Author Topic: Getting Started in Carving  (Read 10665 times)

Gerald

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Getting Started in Carving
« on: April 26, 2007, 10:06:59 PM »
I have no tools, little money, limited space and less experience but I have great desire and dreams.  It will be a few years before I can actually start a workshop to build furniture (Goddard & Townsend etc), until then I'd like to learn how to start carving.  Undoubtedly like most of you, I have very high standards and particular tastes. 

When it comes to carving, a general internet search or stroll down the woodworking section at Barnes and Nobles tends to yield disappointing results--I'm not interested in carving Santa's out of drift wood etc.  So far, I've only found two resources that interst me.  The book "Baroque Ornament and Designs" by Jacques Stella.  And the classes taught by Dimitrios Klitsas (maybe someday).  I realize that I've got to learn how to walk before I can run but it's difficult to know where and how to begin? 

Any suggestions for books, tools, projects that are for bigginners with out being too cutsey and that can be done sitting at the kitchen table would be greatly appreciated.

Martin S.

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Re: Getting Started in Carving
« Reply #1 on: April 27, 2007, 02:33:00 PM »
I just got started in the Carving aspect of furniture.  My parents always told me you can learn anything from a book...Althought this is very true, it is just easier in person.  IHMO look for classes; where do you live, maybe someone here can point you to someone. 

Of course before you can carve, you really need good sharpening skills too, so plan to learn that at the same time...or first...

Just my $0.02

dkeller_nc

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Re: Getting Started in Carving
« Reply #2 on: April 27, 2007, 03:36:52 PM »
My suggestion would be Chris Pye's series of books.  They are excellent introductions to different aspects of the techniques, materials and designs of carving, and detail quite a bit of relief carving, which is a large part of the ornamentation on period furniture.  Richard Butz' books are also quite good, although not as clearly illustrated.

From the funds standpoint, I'd recommend following Chris' (and most other carving teachers) advice and buy tools individually instead of in sets.  Spend the money saved on a good sturdy work surface and clamps - that's an often overlooked set of "tools", but critically important to good carving.
Period Furniture & Carving as a hobby - about 20 years woodworking

John McAlister

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Re: Getting Started in Carving
« Reply #3 on: April 27, 2007, 06:59:50 PM »
Gerald, You're pretty much where I was a little over 40 years ago. No tools; little money; not much experience and limited shop space! At least you know you want to build furniture; you're familiar with Goddard and Townsend stuff.  I wasn't sure what I wanted to make and had never heard of the Goddards or Townsends!!  I'm an amateur; have never sold a piece but have done a fair amount of furniture carving. (You can see some examples in the SAPFM gallery)  Carving is not my long suit yet but I do have some thoughts that may be of some help to you. 

Go on and start your workshop now if possible; you'll need some shop capability to make blanks for carving, etc and you need a good sturdy bench with proper vices and to take various clamps, as others have mentioned. The kitchen table won't cut it.

As for tools. Buy the best tools you can afford. Don't buy the sets (beginner sets, etc) You'll wind up with a lot of tools you don't need.  Learn to sharpen them. TAKE SOME CARVING CLASSES IF YOU POSSIBLY CAN!!  You'll learn what tools you want and/or need. You'll learn to sharpen them.  You'll pick up some proper fundamentals; and then go back to your own shop and practice, practice, practice!  Your books will be much more helpful if you've picked up a few fundamentals first.

True you can learn everything out of a book, (almost!) and one book I'd highly reccommend is A. W. Marlow's Fine Furniture for the Amateur Cabinetmaker. It's readily available on the second hand book market.The sequential photographs are so informative and wonderful, and this was my bible for a long time.  But make no mistake:  taking hands on classes is the way to go first, if you can possibly swing it. There are many great carvers offering classes. You mentioned Klitsas. Alan Breed, Phil Lowe and many others are out there.

Please keep in mind that I'm not a professional and I'm not a very good carver. I had already learned how NOT to carve when I got my first good instructions!!  Email me off forum if I can be of any further help.

John McAlister


Textile mfg, 30 yrs. Owner travel agency 10 yrs.
Hobbies other than furniture making include fishing, hunting and tennis. Flew P 51's WWII, 8th Air Force, Europe.

pampine

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Re: Getting Started in Carving
« Reply #4 on: April 28, 2007, 01:04:39 AM »
Why not start off drawing some designs that you'd want for furniture. The drawings should lead to certain chisels you'll need to do them, which should limit the expense of getting started.

