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Tools & Techniques

Much of the woodwork we see today comes from one of two sources:  Machine-worked, including by computer-controlled lathe and laser-cut and -engraved, and hand-worked, usually in serial fashion, by carvers overseas mass-producing certain designs.  Taken on their merits, both methods can produce acceptable, even admirable, results.  But both sources are limited to the patterns their makers believe will sell in large quantities.

The rest of what we see is produced by Sign-makers, Furniture Makers, and Carvers of various stripes:  Chip Carvers, Chainsaw Sculptors, and other specialty carvers, and general Woodcarvers, many of whom create beautiful original and custom work (such as Ron Ramsey's here).

My work is a combination of three disciplines, and relies on tools from all three:  Carver, Sign-maker, and general Woodworker.


Gouges & Chisels

Shafts of fine steel with handles at one end and tips hammered into various shapes at the other - these form the core of my toolbox.  Gouges have curved tips, and are generally categorized by size and amount of curvature, with most having an outside bevel.  Chisels have flat tips, and are also beveled on one side.  There is also quite a variety of specialty shapes, such as the Macaroni tool (a three-sided, two 90-degree-angled gouge), and the Gonzales tool (with a double-beveled hatchet-shaped edge).

Gouges by Auriou and Ashley Iles, used by Embry McKee of Legacy Crests, maker of crests, logos, coats-of-arms, and other carved wooden hanging wall sculptures from domestic and exotic hardwoods.

The "London pattern" set of gouge shapes may be the largest collection in one place (or may not, but I don't know of another), but there are several traditions aside from the English that have produced a great variety of these simple tools:  the European, the Japanese, and the Chinese among them.

Butt Chisels by Ashley Iles, used by Embry McKee of Legacy Crests, maker of crests, sports and institutional logos, coats-of-arms, and other carved wooden hanging wall sculptures from domestic and exotic hardwoods.

Most of my gouges and chisels come from two firms: Auriou of France and Ashley Iles of England, but there are many other companies producing excellent tools:  Pfeil of Switzerland, Flexcut of the U.S., Cogelow and Henry Taylor of England, as well as many independent master craftsman in Japan and elsewhere.

Japanese Gouges, used by Embry McKee of Legacy Crests, maker of crests, sports and institutional logos, coats-of-arms, and other carved wooden hanging wall sculptures from domestic and exotic hardwoods.

The secret to the manipulation of a gouge is its bevel.  The back of the bevel (the "shoulder") acts as a fulcrum that allows the sharp edge to be "steered" through the wood.  As such, the thickness of the tool, the angle and length of the bevel, and the existence of a smaller inside bevel (a la Chris Pye), all affect the operation of a given gouge.

Carving mallets, used by Embry McKee of Legacy Crests, maker of crests, sports and institutional logos, coats-of-arms, and other carved wooden hanging wall sculptures from domestic and exotic hardwoods.

A gouge my be driven by hand or by a mallet.  Counter-intuitively, a mallet can often allow more precise application of force through the use of controlled taps, particularly in hard woods or when making deep passes.


Planes

A hand plane flattens a piece of wood, or finishes the surface of a piece already made flat.  Planes come in many lengths and widths, from tiny versions just a couple of inches long designed to shave minute slivers in tight areas to models three feet long meant to bring long boards to tolerances within hundredths of an inch of flatness.

Hand planes by Steve Knight, used by Embry McKee of Legacy Crests, maker of crests, sports and institutional logos, coats-of-arms, and other carved wooden hanging wall sculptures from domestic and exotic hardwoods.

All planes (besides specialty planes, discussed below) have in common perfectly flat soles with razor-sharp blades protruding very slightly through them.  As the plane is passed repeatedly over the surface of the wood, the blade removes shavings from the subject piece, which referencing from the plane's flat sole, and with the application of certain techniques, gradually becomes uniform.

Western planes are generally pushed, and have a curved handle in the back for driving the plane and a knob in the front for guiding it.  Japanese planes are pulled, and are simple and featureless by comparison, similar to my two Steve Knight-made planes above.

In addition to the standard spectrum of planes, there exist several classes of planes for other purposes that employ either blades with special shapes (for creating moldings, for example), or bodies with unusual shapes or attachments (for planing edges to right angles, for instance, or for flattening the bottoms of grooves or rabbets), or both (like spokeshaves, for shaping the spokes of wagon wheels).  When most work was done by hand, workmen often created planes to accomplish specific tasks beyond simple flattening.


Brace & Bits

The common power drill might seem to have displaced the bit and brace, but the old tool has several advantages that the new tool can't match.

Brace & Bits, used by Embry McKee of Legacy Crests, maker of crests, sports and institutional logos, coats-of-arms, and other carved wooden hanging wall sculptures from domestic and exotic hardwoods.

The design of the brace allows the muscles of the arm and shoulder to exert immense torque on the bit, much more than a small electric motor can produce.  This can be applied both to drilling bits and to screwdriver bits and others.  The older bits tend to be longer as well, allowing for the drilling of deeper holes than common modern bits can produce.  There are even adjustable bits available that can be precisely tuned to make holes of any diameter up to 2 1/2" or more.


Saws

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Clamps

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Knives

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Sharpening Stones

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Shop-made Tools

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