Bill- First grind the bevels way back til they're about an inch and a half long. Be extremely careful not to burn the tool, grinding the part away from the edge first and then working towards the edge in long, light cuts on the wheel. Get as close as you can to the edge and then finish the last little bit on a stone. Do the inside with a ceramic stone with thin edge, then strop. I have a blog on my site about modifying carving tools tht shows the finished tool. If you use it for everything but stabbing in notches and going up to vertical walls then the first step in your grinding should be to grind the front profile so the wings at the top cut before th bottom of the v.-Al
I for one can attest that Al's modified grind is very helpful. For whatever reason, it seems to make the tool cut easier, plus the longer bevel keeps the handle low and close to the work which helps with control. It is sometimes handy to have a v-tool with a straight factory grind, so I'd get two and grind one.
Can anybody (Al) comment on the availabilty and use of Vee gouges in the 18th c? The basic outline of period carvings I've seen don't indicate the use of vee gouges. I'm trying to think of veins in foilage. Anyone?
Gosh I hope this doesn't sound snarky in any way- I've heard about guys teaching carving techniques that don't appear to be verifiable (or are contradicted) by surviving pieces. The use of a rasp for Philadelphia ball and claw feet comes to mind. I don't think there are examples to indicate rasp marks. Other areas DO have rasp marks. Philadelphia feet in original condition don't appear to have been abraded in any way.
Just to be clear, my interest here is in learning if other aspects of period carving are like this too. Are there basic techniques (like outlining a design with a vee gouge) that are controversial or unsupported by the extant pieces? Do these sorts of techniques vary regionally? Did New England carvers use Vee where Philadelphia and London carvers did not?
It sure does appear as tho Philadelphia (and London) carvers stabbed in designs. The side walls are square with the ground and stab marks are still in evidence in some of the pieces I've seen.
I have the same question about bent tools. I've seen work that suggests they must have had them. You could kinda see how if someoen came along and said authoratatively they didn't have them how that would effect our understanding of their carving processes and finished forms.
I'll leave the issue of v-parting tool usage in 18th century carving to those who have more access to study originals. But, as to availability during the 18th century, I think the answer is yes.
Peter Follansbee, who I believe has extensively studied 17th century carving, lists a v-tool among those needed for such work. In fact, he indicates some 17th century carvings can be carried out nearly entirely with nothing but a v-tool. Since I don't have access to study 17th century carvings, I will defer to his judgment in this matter.
Additionally, we find these carving tool listings in the 1791 Christopher Gabriel inventory:
4 Dozn Fluting Gouges Ct Steel
1 Dozn Do
3 Dozn Comn Steel Do
5 Parting Tools [i.e. v-parting tools]
3 Bent Gouges
3 Vening Tools
Joseph Smith's 1816 _Key_ illustrates item #68 as a curved v-parting tool, and the later tool list from Marshes & Shepherd, keyed to Smith's numbering system, includes #68 as "Parting Tools, 1/4 to 1/2 inch .... ." So, unless the terminology changed dramatically from 1791 to 1816 and the 1840's, I think it pretty clear that the Gabriel listing of "5 Parting Tools" refers to what we would call v-parting tools. Or, simply, v-tools.
I believe these two bits of information effectively book-end the 18th century and clearly indicate that these tools were available during that period.
I think that relatively few old v-tools survive in large part because they are probably the most used carving tool, and tend to get sharpened down to a nub faster than straight gouges. (Especially when the learning curve for sharpening v-tools results in a lot of steel ending up in front of the sharpening bench). The same goes for back-bends, which are extremely useful, but have very little sharpenable length compared to straight tools. Finding earlier back-bends is like panning for gold. On the other hand, antique spoon gouges and long bends seem to be the most commonly available antique carving tools. I think this is because they saw very little usage, and so did not get used up.
This is just idle speculation, but I have thought a bit about which tools survive, and which don't.
