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Thread: Time to start learning letter-carving.

  1. #1
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    Time to start learning letter-carving.

    Started out with furniture, and then wood turning. I have made hundreds of communion chalices and patens.

    Now a great friend has asked me to carve the letters GOT (Game of Thrones) in Trajan Pro font on a chalice.

    So it seems I have a few challenges.
    First, learn to carve the letters GOT in Trajan Pro.
    Second, repeat a thousand times. Maybe 10,000, who knows?
    Third, try it on a curved surface. A gazillion times.

    Hand my friend a Game of Thrones Chalice.

    Have I left out any steps?
    Oh, and I bet I need two tools. Only the ones needed to spell GOT.
    Veni Vidi Vendi Vente! I came, I saw, I bought a large coffee!

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Kent View Post
    Started out with furniture, and then wood turning. I have made hundreds of communion chalices and patens.

    Now a great friend has asked me to carve the letters GOT (Game of Thrones) in Trajan Pro font on a chalice.

    So it seems I have a few challenges.
    First, learn to carve the letters GOT in Trajan Pro.
    Second, repeat a thousand times. Maybe 10,000, who knows?
    Third, try it on a curved surface. A gazillion times.

    Hand my friend a Game of Thrones Chalice.

    Have I left out any steps?
    Oh, and I bet I need two tools. Only the ones needed to spell GOT.

    What is the wood? Are you considering carving with carving gouges, power carving, or chip carving. I've done it multiple ways, from carving temporary grave markers in hard maple with mallet and gouges to chip carving letters in soft basswood.

    Something not clear in your message - do you need really need to make a gazillion of these or just one for that friend? If many, I might consider hiring it out - those with the right CNC or engravers might save you months of time.

    If you are planning to chip carve all you need is a single knife and some practice. (!) On curved surfaces I lay out the letters on paper then wrap around and transfer to the turning with graphite paper. (For bunch of pieces I might consider the heat transfer method instead. Or just sketch and freehand.) I haven't tried that font you mentioned but from a quick look it doesn't look all that difficult.

    I've posted pictures of some of my letter chip carving here several times but here are some again in case you are interested.

    BOC_C_Jack_01_IMG_6687.jpg BOC_A_comp.jpg chip_script.jpg chip_mess.jpg

    Note that I often glue up pieces for turning that have a layer of basswood just for the carving. The two Beads of Courage boxes are made like that as is this goblet (with a pattern instead of letters.) If you go that route you can effectively glue end grain to end grain by sandwiching in a face grain layer, hence the layers of walnut between the cherry and the basswood:

    chip_carved_goblet_c.jpg

    One note - layout on a compound curved surface such as a goblet with non-cylindrical sides is a easier if the letters are horizontally centered on the "equator" of the curve. With just three letters this won't be as much problem as with a longer string of characters but is still something to think about. Also, I assume your turnings will be end-grain so the carving will all be in side grain - that's much easier than working with end grain.

    JKJ

  3. #3
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    Thank you, John. You gave me a lot to go on. I have a lot of local avocado wood, as well as a little basswood, so I may try both.
    Veni Vidi Vendi Vente! I came, I saw, I bought a large coffee!

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Kent View Post
    Thank you, John. You gave me a lot to go on. I have a lot of local avocado wood, as well as a little basswood, so I may try both.
    Ooo, avacaco! I was given a couple of short 4/4 boards and have used it for small turnings - wonderful and beautiful wood, at least what I have. If we lived closer I'd drive over and negotiate a wood swap!

    Note that the chip carving experts recommend using northern basswood instead of southern basswood. Supposedly finer grained from slower growth, cuts cleaner, etc. I ordered quantities of northern basswood from 8/4 to 16/4 from https://heineckewood.com/, came by UPS in 4' planks, shipping to TN was completely reasonable. The quality is outstanding.

    If you want to try chip carving, give me a holler - I learned a lot about the tools and techniques. All that's really needed is one knife, but a second one with a thinner profile may make your curves in the "G" and "O" easier. The "T" should be no problem.

    chip_carving_knives_small.jpg chip_ornament_CU.jpg chip_ornament_CU2_IMG_5009.jpg

    One note: I've bought several chip-carving knives and none of them were useful as purchased. Most needed a big effort in reshaping and sharpening. In fact, the first Barton knife I bought decades ago turned me off completely to chip carving. Years later after I learned how fix it chip carving was suddenly easy. The closest knife I found to "ready to use" was from Hock.

    JKJ

  5. #5
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    Yes, I am interested in chip carving. I am laughing at my own insecurity about seeing a knife that close to your thumb. So is the hock blade your recommendation for the first. I use Shapton glass stones for sharpening.
    Veni Vidi Vendi Vente! I came, I saw, I bought a large coffee!

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Kent View Post
    Yes, I am interested in chip carving. I am laughing at my own insecurity about seeing a knife that close to your thumb. So is the hock blade your recommendation for the first. I use Shapton glass stones for sharpening.
    I have not yet cut or even scratched myself with a chip carving knife. I have, however, cut myself with lots of other knives, the latest requiring eight stitches (and a lot of blood to clean up).

