Archive for the ‘Lettercarving’ Category
Some of the best things I’ve learned, whether in my computer geek career, building boats, or other activities, have been those lessons learned from making mistakes. In fact, I believe that becoming a “Master” in anything means accumulating more know-how about fixing mistakes than the basic know-how related to the skill, craft, trade, or profession. The master woodcarver isn’t the one who knows how to carve a beautiful Newport Shell, but the one who knows how to avoid the mistakes in carving that shell.
Simple carving patterns can be drawn directly onto the carving stock. For more complex patterns, or those requiring some degree of precision, I prefer attaching a paper pattern directly to the material. Transferring by carbon paper (they still make that stuff!?) or some similar method is tedious and error prone. Normally, rubber cement is my preferred bonding agent. Patterns are easy to reproduce on the computer, and to print when needed. I attach one to a block of wood and cut through it. When it is no longer needed, the remnants are easily peeled off and the cement residue rubbed away.
At the start of the recent carving projects, my can of rubber cement was empty. I tried a couple of substitutes. A pattern was attached to one block with liquid hide glue, and to another with yellow glue.
BIG MISTAKE! Both glues led to the same problem. Moisture dissolved ink from the patterns, letting it wick into the carving’s surface. OUCH! It was OK on the Markus carving because the top surface of all the fish was carved away anyway, and the tops of the letters could be sanded clean (hate sanding!). It was disastrous with the Hannah carving (yellow glue), leaving a dark smear across the finished surface, with leaching too deep to sand away. The problem was discovered after the last step of that carving, the lettering. So, it needed a complete “do over.” The Georg pattern has a lot of ink in it, and not too far into that carving, I removed the pattern by (erroneously) softening the hide glue with water. ARRGH!
Lesson: For patterns that are to be bonded to the carving material, test to see if the bonding agents (or removal agents) will leave undesirable stains. I have a new can of rubber cement. … and am now a slightly wiser carver.
Our grandchildren now have name signs to mark their territory. Each is about 7 inches wide by 5 inches high. They are carved from basswood. Running in order of age, oldest first, we have… (click on images for larger views)
Not that I’m a slow worker or anything like that… The name boards, carved nearly a month ago are on the canoes. They are finished to match the canoes. Two coats of Cetol Marine went on first. That prevented paint, applied to the incisions, from running in end grain. A third coat of Cetol sealed them.
Placement varies from what the Brits use, smack in the middle of the sides, because those are spots where these boats ride against each other when being transported. Instead, I found relatively flat spots away from the middles. I also used some Dolfinite bedding compound on the green boat because those boards were being placed with attachment holes drilled into the flotation chamber.
The best thing about them is that they will usually be seen while the boat is bobbing around, and one can’t see both sides of a boat at the same time.
Learning Lettercarving – parts 2 to 376 have been cancelled. It’s not that I’ve quit Chris Pye’s course. I’m just continuing over in a dark corner of the shop and won’t bore you with details.
Needing to break out of the Practice, Practice, Practice regimen, I decided to actually make something. Long ago, I gave up on making name plates for the two canoes, not wanting to resort to die-cut plastic letters or something else equally dull. Now, I have a better alternative, carved “Name Boards.” On larger craft they might also be called “Quarterboards.”
(As always, click on the pictures to see the full / larger views.)
I always resort to the scrap pile for first of a kind projects … erm, prototypes. That way, if they turn out poorly, they’re still scrap! The scrap pile is fresh out of old growth mahogany (the preferred material for name boards), or any growth mahogany for that matter. The pile did include off-cuts from the cedar planking used on Eva Won. Voila! Light weight material that might actually finish up nicely. These were pieces already dimensioned to about 5/16″ thick, and there were enough of them to easily make 4 boards, two for Eva Won and two for Eva Too.
Prep is easy. Rough cut the length. Rip to desired widths. Plane the long edges smooth. Cut the curvy parts with the curvy saw. Cleanup the broad curves with the dreaded sanding block.