Just to clarify a bit. What I have heard is that outlining with a vee may be okay for shallow carvings and gross outlines. But there are two problems with vee tools beyond that:
1) For deeper relief carving, carvers don't work full depth initially. They work in 2 or three "pitches" (my word, not theirs). So stabbing in a shape with a known tools allows them to deepen a relief without changing it's shape.
2) For actual veining where the leaves or elements are thin, the vee exerts pressure sideways and can cause a thin feature to crack out. Stabbing in can do the same thing and you always need to be aware of the weak side of a cut. But stabbing in can be better because teh angle of the tool is lower than the vee certainly.
Proponents of the "stabbing in" technique, grind low angles on their tools, grind thr corners off and usually knife edge their tools to keep the lateral pressure to an absolute minimum.
I believe this is a technique folks were taught long ago and it allowed them to copy others' work accurately. But I'm not 100% sure. I'm a neophyte carver to be sure.
Number 2 in your list is key here, Adam. What you are referring to is a "relief cut." A v-tool applies little sideways pressure to the delicate elements that will remain when the background is reduced, because the wood is being removed, not simply compressed. A stabbing cut, even with a very low angle gouge, exerts a lot of pressure, split equally toward the waste side and the side you want to keep. The resulting compression effect on delicate elements such as leaf-tips will result in their breaking off.
The v-tool being used to reduce the background and outline the work is not used right up to the line, but maybe an eighth of an inch away. This lowers the ground. You then make a stab cut right at your line, and the waste falls away toward the v-cut. The pressure is applied mostly toward the waste, preserving the delicate elements.
Those who don't use a v-tool to outline stab in an eighth of an inch away from the line, and use flat or shallow gouges to remove the waste. This is another way to make a relief cut without a v-tool. They then go back and make new stab cuts right at the line, the waste falls toward the "safety" cut, and parts will not break off.
Adam- Close observation of early work will show evidence of v-tool use, and certainly not restricted to any particular city. To make these cuts such as the veining in leaves would require two cuts to meet at the bottom cleanly, which is slower, although I'm sure some guys did it that way.
Like v-tools, I believe rasps were available almost everywhere. I don't believe carvers used rasps much, but if they did I think they wouldn't have left the evidence lying around for us to see anyway, so it's hard to tell. Also, Philly carvers didn't all come from the same place or train under the same master, so I wouldn't expect to see consistency in rasp use any more than in any other aspect of their work.
As far as stabbing in versus v-tool outlining, I think it's a matter of taste and they're not mutually exclusive. Sometimes I do both and sometimes I just stab in. Stabbing in is good when you're using the tools to design the leaf shapes, which I believe was done a lot. As John pointed out, if you just stab to the line you may be surprised later when those edges splinter and come apart. I use a safety cut about a sixteenth to an eighth away from the line to preserve the integrity of the element, like a thin leaf edge.When the real cut is made, the breakage will occur towards the waste side. I question your comment about rounding off the edges of stabbing -in tools, as this would leave an uncut end where two cuts meet, the place where you really want a nice crisp inside corner to make the removal of the ground easier.
If a v-tool is ground appropriately, there is practically no sideways pressure, so you can vein the leaves close to the edge with no damage to the edge. You can also do the same with a small 11 if it's ground back so that the wings cut first.
Bent gouges are a group I personally don't use much, but the times I do it's usually a tighter than usual inside hollow where the bending gives you clearance.
I think that carvers in the period had access to as many or more patterns than we do. The early manufacturing catalogues have a really good selection. A good workman can do a lot with a limited number of tools, or can design the work around the tools he has. I always design carving with my tool selection in mind.-Al
Al, thanks for the reply. That's fascinating stuff. It seems to me that carving is as interesting as the entirety of period furniture making, where original tools and intentions combine, leaving us with challenging things to reproduce. For me, it seems every bit the slippery slope of basic cabinetry.
