Tips & Techniques
From time to time, I will be posting things on this page that I have learned over the years and that might be useful, especially to new carvers.
CENTRE MARKING TOOL
Here is a home made carving tool that I couldn't do without. While I call it a centre-marking tool it does much more than that. When transferring a pattern onto a squared-up block, the centre line(s) can be quickly marked on the block by placing the block and the tool on a flat surface ( I use the table of my band saw), adjusting the level of the pencil and zipping around the block in a second or two. Once the blank is cut in both profiles, I place the blank back on one of the side off-cuts and redraw the centre line all around the blank. The blank must be carefully placed in the off-cut and the height of the pencil adjusted very slightly to compensate for the band-saw kerf. The tool is also very useful for getting eyes or side pockets at the same level. Some people like to draw contour lines to aid in maintaining symmetry and this tool makes it a breeze. I prefer it to a step block because of the infinite settings. Because of the double articulation it is more versatile than some other similar tools. Decoy carvers may prefer a larger version and the pattern can be adjusted accordingly. While I used walnut and brass fittings, it works just as well made from basswood and ordinary steel (bolts, wingnuts, thumbscrew).
I encourage people to make their own version of this tool (and perhaps improve on the design). Wildfowl Carving Magazine featured the tool in the Fall 2010 Issue with photographs and instructions for making the tool. You can get all the information you need there to make the tool. Or you can click on this link for a copy of the pattern: Centre Marking Tool
A bow sander is an essential tool for bird carvers. Whether you do life size decoys or small songbirds, you'll find this tool useful for rounding, smoothing and removing knife marks. I use mainly the “soft” side of the sander for rounding. The “hard” side produces flat areas that you generally want to avoid when rounding the body of a bird.
There are many kinds of bow sanders and some of the best are home made. One of my favourites is made from a 16 "or 18" belt for a portable belt sander. I use this size for small to medium sized song birds. For decoys or larger birds I use a larger version of the same tool - made from a 21" or 24" belt.
Here is the procedure I use for making it. I start with a 120 grit belt 3" x 16" or 18" (or 3" x 21"/24' belt for larger birds). First I cut the belt into 1" strips using an old knife or old scissors. (Helpful tip for guys: Don't use your wife's best quilting scissors -- unless you can afford the alimony.)
The frame for the belts is made from scrap wood 1" wide, 3/8" thick. The length will depend on the size of belt you are using. The frame consists of two pieces held together with a small (3/4' x 5/8") brass hinge. The approximate sizes of the wooden parts for an 18" belt are 8 3/8" and 2 1/8". These are both slightly oversize for an 18" belt. The exact final size can vary from one belt to another so it is best to do the final sizing when you fit the belt onto the frame. I round all four ends of the two wooden pieces on the stationary belt sander. During this process I establish the final size so the belt fits very snugly on the frame. It must be a tight fit. There will be a bit of stretching over time but if you start with a very snug fit this will not be a problem.