Friday, 25 February 2011

Tools for Carving

Last week, I promised to show you what I was working on, (and what is being delivered tomorrow), but just before that I thought it might be a good idea to introduce my tools.  The tools I use every day to carve with, they are my friends and I cherish them.

Simply speaking there are three stages in carving a sculpture.  Roughing out, refining the shape, and finishing the detail and surface.  I use different tools for each stage. 

Even the names of the tools are wonderful.  This is my hammer, it is curved like that to get a better balance and swing (see the worn handle, which beautifully fits my hand).  In front of that is my pitching tool.  This is used for 'spalling' or bursting the superfluous stone.  They have an edge bevelled to the back of the tool which affects how the stone comes away. 

Then finally the nicker, or pitch-nicker, used for breaking off large sections of stone, or cutting a stone in half.  Basically you draw a line where you want the break to be, and then strike with the nicker held vertically, all along the line, until the stone cracks in two.  Notice the mushroomed hitting end.  All steel chisels are tempered, to make the steel strong, it is quite a balance getting this just right, too much and it makes it brittle, too little and the metal is soft.  Personally I prefer a slightly softer tool, sort of has a bounce and freshness, but the penalty is that with repeated hard hammering the end mushrooms and eventually the shank is too short to hold!

So now we've taken off large lumps of stone, we can move to shaping and refining.

Chisels come with different ends -   mallet or hammer headed, it is just personal choice, I like a mixture of each type.  These ones are mallet headed, they have the bobbly end, so it does not chew up the mallet and also to maximise the hitting area (less bashed knuckles they say).  On the left is the point, or punch - great for shaping and removing stone quite quickly.  Then my very favourite claw chisel (this one has claw inserts, which when blunt you take out and replace), also called a scutch or comb.  The claw chisel is used in sequence with the point or punch.  The teeth are provided to prevent the stone from plucking or lifting in holes over the surface.  All the shaping I need to do  happens with this chisel, all the curves and lines required. It leaves the stone formed, but with claw marks.

Then the fine-tuning and finishing.  This is a dummy-mallet, they come in different weights, depending on how delicate you need to be.  The balance of these are divine and they fit snugly in the hand, feeling lovely to hold.   And then my small carving, fillet and moulding chisels, I have a range of these with different widths of tip to get in all the nooks and small detail areas.  They are also the chisels I use for lettering.  If kept sharp these chisels cut through the stone cleanly, enabling really fine detail.  One of these chisels with a broad end is used to go over the whole surface of the sculpture to smooth out the claw marks and then the piece is sanded to a fine finish.

Another day I will tell you about my waster, boaster, gouge, shiftstock, batting tool, scrappling maul, bull set, mash hammer, bush hammer ..........


  1. Totally fascinating Jennifer. I don't think anyone other than a sculptor would realise quite how much hardware is required. I look forward to finding out what a scrappling maul and a mash hammer are.

    Your previous post made me smile. I could just imagine you struggling with that trolley and those inquisitive, nibbly geese crowding round to see what was going on and to proclaim the new egg.

  2. I saw this post this morning and just had to comment - I love tools, sounds daft I know, but I have had to get lots for the forging etc in silversmithing and there is just something about holding and handling a well made hammer or saw or pliers - they do the job they are supposed to so simply and efficiently, they are like allies in my work! Also seems strange that they are perfectly suited to the job, but I have had to learn, (and am still on a steep learning curve), how to use them properly - from them almost. Tools as teachers, I sound barking now!!

    I don't know if you relate to these feelings at all? Fascinated to see the tools of your trade and look forward to part 2!

  3. When I was first starting out, and inept, I was savage with tools, gripping hard and tense, pushing and striking imagining that by force I could make anything happen - but those 'tool teachers' showed me the way. 'Relax, allow us to do the work, we know what we are doing', they'd say. I know exactly what you mean by this! And I do love my tools, love sharpening them, keeping them neatly and organised for me. I even keep them and the memories of using them, when the ends are worn away.

    It is lovely to hear other people feel the same! Those who work with their hands do I think, as they experience the pleasure of an action cleanly and expertly performed.


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