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Advice for Hand Carving Ebony?

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  • Advice for Hand Carving Ebony?

    So far, I've pretty much only carved in basswood. I recently picked up a couple small pieces of ebony and olivewood to branch out and see what it's like to carve in some other woods. I know that ebony is very hard and can be tricky to work with. My piece is 1.5"x1.5"x3", and I'm wondering if anyone has any advice as I start working on it (things to avoid or be careful with, things that work well, etc.). Things beyond keeping my tools sharp...that's obviously always number 1. Looking for more particular things that I might not think about or figure out right away. I have three tools (1.25"-ish straight, skew, and Flexcut Pelican), and I'm not really looking to add, so hopefully those are sufficient.
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  • #2
    I haven't tried ebony, but I have tried other seriously hard woods. I would say your #1 is THE #1 - keep the blade sharp. Super sharp. Strop very often. Number 2, don't get ambitious or in a hurry. Be happy with small thin shavings instead of chips.

    One thing I surmise is that it might be advantageous to have a knife dedicated to super hard woods. This knife would have an edge with a higher angle than you might use for something like basswood. I haven't tried this. But I find myself going back to the stones a lot with really hard woods. A bigger bevel angle might give strength to the edge and prevent damage that could occur under the higher force you have to apply to get any cut at all.
    HonketyHank toot toot

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    • #3
      I should also add the following ...

      Practice safe carving. Especially important with harder woods because one needs to add extra force behind the blade to make the cut. A small slipup is magnified. I use a kevlar glove on my holding hand and a kevlar thumb protector on my knife hand. I probably ought to have kevlar trousers, too, but I don't. (I have a scar or two on my left thigh). And lastly, don't drink and carve (which might have something to do with the need for kevlar pants).
      Last edited by honketyhank; 02-09-2017, 01:08 PM.
      HonketyHank toot toot

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      • #4
        I've never seen any recommended bevel angle for carving ebony. However, Leonard Lee pointed out that there has to be enough steel behind the edge to support it in service.
        I have rough-out use for an elbow adze, a D adze, a draw knife, some spoke shaves and a Stanley Bailey #5 Jack plane. That entire group of bevel angles is between 25 and 30 degrees and I show no mercy in the working. OTOH, all of my finer tools from gouges to crooked knives are between 12 and 20 degrees. I'll suggest 25, if at all.

        Don't hold ebony and attempt to whittle away at it. Just don't.
        Don't try to carve ebony with any quality basswood carving knife.
        Lots of saw cuts and rasps, fine work at the very end.
        Like tangled grain mahogany only harder.
        Brian T

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        • #5
          I have some advice for hand carving Ebony .... DON'T! Use power and good protection. Ebony is so hard that most hand tools wouldn't stand up to carving it, and will just frustrate you. Use power carving tools.

          Bob
          Before they slip me over the standing part of the fore sheet, let them pipe: "Up Spirits" one more time.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Robson Valley View Post
            Don't hold ebony and attempt to whittle away at it. Just don't.
            Don't try to carve ebony with any quality basswood carving knife.
            Lots of saw cuts and rasps, fine work at the very end.
            Like tangled grain mahogany only harder.
            What's the alternative to holding it? I don't have anything like a vice, so I think holding is my only option.
            Again, what kind of thing are you thinking of as an alternative to a quality basswood carving knife? Those three I listed are all I have.
            Never tried mahogany. More worth trying than ebony?

            Originally posted by squbrigg View Post
            I have some advice for hand carving Ebony .... DON'T! Use power and good protection. Ebony is so hard that most hand tools wouldn't stand up to carving it, and will just frustrate you. Use power carving tools.
            Since the three hand tools listed are all I have, sounds like you'd recommend I rid myself of the ebony altogether, eh?

            I did get started on it, just rounding one edge so far, and it is a remarkably slow process. Sounds like there's no particular 'magic' to make carving ebony work, though. Guess I'll have to decide if I want to muscle through it (carefully) or do something else with my ebony block.

            Thanks for the input.
            www.AgainstTheGrainChipCarvings.weebly.com
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            • #7
              Keep the wood. Might you have a 'C'-clamp to hold it down? Maybe a handsaw of any size and tooth?
              Once the wood is secure, you should be able to push the skew around with your other hand.
              The skew at 25 degrees would be the best choice.

              Few wraps of duck tape at one end to hold the wood onto that arm of a chair?

              Start into it. Keep your eye out for mahogany, cherry, butternut, birch, woods like that.
              They're a little more forgiving on both you and your tool edges.
              Brian T

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              • #8
                You can carve any material if you want to bad enough! People have carved ebony even with primitive tools, but it is as much an exercise in patience and determination as anything. I carved a highly decorated cane out of hickory one time, and learned that just because you can do something, doesn't necessarily mean you should! There are many woods that are a pleasure to carve, and I would easily recommend mahogany over ebony in that category.
                'If it wasn't for caffeine, I wouldn't have any personality at all!"

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                • #9
                  My first reaction would be get someone else to carve it for you, but you seem determined- that's good, you'll need it. Let us know how you do!
                  Buffalo Bif
                  www.bflobif.com

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                  • #10
                    I think power carving would be much easier than trying a blade. You could start with a Dremel and a couple of carbide burrs for it. A round-end-cylinder and a flame shape are both very useful for carving.

                    Claude
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                    • #11
                      Well, the OP has a 1.25" gouge(?) a skew and a Flexcut Pelican. Of those 3, the skew would be the strongest.
                      Brian T

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                      • #12
                        I agree with Bob - don't. I recently carved Purple Heart with a Janks hardness of around 2500, and I only had one knife that would hold up to it (made from some kind of industrial cutter blade). I ended up power carving about 95% of it. Ebony has a Janka hardness of about 3200. I wouldn't mess with it.

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                        • #13
                          If you bail on your hand carving idea and opt for power carving, please pay attention to the dust. Different people have different reactions to exotic wood dust. I an aware of one who went to the hospital sanding purpleheart, I had a not quite so serious reaction to Imbuya, others have no reaction at all.
                          Buffalo Bif
                          www.bflobif.com

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                          • #14
                            Power carve it! If you do power carve, wear a dust mask or respirator type mask. Keep that dust out of your lungs.
                            Last edited by brent; 02-14-2017, 05:02 PM.

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                            • #15
                              Guys, I don't have power tools. I listed the three carving tools I own, and that's literally it.
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