This is a busy year for my wife and I as she approaches retirement, we try to make-up time lost to travelling as the result of COVID, we prepare to move into our house near Canberra which entails quite a lot of toing-and-froing to meet with overworked tradies to help upgrade the place, and we have the actual pack-up, move and unpack which will keep us busy for months as we embrace a new chapter in our lives. It's all very exciting!!
What I'm trying to say is that due to spending less time than usual in my workshop, from where I garner ideas for my monthly carving tips, I'm reluctantly letting you know that I'll be less regular on this blog for the rest of this year.
But I'll continue to answer your emails, and if a suitable query comes in I'll answer it here. In the meantime, I hope you stay healthy and enjoy life as best you can in these still-strange times.
Thanks for your past support and ... happy carving!
A couple of short points for you this month -
1. I was grinding a thin piece of stone recently and applied it to a previously-used sheet of 600 grit Wet & Dry (W&D) on my lap. The stone was whipped out of my fingers and bounced harmlessly off the back of the splash box, happily.
The next time I tried it gave me the same result.
I stopped the lap and checked the W&D and found it to be more worn than I had thought. Being flat, the stone was being dragged out of my fingers by osmotic attraction between W&D and stone.
By replacing the W&D I finally got to grind it down.
2. A few days later there was a lot of squealing when I started the motor. I added my usual wax to the inside of the belt with no reduction in squeal, so I checked the belt tension and found it to be a bit loose.
The tension needs to be “just right”: too tight and you eventually wreck the motor bearings/bushes; too loose and you get excessive belt wear because of the slipping/squealing.
The moral of the stories is: you need to keep on top of these matters with your equipment.
Large, deep holes can take a long time to grind out if you start with the finest burrs and gradually work up in size. But here is a situation where I saved myself lots of time, by using a large, coarse burr, set in my drill-press, where I could apply more pressure to the work.
When I assemble the eight pieces of stone I’ll use a piece of threaded brass with nuts attached to hold them all together. To help them hold, I ground out the top and bottom holes with a keystone shape to make sure everything will stay together once it’s assembled. Now all I need to do is make the time to complete the piece!
And if you thought I only like Cowell koalas, here are a couple of very tasty young fellows from Lindt!
Phew, just made it this month! Warning: this month’s blog is about NOT carving. Shock, horror! Has Nigel lost his marbles? Well, maybe.
Life isn’t always quiet and ordered, and this last month has been a particularly busy one for a variety of reasons – though I’d stress for all the right ones. So, no, I haven’t caught one of the many variants of COVID (and I hope you haven’t either as it can be a really nasty illness) and I haven’t abandoned my workshop. I just haven’t had time to do as much carving as I’d like to, and there hasn’t been much worth capturing in pictures or words to pass on to you. Life happens!
So, do I become frustrated when not carving? Yes, a little. And how do I manage that?
I figure a happy and meaningful life is about making the right decisions. So, below is a list of how I weigh the various factors in my life, starting with the most important people or activities and going to the less important further down:
Life is about priorities. You have to decide what your own are, but at different times in your life some activities will rise in importance and fall again later. To quote the old proverb, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, so hopefully you can spread your time over several activities each day?
But for the last few weeks I’ve rarely been relaxing in the workshop, sadly. Even when not there I often think about the pieces I’m carving, and about the pieces I’m going to carve. Sometimes I dream about them. I have a book stuffed with ideas on loose pieces of paper scrawled during my travels or occasionally on the pages themselves. Most will not see the light of day, but others are just awaiting that special piece of stone or opportunity. So all is not lost and I hope to have something to show you next month.
Until then, stay calm and healthy, and I wish you happy carving!
Thanks to Greg for his query on grinding with laps.
Thanks to those of you who sent me your queries - I’m getting through them as I have the time. And if you haven’t sent in your questions yet, please feel free!
This month I want to talk about mass production in my workshop. Well, it doesn’t happen! I make batches instead.
If it takes longer to change the tools for the next stage of the process than it does to complete the current stage on the pieces in the batch, then it’s worth making a number of similar pieces: time is valuable and needs to be used wisely.
So when carving simple pendants which might take 1 – 2 hours to finish each one, I make batches of 8 – 10 at a time. But with more complicated pieces which might each take 15 – 20 hours to complete I have batches of 2 – 4 because if there are too many in the batch and I never seem to be making progress, it can drag me down mood-wise.
