So this is my first appearance in a Russian publication, Seasons Magazine– but not the first time I’ve shared article space with Alasdair Thomson! The article is Titled “Pygmalion,” and I understand that it is featuring the work of three contemporary stone sculptors in the context of the current design trend toward marble. Sadly, I can’t read it, of course, but the pictures sure are pretty– thanks to Geoff Graham & Alain Hain!
Part 2: Chisels
[see below for Part 1: Mallets]
So this portion of the post is less “How To” than “Where To…”
As with a lot of specialized trades, just knowing where to get the right tools if half the battle– the other half is finding a lending company to take out the loan required to purchase trade specific equipment.
I should say that, as a professional user of chisels, I am spoiled. I only use carbide tipped chisels. In my opinion, straight-steel chisel for anything other than alabaster and talc are a waste of time. I want to spend more time carving and less time sharpening. Anyone that has ever been an apprentice has spent plenty of time sharpening chisels… so I’m over it. I have always been happy to spend the money on a chisel that will hold it’s edge for a decent period of time–particularly with marble and limestone, with granite– all bets are off; break out the bench grinder.
However, if one finds themselves in need of lots of such tools for educational programs with no budget, as I recently have, then this issue of expensive tools can be a real problem– especially if you want “good” tools.
For doing workshops on letter carving, which requires a small but very precise edge, I wanted to have a set of chisels for the entire class that would stay sharp. This would cause less frustration for beginners, who are given to frustration with processes that do not include a touch-screen… So I needed to do some hunting.The main thing was to find chisels that had “carbide” tips. I have played with the process of making my own chisels from scratch, but I’m not a blacksmith and I don’t have the proper set up for that kind of metal work. So I needed something that already had carbides at a price that wouldn’t make me seize. Obviously, I went online, but even the cheapest carbide chisels for hand hammers (meaning without turned shanks for use with air hammers) were pretty expensive both individually and in packs.
Eventually, I found an affordable price on “Superior Tile Cutter” carbide-tipped-chisels on Grainger’s site, with has a location near my shop. So I ordered a couple and picked them up few days later. Turns out they were just what I was looking for– with a few idiosyncrasies. But, having gotten the chisels in their original manufacturer’s pacaging was key. Turns out that they are made by the Kraft Tool Company in the good old U-S-of-A, specifically–Kansas. Kraft (like the dinner, but not) has a website where I found the same chisels being sold for a few bucks less each!6″ Carbide Chisel w/1/4″ Wide Tip, Product #: ST030, currently priced at $7.90 a piece. This is at least 3 times less than a chisel of a similar size from a carving specific store or [shudders] an “Art Store…”
To Kraft Tools great credit, their customer service is awesome and when I called them and explained why I needed to buy in bulk, because I was doing a workshop with a non-profit, public school in Baltimore, (and provided all of the relevant documentation, of course) they worked with me to get an even better deal. Thanks, Kraft Tool!
The rub– these chisels do require a bit of “after-market” modification to be made ideal for stone carving. They are intended for tile work, so for reasons that I don’t fully understand the carbide tip is inserted into the steel shank at an angle, instead of directly in the middle, as with a stone carving chisel. This is odd, but, since only the very edge of the carving blade is used when carving, this really doesn’t matter as long as the proper angle away from the edge of the blade can be achieved. So this means a fair bit of time with the bench grinder and a bluestone wheel (I’m still using the set that came with the bench grinder, so nothing special there).
So, as long as you are wiling to put in a little elbow grease, tapering the tips of the relatively blunt “tile” chisels– then you an make a real nice point that can be honed with a diamond block. Remember to douse your chisel in cool water periodically when grinding to prevent over heating! Also, for comfort, you could lightly ease the lengthwise corners along the 1/4″ shank. (the larger sizes, 3/8″ & 1/2″ chisels are made from hex-stock) This relatively small amount of work yields a very passable, novice-grade chisel at a student grade-price.
Modifications– I will probably be buying a lot more of the chisels soon, since I do a lot of making my own chisels profiles too, I rarely buy a chisel that is anything other than flat bladed. I make the rounds and cut the teeth myself as needed. This allows me control over the final shape of the blade and thus the texture. I have to say, when trying to make the proper profile for a texture I am working on, I would be a lot more comfortable experimenting with a chisel that chisel cost less than ten dollars that one that cost 40… Also, if you wants to make these chisels work for a pneumatic hammer, the 1/4″ stock can be milled down by just grinding off the corners of the lower 2 inches of the chisel.
For a pneumatic air hammer to accept the shank of a chisel it doesn’t need to be perfectly round. It just needs be small enough in width & depth to be inscribed within the inner radius of the opening of the hammer. For instance, a ground down 1/4″ Kraft Tool chisel fits the Trow& Holden Bantam Air Hammer. If I had a lathe this would be very easy– but I don’t… so I have to eyeball it on the bench grinder. Grinding the corners evenly, giving it radial symmetry, doesn’t need to be done perfectly, but it improves stability and makes the chisel easier to control while carving. So again, if you are willing to put in the time, you can make a pile of carbide tipped, pneumatic compatible chisels for dozens rather than hundreds of dollars.
