Heartwood Rocking Horses

Power carving

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So, some people may hear power carving and think, “that’s not hand-made, you used a power tool to make that!” Well, sorry to say, power tools are used in pretty much every step of many hand-carved projects. Tree removal, lumber milling, cutting out pieces, edge finishing, sanding….usually all power tools. Most likely anything made of wood was made with power tools, unless it is a specialty item with a special price tag. I have also been using a power carver for years, a Foredom flexshaft with a chisel handpiece. This is about the same as a mallet and chisel, but the tool provides the mallet work for you. It is easier, but not faster.

When making a rocking horse, there are so many steps and parts, it is a very time consuming process. Often, I get discouraged trying to shape a large horse body by how slow the process is. I can spend at least a day trying to rough out just the body of a small rocking horse. What I’ve learned is that most people, though they think they want something totally hand chiseled, actually don’t want to pay for the amount of time this would take. If you do, that’s wonderful! Please do! But most people seem to prefer a smaller price tag in exchange for a little help from electricity. The difference can be thousands of dollars saved by saving time.

The other day, I was getting completely bogged down trying to create the shape of a small horse from a 5″ wide glue-up. The wood is European Beech wood, which is wonderful but hard as a rock. So rather than burn the horse in a fire out of frustration, I went out and impulsively bought a chain-saw blade for an angle grinder. I’ve seen some of these in action, and we already have an angle grinder laying around. They are relatively affordable compared to all other woodworking tools, less than a single high-quality large hand chisel.

woman wearing dust respirator, ear protection, face shield, and sunglasses to protect face during power wood carving

Lookin’ good!

Safety is always important! You want to work outside with this tool, fine dust will be everywhere. Sunglasses, dust mask, face shield, hearing protection, check!

I tried the Lancelot carving blade first, with the angle grinder we had laying around. No guard, no handle, don’t know where they are. I used it this way for about 15 minutes, feeling more and more unsafe as the unguarded blade spun inches away from my hand. This is not the way to use this tool! You want a handle and a guard.

top view of lancelot chainsaw blade for angle grinder Lancelot chain saw attachment shown on angle grinder with no guard or handle.

But after just this trial run I realized I wanted to use this tool! I can remove so much material in minutes, which would literally have taken a day or two by hand. The finish left is somewhat smooth, easy enough to remove with 80 grit paper. But the initial sanding did end up taking longer than with just carving. You can see below the finish on the neck. Also, it is easy for the blade to get caught on an edge or in a grain direction change and pull itself into the wood. This left a few large gashes that I didn’t like, and also felt really unsafe. I took to You Tube to see how I could use this more safely. The answer: Guard, handle, and a different attachment.

The Lancelot is a King Arthur tool, and they also make a grinder called the Holey Galahad. I saw a cheaper version of this being used on you tube, and decided to give it a try. So, a trip to Harbor Freight successfully supplied me with a $30 angle grinder (with a handle and guard) and a $10 wood grinding attachment, seen below.

Seen above is the grinder, just a bunch of metal bits on a metal wheel. This works REALLY WELL, and removes material just about as quickly as the chainsaw blade, but more cleanly and is much safer. I could work in any direction, and even do some smaller areas on the face. You will also see above a rubber washer. I found that the Harbor Freight brand angle grinder didn’t hold the attachment very tightly. A rubber washer I had laying around provided some cushion and stopped the wheel from moving around.

 

After about 4 hours, I used the grinder to carve the entire body and all the legs. I was able to remove so much more material than just carving with the power carver. I would have gotten discouraged and given up, and ended up with a general shape that was too thick for what I really wanted. The finish is fine for rough-out stage, and the grinder attachment shows no build-up or wear after about 4 hrs. At $10, this attachment is the perfect solution for speed, accuracy and safety.

 

One sad note about the Harbor Freight angle grinder: After the four hour session, I discovered the plug had become fused inside the extension cord, I couldn’t unplug it! I hadn’t seen any evidence there was something wrong happening, but it definitely melted something inside and I had to break the prongs off the grinder’s plug to remove it from the extension cord. Fortunately, Harbor Freight has a 90-day return policy, and this one was returned. I opted for an up-grade, a Ryobi from Home Depot. At $40, this is still one of the cheapest woodworking tools I have obtained, and it ran much smoother than the H.F. brand, and held the attachment in place perfectly. I highly recommend it.

Final conclusion: I will be using this power carving system a lot in the future. I still finish carving all details by hand, it is only the rough shaping that I use the angle grinder for. But I really recommend trying this out if you have been thinking about it. Start with the $10 H.F. grinder attachment. The chainsaw blade seems better suited for bowls or other hollowed-out shaped things, or really large roughing out where a minor gouge isn’t going to ruin anything. Harbor freight actually sells one of these chainsaw attachments, too.

I can work so much faster, and the fast, fluid shape formation that takes place makes it easier to create what I have in my mind than working at a slower pace. I can’t wait to share the new creations I can make with this!

wood rocking horse placed on table, unfinished sanded beech wood

The parts put together, still more to be done to create final rocking horse

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Author: Alicia

I live and work in Asheville, NC. I've been learning to carve since 2012, and started my own rocking horse business in 2013. I've always loved drawing horses, and find those skills practiced as a teenager now come in handy as I carve each horse to life from chunks of wood. I love creating things that children can enjoy, move with, and learn from. I also love hiking through the hills of the Asheville area, swimming in the icy waterfalls, and hanging out with my husband and my dog.

One thought on “Power carving

  1. Cool job! Interesting striations in the wood grain. This material is gonna be exciting!

    Like

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