So what I’m saying is, it’s important to make progress during each work session. The progress makes me want to come back to do more in the afternoon, or the next day.
It’s all about planning.
Maybe I'll regret this (!?) but you've put up with me telling you about carving for more than 4 years now, and maybe I missed some facet or only skimmed over a subject.
So why not tell me what you want to know for a change?
I'll do my best to answer every serious question, and I'll post the ones with more general interest on this blog in the coming months.
Thanks in advance for your interest!
Keep safe and keep carving!
After a few quiet weeks caused by my point carver motor being re-wound, these last few have been busy in the workshop. The motor is going really well again! This just goes to support my oft-mentioned exhortation to keep your equipment in tip-top condition, because a breakdown can stop you in your tracks for weeks, especially in lockdown, as we are in Sydney at the moment (and we are not alone in Australia or the world).
I reassembled my point carver, oiling and tightening a few parts as I went, and got to work happily. I started by trying to catch up with a few commissions – a very good place to start I thought!
I had some bone-work to do, and after trying Kudu horn-inner for one piece, and finding it too soft and brittle for the design (it broke), needed to obtain some fresh beef bone for the work because I could not find the old beef thigh bone I carried around for years. It just goes to show – you should only throw-away things you will never, ever, need again!
I can thoroughly recommend Steve Myhre’s book on bone carving (it’s listed in the references at the bottom of the About Jade page in this site) to give you all the information you need to know about cleaning and preparing bone for bone carving. It’s not a quick process though – I took me about a week to clean and de-grease mine.
An important point: once you have your bone cleaned and ready, you need to cut it the correct way to give you the thickest bone just where you need it for the design. Uncooked beef bone (the central section of either the fibula (lower leg) or tibia (thigh/upper leg bone)) are what you need for carving. I cut the first one the wrong way and dissected the thickest portion of the bone, which I needed for the design, so had to buy another and cut it correctly! Whilst that bone was soaking, I made a couple of trial pieces to test the design and techniques I wanted to use and was happy with the results.
However, whilst bone is softer than my more usual nephrite carving medium, great care needs to be taken in the grinding and polishing process. Every scratch needs to be ground out or the finish is spoilt. Similarly, any imperfections in the bone show up in a very negative way. You can’t do anything about the thickness of the bone – there is only the good, solid part to use. This then necessitated careful study of my piece of bone, much as I do with my stone, to find the best orientation for the design.
I’m taking a short break from bone carving and am happy to get back to carving nephrite to complete a small batch of koalas, one of which is increasingly becoming a bit of a rush job. I’m trying a new pose for the creature, and wasn’t sure how the head would relate to the shoulders, having only one picture of the koala in that position. So, as I often suggest, I made a model out of Plasteline/plasticine modelling clay. This will, I hope, prevent me from adding to the selection of “failures” at the back of the bench awaiting a new design to help them rise, Phoenix-like from the proverbial ashes!
After last month’s tip you’ll be interested (hopefully!) to hear if the repair to my 1500 grit flexible diamond belt worked. The answer is yes, it did, not that I couldn’t do a better job next time if I need to (read on!).
So how did I go about it?
I went to my local hardware store and asked the solvents and adhesives expert there what to use. He suggested a product called “Goof Off” which cleaned up the tape and the belt nicely with a few applications and some firm rubbing. As directed by the safety instructions, I had plenty of ventilation whilst using it because of the acetone in the product and also used disposable rubber gloves as recommended by the manufacturers. Please read and follow the safety instructions for any and all chemical products!!
Once clean and dry, I used a product called “Fix All Crystal” which is both a sealant and adhesive, depending on how much you apply. I followed the instructions and then clamped the belt and tape between two pieces of thin plywood, having first wrapped the belt in a piece of paper kitchen towel to avoid things sticking to it.
After 24 hours I opened everything up and cleaned off the stuck paper towel. I left it a further couple of days to harden before using.
The only problem was I didn’t push the fingers up into each other firmly enough, or else it slipped whilst clamping. But I then used the belt to finish a couple of jobs and it worked fine, so there must be a bit of latitude here.
Sometimes I feel like a guinea pig but the truth is we are all learning, and if you can learn off my efforts, then I’ve saved you some frustrations.
On this page I intend to add monthly updates on aspects of jade carving. I also plan to invite more experienced carvers to offer a "master-class" on a particular subject of their choice. With this I hope to enthuse both the novice and the expert in this ancient and beautiful art-form/craft. And comments are welcome!