Helen Campbell.

The American girl's home book of work and play online

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the one he uses himself. It should be made of some com-
mon wood, such as deal or elm, which may be cut and
hacked without compunction. This, with the addition of a
stool, and a box in which to keep tools and odds and ends,
or, better still, a lock-up cupboard, is all the carving-furniture
required. We take it for granted that many of our readers
are accustomed to get their mother or some older friend to
spend an occasional half-hour or so with them in a carpenter's
shop ; for, from watching him at work, the use of some of
the simpler sort of tools, such as the saw, hammer, gimlet,
etc. (all of which knowledge it is well to acquire before you
take to your carving-tools), may be gained. And, supposing
the carpenter to be intelligent and communicative, there
is much, besides the manual part of his business, that you
may learn from him with advantage ; as, for instance, the
names and qualities of the different woods which he uses in
the course of his work. All information of this kind you
will eventually find of the greatest value, in enabling you
to choose and prepare your own carving-materials. It is
wrong for any one, but especially for growing girls, to over-
task their strength ; and therefore we would advise you to
employ a carpenter to do any really laborious work that you
may require. But the lighter sort of carpentering you
ought to do for yourself, even should you find it uninter-
esting and wearisome ; for it is capital practice, and, the
handier you are in doing this rough work, the easier you will
find it to manage your carving-tools. We do not mean to
say, by this, that those who are already artistic carvers
should waste their time in preparing their own wood, but
simply to recommend the novice, who is not as yet accus-
tomed to the work, to lose no opportunity of improving her-
self; for it is precisely while "roughing out," or getting
your block of wood into shape, that the firmness of hand, and


command over the mallet and chisel, are acquired, which
make all the difference between a good and a bad worker.

Of carpenters' tools all that you would require would be a
medium-sized saw, a spokeshave (which answers the purpose
of a plane, and is much easier to use), a few rasps and files
of different sizes (not forgetting a triangular one for sharpen-
ing the saw), and a wooden mallet, weighing about two
pounds, though this, properly, is more of a carving than a
carpentering tool. Half a dozen of small gouges, a couple
of larger ones for rough work, and one or two flat chisels,
will be ample to begin with. Chisels are not so useful as
gouges ; but it is better to get some, as there are cases in
which they are necessary, such, for instance, as cutting a
perfectly straight line. For scooping or cutting away the
wood, a very slightly fluted gouge, about one-fourth inch
wide, is the best, unless you are using a mallet ; in which
case your tool must be a size larger. Accustom yourself
to work as much as possible with a mallet ; for, though at
first you may find it a little awkward, you will soon get into
the way of using it, and it will save you much unnecessary
labor. The size of your gouges should vary from one-eighth
to three-fourths of an inch in width. Do not buy any curved
or crooked tools (spoonbits is the technical term for them) ;
for although they may appear convenient, and easy to use,
they are not so in reality, and, moreover, give more trouble
than they are worth, on account of the difficulty of resetting
them. You can get the tools without handles, if you prefer
it, and make them at home, which is a much cheaper plan.
But take care that the handles be small and smooth, other-
wise they will gall your hands. Many carvers prefer using
short tools : but this, we think, is a mistake ; for, naturally,
the nearer you are to your work, the greater strength is
required, on the lever principle, which made Harry, in


" Sandford and Merton," prefer the long stick to the shorter
one when rolling his snowball.

And now, having provided yourself with these necessary
tools, the next thing to be thought of is how to keep them
sharp and in good working order. For this purpose you will
require a small grindstone, about eight inches in diameter,
fitted with a handle, and turning in a water-trough of either
wood or iron. In addition to this, you will want a few slips
or pieces of common freestone, and three or four hones, vary-

FIG. 126. TOOLS.
i. Vice. 2. Holdfast. 3 Handle. 4 Gouges. 5. Chisels.

