Saturday, October 9, 2010

Carving Attachments

I’m sure that many of you are getting kind of tired with me droning on and on about my escapades in knife making, so let’s get into something more interesting, carving.  I thought that I would take you through the process that I use to attach heads and arms to a carving.  There are many carvers out there that use a solid block of wood for their pieces, and I have tried it that way, but I have come to find that there are many benefits to attaching the different parts of a carving instead of carving everything from the same block.  Let’s talk briefly about these benefits and then we will take a look at the nuts and bolts of how to do attachments.
The first benefit of attaching parts instead of carving from a block is the ability to change that parts position.  For example, when I attach a head to a body I have the ability to turn the head from side to side and even forward and backward until I get the right head position for the body posture that I am shooting for.  When it comes to attaching arms, I have the same ability to move them around until I get the angles just right.  Another benefit of attaching parts is grain direction.  If you carve from a solid block you will run into cross-grain situations that can leave a week point in the carving that could be easily broken.  When you carve a part separately, you can orient the grain in the right direction which makes for a much stronger finished piece.
Tip from the Stump: always keep the grain direction in mind when you are designing a carving.  Try to avoid cross-grain situations by orienting the grain with the narrowest part of the carving thus avoiding week spots that could potentially break.
The last benefit to add-ons is ease of carving.  Carving parts separately lets you establish many details that would be difficult to accomplish if the piece were of one block before it is attached to the main figure.  This allows one to use fewer specialty tools to produce some terrific carvings.
Now before we get started I need to give credit for this technique to Lynn Doughty of Out West Woodcarving for sharing this process with the world.  Alright, let’s see how this whole thing is done.  Here is a picture of the head for the carving that I am currently working on and the body that it will be attached to.

As you can see I leave a long neck post that is tapered and the hole in the body is tapered as well to allow the neck to fit in place.  The neck hole is made with an appropriate sized drill bit and finished by carving out a conical shape with a knife.  Now when the head is inserted into the body, they fit tightly and give you the ability to change the position of the head until you are satisfied.  It’s a simple technique and very effective.

Arms are a little more complicated.  In order to attach arms and disguise the joint line, you need to have a disk sander. 

As you can see from the picture, I rough out the arms and sand a flat section on the upper arm at the shoulder which will be the point of attachment.  Remember to allow extra wood when doing attachments since some will be wasted in the attachment process.  Now you need to sand a flat section on the body to mate up with the arm.  This takes some playing around in order to get the angles just right which is the reason for leaving the excess wood. 

Once the joints mate up the way that you want, drill a 1/8” hole in the arm to accept a dowel.  Scribble some pencil lead around the lip of the hole, position the arm to the body and give it a little twist.  Some of the lead will come off on the body showing you where to drill the second hole for the dowel.  Be sure when drilling the holes to keep the drill bit perpendicular to the plane of the joint so that the dowel will go in straight.  Now with the arms in position draw a line around the joint to show you where the excess wood is and carve off most of this excess.  Make sure that you do not detail the shoulder area of the carving until after it is attached.  Once you are ready, just add some wood glue to the joint and dowel holes, press the pieces together in the right positions and clamp in place with some wood clamps or rubber bands until dry.

I hope that this explanation will be useful to you and if you have questions, just leave a comment and I can offer further explanation.  More photos in the On the Bench page.

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