Part 1: Mallets
So, for the last few years I’ve done several stone carving workshops and demonstrations. This led me to think a lot about the tools I used and their accessibility—or lack thereof. The truth is that carving tools cost—a lot.
This is one of the things that make interactive demonstrations cool, because people can use the tools and materials, briefly, and get a taste for the craft. No commitment, no cost. However, when contemplating a class, the issue of tools and materials looms large. Anything purchase from an “art store” or any craft-specific source tends to be pricey, stone tools are no exception. They are particularly expensive not only because they do need to be made of quality materials so that they last—also the relative short list of stone-specific-tool-makers keeps the prices high.
So when I decided to do a periodic workshop with a local public school in my neighborhood, cost was one of the first issues. I wanted to be able to provide the students with tools that were as close to professional grade—with no budget. Since all cost would be on Sebastianwork.com, I had to get creative.
One of the most unique and important tools is the mallet/hammer. The only kind of hammers that people are going to find cheap and easy at a hardware store are the standard framing or claw hammers—not good for carving. I use both flat and round hammers to carve with depending on the size of the details and the type of stone.
Many dual directional masons hammers from stone specific suppliers, though beautiful, top $50 bucks. Many carvers favor round mallets, like the kind I use for wood carving. Cost is anywhere from $15 to $50 + shipping.
Technically one could just use a piece of wood, but wood gets chewed up pretty fast when striking a harder material. The wood needs metal jacketing. But most of the mallets sold are actually on the heavy side for small carving anyway, especially for beginners, especially if you are focusing on small lettering.
The most important factor is not really weight but velocity and efficiency, a two small but strong pieces of metal striking one another produces A LOT of force. This is why I like a wood AND metal mallet rather than just wood.
Here’s how I made enough mallets for a class of 15 for under $30. It wasn’t super efficient at the first attempt, but it was realtively quick and easy. And while they are not fancy, but I quite like them and have been using them myself for a while now. It doesn’t hurt that the shopping list is two items long (I shopped at Lowes).
What to Get:
3 oak dowels (36″long x 1″ diameter) — about $5 each
1 galvanized pipe (24″ x 1″ inner diameter) – about $12
How to assemble:
1. Cut wooden dowels to 7.25″ lengths.
2. Cut threaded ends off of pipe. This leaves approx. 22″ Cut remainder to approx 1.375″ lengths.
3. Place the pipe around the end of the cut dowel.
Drive in screws or nails to expand end of wood agains the interior of the pipe. You can add adhesive (resin or glue), both to in interior of the pipe and around seams/cracks after driving the nails to lock everything in.
Let set over night.
4. Sand off any splinters/burrs or excess glue. Wax or oil the whole thing to seal & prevent oxidization.
Bake at 350 degrees for 2 hours . . .
Makes 15 mallets. Total cost: $27. Cost per: approx $1.80
Modifications– if you want more power—you could use larger size dowel and pipe and turn the dowel for ergonomic grip. Or make handle longer for better swing/velocity. Or add and additional jacket of 1.25″ pipe on top of the 1″ pipe for more weight. But the 6.75″ x 1″ mallets should be fine for soft stone and detailed work and after several months of some serious abuse, they have held up extremely well.
This video was done as part of The Balvenie Rare Craft Collection, curated by Anthony Bourdain.
See the video’s of the other 4 Collection crafts-people here.
This piece is both portrait and admission.
It comes from the same place as a series of pieces I began years ago. Yours, Mine & Ours, was my attempt to visually describe the unique personalities that make up my family. My wife is the smooth, folded bath towel to my rumpled heap of terry cloth. Another piece, Shed, focused on the business casual work attire donned by my wife on a daily basis.
This recent piece goes much farther in being honest about a fairly large aspect of our lives: work. The smooth, satin, carefully folded material on the slacks-specific clothes hanger are in stark contrast to my rough and rumpled work pants which, when not in use, are usually found slung on a hook in a locker with the work belt still in the belt loops. This pretty well describes our unique work situations.
The fact that my wife’s stable career has allowed me to develop in a much less structured way as an independent artist is pretty much constantly on my mind. While I have been extremely fortunate, having received a degree of critical acclaim and financial success that I never would have expected, none of these achievements have represented anything that approaching riches. I grew up in a household where my father was the primary “bread winner” and my mother took care of most everything else.
I must admit that I feel shame and a sense of personal failure that I have not even come close to reaching the point where I could say to my wife: “Hey, I’ve got this. You don’t need to work to support this family.” She wouldn’t want to stop working if she could; she loves what she does, however, I would like to be able to give her that option. At present, I cannot do that. While we might earn approximately the same number of dollars per year– hers come on a consistent basis and with health insurance and other benefits that my sporadic, commission-based, freelance, sub-contractor income completely lacks.