in& in thickness to suit the sizes of the gouges, which are
sha pened by being rubbed on the round edge of the hone,
whii;h should be moistened with oil or water ; but the free-
stone is more efficacious when used dry. You will find the
task of grinding and setting your tools one of the most diffi-
cult parts, and certainly the most tedious part, of carving. It
is, however, a difficulty which must be overcome ; for, until
you learn to depend wholly on yourself in this matter, you
can never become a. good carver. Your tools would be unfit


to use, were you to trust them to a common cutler to be
reset, for he would treat them as if they were carpenter's
tools, and grind them with a sharp edge on the outside.
This would be quite wrong ; for the broad rule to follow in
regard to carving-gouges is always to grind the upper or con-
cave side, leaving the convex part untouched until quite the
last, when it may be passed over the hone or razor-strop a
few times to set the edge. When finished, the gouge should
be in the shape of a thumb-nail ; that is, with the corners
sloping slightly away, but not rounded. Before leaving the
subject of tools, we must again urge on our readers never
to carve without a vice or holdfast. The screw belonging to
your bench will do very well for rough work ; but for other
purposes we should advise your procuring a small metal vice,
which can be screwed to the edge of a table without injur-
ing it, and also a "patent holdfast," which consists of an
iron bar that fits into a hole made for the purpose in your
working-bench. Attached to this bar is a long arm, which is
raised or depressed by means of a screw.

Should some of our readers be unable to buy all or any
of the tools we have mentioned, we would not have them, on
that account, be discouraged, for where there is a will there
is a way ; and we have seen much beautiful carving executed
by untaught artists by means of the rudest and scantiest
tools. Conspicuous amongst the wood-sculpture in the Lon-
don Exhibition of 1862 was an altar-piece in bas-relief, after
an old picture, the work of a man who had been formerly
a shoemaker. Although endowed with a remarkable genius
for carving, yet, being very poor, he was for some time with-
out the means of providing himself with the proper tools.
But he overcame this obstacle by tempering and grinding
some of the awls which he used in his shoemaking busi-
ness ; and in this manner he contrived some very passable


tools, and with them he carved several beautifully finished
bas-reliefs. So fine and minute were they, that only by
the aid of a magnifying-glass could the extreme delicacy of
the work be appreciated. In the early life of Correggio we
find another remarkable instance of talent and perseverance
overcoming all difficulties. We read, that when he was quite
a little fellow, on being sent one day into the forest to
cut firewood, he astonished his parents by returning home,
not, as they expected, with a load of fagots, but carrying
instead a roughly carved figure of the Madonna and Child,
which he had fashioned out of a log of wood ; his only im-
plemen^ having been a common knife. To those who, like
Correggio, are short of tools, we would suggest that a ten<
penny nail makes a very fair substitute for a chisel, if
heated red hot, and then plunged into cold water to tempef
the iron, and afterwards ground into shape, and fitted with
a handle. This is one of many contrivances for supplying
the place of regular tools, which will, no doubt, occur to the
needy and ingenious carver. Very little decided advice can
be offered touching raw materials, wood, etc., as so much
depends on the style of carving which your talent and in-
clinations lead you to prefer. Ebony, box-wood, holly, and
lignum-vitae are all hard, close woods, and as such are well
suited for small objects demanding great delicacy oi work-
manship. The only drawback to woods of this kind is the
extreme difficulty of procuring them in large pieces tolerably
free from "shakes," which is the technical term for cracks;
and they are also more expensive than American-grown
woods, being chiefly imported. Ebony and box are usually
sold by weight. The former is about twenty-five cents per
pound, and the other somewhat less. Any good turner would
probably have a supply of these hard woods, which are used
chiefly in their trade. The wood usually employed by for-


