Sunday, March 26, 2017

Some New Carving Gouges

About 10 years ago, (maybe more, time flies so quickly) I bought around 30 assorted carving gouges from a blacksmith in the Philippines. His facilities were quite rudimentary, but the products which he produces are not bad. He uses old leaf springs for the steel and real charcoal to fire his forge. He has an electric grinder with dozens of different wheels to grind the inside profile of the gouges. Some of these are in better shape than others.. Over the past however-many years, I have taken the time to sharpen and handle around 8 of these. I use them right alongside all of my Pfeil tools, and though they need a bit more frequent honing, honestly, they work just as well, so long as they are kept sharp. This morning, I got busy and did two more because I really need a finer V gouge and a small fluting one. All of the gouges I have sharpened so far were done because I needed that particular profile.

Bent V gouge and  straight fluting gouge blanks,
both are 4,5mm

The grinding stones pose the biggest challenge; their profiles leave a lot to
be desired because they do not follow the outside edges very well, 

An assortment of oil stones and slip stones used to sharpen and shape the gouges 

I learned a very useful sharpening technique from Chis Storb, who works as the furniture conservator for the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He grinds the heel of the V gouge back quite a bit so that there is not so much metal trying to jam itself into the cut which the tool is making. It makes a huge difference. Below is one that I have not gotten around to re-sharpening that way, and the new gouge which I just did, using this method.

"Out of the box" bevel, and a re-ground bevel which lessens the drag caused
by too much metal on the heel of the gouge.

It always amazes me the difference a few extra passes on the strop will make. The gouge marks on the right of the photo below, were done when I thought they were sharp. It did not take long to see that they were not. A few more passes on the inside with a shaped piece of wood charged with oil and rotten stone made all the difference, as can be seen by the gouge marks to the left.

Testing the gouges on some old white pine. I purposefully used this wood
because when it is old and brittle it will tear even if fresh wood would not.
My strop is to the left.

A chunk of mulberry from the firewood pile will give a nice pair of handles

Bringing the handle to shape

2 Sharpened and handled gouges, ready for service.

Another handle from years ago; the mulberry will take on a nice colour
which is why I like to use it.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Bit of Gold Leafing

Last summer I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Passing through one of the rooms that had nothing medieval in it, I paused to snap a quick shot of an early 18th century staircase balustrade which I found fascinating. Since my purpose was searching for medieval things, I did not spend much time looking at it, but later, on going through my photos I was especially attracted to the finials on the newel posts. One evening, over wine and cheese, my clients and I were looking through these pictures together and they were also impressed with the finial. They asked me to create a set suitable for their staircase.

Zooming in on the original (horrible) photo I took of the

The MET had a much better picture on their website

Because the size of the original finials are slightly more than twice the size of mine, it was necessary to make some adjustments to the design. One example is that the original has raised dots on the segments of the 'head' but they would have been very difficult to make on the scale I was working with so I opted to make indentations instead. They are carved with the gouge and then punched.

A ompleted finial and another, sans base, in the background;
These are less than half the size of the originals

I still have not gotten around to gold leafing my 9th century candlestick that I made almost two years ago. It was supposed to have been a practice piece for doing some gold leafing before jumping into my client's project. Sometimes life does not like to follow our plans, and I have gone through several hundred leaves of gold doing things for the client already. Until now, however, all of the leafing that I have done has involved the process of painting on a ground, using a water based latex mastic and then applying the leaf. This method is much faster than traditional "water gilding" but the results are less spectacular.

True gilding involves applying a gesso ground which is made from gypsum and hide glue. To get a good base, several coats must be used, and sanding and scraping must be done between each coat to remove blemishes whilst maintaining the details of the carving. Once the gesso is finished, a further two or three layers of "red bole" (yellow is also sometimes used, but I like the red) is applied. This is basically the same as the gesso, but red brick dust is traditionally used. The purpose is to give a tough smooth surface which can withstand the pressure used in burnishing the gold. The animal glue in the bole becomes tacky with the application of a little water, (hence the term, "water gilding) allowing the leaf to adhere to the object being gilded.

One finial with a layer of gesso and two with sizing; ready for the
first coat of gesso

I am sure I did not invent this method, and most probably many other people have used it, but as a way of eliminating a couple steps in the above mentioned process, I thought of another way that might give the same results. I used a mixture which in medieval times was referred to as "glaire". This is a mixture of size (very thin animal glue) and egg white. This can be brushed on like latex mastic and, so long as it stays wet, will work the same. One difference, though, is that you cannot disturb the gold until the glaire has dried, but once dry, the gold can be burnished to a bright lustre.

Partially gilded finial

Completely gilded.

My intent was to gild some areas to be burnished brightly, and then do the rest with the faster latex mastic. This would give "highlights" to the gold and create more variation in the colour. 

For the second one, I decided to burnish the base as well;
the results are spectacular
(I wound up doing two with each method)

Once the gilding is done, I add a bit of transparent dye
to give the gold a bit more 'gold' colour
it actually looks pale and dead to me without the glaze

Another thing I like to do is add a bit of burnt umber glazing to give more definition to the colour and add some more character to the piece. My clients and I have very similar tastes in gilded objects, so this if fairly easy for me. They are delighted with the results. 

A finished finial