I wasn't talking about rounding the profile, tho for the chairs I was making, I'm not sure a rounded tool would have made much difference. I was nearly always carving in a curved surface. What Chris Storb (and others) do/does is grind the portion of the bevel where it meets the side of the tool. Essentially, the tool is beveled on the edge and both sides. The sides aren't cutting edge sharp. They are just ground to make them thinner so they can stab into sharp corners better/deeper.
I'm looking forward to taking some (Breed School) carving classes when i can. Seems to me, grinding and honing the tools is a critical first step and necessary for certain techniques.
I am sure stropoing works well, but if you really are lazy, then:
I know this will seem diifficult to believe, but I watched this youtube video, and then bought one of these tools, and they really are amazing-especially for the v-tool- and I really, really think a v-tool is the most important gouge.
There is another video or so you can find about this also. If you have a lot of gouges and don't like spending time sharpening, it was worth the cost to me. Watching this video it is sort of unbelievable how fast this will get the job done- but it is true. I found this searching for a ways to return the swiss made gouges to the way they were brand new- I confess to buying new 12/6's and 12/2's just to get the original edge. Before buying this machine, I researched it more on the web and found several carvers that used it.
Adam - I do a lot of carving (though not nearly as much as Al!), and was taught by what is essentially a continental european method. Specifically, for relief carving, both a v-tool and "stabbing in" with appropriately curved straight gouges are used.
The v-tool is used to outline the intended carving that has been transferred to the substrate throughthe use of a pricking wheel or by carbon paper. Only after the elements are outlined (leaving perhaps 1/16" of wood between the v-tool trench and the marked outline), does one go back and "stab in".
The reason for the use of both tools is as Al notes - if you simply "stab in" only, it's likely that some elements of the carving will be broken and will crumble when they're exposed. If one only uses the v-tool, it's much more difficult to maintain a vertical wall around the entire outline, and by its very nature, a v-tool will always be cutting cleanly with one flute, and tearing out the grain with the other.
I agree with the use of both - v-chisel first and then stab cuts. From what I have found (and I've lost a lot of little corner leaves in experimenting) is that cutting a small distance from the edge line with a v-chisel and then making a stab cut right on the edge line saves any fragile bits. Most of my European teachers do it this way. I tend to use the v-chisel for most of the "hogging out" of the bulk of the wood and do the more delicate details with curved gouges. Sometimes the reluctance to this process is that it's really difficult getting the v-chisel sharp enough. If you try to use a dull v-chisel, it can do more damage to the wood that a stab cut.
Quite often, I combine the process - using the stab cut on the areas where there are minimal fragile corners and using the v-tool first on the delicate areas. Basswood (mostly for practicing) is also much more forgiving on the stab cuts compared to the mahogany.
Regarding sharpening v-chisels, from what I have seen, the most difficult thing about sharpening a v-chisel is getting rid of that little point of metal sticking out the front of the chisel after the 2 sides are sharpened. If you look closely at a v-chisel, there is usually a slight radius to the inside of the v-chisel. Therefore, the outside corner radius needs to match the inside radius. Otherwise, there will be a thickness of metal at the corner. This is done simply by sharpening the corner as if it was a small gouge - until the outside corner curve matches with the inside radius. Easier said than done, right? Or... if you can't get it sharp, buy a new one! I've done that one too.
Mary- Sometimes I'll use an 11 gouge as well as a v to outline as a safety cut also.
I think the little point at the bottom of the v bothers everybody, but sometimes it will cut OK even with the point there, as annoying as it may look.......Al
Al, I agree - basically whatever takes the bulk of the wood away will work...
The decision then becomes what is easier to sharpen if you end up using it a lot? The v-chisel or the #11? Both are probably equally the most difficult tools to sharpen.
One thing to keep in mind with either chisel - when you are cutting at a 45 degree angle to the grain, for example, that one side of the tool is cutting with the grain and one side is cutting against the grain. If the tool is sharp enough, it shouldn't make that much of a difference, but it is something to keep in mind.