Power Carving - Canadian Woodworking Magazine

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Power Carving

After seeing me use the Arbortech Industrial Pro Kit, Canadian Woodworking contacted me to write about it, and tell how it fits into my carving style. I was happy to do so, as I really benefit from it’s features.

The Pro Kit consists of a blade and fittings that allow the blade to be attached to an angle grinder. I first found out about the Pro Kit, from Dale Nish, a woodturner and demonstrator, who had just got back from a tool show in Germany where he had just seen a demonstration of it. The demonstration Dale had seen involved using the Pro Kit to rough out large burls. Burls are the large growths on the sides of some trees and they result in a very interesting grain. The burls they were roughing out during the demonstration were a very hard wood. Dale told me that what impressed him was how well the blade worked on hard wood. In his enthusiasm, Dale gave one of these kits to me so that I could try it. I was impressed that the kit enabled me to fit the Arbortech blade onto my angle grinders. I have since learned that the Pro Kit fits almost any angle grinder.

I was more than willing to give this new tool a try. Up until that point, for rough wood removal, I had been using discs with chainsaw teeth, on an angle grinder. The Arbortech blade is different from my other grinders in a couple of ways. First, it has only three teeth as opposed to six or more. Secondly, the teeth of the Arbortech blade are carbide. I like that I can rotate them and I can sharpen them with a diamond strop. Because I am hard on tools, I was impressed to learn that I can sharpen them quite a few times. Also, because it is a large heavy disk, it runs very smoothly.

The Pro Kit also runs very safely because its carbide blade is sharpened at almost a 90-degree angle.

Before discovering the Arbortech Industrial Pro Kit I had quite liked my previous tool. However, in comparison, there were certain aspects of using my previous tool that made it a little scary. For example, the teeth would dig in, especially in corners. It had all the dangers of the chainsaw kickback. With the 90-degree angle of the Arbortech blade, the teeth don’t bite in the way a steel tooth does and I don’t get any kickback. The raker is designed as a continuous raker, which means I can press very hard and it will only allow 1 mm of cut per two passes. In other words, it operates very smoothly, as it can’t just suddenly sink in and grab the way that the chainsaw teeth do.

In Europe, The Arbortech Pro Kit was initially used with a grinder to rough out big bowls from burls, before they put them on the lathe. It is a little easier and more balanced than the lathe, for roughing out. Today, I know people in construction who use the Pro Kit for cutting and tearing out in their renovation work. Really, in carving, it is hard to beat a chainsaw for roughing out, but with a chainsaw, your hands are quite far from the point of contact. When the tip of the chainsaw is two feet from where your hands are, it can be like drawing with a pencil while holding it by the eraser end. This is not to say that there aren’t people who have developed a very fine cut with a chainsaw, there are. I just find that, for myself, I am a little less clumsy when I have that real close contact.

With the Arbortech blade fitted on to a grinder, my hands are very close to the point of contact, which means that the kind of cutting control that I have with it is dramatically improved. I use the Arbortech Pro Kit primarily for roughing out my carving, especially in hardwoods where it cuts so well. Although I can get pretty close to a final finish with it, I don’t do a lot of fine sculpting with it. However, people who are doing more stylized work are able to get very close to a final finish with it.

It is also possible with another tool from Arbortech (the Mini Grinder) to start with a chunk of wood and end up with a finished sculpture, using sanding discs to finish it. Mine is a three-step process: I start with the Arbortech 4” blade on an angle grinder, switch to the Arbortech Mini Grinder and then I finish with hand tools for the fine details.

The Arbortech Pro Kit gets me to the point of using hand tools much more quickly and without the wear and tear on my shoulder and elbow. The power process saves a lot of time. Since I find the hand work to be what I get the most enjoyment from, I appreciate how quickly this tool brings me to that point and how much more time I have for hand work as a result of using it.

Carving will make a good-size mess in your shop. The power unit that I have is literally spraying wood around. It is a pleasure, though, to realize that, without it, I would be pounding away that same amount.

The first big project that I did using the Arbortech Industrial Pro Kit was a life-sized statue of Tecumseh, in walnut, for the Windsor Wood Carving Museum.

I literally had to remove hundreds of pounds of wood from the initial block. It was wonderful to have an outfit like the Arbortech Pro Kit. With the carbide teeth, walnut was no challenge. It was a great help and I felt confident using it.

The carbide tooth makes a very definite cut. The combination of safety and precision makes it far more useful for me, than other grinders. This is not to say that I can’t achieve similar results with other grinders. It is just that I personally prefer using my grinder with a carbide blade, because of its precision and safety.
Safety Tips
Always remember to wear safety glasses, hand and ear protection and a dust mask. This is one issue that can never be stressed enough. I always try and get the fear of God into me every time I turn machines on. If you approach a tool unwisely, it is terribly unforgiving.

I don’t even use the regular dust mask anymore. I use a respirator because it also works very well as a dust mask. I don’t want to be breathing the dust from spalted work, as it is quite harmful. I am always very careful when it comes to safety. There is a lot of vibration on the machine and I use it for long periods of time, I like to have some good, thick leather gloves to absorb some of that. I use welder’s gloves.

NEIL COX, an international award winning Canadian carver,
presently lives in Toronto with his wife Kathryn and their three children.