What wood for practicing lettering?

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Re: What wood for practicing lettering?

Postby ToneWood » Sat Apr 20, 2013 9:39 am

Hmm, yes I was surprised to see such distinct grain. It might be oa.! The tree was had smooth bark, unusual for oak. It was felled while still quite young as the base was damaged and/or diseased. As I work it, I am starting to see blue-black tannin, just as I saw when carving my oak bowl (& worked with sweet chestnut). There are a few clear/light large "striations" across the grain (don't know the proper word this) - which is something I associate with oak. There are also fairly long dark flecks with the grain.The sap-wood is quite soft, white and crumbly though.

Just compared it with an oak table - certainly could be oak. The smell also seems pleasant and familiar, I recall my oak bowl had pleasant, sweet smell. [It is definitely oak!]

I tried carving a few characters into the wood it was quite good for carving/engraving, which is the main thing although I guess most green woods would. Certainly green oak should carve well but perhaps not as well as lime (as shown on BBC4's recent program on Grinling Gibbons: his oak carvings were visibly cruder than his extremely fine lime wood carvings). I've now flatten & smoothed the small practice piece.

Yes, I think you are right about lime taking detail better when dry. I recall it can be surprisingly fibrous when wet.
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Re: What wood for practicing lettering?

Postby jrccaim » Sun Apr 21, 2013 6:52 am

First thing I would recommend is any or all of Chris Pye's books. He has a website too with much useful information. That said, let's go carve some letters. There are the easy ones, and the hard ones. For instance, the lettter I or L, which are straight lines. These are done with chisels and I occasionally do them with a chip carving knife. Not rocket science. Not even brain surgery. But ah, what about C, B or or the dreaded S? Old B has at least one straight line. And what about script L or S? Oh dear. Well. the answer to these problems is gouges. The way you do this stuff is to dig the gouge (called a stabbing cut) vertically into the wood. Then you pry out a chip. Same thing you do with I and L. Only you need a gouge that matches the curvature of S or B. If you are really into this you will read up on Sheffield Sweeps (sweep refers to the radius of curvature of the gouge). What I do is to make my own gouges, usually out of defunct bandsaw blades. I do smalll-scale stuff. Maybe 1 cm high letters. If I wanted bigger I would have to cast around for more suitable material. I sketch out the letters and then find or make a gouge to fit. Or redraw my letters. Or fudge it. Lot of leeway. Point of sermon: acquire or make a nice variety of gouges if you want to carve the curved letters. Much more important than the wood. Learn to match the sweep of the gouge to the letter you are carving.

OK, wood. Even pine will do when you are practicing. In fact pine is a nice beginner's wood. It does splinter on you. But it is cheap. When you start out you will make lots of mistakes. So don't worry about pine splinters. Learn how to make a nice sharp V-shaped channel in the wood. After that you can go on to harder woods. I use birch mostly because it's what I find outdoors. I would not hesitate to carve oak, if only I could find some. Or cocobolo! Learn to use the tools on the cheapest stuff. Not MDF! But anything else is fair game. Don't worry about the wood. Worry about your inventory of chisels and gouges. Pine? It burns in the stove really nicely, if you botched it, or it botched you. Only requirement: no knots. Really hard to carve letters around knots, barring a providential "dot the i :)"
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Re: What wood for practicing lettering?

Postby ToneWood » Sun Apr 21, 2013 8:54 pm

My wife keeps on about gouges - she saw the Grinling Gibbons documentary, I reminded her that they think he had several hundred different gouges. After some questioning it appears she is thinking about a V-gouge, probably a thin one, a "veiner". She thinks this would be just the ticket for cutting outlines for characters & pictures - that may be but we don't have one :D. I showed her & my son the last 5 minutes of Jogge's DVD, where he cuts perfect V-grooves with what appears to be a small (well crafted) homemade engraving knife (although apparently he uses small SD knives sometimes & no doubt the tip of Mora sloyd knife at other times).

My son chose to use my Ben Orford engraving knife today, on his practice block. He wants to cut some texture too - I haven't done much of this myself and I was not pleased with my results - so I suggest he try using the Dremel-shaped-object with some burrs tips that I have left-over from a previous project on his practice block. Seems to work well smoothing out grooves but not so good making small circles. Perhaps better to stick with hand tools/knife.

