11. Can you carve a face? II, New Tools

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In 2013 I decided to carve another face to test out some of my new tools. Previously, on a few granite memorial commissions that Tim handed to me, I had begun to use my Weha pneumatic chisel gun. This wonderful tool that I had bought in 2000 for a sandstone sculpture, seemed to cope admirably with granite. I wanted to push it as a tool, and see what I could get from it, and I had also recently bought a Chicago Pneumatics mini die-grinder, usually used for de-burring metal engineered parts. With some specialist diamond burrs, I set about carving this new head in a small piece of Carnsew granite. Again I had no plans as to how the face would look. I just worked away at the main features until they felt right. This time, though, I made use of every power tool I could get my hands on; from big and small grinders, my new die-grinder, the quarry’s big pneumatic dolly and my own finer pneumatic gun. The time difference was astonishing, and I began to realise that I could get amazing results from the granite very quickly with this arsenal of tools.

The die-grinder, with its tiny diamond encrusted spinning burrs, removed millimetres of granite with no impact, and so achieved very fine detail both quickly and safely, with very little risk of knocking a bit off. This was especially critical when carving the eyelids, as any mistake here meant ruining the face altogether. This second head, which has stood around the quarry for some time, has recently been sold to a couple renovating an old goat shed, and they plan to incorporate it into the quoins on one corner of the build. I learnt a great deal here about ways to work the granite very finely — almost I would say, against its natural structure. I removed the need for force with the use of non or low impactive tooling. I was certainly aiming to push the granite as much as possible towards finer and finer detailing, and left nothing to chance when carving the fine features of a face.

When the face becomes wet in the rain, the beautiful grains and colours of the granite override the formal shapes, almost obscuring the carved form. I found that this wet quality of the granite continually surprised me. When it is dry, the crystalline patterns are nowhere near as defined and the play of light and dark allows the carved forms to be easily read. The lettering traditions of granite memorials have had to counter this disappearing act of fine forms in the wet granite, with the lettering being either painted, lead lettered or raised.


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