It has been a long winter and it’s an ill wind that blows no-one any good.

Be that as it may, whilst not particularly cold, with few severe frosts, this year has seen exceptional rain fall coupled with a series of rampant storms. What we didn’t get in snow and ice we got in wind and rain.

As bad as it gets – and winters can get very bad in the hills to the point where it’s difficult to get in or out – we don’t get hurricanes here in Wales. This year the worst of the stormy  weather has been on the south coast of England and in the Irish Sea, but I believe that they recorded winds in the region of 110 MPH in North Wales – unheard-of tempests of in this part of the world and there have been plenty of folk with severe flood damage in the Severn Valley, the Somerset Levels and the Thames Valley. One severe storm is bad enough but since last November, there have been a succession of strong storms from the Atlantic, one after the other.

The West Wales coast got hammered more than once, the sea wall in Aberystwyth was demolished in two separate gales but here in the Mid Wales uplands we have had no structural damage and thankfully no lengthy power cuts, but there were lots of trees brought down all over the place.

This was where the ill wind bit came in…..

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This was a particularly fine Lime tree in the lower half of our garden. I’ve never seen a tree split vertically down the middle like this. Even though the tree was bare, still in bud, the wind took the canopy and split the trunk from top to bottom; one half was still standing, the other disappeared over the hedge. I think that the clean cleft was caused by the tree’s trunk that has a buttress habit; look at the section in the lower left in the picture where the bole of the tree separated since it was very young. I counted the rings and this tree was about 26 years old.

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Clearly the vertical trunk was quite precarious and Sam-Saw cut the rest of it down for me. The brash went through a chipper and I was left with four large pieces of trunk to air-dry for carving…………………

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………..plus some firewood…………………. to dry out.

I have never turned Lime; it is excellent carving material, therefore as it cuts well and cleanly, should be OK for turning, even though the wood itself has a bland appearance.

We’ve had plenty of ill winds in this part of Wales this winter, lets see if this one blew a little good.

We’ll see…………..

There’s no shortage of carving material here when it dries out, plus I’m preparing a stack of Oak boards to make a couple of big bookcases.

……………an expression generally heard in the UK as  an expression of exasperation when wrangling with unfamiliar metric terms.   It probably wouldn’t make a lot of sense in other countries, but we really did have Old Money once – and I don’t mean the hard-up aristocracy.

Anyway, a couple of years ago I splashed out on a second Record 043, going quite cheaply in an auction.

Why?  Well, although I already had one, these little Record planes are not expensive in the UK, nor are they uncommon.    There was a practical reason too. On occasion I make things that can have a multitude of grooves cut at different widths and centres. Rather than keep altering my settings, I prefer to use more than one plough plane. I set each one to its size, label it up and lock it tight for the duration of the job. It’s one of my strategies for reducing the potential for error.

The Record 043 plough plane was in production since the early 1930s but has not been made, to my knowledge, since the 1970s. They were popular with schools due to their small size. If I recall my wood-working school-days in the late 50s – early 60s, most of these ‘trophy’ tools  -  shiny combination planes, large and small  -  were kept under lock and key in a glass cabinet behind the teacher’s desk, on display but seldom used. I expect that it may have been the same with some private users. It isn’t robust enough to be a site tool, so a lot of them remained unused, in their boxes.

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When it turned up in the post, original cardboard box and all, the retail price was written in pencil on the label  – 34/-.

Here it is. In old money, that’s thirty-four shillings……………….. thirty-four bob………………. One pound, fourteen shillings.

How old is it?  We went decimal as far as currency was concerned in 1971, so it has to be older than that. From that original retail price on the box, I’d hazard a guess at the early 1960s, give or take a few years. Thirty-four shillings was a decent amount of money in the early 1960s. 1

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Here’s the other one that I have, showing that there were production changes over the years. The one that originally cost 34/- is on the right in the picture and has round, knurled fence-screws, whilst the other on the left is, I believe somewhat older – probably pre-war. If you look closely, you’ll see that it features wing-nuts holding the fence to the rods. In other respects they are identical, though the castings are not as well finished on this one.

