Proficient

Periodically carving becomes a fad and not a cheap one. Let me be transparent the terms cheap and good tools are an oxymoron. Good tools have never been inexpensive and won’t ever be. It’s for this reason that I used to cringe every time I’d make a tool list for beginning carvers. I wanted the craft to stay affordable for people like myself who couldn’t drop five hundred dollars on a whim. To counter the sticker shock, I’d always take additional toolsets to where I was teaching. After a while, I stopped doing this at some of the places I taught. If you could afford the tuition, you could afford the tool kit. Clever marketers have evaluated this pool of potential clients and have begun to offer a wide range of “handcrafted” carving tools on e-commerce sites catering to the crafts deprived. The tools look so beautiful! However, the forge that made them was probably just opened last year. That gouge will look so lovely on your bench, though.
There is more:
Few lumberyards or sawyers cater to woodcarvers; they tolerate us. We buy too little from them to indulge us; ten board feet here, twenty there. And then we pick through piles looking for just the right plank – not too much grain or figure- but not too plain either. Most of us in the trade haunt our favorite sawyer’s lumberyard in the hopes of finding some interesting pieces. Eventually, you might get a shed with wood ricked high against need. If not, you are the bane of wife or husband because your wood sits in every nook and cranny. For the dilettante, the internet has solved this problem with precut, milled, and packaged timber. You buy sight unseen or evaluated. You can buy lots of things this way, but you should have great affection for the wood you will carve. Would you choose a lover this way? If so, keep walking; this blog is not for you. You can join a Facebook clique where people will tell you where they bought their prepared materials and their artsy tools.
Most of us serious about our art or craft are fussy about our tools and our media. Can you produce good work with indifferently selected tools and materials? Sure. But should you? Learning about tools and materials is part of your overall tuition in art or craft. Why deprive yourself of the experience? Last year a manufacturer sent me the wrong tool. I complained and wound up talking to the toolmaker, not the clerk. The toolmaker promised to correct the error, but we spent almost an hour talking about how best to use the tool, machining, and tool steel. It was a not-be-missed opportunity. Likewise, taking a walk through a real lumberyard ( not a big box store). Ask questions and learn. The more you understand, the better your selection will be.
Using tools well is a central part of what we do in art and craft. The selection and knowledge of how our tools and materials get produced is another part of the picture. Don’t shortcut your way to becoming proficient dig into it.

2 Replies to “Proficient”

  1. The perfect prompt for you today, Lou.

    I bet a decent set of carving tools costs an absolute fortune. I know $500 is a starter kit.

    I can imagine you wandering the piles of timber at the lumber yard seeking out the wood. I cannot venture to such places. I leave in tears from the pain felt by what used to be beautiful trees.

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  2. Well said! I’m no crafts (or handy) person, and my tool box is little more than some bare essentials but I’ve made sure they’re good quality.

    “We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.”
    ― Marshall McLuhan

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