If ever you fancy a try at stone carving or even a stab at sculpture, it might be of some help to understand the various tools and their uses. There are basically three different sets of tools depending on the type of stone or marble you are intending to use, though there is a fair bit of overlap. Some tools being useful on almost any type of material.
Wood Handled Masons chisels: For working with softish sandstone’s, i. e. ; Bathstone, Cotswold etc. These look similar to the wood working chisels commonly available. However, the steel is tempered differently and they are heavier duty . They come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes. These specialist chisels are used with a lead dummy. A lead dummy is a kind of mallet, basically a lead cylinder about 2 inches in diameter and 3 inches high mounted on a wooden handle.
Bulb End steel chisels: These steel chisels are heavier duty tools than the wood handled type and are used for working harder limestone’s such as Portland stone. They come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes.
These chisels are designed for use with a traditional wooden masons mallet. These round shaped mallets made from Italian Yew come in various sizes and weights, from four inches in diameter to nine inches.
Steel End steel and tungsten chisels: These chisels are for use with a steel hammer, either a large masons steel hammer or a steel club hammer. The choice of hammer will depend on the task in hand. These chisels are the most commonly available and are made in a huge range of sizes and shapes. As a carver you will be more concerned with the smaller tools.
Individual chisels are named according to use and size. So for instance carving chisels are called “splitters” (I don’t know why just trust me!). So you can have a quarter inch splitter or half inch splitter etc. Here is a list of the various types.
Point or Punch: Pointed chisel usually for roughing out or getting rid of waste material. Bolster: Any flat bladed chisel with a straight edge, from half inch to four inches. Splitter: Small chisels for fine work such as carving or letter cutting.
Claw or Comb: Toothed chisel for taking off waste material in a controlled way, creating a roughly flat finish. Pitcher: Flat bladed chisel with a blunt wedge like edge for taking off large chunks of waste material, needs lots of experience to use, not for the faint hearted! Bullnose: As the name suggests, a flat chisel with a rounded edge for creating curved surfaces. Scallop: Similar too a bullnose chisel but the blade is hollowed like a half section of tube, steel tools only, for use on softer materials.
Carvers and Masons will often shape the tools they need from existing chisels to suit particular jobs. Creating bullnose chisels from bolsters or shaping small splitters to get into awkward corners. Steel tools re-shaped in this way will need re-tempering, tungsten tools can be used without this need and are the best choice for beginners. If this is your first stone carving project I suggest you buy just two chisels, a half inch and a quarter inch tungsten splitter. If you need a shaped chisel just shape one of your chisels as needed on a grindstone. In addition search out the smallest steel club hammer you can find , if its an old one so much the better, cut down the handle to just five or six inches, it will be much easier to use! For your first project why not carve your own house sign? Its a relatively simple project and if you hang it out side your house you will be showing off your work to every visitor to your home!
Steve Walker has been a craftsman in stone and marble for 40 years. Leaving school at fifteen he entered an apprenticeship as an ecclesiastical marble mason with an old London firm, and in his long career have practised as a stone mason, letter cutter, restoration carver, marble mason and carver, fireplace designer and manufacturer. He has worked in old fashioned traditional stone firms and in modern marble workshops, in almost every type of stone marble and granite. He is now a house sign maker, the sole owner, and craftsman of Stone Engravings House Signs – http://www.stoneengravings.co.uk