Creating your own complex wood carving bench

About workstation

A wood carving bench is one of the main “tools” that you need to have. In wood carving it is possible to improvise by making a small working area in the corner of a living room, that is if space is limited. A wood carving bench can be even put in the bedroom, it’s up to you if you want some pieces of wood in your bed, haha. If, on the other hand, you have a room or dry shed that can be used exclusively for carving, so much the better. Unlike stone carving, which creates a great deal of dust, wood carving can be termed a ‘clean’ craft as the dust is negligible and the wood chips can easily be swept up and burned. It is only when the carving is combined with general carpentry and joinery that the complete workshop is absolutely necessary.

Wood carving bench requirements

For carving, the first requirement is a really strong bench or table (plate i). A carpenter’s bench will serve, or a stout kitchen table. If you use the latter, brace the legs with planks of wood at least 3 in. x 1 in., near floor level. Diagonal pieces can also be used for extra strength, but it may be best to get some advice first if you know nothing about carpentry. An average wood carving bench is 5 ft. in length, 2 ft. to 2 ft. 6 in. in width, and 3 ft. to 3 ft. 6 in. in height. Your own height should be considered.

Working at a bench that is too low, carving can be a back-arching business. Arrange the height so that you can stand comfortably, or sit on a stool to work. It is advisable to have the benchtop at least li in. to 2 in. thick. The wood carving bench must stand firmly on the floor and not move about as you work. A flimsy structure is useless. The bench can be used against a wall or standing free so that you have access to all sides. It really depends on the size and type of work in hand. Right-angled steel brackets can be used to anchor the bench to the wall or the floor. Place your bench in a good light as near a window as possible.

Gripping tools and fixing equipment

Although some woodcarvers use little in the way of fixing equipment, most prefer to have their wood firmly held by cramps, beach screws, or a vise. Very small work can be carved in the hand, very large work will hold steady by virtue of its own weight. In the case of work in the round, it is very useful to turn and move your work in order to get all views and to change the direction of cutting. Fixing equipment must be appropriate for the work at hand.

If you have acquired a carpenter’s bench, it will in all probability have either a wood or iron bench vise attached to one side. This type of vise is very useful to the carver also. The metal bench vise can be bought at a hardware store and is fairly easy to fix, provided you have a stout bench designed to take it. The larger sizes are bolted to the bench, the smaller sizes screwed to the underside of the benchtop which should be the same thickness as the depth of the jaws of the vise.

This is in order that the jaws may close flush with the working surface of the wood carving bench. A rectan­gular recess should be cut in the bench to take the inner jaw so bringing it flush with the side of the benchtop. It is important to fix wooden cheeks to the jaws of an iron vise in order to prevent bruising on your carving. Holes are usually already drilled in the jaws for this purpose. Assizes and types differ you should get some information regarding fixing at the time of purchase.

The wood carver’s vise (Fig. 1, E)

This is a most useful tool for the amateur as it is easy to fix on any improvised bench. It is attached by a heavy screw that passes down through a hole in the bench. The vise is drawn tight to the bench by a wing-nut underneath. In order not to split or damage the benchtop, a piece of wood should be drilled and used as a washer before screwing on the wing-nut. Both screws and nuts are provided with the vise. The jaws are fitted with cork and leather buffs, an added protection, and particularly useful when the wood is very soft or the work delicate.

The bench holdfast (Fig. 1, D)

This tool needs no fixing. The shaft is inserted in a hole in the bench and the footrests on the carving. When the screw is turned the work is held firm by the pressure of the shaft on the side of the hole.

Tools for wood carving bench.

Fig. 1. Tools to hold the carving, (a) ‘G’ Cramps, (b) Coach screw. (c) Screw cramp, (d) Bench holdfast, (e) Wood carver’s vise, (f) Metal clips for holding relief used in pairs.

The principle of the holdfast seems surprisingly simple but it is nevertheless efficient. It should be used on a benchtop not less than 2 in. thick.

The carver’s bench screw (Fig. 2, A) To use the carver’s bench screw a hole must be drilled in the wood carving bench. The pointed end is screwed into the block to be carved and tightened by a wing-nut under the bench. As with the carver’s vise, a block of wood should be used as a washer (Fig. 3).

Fig. 2. Tools to hold the carving. A. Bench screw. B and C. ‘G’ cramps. D. Coach screw.

Tool used on wood carving bench.

Fig. 3. Bench screw in position.

By varying the size of this block you can lengthen or shorten the screw.

Coach screws (Fig. 2, D)

The coach screw can be used for fixing the carving in the same manner as the wood carving bench screw. Coach screws are also invaluable for fixing one heavy piece of wood to another. For instance, the large figure illustrated in plate xii is held to the cross by coach screws. A tall block, as shown in figure 1, B, can be firmly held by a 6 in. or 8 in. coach screw. Short screws will work loose with the continual vibration of the mallet. Large hardware dealers will supply them up to 8 in. in length and f in. or J in. thick. Holes must be drilled to take the coach screws and tightening is done by means of a spanner.

C cramps (Fig. 1, A and Fig. 2, C)

The ‘G’ cramp is obtainable in many sizes and is useful in all kinds of woodwork, including wood carving. The type with the swivel shoe is best for the carver as it will tighten on surfaces that are not parallel. For secure fixing use them in pairs.

The screw cramp (Fig. 1, C)

This is of German design and used in the same way as the ‘G’ cramp.

Sash cramps

These range in length from 3 ft. to 6 ft. and are used by joiners for assembling frames. For this reason, the jaws are only 2 in. or 3 in. long. The carver will find them useful in gluing up large work if he uses them in pairs with a stout board on each side of his work. In figure 4 the arms of a figure are being glued up at the shoulders.

Fig. 4. Sash cramps in use; gluing arms at shoulder.

The sloping stand or table (Figs. 5 and 6)

With the help and advice of friends I have recently evolved this piece of equipment and have found it excellent for carving both wood and stone panels. For anyone with a little knowledge of carpentry, it is a fairly simple piece of construction. The frame­work is made of wood 2 in. x 2 in. and the mainboard is 36 in. x 16 in. The whole stand could be made smaller or larger, according to your own requirements.

You will see from the picture of the back view illustrated that the stand is adjustable on the deck-chair principle. This particular model can be used at three different angles. The hinges on the supporting frame should be of a heavy type and not less than 2 in. in width as they will have to stand up to a good deal of vibration. The wood of the main board should be at least 1 inch in thickness. The wood to be carved can be fixed on by bench screws, ‘G’ cramps, or by ordinary screws. This stand can be easily bolted down to the wood carving bench. The advantage of a sloping stand is that you can stand upright to carve and step back to see your work.

Fig. 5. The sloping stand: front view.

Fig. 6. The sloping stand: back view.

Other methods of fixing a panel

If you want your work flat on the bench, and many carvers do, it is an easy matter to fix the panel. Bench screws can be used (see Fig. 3). The length of these can be varied by interposing a block of wood between the wing-nut and the underside of the bench. You can also fix a frame of wood around your carving and drive in a few wooden wedges to hold it tight. If you are working on a fairly heavy piece of wood, two wood stops screwed down at right angles to each other will be sufficient.

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