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Making Carvings


There might be times when you feel that the metal cast carvings in your kit are just not quite what you would like to see on your model. If you're feeling adventurous, why not try your hand at carving them yourself? It may not be as difficult as you might think.

I'll admit, I'm not as good at carving as I'd like to be. when I built my HMY Fubbs model entirely from scratch, I was really intimidated by the carvings on that ship. I read some books on carving things like duck decoys and other more intricate carvings but that just increased my fear. I studied the carvings on the Fubbs and was afraid I'd just end up making a real mess. But what's the worse that can happen? After all, it's just wood. If first you don't succeed, simply get another piece of wood and try again.

The first carving I decided to tackle was the figurehead. After 7 attempts (yes, I said seven), I found my niche and ended up with a fairly decent carving. The secret to my success was a little known tool called a turbo carver.

Most miniature carvings such as the ones we need on our models can't really be carved with a knife. I've done some cleaning up of my carvings with a small set of knives I bought at Micro Mark but the main tool I've turned to for quick removal of the wood is the turbo carver. Photo 1 shows the knives I've used and the turbo carver.

Photo 1

The turbo carver takes small bits similar to a drill bit. The most common bits are Diamond Flame, 4/0 Bud, 9/0 Ball and the Carbide Sharp Taper bit. Photo 2 shows these bits.

Photo 2

The turbo carver can be purchased at http://www.turbocarver.com . The bits shown in the photo above can also be purchased there. The turbo carver runs off of air. Basically you use an air compressor like the ones used to use an airbrush.

The secret to the turbo carver is that it turns the bit at a very high speed. This high speed coupled with the bits makes it a breeze to carve small bass relief carvings such as the carvings on the stern of the Rattlesnake. Photo 3 shows the start of my carvings for my kit bashed Rattlesnake.

Photo 3

To carve something like this, you need a drawing first. Photo 4 is an enhanced image I created using Photoshop. I started with a scanned image of the plans of the Rattlesnake that I purchased from Harold Hahn. I had reduced the scale of the plans to match my model.

Photo 4

The red areas indicate the areas of wood that you would need to remove using the turbo carver. By cutting out the template and rubber cementing it to a piece of boxwood, you are ready to start carvings. Photo 5 shows the original carving before I enhanced it in photo shop. Some of this enhancement work is pure guesstimate! It is often difficult to understand the shapes when the drawings you are working from are copies of copies of copies.

Photo 5

Boxwood is the preferred wood to use for creating such carvings. It's very hard wood, has no visible grain, and holds a good edge. There are numerous sources available on the web to obtain costello boxwood such as Gilmer Woods in Oregon state.

It's best to try your hand at this type of carving first using some scraps of wood and just a portion of the template. It doesn't take much pressure on the wood when using the turbo carver to remove wood so go slowly at first. As you gain some experience on which bit works best for the carving you're trying to make, you'll grow more comfortable with the process.

Photo 6 shows my completed carvings. After roughing in the carvings using the turbo carver, I turn to my small knives to enhance the carvings. This involves smoothing out the edges and cleaning the flat areas that are shown in red in Photo 4. Often I find it easier to simply scape these areas with the small curved knife blade which is the center knife and blade in Photo 1 above.

Photo 6

I usually finish my carvings with a coat or two of Minwax Wipe on Polyurethane. The poly really brings out the golden brown beauty of the boxwood and helps to protect the wood for years to come.

I do realize that the turbo carver is not a cheap tool and many will not want to spend that kind of money for a tool they may not be able to use or use often. But for those of you who wish to take your ship modeling skills to the next level, it is imperative that you learn how to carve so that you can further your work in building model ships from scratch. From this first carving, I was able to create true plank on frame kits with resin cast carvings in them. The resin cast carvings were created from original carvings I made myself using the turbo carver and small knives show in this posting. At this stage of my model shipbuilding career, I think I am safe to say that I have done it all over the last 30 years.

Bob Hunt


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