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Thursday, 25 August 2011

Spoon Karving Cnives

Spoonerism - spoon carving knives - get it? Oh well never mind.

What you definitely should get is a set of these wonderful new spoon carving knives from Ray Iles. I've only had a brief play so far, but when it comes to a tool that you work so intimately with as a spoon carving knife, starry eyed love at first sight is a pretty good starting point.

Let's begin with the handles. Plain double turned beech ovals, but the belly is offset towards the rear, so it nestles under the middle and ring fingers before narrowing again for the little finger - hand shaped in other words. Towards the business end, the handle narrows in thickness to a slender lozenge cross section, making your index finger very 'aware' of the exact angle of the blade and able to alter it very precisely by squeezing or relaxing the grip.

Next the blades, hand forged O1, a material Ray has been using for most of his working life, tempered to RC59-61, hollow ground bevels, polished to a shaving sharp edge. I'm wondering whether I wouldn't be happier with a left bevel crook knife as I'd kinda prefer to use this beastie away from my body - maybe I'm just not used to it yet? If you are used to Moras the first thing you will notice is how much thicker the blades are (3mm). The whittling knife and the spoon knife have rounded backs so you can comfortably lay a thumb or fingertip on the back of the blade for very fine control. These two factors make a world of difference. I'm sitting here with a lap full of boxwood shavings, alternating between carving, typing, and watching in amazement as the best teaspoon I have ever carved appears before my eyes. It feels like I have swapped hands with Jon Mac!

Lastly the bit that normally gets forgotten - the tang. The balance on these knives is just beautiful. All of them balance, as they should, slightly forward of the centre of the palm. The barest fraction of weight bias toward the blade gives the necessary registration, but keeping it as small as possible keeps fatigue to a minimum so you can carve in comfort for longer. 'Full length tang' is often touted as a selling feature, but a 3/4 tang that has been balanced to give perfect weight distribution trumps it by a country mile in my book.

Ray has been making tools from the moment he could pick up a hammer, he was one of the last people to be apprenticed to the little mesters of Sheffield and is possibly the only man alive to have apprenticed under them as a Smith, Grinder and Cutler - three apprenticeships - now that's deciding on a career. The jump from making things that are sharp on the end to making things that are sharp on the sides is quite a leap for a toolmaker, but I am so impressed with these that I have decided to stock almost his entire range on the new website.

Happy spoon carving!

Oops - nearly forgot, no photos - didn't happen.

Here's the finished spoon, could probably be improved with a bit of sanding but hopefully not too shabby for a first effort.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Work smarter, not harder.

We have heard from a few people recently who have been trying to polish the backs of their plane irons and chisels to a mirror shine all over. This is a common enough misunderstanding and I have had to explain why it is unnecessary to some very experienced makers indeed. Most of them start out looking at me as if I have just come out of a tap and then the penny drops and they suddenly realise how many hours of unnecessary effort they have expended over the years and end up needing a cup of tea and a sit down.

The back of a chisel only needs to be polished for the first few millimetres under the cutting edge. This is achieved by hollowing the back by a couple of thou (no more) on coarse abrasives, preferably using a single line of contact to avoid the possibility of referencing off a bump. With the slight hollow achieved, you lay the blade flat on your finer honing abrasives and work just the underside of the cutting edge to a mirror finish. If you like to use the reflection in the back of the blade to gauge the geometry of your chopping cuts, then by all means carry on and polish the first 10mm. Zero to minus 2 thou is plenty flat enough for precision joinery so your chisel is still technically 'flat'.

The back of a plane iron is not a reference surface and only needs to be polished for the last millimetre. The back of a plane iron doesn't need to be flat, so elevating the other end of the blade by slipping a thin ruler / bit of paper / whatever underneath it when honing you can guarantee contact at the cutting edge.

The same goes for the irons of bevel up planes. The last couple of mm of the back is exposed in the mouth and doesn't register against anything, so there is absolutely no harm in using the Charlesworth ruler trick on them too.

If you find you are spending any more than ten minutes maximum preparing a new blade, there is a good chance that either the abrasives are inappropriate or the technique is not quite right. If you need some help, please get in touch and we will be happy to point you in the right direction.

Aside from saving a whole load of time and effort, the other advantage of minimising unnecessary polished surfaces on your tools is that polished steel is much more prone to pitting. A ground surface will tend to develop powdery surface rust all over, which if it does occur can be easily removed. The slightest imperfection in a polished surface (at a molecular level) will act like a sacraficial anode and fester away independently of the surrounding surface.