Like the stone itself, relationships can be hard, and require a lot of work. They are both enduring and fragile at the same time. And they are worth the effort. Individuals are often dissimilar, though they work.
Jokes and comments are often made regarding who wears the pants in a given relationship. Many people have a this idea that being a stone carver is a very “macho” endeavor, but from my perspective, not really. First off, there are fair few extremely successful female stone sculptors out there. Secondly, there isn’t anything much more traditionally masculine than being able to fully financially support one’s own family . . . So, I can’t really agree with the stereotype. I’m not being overly modest. I love the tradition and physicality of the work I do, and I think that I can make some neat stuff. I am a handy and all. However, if one was going to ask who wears the pants in our family– well, it certainly wouldn’t be me alone.
In our case, I’d say that I have received far more of the benefit from our work together than she. Her stability, organization, reliability, and care have allowed me to have a much more chaotic, irresponsible and unstable career path than the average person. I’m the dirty laundry. I’m very thankful to have been able to hang my rumpled, coarseness next to her smooth, silkiness for many years now, and hopefully for many more.
So I have been very fortunate with press over the years. I honestly never thought that my name would end up in any publications…
But least of all FORBES– linked to this website..!
…and a few other big names have been getting in on the art and fabrication action. Thanks, Alan & Martha!
In other news… I’m pretty pumped to have been invited to be part of the The #Balvenie Rare Craft Collection. Over the next 3 months, along with 4 other incredible artisans selected by Anthony Bourdain, we will be headed to NYC, Houston & Chicago to show some of our work and demonstrate how we do it. So if you like nice things and maybe want to swing a hammer and chisel yourself (and you’re over 21) maybe come check out the show. First stop– NYC!
Here’s lowdown from their website: https://us.thebalvenie.com/collection:
The Balvenie 2015 Rare Craft Collection
If you are at all interested in my thoughts regarding: dismissive art critics, contemporary sculptors & Upper-Paleolithic painters… then click on over to BmoreArt to see my interview with founding editor,the indespensible, Cara Ober. http://bmoreart.com/2015/06/captain-marble.html
Come for my highly-subjective-opinions… stay for the outrageous photos by Justin Tsucalas! You can check out his documentation of the shop and studio at the now-re-located Hilgartner Natural Stone Company in the gallery below. See more of Justin’s photography at www.justintsucalas.com and www.plaidphoto.com.
Rough Stone to Living Marble
The video documentary, produced by curator Jenny Carson, that is currently on view in the Walters Art Museum show, Rinehart’s Studio: Rough Stone to Living Marble, can be seen here by clicking this link or the image above. The short film about the process of creating stone sculptures and the relationship between the “sculptor” and the “carver” focuses on Rineharts works, a stone sculpture fabrication shop in Italy, and my own studio here in Baltimore at Hilgartner Natural Stone. If you’ve got 5 mins– check it out! Better yet–go see the show!
Rough Stone to Living Marble
Written by: Jenny Carson
Cinematography: Tarek Turkey
Narrator: Dillin Olshonsky
It’s true. After almost 40 years at their current location, Hilgartner Natural Stone Company, Inc is moving… again.
Hilgartner’s Baltimore City shop (which has been home to my studio since I earned my MFA from MICA’s Rinehart School of Sculpture in 2008) has moved a number of times since their founding in 1863, always due to the expansion of the railroad system. Stone shops prior to the modern era needing to be adjacent to the railways that provided their material and delivered their work. This current move is a bit more about development, property values and a new neighbor (who will remain namesless) that showed up rolling deep in card tables and slot machines . . .
I and all of my considerable baggage will be going with them to our new location, still in beautiful Charm City, at:
That’s between Westport and Carroll Park in South Baltimore, for those of you familiar with the City– the Washington Blvd Exit (#51) off 95, for those of you that aren’t.
While I will miss the frenetic energy of Cross Street in Federal Hill– with it’s Ravens & Orioles fans flooding the area on game day, and it’s charming-drunken-post-collegiate-frat-boy atmosphere that begins on Friday and lingers through Monday morning . . . I and the rest of the Hilgartner team are looking forward to the vastly improved shop, offices, showroom, gallery, and STUDIO that our new home will provide!
Many thanks to those who recently have seen fit to help document my soon-to-be-former studio space through their writers, photographers & videographers: Jenny Carson and the Walters Art Museum, The Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Baltimore Sun, HOME & DESIGN Magazine, The Baltimore Business Journal, and BmoreArt.
The original part of the “new” shop was a WWII era foundry, so a far bit of renovation has been undertaken and still continues–but don’t worry–we are ready to roll and will be fully operational in no time.
So please excuse the current hiccup in our work schedule. We will all be back to rocking out and making heaps of dust in no time!