eign carvers, but especially the Swiss, is walnut, or lime-
wood stained brown in imitation of walnut ; but a really
artistic workman would scorn the notion of staining or var-
nishing his work. The latter practice is especially objec-
tionable, as it fills up the interstices, and takes off the sharp
edges, which constitute the chief beauty of good carving.
The only application admissible is a little oil rubbed in with
the hand or a hard brush. As to coloring, it is sometimes
necessary, if you are engaged in repairing or adding to any
old oak carvings, in order that your work may match the
original. But what we object to is the trickery of passing
off deal or any common wood for oak or walnut. It never
has the desired effect, for any one can detect the sham.
Deal is by far the worst wood you can use, as from its ex-
treme softness it is very difficult to make a clean stroke.
Do not take any Swiss carving, even of the best description,
as a model or guide ; for though, when seen from a little dis-
tance, it may seem very good, yet on closer inspection a
critical eye will discern many flaws and imperfections. For
if it be possible to glue or nail on any part, rather than take
the trouble of carving it out of the solid piece, these Swiss
workmen will do it. It may seem unkind to blame these
poor people, whose bread depends on the sale of their knick-
nacks, yet we must say that such a dishonest style of work
cannot be too much deprecated and avoided. It is, in fact,
what a good workman would describe as " scamping," which
is a most expressive word, signifying work of any kind,
whether carving or other, that is slurred over by a dishonest
person, a "scamp," who, instead of doing his business hon-
estly and thoroughly, will not work a stroke more than is ab-
solutely necessary. For large pieces of carving, walnut-wood
is very suitable and handsome ; but in many respects it is
not to be compared with oak, which in point of effect, and


pleasantness to work upon, is the best wood we know. It
is also especially fitted for all descriptions of ecclesiastical
carving : indeed, little else is employed for that purpose.
American oak is considered the best by professional carvers ;
as it is of a more uniform color than English, of a closer
grain, and less liable to flaws or knots. American walnut
is also preferred, for the same reason. In choosing and
preparing wood which you intend for immediate use, be very
careful to select that only which has been thoroughly shrunk
and seasoned : otherwise you will have the vexation of see-
ing your work warped and cracked before you have half
finished it. For this reason it is always advisable to have
a stock of wood by you, for then you will insure its having
been kept a sufficient time. And, even should the block
from which your piece be cut have been seasoning for years,
it is safer to prepare the wood a month or two before it is
required, as a sudden exposure to the air will frequently
cause freshly sawn wood to open slightly. A dry outhouse
or cellar, where the sun cannot penetrate, is the best place
for your store.

One of the first requisites to help you on your road to suc-
cess is that your work should be firmly fixed. This can be
done by fixing the wood to be carved to a deal board, and
fastening this with iron cramps to an ordinary table. A
piece of paper must be glued on both sides, and placed be-
tween the wood to be carved and the deal ; so that the two
pieces of wood can be safely separated, when desired, by a
table-knife being inserted in the joints, and gently pressed
forward till the pieces are forced asunder. But for heavy
work, it is better, if possible, to have a strong, firm table
with a small hole bored through the top about four inches
from the front centre. The wood to be carved is fastened
to the table by means of the carver's screw (No. 2), thus :


bore a hole with a gimlet in the back of the wood, and turn
the point of the carver's screw into the gimlet-hole until it
has a firm grip, but not sufficiently far to interfere with
the carving which is to be executed. Next, pass the thick
end of the screw through the hole in the table from above,
and screw on the nut underneath until the whole is quite
firm. The great advantages possessed by this mode of fas-
tening the work are, that, it being all underneath the table,
nothing projects to trouble the carver, and that, by merely
loosening the nut, the work can easily be turned to any
position, and be again made fast by the nut being tightly

For the tools required, their names and uses, see illustra-
tion. The difference between gouges and chisels consists
in the former having rounded or curved edges of various
sweeps, whilst the latter have quite straight edges. Nos. 3,
4> $> 6, 7, represent the impressions made by gouges with
differently shaped edges. No. 8 is an entering-chisel ; No. 9, a
corner-chisel ; and No. 10, the impression made by a carving-
chisel. The riffler (No. n) is simply a file with curved
points, and is used for smoothing nooks and corners where
glass-paper cannot be used, and also for giving smooth sur-
faces to small details of work. It often tends to give
carving the appearance of having been modelled. A bench-
vice, for the purpose of holding the wood while it is being
prepared for carving, a cutter (No. 12), for grounding work,
and a liner (No. i), are also necessary. I do not know the
technical name of this last-mentioned instrument, and so
have named it liner, as it is employed to cut straight lines in
the borders of carvings. The horizontal bar, A, to which
the tiny steel point, C, is attached, is passed through the
piece of wood, B, till it projects as far as is required. It is
then screwed in firmly ; and the wood, B, will act as a gauge


in keeping the line to be cut perfectly straight. The steel
point, C, which cuts the line, can be hammered in or out of
the bar, according to the depth which you desire your line
to be. At D, the other end of the horizontal bar, there is a
round hole for the insertion of a pencil. The steel point
having been removed, the pencil is used for drawing straight

