The Handsome & Co Educational Taster: LETTER CARVING
Photography & Text by Seán Breen
This past term’s ‘Educational Taster’ was an introduction to Letter carving. At the mid-point of the term students are fully engrossed in their on-going project work. The Educational Taster allows them to step back, relax and enjoy something fun while learning a new skill. It also allows Tutors to expand their woodworking knowledge with a technique or process they otherwise would not have had a chance, or indeed time, to practice.
The aim of the evening’s taster was to complete a small carving task with a view to improving students’ hand skills. Increased dexterity and attention to detail honed through the task should in turn improve our students’ furniture making skills. It was also a chance to work slowly and enjoy the quiet of working only with hand tools.
Students were first introduced to the importance of letter layout. Indeed an excellent carver may have a poor result if his layout skills lag. Whereas a mediocre craftsman’s work, with an eye for pleasing letter shape and spacing, may be much more aesthetically pleasing.
Tools and technique were next on the agenda. The sweeps and double bevel chisels were new to students and many staff alike. Students transferred their lettering to a lovely piece of Brazilian Mahogany using carbon paper. We then began to ‘strike the apex’ that is to say making a relief cut down the center of our letters. Though the final letters look like the may have been carved with a ‘V’ shaped chisel they are actually carved into a valley from the edge of the letter working down into the center.
With the chisel angled at 60 degrees, serifs were cut first then the straights and working onto the more difficult concave and convex letters. Students could choose to use a mallet or just hand pressure to work from the edge of the letter working into the apex. Special attention was paid to the grain direction. If the carver can feel the grain tearing out from one direction they must stop and approach it from the other direction. In their eagerness to get on with the task students often ignore this advice but only ever the once. With the lesson learned from a rough looking letter they will take the opportunity to slow down and work with the timber rather than against it.
The lessons had a wonderful atmosphere about them as students chatted and compared their progress. It was great to see some who would normally be machine minded hone their chisel skills. After sanding the face of the timber and chamfering the edges with a block place the students all seemed extremely satisfied with their evenings work. We hope that the learning outcomes of the lesson will become apparent throughout this and future terms in the well crafted furniture our students produce.