I  consulted a reprint of Record’s tool catalogue from 1938. 2  In those days it cost 9/6 and the picture displayed the thumb screws.  If I recall, there was purchase tax back then, as well as in the 1960s, but the catalogue does not mention it.

I don’t know what the average chippie earned in 1938, but my memory from the early 60s – for example, 1963, when I began work as an apprentice – suggests that  tradesman would earn about £13 for a 40 hour week. That works out at about 6/-6d an hour. At that rate he would work about 5 1/2 hours to buy one of these. Rough figures, admittedly, but enough to put the relative values in context.

When you find one of these for sale, they are either in good condition, as these are, or with parts missing and not much in between. If there is one design failing with this plane, it is that the blade clamp is a loose, separate part, intended to be interchangeable with the larger Record 044 plane. As a result it often gets detached and lost, as do the spare blades.

It was supplied with three blades: 1/8”, 3/16” and 1/4”;  I have never found a use for the two smaller blades, though the plane will accept any  of the straight Stanley/Record pattern of combination plane blades, (width within reason) so that it is possible to make grooves wider than 1/4” in one sweep though personally it gets to be a struggle when you exceed 1/2” and there are larger plough planes that work better for this.

Anyway, there it was – thirty-four-bobs-worth of good, old fashioned top-quality plane….. though I paid a bit more than that for it.

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1    Bone up on ‘Old Money’.

Nowadays the British Pound is divided into 100 pence.

Before 1971, we had LSD – Pounds (£), shillings (s) and Pence  (d); The origins of the terms go back to Roman times . There were 12 pence (d) in one shilling (s), 20 shillings in one pound (£). A further complication was the Guinea – twenty-one shillings and the half-guinea, or 10/-6d –  or what the Mad-Hatter’s topper cost, according to the label in the brim.

As with everything else, Old Money had its own nomenclature: pennies,  halfpennies (ha’pennies), 3d, (thruppeny bits)…. 6d, was known as a ‘tanner’ and a shilling was a ‘bob’.

Two shillings was a Florin (or two-bob), two shillings and six pence (2/-6d) was either ‘half-a-dollar’ or ‘two-and-a-tanner’; naturally ‘5 bob’ was a ‘dollar’.

And of course a quid was a quid and still is.

I could go on………………… But that’s enough.

2   Record Tools – Reprint of Catalogue No: 15 of 1938:     Leslie Harrison. 

Roy Arnold  -  2003     -    ISBN   0 904638 14 6

At some time, long ago in the 1890s, the City Fathers of Birmingham decided that they were running out of water. As a result, the Elan Valley came to be flooded into its current form – a flight of four cascade-dams on the Elan River and a further two on the Claerwen River. The history of the area is well described in this excellent site. Six dams in two adjoining valleys.

One of the legacies from the flooding of the Elan and the adjoining Claerwen Valley is the creation of some of the finest walking country in Wales. It is well worth searching the area and its history.

Leading westward into  the Ystwyth Valley, the Elan is a spectacular landscape, even today. An ancient drovers’ track, the source of almost continuous minerals since the iron age, nowadays it’s one of one of the few routes by road through the Cambrian Mountains.

Pen-y-Garreg lake is one of these. Flooded in the early part of the 20th Century, the Northern side  carried a standard-gauge railway installed for the duration of the works and then dismantled. The route of the old rail track is now a gravelled path which is ideal for walking the couple of miles or so to Craig Goch, the next dam in the system.

The north side , above the old rail track – is covered in Sessile Oak – the native Oak in this part of Wales. It is usually a stunted and curvaceous tree (nicer than saying it grows like cork-screw). The other side of the lake is mainly plantation conifers leading to open land.

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Continuing the theme of carving in the wild, someone was let loose with a chain saw to create this fine bench overlooking the lake.

It is made from a solid tree trunk with the backs carved in the shape of acorns and embellished with the outline of an oak leaf.