Now if you want to do sculpture, you don't need much of anything, just start whacking wood with a chisel.

Pam

HSteier

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Re: Getting Started in Carving
« Reply #5 on: April 30, 2007, 10:58:12 AM »
Nora Hall has several videos on carving. I found them an excellent starting point. One caveat however. I believe the only way to learn sharpening is with direct instruction from somebody who can demonstrate "how sharp is sharp". If you are near a Woodcraft store they will most likely have an occasioanal sharpening class. Or check out the many schools listed in the forum

Howard Steier

hbaron

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Re: Getting Started in Carving
« Reply #6 on: April 30, 2007, 08:00:57 PM »
I took my first carving course with Gene Landon over twenty five years ago.  It was on the ball and claw leg and a basic shell.  He has authored a book on the B&C leg, which I still consider more than helpful and it sold at the Olde Mill Shoppe for $30.  Phillip Lowe gave a course at the the Conn. Valley Woodworking school near Hartford. CT.   A weekend well spent to learn the tricks of making a newport shell.  Then buy some wood and practice.  Tools? few and sharp.  Each course would list the tools needed and they usually were 5's, 7's and maybe a 9.  I also remember before I made a "good" model I threw out two or three.  Oh yes, keep a glue pot handy.  I consider glue a secondary wood.  H. Baron

dkeller_nc

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Re: Getting Started in Carving
« Reply #7 on: May 02, 2007, 08:40:01 AM »
One other thought - if you can find a person with a good deal of skill at carving in your area, you might be able to work out an apprenticeship.
 
Most areas will have carving clubs, and that's a good place to start.  You'll find a good many "santa carvers", but also quite a few individuals that are interested in furniture carving, and a good many people that are very good at carving are interested in sharing their expertise.
Period Furniture & Carving as a hobby - about 20 years woodworking

Mark Arnold

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Re: Getting Started in Carving
« Reply #8 on: May 03, 2007, 10:40:20 AM »
Gerald,

Everyone has offered good advice for a beginning carver. Although there are some good books out there, one's comfort level with carving can only be increased by practice. Most of the carving on period furniture is fairly formulaic-- like the ball and claw or an egg and dart--if you follow the right sequence, the results are predictable (knock on wood). It is when you get into deeper relief and more free-form composition that experience gives you the edge. Detailed foliage carving really forces you to think in three dimensions (four if you count the time required).

Hasluck's book is a great design resource although it is heavy on Victorian decoration. I've found Frederick Wilbur's two books to be extremely helpful and focus specifically on classical ornamentation.

Mark
NBSS '96, Partial to the Federal Period.

David Conley

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Re: Getting Started in Carving
« Reply #9 on: May 06, 2007, 05:23:34 PM »
Gerald,

I was in the middle of a long description of how to use Ebay and what type of carving tools to look for when my computer had a critical error and shutdown and I lost my post. 

Anyhow, I  picked up my carving tools from Ebay for about $12 a piece (including shipping) by buying sets of chisels.  These were older chisels made in the 1800's to the early 1900's.  And you can always use Ebay to sell anyone you don't want. 

Send me an Email if you want any help with Ebay or what to buy because there are some tricks to Ebay and a lot of crappy being labeled as "Professional" grade chisels.   

The older respected names in carving tools are from Sheffield (sometimes labeled London) and many are marked "Prize Metals" or "Cast Steel".  Some of the makers are (SJ & JB) Addis, Preston, Herrington, Marples, Charles Buck, Buck Bros, Maiers, Sorby, just to name a few.  Once you start looking at them, you can start to recognize them.  You can also find some good modern Chisels from Henry Taylor, Swiss Made, Lamp Brand (Wood Carvers Supply), etc.

Good Luck,
David

John_Owen

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Re: Getting Started in Carving
« Reply #10 on: May 11, 2007, 12:59:56 PM »
I have a long, over-simplified answer (with formatting that may not survive), but at least I offer a lot of specifics.  It appears that you don’t have a shop, a lot of tools, a vise, etc, and that you would like to learn and enjoy carving without needing a lot of space and tools.  I will also assume that you don’t want to get significantly sidetracked learning how to sharpen, building accessories, etc.  And you seem to have an interest in Newport carving, but not Santas, etc.
 
