it to a flat profile. Lets just say it's quite a difference.

Pretty much the gist of flattening the bevel, as I understand and experience it,  is that it keeps the belly of the typical convex axe grind from interfering with the work and allows cutting with the face of the axe closer to the workpiece. This allows for different angles of cutting and the ability to cut a concavity on the work more easily. I think the axe also feels sharper since the angle of the edge is reduced along with the amount the axe starts to wedge, as opposed to cut, the work.

Here's an article that guided me in the flattening process. Scroll down to the section heading "Hewing Axe Refinements." You also notice a number of other fine axes here that we're not discussing but are good for this work.

As you can see above, the bits of these axes thin out substantially after the eye and come to a fairly acute edge. This is necessary for carving, or to some extent for an axe to cut at all. If the edge is too blunt a large amount of metal will have to be ground away to make it work properly, this can take quite some time.

One thing to keep in mind, and I think it's mentioned in one of the linked articles, is that it's probably best to err on the lighter side for the first axe. My first was the Wildlife Hatchet above, that comes in a bit over a pound. For comparison the other two are nearly two pounds. The difference in use is substantial, especially if you're starting out and haven't used an axe for extended periods. One pound is more than sufficient for spoon work and will tire you less. One recommendation I read somewhere is to choose a weight that you can use for 30 min without fatigue and I second this recommendation.

I think the axe work is one of the most fun parts of carving spoons and you'll be addicted to the axe once you use one, I know I am.