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Walk a little further on and there is this curious little bench.  The back started out as a couple of branches on an Oak tree. You may see the crooked branch, split equally down the middle  and scarfed into the joined brace.

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……. while below is another variation on the crooked branch theme in this brace let into a mortise on a cross brace. It takes a little while to see that the two opposing stakes resemble an opposing pair of legs.

Two more bent branches form the arms of this eccentric seat back while the rest of it is a conventional bench seat, all set in the middle of nowhere.

This is the third part describing how I set about carving some house signs on Oak boards.

Part one showed how the pattern was developed and the second dealt with outlining the letters and the first roughing out cuts.

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These are ordinary cabinet-makers chisels and are what I will use for most of the straight-sided  work from now on.

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So far, the main roughing-out cuts have been done and the paper pattern used to transcribe the letters to the boards has been scraped off. Before removing the paper pattern, I outlined the outside edges of each letter with a marking knife, intending only a scratch to be visible on the board.

From now on it is just a case of systematically cutting out the letters, finishing with slicing cut from each  edge to the root of the letter. For the final cut, I locate the chisel edge in the mark made by the knife.

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There are two lines of text and I need to establish the base datum; the ideal tool to do it is this Veritas wheel-cuter as it leaves a faint score line. I don’t run it all the way along as I would to mark a joint, I just mark the bits I need against each of the letters. This way there are no visible marking lines remaining when I have completed the cuts to the base line of the letters and the outlines of serifs.

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Cutting down the sides: I choose the appropriate width of chisel to suit the length of the cut. This one is 1/2″ (12mm) wide to suit the lower vertical of the letter ‘Y.

I take a number of light cuts, working outwards from the central trench. The angle of each cut is kept the same and wherever possible, I use a slicing action, letting the chisel follow its own line. After all, it’s a straight tool and wants to cut a straight line.

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Finally, probably what demands the most care is defining and cutting the serifs.

To begin, I did most of the heavy work, cutting out and forming the text, on my standard bench, which is 33″  (840 mm) high; I have now transferred the work to the Carver’s chops, which raises the carving surface to mid-chest height and allows me to see clearly exactly what I’m doing.

It’s worth getting some practice on these beforehand, because it is very easy to over-cut a serif; they need to be in proportion with both the size and width of the letter. Too thin and it is ineffective, cut too wide it’ll result in something that will look distinctly odd on the finished piece.

You may (and many carvers do) opt to use a flat fish-tail chisel for this type of detail work, especially the oblique grounding, but I have recently discovered that this Japanese-style marking knife is perfect for serifs.

Even so, It’s tricky because many of the flat terminations are aligned with the long grain and Oak long grain has a certain brittleness that means that an inserted blade tends to force a split rather than a cut. This marking knife has a blade honed to a point on one side, flat on the other.   Because it has two knife edges, it can be inserted obliquely and pivoted, cutting the fibres as it penetrates the wood. Finally, the curved sections of the serifs are done free-hand with a narrow No: 3 sweep straight gouge.

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……… and there, after some finishing strokes, is the house sign. I will take a small plane and some scraper blades to the surface to clean it up.

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Whilst I was at it, I made a couple of others……. The one at the back has been outlined in black paint, the other two are fresh from the chisel.

It’s a matter of personal choice whether you outline the carving.

Continuing  from the   First Part,  where I had begun to make a couple of house names carved in some pieces of Oak, I’ve got everything prepared and I’m going to make some cuts.

It’s best to start reading the previous post to cover what’s been done  thus far. But, to continue……..

The pasted-on text is dry and it’s time to mark out the centres of the letters for the first cuts. Any of the paper that is not needed has been pared away.