I think it is possible to have fun quickly, on your kitchen table, and without a shop full of tools.  I suggest:

1)  Set up your carving area for carving something flat (not something 3-dimensional).
   - The kitchen table can work.  It is probably 30” high, and a surface closer to 40” will be more comfortable for your back. 
   -  Buy a roll of non-slip shelf liner at the dollar store.  Cut strips about as long as your table, and lay them out to cover the table top.
   -  Place some sort of light on the right and the left side of your carving area.  Lights that can be easily repositioned will work best.
   -  Find a sacrificial piece of paneling, plywood, etc about 12” x 12” to act as a backer board.  It should always be bigger than your project by at least 2 inches all around
   -  Buy 2-sided carpet tape at your favorite home center.
   -  For steps 2 and 3 below, try to get wood that is fairly easy to carve.  basswood, poplar, scraps of mahogany, and even aspen will work.  Pine may well split, and you will blame yourself and get frustrated.  Construction grade lumber will not work.
   -  You may need to use a coping saw (and maybe a bird’s-mouth on the end of your kitchen table) to cut out your project blank.
   -  Put a strip of carpet tape on the bad face of your project blank, then stick your project in the center of the backer board.
   -  To carve, plop the project and backer board on the non-skid surface.  When you wish to approach your cut from a different angle, pick up the project, turn it as needed, and plop it back down.  You don’t need clamps or a vise.
   -  In your kitchen, you won’t want to blow chips from your project.  A dust buster is convenient.  And keep a trash can beside your table so you can hold your project over it and brush off the chips.
   -  Put on music you find either soothing or energizing.  I find carving is a lot more fun with Scott Joplin.
 
2)  Start with something relevant, but simple.
   -  Buy the DVD “Carving Techniques and Projects” and practice carving a few shells as Mack Headley shows.  It is important to actually see someone carving, and unlike a workshop, you can review the DVD every time you get stumped.
   -  Buy the necessary gouges.  I suggest Swiss Made (from Woodcraft, and other sources).  Many people prefer these, and everyone seems to agree that they are sharp enough to use right off the shelf (you won’t immediately become side-tracked with sharpening).
   -  Carve a few shells to get the feel of the tools, how grain changes, actions that cause wood to split, etc.
 
3)  Practice making a Newport shell.
   -  Buy Nora Hall’s DVD ‘Carving the Newport Shell” and the model of it that she sells.  There are many different Newport shell variations, and different techniques for carving them, but hers are good and you can learn a lot without spending a lot of money for a workshop.  Nora uses a mallet.  Many of us don’t.  Start without one, and save $30.
   -  Buy any additional tools.  Nora lists the ones you will need.
      -  Don’t try to make the first shell perfect.  Relax and have fun.  If you think you have ruined one feature, spend a little time trying to save it (often you can).  Don’t give up too easily.  If you are sure that you have ruined that feature, practice on the other features.
   -  When you think the first shell is done (or there is no more you can learn), start a second one, and try to apply the lessons you learned from the first one.  You will probably find that you are getting better and faster.
 
4)  Evaluate the experience.
   -  After your third shell, assess how much you enjoy carving.  I enjoy it so much that I keep forgetting to make furniture.
   -  If you really enjoy it, then you can make a bigger commitment.  More gouges, better wood, sharpening equipment, attending workshops ...
   -  If you are not hooked, you may want to spend your resources on basic shop equipment and focus on furniture.
   -  If you found the experience frustrating or worse, let this forum know, and someone will help.

Your kitchen can work quite well as a place to carve (I use my family room).  Your kitchen is warm, close to coffee and food, and heated.  It has humidity under 90 %, doesn’t smell of mold, and doesn’t force you to abandon your family for some out-building.  A kitchen can be much better than a shop, as long as you aren’t kicking up sawdust.

From here you are on your own. 

HSteier

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Re: Getting Started in Carving
« Reply #11 on: May 11, 2007, 03:55:30 PM »
I prefer carving in the garage. It's cold, damp, musty, smells of mold and there's no food or coffee. This all but guarantees that my wife won't pester me.

Howard Steier

Gerald

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Re: Getting Started in Carving
« Reply #12 on: May 12, 2007, 11:14:39 AM »
Thanks to everyone for your advice and encouragement.  Special thanks to John Owen--wow that's just what I needed.