    The chip cut is always extremely controlled, otherwise you couldn't make precise chips. The thumb steadies the turning, not needed for flat work. Each cut in a triangular chip is a controlled stab directly into the wood at the right angle, with a bit of rotation and pull. The object is for the point to end up exactly in the center of the chip. In the process the point must follow the angle of the far side of the chip and the line of the knife edge must end up exactly on the nearer side of the chip. Repeat two more times and the chip pops free! I like to mark the center with a dot to help me visualize the angle and depth of the point. X-ray vision would be nice when starting out. If the point is not deep enough and the edges not properly defined and cut, the chip won't pop free perfectly. If the point or the edges are too deep it can make for a sloppy cut. The angle of each side has to be precise and is controlled by the grip and the position of the fingers. This can take a bit of practice! Some of my practice boards:

    chip_practice_A.jpg chip_practice_2.jpg chip_practice_3.jpg

    BTW, making triangular chips on a compound curved surface can be tricky. Due to the geometry, the straight side above/below and parallel to the "equator" must actually be a curve or the side of the chip won't be flat! Another thing, since carving on side grain, the further the cut from the equator the more you are getting into end grain, presenting some problems to solve.

    Even though the Hock blade needed less work to get it into shape, I still prefer the "modified" knife from My Chip Carving for curved cuts as in many letters. The left knife in this picture is the Wayne Barton knife, excellent (once properly prepared) for "normal" three-sided chips. He evidently copied the shape of the blade from traditional Scandinavian chip carving knives since the shape is identical to what I found in old books, The angle of the edge to the centerline of the handle is important. Without this angle you need to apply more force in an awkward motion. The angle makes the cut easier.

    chip_carving_knives.jpg


    The second knife, on the right, is the one from My Chip Carving. Note the point angle is smaller when viewed from the side. This lets the blade follow curves a bit easier than the wider blade. The Hock knife is a different profile completely and while the cross-section was better requiring less initial work, it doesn't have as much metal in the spine and doesn't feel as strong. Remember that you only use the first 1/8" or so of any chip carving knife so any profile past that doesn't make much difference except for strength.

    The problem I had with the Barton knife was it was horribly prepared and useless for chip carving as purchased. I discussed this with an expert chip carver once and he said he tried to convince Barton to provide a better cross section but had no success. As purchased, the knife in cross-section is tapered from the spine towards the edge but the edge itself has a ground bevel that with a cross-section angle MUCH too big to be useful. Even if that bevel is sharpened to a razor edge it won't work for chip carving since the bevel causes too much friction to enter the wood cleanly. It was so difficult to make a cut that I did like many and gave up after the first few tries. I put the knife in a box and forgot about chip carving.

    Then 10 years later got one glimpse of a real chip carver's knife and knew immediately what needed to be done. The entire cross-section of the knife needs to be reshaped to be useful. When I realized this I reshaped the knife and suddenly chip carving was easy! I can only guess than many people have been discouraged by buying a chip carving knife without realizing it was useless off the shelf.

    I measured and sketched a vertical slice showing the cross-sections of my three knives. The small differences in overall angles don't seem to make much difference in the use. The important thing is the long, flat, polished sides. (As mentioned, only a very short section at the tip cuts the wood but that would be difficult to shape and sharpen without having the long edge to hold against the stone.)

    chip_carving_knife_angles_c.jpg

    Sorry, I didn't make a sketch of the unusable cross-section of the Barton knife as purchased. To make it usable, I used a combination of side grinding on the Tormek and coarse stones to make the side flat from the spine nearly all the way to the edge, one long bevel. (This took a long time.) There is a very shallow secondary bevel at the cutting edge.

    To sharpen after shaping, I used several very fine grades of good ceramic stones. Later, I bought the My Chip Carving sharpening kit which is a LOT easier to use. It uses four strips of extremely fine abrasive film fastened to a flat surface, water as lubricant. This will make a razor sharp polished edge. I end up and periodically refresh the edge with a leather strop. My favorite strop is thin pigskin glued to a board with a bit of honing compound rubbed in. (Note there is come controversy about whether to strop or not - I find stropping helpful but you have to be careful to hold the knife at the right angle and pressure to avoid rounding over the edge.)

    I bought and studied about every chip carving book I could find. There are videos too but I like having the books at hand while learning.

    BTW, I got into chip carving specifically to carve on turnings. Almost everyone carves on flat boards.

    Take a look at some of the work of Bill Johnson in North Carolina (Carolina Mountain Reefs). He does a wide variety of things but his aquatic themes are eye-catching.

    BTW, I turned this squarish dished platter from basswood and sent it to Bill to carve. The second picture shows his layout and some initial carving and the result is on the custom page of his gallery.

    penta_pl_basswood.jpg penta_chips_composite.jpg


    JKJ

  7. #7
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    Very interesting and useful information on this thread. Thanks, John!

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