What are your most commonly used carving tools/chisels/sizes for things such as fans? Any help appreciated here. Which sizes of each; gouge, v-part can you not live without? Also, do you use the bent ones more-so than straight?
A vee tool is probably the single most commonly used tool. In the Swiss Made sweep/sizes, a 12 sweep 12mm will do most of your work. Add a 12-6mm and you can do 95% of your work. For the other sweeps, a few of the number 5s and 7s are the best basic tools, and can adapt to do a lot of work. The only bent tools that have much use at all, I feel, are the back bends. You really don't need the long bend tools, or the spoons. But a number 25-12mm backbend is great to have.
I expect you'll get a lot of opinions, but this is what I would start over with. You can carve really nice Queen Anne fans with a vee tool and a half inch bench chisel, if that's all you have.
I agree with John's emphasis on V-ee tools. Most of my carvings have been Newport shells, for which I find the miniature V-ees with hexagonal wood handles and the small palm held tools to be invaluable to getting crisp and fair edges to the curved scallop ridges and hollows after roughing with more conventional gouges and chisels.
When I look at similar carvings by others, the usual giveway to someone still perfecting his/her skills is lack of crispness and smooth fair transitions to the curves to these edge details. The Townsend originals are striking in their crisp perfection, and in at least one case of counterfeit pieces, muddled shell carving details were a critical clue to the determination of non- originality.
If it is a basic fan that is just on the surface of the wood, a v-chisel and a flat chisel can get most of the work done. What I do as a trick to make sure the v-cuts stay as clean and straight as possible is I first make the cut with the v-chisel, then I take the flat chisel and make a straight down cut down the length of this v-cut (if you have a really large straight chisel, this works great for making this very clean). Then I curve the convex sections down to this nice sharp v-cut. I think the most difficult part about this carving is dealing with all the different grain directions.
Back bents would be very handy on these if they are the style of fan that gently scoops down close to the outiside edge. Very difficult to get the flat chisel down into these areas without gouging areas you don't want to gouge.
My favorite v-chisel is a 60 degree angle, 5 or 6mm. I use it in every carving I do. I also very rarely use the long bend gouges. They just seem awkward.
Can somebody please remind (I recall asking Chris Storb this question), did period carvers have Vees? I recall asking Storb about bent tools and he response was that they had everything we have and probably more variety. But vees? I can imagine they could be trickier to make. And this would probably be the last tool on my list of must haves as you can really do the same job better (albeit a different way) with other tools.
Now I don't know jack squat about shells, having never carved one. Hey, now that I think of it, I recall watching Mack Headley carve one at one of the Wmsburg Conferences. Anyone recall if he used a vee? He stabbed in the periphery, then modeled the whole surface, then used gouges for each of the ribs/petals. I don't recall him using the vee. Anyone? I'm asking. I don't know.
I cannot speak for what a particular individual might use, but recall that a Newport shell has a V-shaped ridge running down each side of the scalloped rays; see cartoon below. Of course, such a shape can be cut a number of ways, but I would not want to be making very many of them without good Vee tools.
Perhaps I should have made clear that I was speaking of convex Newport shells. My cartoon may have been a little bit much of a simplification but it falls out of the carving procedure I was taught which involves cutting Vees between each ray as a carving step even though they do not appear as Vees, but flats, at the conclusion.
Start by roughing out the outline of the entire carving, and than reserve the area surrounded by the scroll and containing the splayed hollowed leaves in the center by depth cutting its perimeter with gouges of suitable radii to obtain the eliptical outline, and back cutting inward along the area of the rays of the shell.
Next, carve and plane the S-shaped surface of the entire ray area to smooth contours that are constant depths circumferentially, but vary in profile radially to suit the shape of the eventual rays. I believe this step is critically important to getting nice uniform ray/flutes to the shell.
Only after this surface is nicely faired do you come back and cut the varying curved Vee grooves between each ray that devolve to straight lnes in plan view at the end of the fan, round the convex rays to become tangent to the Vees already cut, and then cut the concave rays , leaving some of the edge of the Vee standing as a sharp ridge separating the rays.
I believe this general method was laid out by Al Breed in an article in Fine Woodworking
about ten years ago; if I am mistaken, or misunderstood - my apologies.
I find carving shells somewhat nerve wracking because of the investment in time which is at risk until the very last cuts in the splayed hollow leaves are complete - because they tend to chip easily due to the variations in carving relative to the grain.
Ty- My most used tools are v's, 5's, and 7's for the shells you guys have been discussing; of course it depends on the exact pattern you want to do.
For A convex or concave Goddard-type shell I use these tools in this order (this is from memory, so don't take notes):
5-35, 3-40 for roughing out shape
v- tool (12-6,8 or bigger) for setting in rosette
12-8 ground back for establishing fillets
8-16, 8-13, 9-10 and 11-7 for hollow lobes
backbents and some 2's, 3's and 5's with an inside bevel to do the tricky diagonal convex lobes
a bent 12-3 for the perimeter v-cut
volutes and rosette I use an 11-7, 12-8 and others like small 5's
sometimes I'll use a straight chisel to clean the convex flutes
I almost never use long bent tools, as I seem to make do fine with straight ones
Spoon gouges- good for spoons mostly.
I have written an article on this in FWW. I'm on the cover, I think it's mid 90's.......don't have it here.-Al
I am currently working on 2 large carved shell niches and am putting the process on my blog - www.marymaycarving.com/blog. It's been a fascinating process. MUCH different that the Newport shells, but you may find it interesting anyway.
Al, speaking of spoon bents - mine get very dusty and I take them out just to look at them every once in a while just because they are such neat tools. This is the first time it was truly necessary to use them, and they were absolutely invaluable. And I even used a long bent, which I never use in any other projects. Oh yeah - and sandpaper too (cringe).
It's such a satisfying day when your arms are so exhausted that even typing is difficult.