There is a sequential approach to carving signs like this:;

  1. Mark out the centre lines of all the letters in pencil.
  2. Strike the centre lines of each straight (vertical or sloped) component, immediately above the root, I stop just short of the terminations so that I can cut the interstices at an angle.
  3. Either strike the centres of the curved sections  (‘C’, ‘D’, ‘B’, ‘R’ etc..) in the same way with a curved gouge or, as I am about to do, excavate the bulk with a shallow Vee cut.
  4. Pare outwards from the centre line in each case, stopping just short of the finish line.
  5. Lightly mark the outside edge finish line of each letter through the paper with a striking knife.
  6. Remove the paper and complete the final finishing cuts.
  7. Lightly plane or sand the surface to remove any residual marks.

The base line drawn through the bottom of the text is aligned so that it is parallel to the edge of the board.  I can then strike the centre lines of each letter from it with a pencil and square located on the edges.

Each of the letter components will be marked like this so that I can set down the first cut with the chisel. The inclined parts are next, done with an adjustable square. I have to re-set this each time as the inclines are not all the same.

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I set the adjustable square angle, aligned from the outside edge of the letter and transfer a line to its centre; next I do the same for all the horizontal lines. In this case, the angles vary, so it’s necessary to re-set the square each time.

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When the marking is complete, it will look like this; pencil lines show the middle of each component where I can strike my first plunge cut.

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I have a sequence of work when it comes to cutting letters; I tend to start at one end with all the straight cuts, rough carving one side of each letter. Next, I turn the block around and repeat the operation. Finally I do all the curved parts in the same way.

The alternative is to develop a certain amount of ambidexterity. It does help sometimes (I’m right-handed) to transfer the chisel to the left hand.

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Concentrating on the straight lines first, they will all get a vertical stab cut with the carver’s No: 1 straight chisel. This chisel is sharpened with an equal  bevel on both sides so that the side forces from a vertical mallet blow are equal. This will ensure that the first outline cut does not wander from the original target line. As this is done with a mallet, it is important not to stab too deep.

When cutting straight sided letters, I use this carver’s chisel to outline all the straight centre lines, directly above the root of the letter, then retire it in favour of a conventional cabinet-maker’s chisel that is beveled on one side only to cut the angles of the sides. This vertical cut gets a clout with the mallet – the rest of it is done by hand-power.

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In this picture the root centres are plunged and I can now start to carve the carve the letters.

Using a cabinet chisel (there are three separate widths to fit the sizes of letters), I begin to slice from the sides down to the root.  I’m taking a small slice each time, but stopping just a little short of the intended defined edge. I find that cabinet chisels cut the sides best because the chisel back can be aligned to the desired angle.

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Lastly, the curved components: finishing with a couple of Vee-cuts to define the curved ‘D’s and the ‘C’.

There is an alternative method to the Vee and that is to plunge the cuts in the centres using a curved gouge in the same way as the straights, but this involves using an exact sweep of curved gouge.

You may use either approach, but I find this way with a Vee gouge quicker.

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I’m outlining the curve of one of the ‘D’s with a narrow Allongee chisel That matches the curve of the letter. This part can be tricky: most curves on lettering are based on the ellipse, whereas carver’s gouges are arcs of a circle. Matching gouges to curves needs a bit of judgement.

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The shapes of all the letters are now roughed out and it remains to mark the exact edges of the letters on both sides. To do this, I am going to score a line through the paper with a marking knife held against a straight edge . The intention is to leave a faint scratch in the wood, revealed once the paper has been removed, that I can use as an index – a datum – in which to locate the edge of the chisel when doing the final finishing slice. This is why I finished cutting the bulk out a little short of the edge of the letter.

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The letters are roughed-out and the pattern paper is dampened and then scraped off.

At this time, I’m not concerned with slight blemishes on the surface: the whole thing will receive a few light strokes with a very fine-set plane when complete.

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This is how the board appears in close detail with all the paper shreds removed. If you look closely, you can see an example of outlining the borders with a marking knife. The letter ‘E’ shows the side outlines as well as the shapes of the serifs; ultimately, all the characters will terminate with a serif.

The final part will concentrate on cutting the letters to their final shapes, cleaning the sides and roots of the letters and outlining the serifs

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