FIG. 127. TOOLS.

i. Liner. 2. Carver's screw. 3. Entering-gouge, for hollowing out undulations in leaves, etc.
4. Parting-tool, for veining leaves and outline-work. 5. Bent parting-tool. 6. Maccaroni-tool, for
removing wood on each side of a stalk, or vein of a leaf. 7 Double-bent fluting-gouge, for remov-
ing wood from the hollows of leaves, etc., where a straight gouge cannot be used. 8 Entering-
chisel, for levelling ground-work in confined spaces. 9. Corner-chisel. 10. Carving-chisel, for
levelling ground-work and cutting round the design. 11. Riffler. 12. Cutter.

lines, B again acting as a gauge. A lump of modelling-wax,
a glue-pot, a small mallet, glass-paper, a stiff brush, a screw-
driver, compasses, and a few small files and gimlets, complete
our list. Work with as few different sorts of tools as possi-
ble, but have several variations in size of each tool.

All your tools must be ground, or sharpened, to a fine
edge. These are somewhat difficult processes ; and some


practice is required in order to accomplish them satisfactorily.
You can either buy them ready "set," or you can get a
wood-carver or cabinet-maker to set them for you, and I
should strongly advise you to watch the process, if you have
the opportunity. As the points or blades of the tools differ
in shapes, some naturally require a different mode of treat
ment from others. The finest grindstones, and therefore the
best fitted for edge-tools, are called " Bilston," from the name
of the place where they are quarried. When grinding the
tools, care must be taken to keep the stone wet by sprin-
kling it with water, else the tools will surfer from the heat
generated by the grinding process. The gouges are ground
on their convex side at an angle of twenty-three degrees,
and are turned slightly but continually the whole time, so as
to keep them even ; those which have the most curved edges
requiring the most turning. The corner-chisel (No. 9) is
ground on both sides ; No. 10 is ground on its lower side ;
No. 7 is ground exactly equally on its three outer sides.

The tools, when ground, must next be " set," or sharpened
on oil-stones. Arkansas or Bilston is used for the more deli-
cate instruments ; Turkey, for the others. It will be neces-
sary not only to have a flat side, but also a round edge, to
your stone, in order to fit the edges of the gouges. The
tools are set in the following manner: hold your tool in
your left hand, and the stone, previously wetted with sweet
oil, in your right. Rub the gouges on their convex sides with
the flat part of the stone, on their concave sides with the
round edge of the stone. No 9 must be rubbed on both
sides ; No. 10, on the lower side only, with the flat side of
the stone : No. 7 must be rubbed on its three outer sides
with the Arkansas.

The third and last process to which the tools must be sub-
jected is " strapping " them. Provide yourself with a piece


of thick, soft buff -leather glued to a strip of wood ; moisten
it well with sweet oil, and make a sort of paste on its surface
with fine emery and putty powder, and draw your tools over
it. The tools will but seldom require sharpening or setting,
if they are kept in a proper state, and occasionally drawn
over the leather strap. In intervals of use, and, indeed, at
all times when not actually employed in cutting, the tools
should be placed in racks in a shallow box, or else in a leather
or flannel case fitted with loops, so that they cannot tumble
out, or knock each other. The stones also must be kept in a
covered box, and be well wiped before they are put away.

All wood employed for carving - purposes must be well
seasoned, and free from " knots," or faults. If, however, work
has been begun on a piece of wood which shows, by " warp-
ing," that it has not been properly seasoned, it need not
necessarily be thrown away on that account. Try first to
remedy the defect by one of the following simple means.
Either place a damp towel under the concave side of the
wood, and a weight (not so heavy as to break the wood) over
it, or place the warped wood at about three feet from an
ordinary fire, with its convex side towards it. Whichever
plan is adopted, watchfulness is needed so as not to "over-
do " the remedy, and thus to allow the wood to warp in the
contrary direction.

