Welcome to the second part of my article. In the last article in Carving Magazine I covered mallets, drawknives, bench knives, detail knives, chip carving knives, chisels, firmers, background stamps, and thumb guards. In this issue I will cover lap boards, a chest protector, holding devices, a carver’s arm, strops, handles, and one of my spare time activities — “junkin’."
It is easy to make your own simple strop with a piece of scrap board, leather, and honing compound. For gouges, glue various size dowels to a board, gouge out the areas between the dowels, and then add thin leather, rough side out, and compound.
V-tools are most easily stropped by securing a wedge-shaped piece of wood to a board with compound applied directly to the wood, which is shaped identically to the tool. Most of my V-tools are either 70 or 90 degrees, so that is the angle of the wedges I use.
Handles can be as fancy or as plain as you desire. I make fairly nice handles for my favorite and most used knives. All others are somewhat hastily made and simple, or they employ salvaged handles from a variety of sources. I have a complete set of tools with very small handles, mostly made from 3/8" dowels, which I take on hiking, canoeing, and motorcycling trips where volume and weight are at a premium.
Before gluing the blade to the handle, it is best to roughen the contact surfaces with aluminum oxide sandpaper.
Use only hardwood for handles so they are durable and heavy enough to have proper balance. Except for push tools and those to be discarded when dull (like tools made from razor blades), the handles should be at least 4" long. If the wood already has a satisfactory color, I simply spray it with clear enamel, polyethylene, or acrylic, or apply a couple of coats of paste floor wax. If they are very light in color, I often stain them with brown shoe polish or dark liquid furniture scratch remover and then apply the clear spray sealer or wax.
A very effective way to secure a project, especially when lots of waste material needs to be removed, is to hold it tightly against your chest with one hand while carving toward your chest, using mostly wrist action. To keep from bruising your chest, or possibly cutting yourself, you need to have some protection. I bought an inexpensive canvas apron and used flexible adhesive to glue a 7" X 8" piece of heavy leather to it.
Other Holding Devices
Some small carving projects require a handle. By permanently securing one end of a dowel screw in a handle, the other end can be screwed into a pilot hole in the bottom of the project. For even smaller work, use double-stick tape to attach a temporary handle. Larger projects can be secured to a small block of wood with a pair of long screws. The block is then placed in a vise. When carving marine life with fins or other mid-body projections, I use a double cradle with Velcro hold-down straps. You can design a jig to secure almost any shape of object. A simple cross-shaped device with appropriate nails and screws is a very effective rigging trestle for making ships in bottles.
A “carving arm” can be virtually any size but is usually 1-1/2" to 2" high and 2" to 4" wide. By using an assortment of hanger boltdowel screws, this device is great for all but very large and very small carving projects. To use it with a “Work Mate," glue a small half-round or triangular strip along each side to approximate the grooves in the two-section table top.
One of my spare-time activities is “junkin'” at flea markets, yard sales, and consignment stores. I discover many carving ideas, secure items for my collection of carvings, and nearly always pick up inexpensive figurines which I hope someday to use as models. I find lots of items for $2 or less that I can use to make carving equipment, like the baseball bat rolling pins, all sorts of knives, leather for strops, carpenter's chisels, etc. and sometimes even great deals on professionally made carving tools. It is difficult to be sure about the quality of steel in knives until you actually sharpen them and see how well they hold a razor edge, but there are several things to look for. If the handle is obviously not quality, then the steel probably isn't either. While some stainless steel is quite satisfactory, most will not hold an edge nearly as well as high carbon or alloy tool steel and will require more frequent honing and stropping. There are certain name brands that are always quality, and i there are some countries that are noted for producing quality tools and knives and others noted for inferior steel. Before you spend very much effort in reshaping the blade and making handles, check to see how much force you must exert on a quality file to remove steel from the edge of the tool. The file will dig in and remove steel easily on inferior metal and sort of slide across the surface on hard steel. Another test is to rub sandpaper (the inexpensive kind with quartz sand) on the side of the blade and see if it scratches the surface. Stainless steel will pass these tests but softer steels will not. A third test is to note how easily a broken piece of windowpane scratches the knife. Desirable steel will be hard to scratch.
I have seven lap boards to meet my various needs. Most are about 13" X 18" with a tool tray at the top. This size fits comfortably across both legs and between the armrests of my favorite chair. Usually I cover one side with rubber shelf liner material and the other with a piece of carpet. One uses a wedging system to hold relief carvings, another a rat trap with an adjustable “stop" for small work, and a third is equipped with a carver's vise (the latter, of course, needs to be clamped to a table or workbench). Some have a 1" x 2" board on the bottom near the front to fit against the near edge of a table, which keeps it in place when using a mallet or two-handed tools. In this case a stop block in front of the tool tray is also needed. Another way to secure the board is with a strap around your back that attaches to the sides of the board. The possibilities are endless. Whatever your needs, you can create an appropriate lap board.
About Tom Rhodes
I am a member of the National Wood Carvers Association and the James River Wood Carvers Association. Through these and other contacts, I found that all carvers are eager to share their wisdom and “tricks of the trade," and I, too, am pleased to share ideas in this article in hopes that they will enhance your carving experience and save you lots of money.
Even in my youth, I derived pleasure in making things from scratch, fixing things that were broken, and even occasionally inventing new tools. That has saved me a bundle through the years, particularly in terms of carving tools. Even today, many of my favorite tools and holding devices are ones i made, or at least significantly modified.