Layout took a lot more time than wood prep, not unusual I guess. A double course of borders, each about 1/4″ defined the space remaining for lettering. I drew up paper patterns for the lettering, primarily so I could fold them in half lengthwise to find the center of the text. Not being as clever as Kari about making a transfer tool, I just used dividers to pick measures off the paper and then drew the letters directly on the wood. A small shop made straightedge, shop made square and a bevel gauge made this work easy despite being tedious.
The lettercarving is done with chisels and mallet in the classic incised style. With cedar being very soft, there were many areas where the mallet wasn’t really needed. However, here’s where extremely sharp edges really matter. The cedar’s texture runs from imminently carvable to imminently crushable. In places it is soft and stringy and only a slicing cut will work. So, cedar has become the new test bed for my chisels and gouges. After sharpening, I always test the sharpness with a couple of plunge cuts and a couple of cross grain slices. If those cuts can be made smoothly in this cedar, the tools are sharp enough for self-apendectomies.
Once the letters are carved, some pinwheel ornaments are placed around the future screw holes. Then, the borders are lowered in two steps.
Next, finishing. Just checked; there’s no gold leaf in the paint locker.
Finishing and mounting on the boats in another entry.
P.S. Also made good use of the off-cuts from these pieces. We’ll be visiting a swarm of grandkids soon. Some low-tech “helicopters” might entertain them a few minutes.
Practice is something often thought of as preparing to do or learning to do. We even have a quotation: “Practice makes perfect.” Then, there are doctors and lawyers. (hmmmm?)
Having been at this lettercarving learning activity for a few weeks now, and not yet carved a complete word, something tells me there could be a very great number of parts to such a series. That is, if I were willing to document all of them for you. I won’t.
My virtual teacher is Chris Pye, a British carver of the traditional school. His book, “Lettercarving in Wood: A Practical Course” is the lettercarving “bible” for traditional techniques. His book teaches both incised lettering and raised (relief) lettering. Incised lettering is more exacting than relief by an order of magnitude and consumes the lion’s share of the instruction. Chris’ emphasis in the book is with the traditional / architectural style found originally on Trajan’s Column in Rome.
Chris also presents a short version of “All you need to know are 4 techniques” in a DVD made as part of a Rob Cosman series: Rob Cosman Master Craftsman Series “Woodcarving #2 Letter Carving with Chris Pye” DVD. The DVD is very good at showing the actual motions that are sometimes difficult to imagine from words alone. On the other hand, a DVD can offer us about an hour of illustration, while a book can offer many more hours of detail. If you’re interested in learning these traditional techniques, get both. (Be prepared to wait for the book. The more recent US publication is out of stock everywhere, and Amazon took only three months to get me a copy from the original British publisher.)
The four basic techniques (straight elements, serifs, junctions, circles) are explained and demonstrated on the DVD, but make up 23 lessons in the book. [As an aside, Chris has recently started a new site, Woodcarving Workshops which consists of a growing collection of excellent videos. These videos are self-produced to a very high standard. Instead of long rambling things where one can sit through every single (often numbly boring) cut, these videos are short, clear, and concise. Unfortunately, none cover incised lettercarving and Chris believes he is constrained from producing on that topic by the two previous publications, thinking those publishers might sue should he produces competing material. My opinion is different, that web videos are a new publishing genre. Yet, I don’t know what “exclusive” arrangements he has in his other contracts.]
My practice, so far, is to start with a big thick piece of Heinecke’s northern basswood, 7 inches by 12 inches by 2 inches. Layout some practice exercises (vertical trenches illustrated). Repeat them until I gt the hang of the particular exercise, or the surface is full. Once full, a large #9 gouge hogs off the work, and #6 and #3 gouges are used to level the surface back to something approaching flat. Why not just plane it down quickly instead? Because the gouge technique is also used for lowering backgrounds in relief carving and is a good way to introduce another type of practice. Rinse, lather, repeat, until the board is too thin for further practice. Then, start a new block. There are several hundred letters inside a practice block, all reduced to chips for the compost pile, and to (let’s hope) some modest level of lettercarving skill.
Oh yes, there are pictures along the way, some documenting interesting problem areas. But, you don’t get to see those… (at least not yet.)