The choice of the wood to be used is of much conse-
quence. I have already spoken of the advantages possessed
by lime-wood : it is quite as suitable for small works as for
large designs. Sycamore, holly, and chestnut are among
the lightest of our woods. Sycamore is therefore generally
used for bread-plates. American walnut is of a dark color.
Accidents are more apt to occur in working with it than with
lime-wood, owing to its more open grain ; but it is much in
favor for small works, where no great thickness or solidncss


of carving is required. Oak is oftenest chosen for church,
work or solid furniture. Pear somewhat resembles lime in
working, but it is darker and harder. Italian walnut is also
one of the harder woods ; but it is beautifully adapted for
panels and cabinets, and well repays the extra labor which
it entails. For very fine work, close-grained woods, such a?
box or ebony, are the best.

Before beginning to draw on the wood, it is advisable to
whiten the surface by brushing Chinese white, diluted with
water, over it. In case you are working on a dark wood,
this will enable you to see your drawing or tracing clearly
on it. But there is another reason for the "whitening,"
besides this ; namely, that in the after-process of carving,
when you have already cut away a good deal of the ground-
work, the places where the white remains will show you
plainly where you require the greatest relief or projection.
If your design is of a conventional or geometrical type, the
two sides being similar the one to the other, rule a line
down the centre of your piece of wood. Draw your design
on one side only ; trace it ; then lay your tracing over the
other side, with dark tracing-paper between, and retrace it.
If your design is of a flowing or irregular type, it is best to
draw the whole on paper first, and, having made a tracing of
it, to retrace the whole at once on your wood.

I should strongly advise those who are beginners in the
art of wood-carving to try their skill first on a simple design
involving no very great amount of labor. We will suppose
that you have chosen a spray of ivy (see illustration), and
propose to carve it on a piece of lime-wood. Bear in mind
that every cut you make will tend either to beautify or spoil
your design, and will bear a clear and lasting testimony for
or against you. Having drawn or traced your design on the
wood, take your carving-gouge No. 3, and, wherever it fits


the curves of your design, proceed to outline with it. Out-
lining is technically called "hosting," a word probably de-
rived from the Italian Abbozare, "to sketch." You will
probably have to use several variations of the carving-gouge,
possessing edges with different sweeps of curvature. It is
quite impossible to lay down a rigid law as to what tools will
be required for different parts of your work ; as practice, and

Fto. 1*8. SPRAY OF IW-L*AV*S.

practice only, will soon teach you which tools will fit the
different curves, and are therefore the best adapted to your
purpose. Hold your tool in your right hand, either quite
perpendicularly or slightly bending outwards (on no account
let it slope inwards, and thus tend to undercut the leaves) ;
press it into the wood by gentle taps with your mallet.
When the mallet is not required, the handle of whatever
carving-tool you are using should be grasped firmly in the
right hand, the left wrist lying on your work, and the left


hand holding the tool a little below the middle ; or the left
hand may be held in a hollowed position, so that the tool
rests in front against its fingers. This position enables the
right hand to act as a guide, while the left hand steadies
the tool, and prevents it from slipping forward. If these
instructions are carefully followed, any injury to the work or
hands will effectually be prevented.

Now cut or scoop away the wood of the ground ; that is,
every part except where the stalks and leaves are to be
formed, with your chisels. This " cutting-away " process is
often repeated two or three times by carvers. But, having
cut away the wood once, you can then save yourself a great
amount of labor, and at the same time insure your ground
being perfectly level and smooth, by using the cutter No. 12.
This is a small piece of steel, with a flat sharp edge, inserted
between two strips of wood. This steel should be made to
project beyond the strips to the depth which you wish your
ground to be of, and is then securely fastened by the strips
being tightly screwed together. Move the cutter steadily
backwards and forwards until it has cleared the ground to
the depth you require, taking care not to injure the outlines

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Online LibraryHelen CampbellThe American girl's home book of work and play → online text (page 22 of 28)