Making your own gouges sounds wonderful - they can certainly cost a lot of money to buy new and, even cheap & second hand, the costs soon add up. So I'm trying to stick closer to the sloyd "axe & knife" approach.
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Re: What wood for practicing lettering?

Postby mrcharly » Sun Apr 21, 2013 10:20 pm

Cutting curves, as in an 'S' is very difficult with a knife. I've tried it with a small V gouge and I can manage even in cheap pine. Go deeper for wider lines, and use something like a chip carving knife for doing serifs.
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Re: What wood for practicing lettering?

Postby bulldawg_65 » Tue Apr 23, 2013 10:04 pm

Takes some practice but s curves can be learned with a standard swiss style chip carving knife. Matter of fact Wayne Barton goes into using chip knives for lettering in his books. I also have an "engraving" knife made by Del Stubbs of Pinewood Forge and that one is really easy to make the thin 'v' grooves used in Swedish style lettering and decorating.
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Re: What wood for practicing lettering?

Postby ToneWood » Sat Apr 27, 2013 2:23 pm

Good thread discussing carving letters for signs, boat names specifically: http://forum.woodenboat.com/showthread. ... ing-advice

And an article here, on using a V-gouge/V-tool/V-chisel for letters: go through the many images which are accessed/hidden as a grid of numbers at the top of the article - much of the practical details is shown in images & their titles: https://www.woodworkersinstitute.com/page.asp?p=468.

BTW my son decided against the Dremel-shaped-object (DSO) - "too noisy" - and just used my neat little Ben Orford engraving knife for his project. I haven't seen the result yet but he seems happy with it, apparently the larger final piece went more smoothly and more easily than the small practice piece ("the wood seemed softer").
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Re: What wood for practicing lettering?

Postby jrccaim » Sun Apr 28, 2013 7:15 am

The original title of this thread is "what wood..." and we seem to have diverged into carving knives. Or axes? Or even power tools (shudder)? The fate of all threads is offshoots. Yes, you can carve an S with a chip carving knife, had to make my own to do it, but I did it. It is slow. The chip knife must be quite small compared to the radius of curvature of the S. I did it with B and R . I was duplicating my Doctor's business card; it had both "B" and "R" in it. That's how I learned to cut curves with a chip knife. But you have to be very careful. And use the smallest knife you can find. Or make one. Much easier to make a chip knife than a gouge. Not all that hard to make a gouge either. I use broken bandsaw blades. Hacksaw blades for really big (for me) gouges. The best wood for carving letters, or anything else for that matter, is something that won't splinter on you. You nake two stab cuts, one like \ and one like / and pry out the chip, which will be a V. But if you are on a curve you have to do it very carefully, because knives do not like to cut curves. They like to cut straight lines.And they tend to follow the grain. Gouges are much faster. Match curve, tilt \, stab, reverse gouge, tilt /, stab, lift chip. There are two bugbears. One is splintering on you. Grrr. Other one is not going in far enough on the stab. Grrr! Worse than splintering. The chip gets stuck. This is entirely a matter of practice. You didn't go down far enough on one side of the V. So the chip hangs by a thread. But it won't come out. My advice is to follow the Romans. Carve I, X, L and N until you get the bugs out of your technique. (V is good too :) ).

For small scale stuff, which is what I do in the Alaskan winter (lots of time indoors) it is so easy to make your own tools (chip knives, gouges, chisels) that I would never buy one. Stuff over a couple of centimetres wide would certainly give me pause, need a real forge for that. And a real anvil. For small stuff: you need a DIY propane torch, some scrap sawblades, a Dremel-type tool, and any flat metal surface to act as an anvil. Most small vices will do -- it is built in. And a small hammer. And a plastic tub of water. And a brick, or a ceramic tile. Need to put red-hot metal down on something. Objectionable to use the floor. If there is any interest I will start a thread on the subject. Lots of amateur smiths on this board, too. My blog has some information on the subject; label "microforging."
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