Learning to Power Carve with Arbortech Tools
The following post is sponsored by Australia-based Arbortech, makers of power carving, sanding and cutting tools. The opinions and projects featured within this post are my own. So my opinion is that despite the general mess left behind with power carving any wood, these tools deliver on performance, quality, and learning curve—not to mention they open up a whole new world of sculpted furniture design. Read on if you are interested in discovering why.
It’s been almost a year since I began my sponsorship with Arbortech. In that year, I’ve learned a great deal about power carving as well as how to integrate this technique into my broader skill set. It has also opened my eyes to new possibilities in design and execution, broadening the furniture styles I can make for others. One may even consider this last year my own personal revelation in furniture design possibilities.
Four Projects in Summary
The first project I took on was for a carved/sculpted seat for a small bench I made, and was actually prior to my sponsorship kicking in. This bench was a replica of David Ebner’s Renwick stool, requiring a number of basic, yet precise concave and convex curves. This project leveraged the TURBOplane and Contour Sander, and both easily attached to my angle grinder. This is a great way to learn the basics of the tool and provides an essential utility to creating carved wood seats.
The second project, was a series of three wooden bowls. Each of these designs carried a Midcentury modern feel and were progressively more complex in their shape and corresponding use of power and hand tools. While the TURBOplane worked well on the larger square bowl with rounded sides and center, the other two took advantage of the smaller diameter on the Mini-TURBO plane. This was particularly the case with my last bowl, which contained two separate, rather thin-walled sections. These bowls also showcased the overall durability of the cutting surfaces on both tools, particularly on tricky woods like Teak and super-hard Bubinga. The Contour Sander also allowed me to get into extremely tight, concave surfaces, however, hand tools were still required to reach some spots.
The third project, a stacked lamination coffee table (pictured in the photo above) utilized a full range of Arbortech’s tools. From the early stages of roughing out the overall shape—to understanding the nuances of how the tool’s gyroscopic-like motion can serve as a guide for balance and finesse—this project was a true stretch in my design and fabrication skills. It also taught me how these tools become an access point to new design styles and a great addition to more complex woodworking projects and techniques. This project in particular has given me a greater appreciation for sculpted furniture and stacked lamination techniques made popular by designers like Wendell Castle, and by more contemporary woodworkers like UK based Robert Scott. His organic forms and stacked lamination designs really are mind-bending, and he also uses Arbortech’s tools as a part of his larger toolkit.
The last project took my power carving adventure down a totally different path. After being inspired by a groovy 1970’s abstract sculpture I came across online (selling for over $4,000), I decided to create one with my own personal touches. Besides relying heavily on the TURBOplane for both heavy material removal as well as more refined sculpting of lines, I used a Dremel carving bit to add some additional texture along the outer contours of the piece (not found on the original). This piece lacks any semblance of uniform symmetry across the entire sculpture, all the way down to the 1000’s of tiny little dimples. Between the dimples on this project and the random lines of bark edges for the coffee table, I’m done with textures for now.
I’ve spent some time thinking about what I’ve learned as a part of this program with Arbortech, which included a phone call to Australia last week to talk about how these tools contribute to a furniture maker’s skill set. There seems to be a great deal of people using these tools for either more basic projects like organic edge bowls, or sculptures and carvings from logs and gnarly trees. Those are all completely legit forms of woodworking and people are making some truly unique pieces.
However, where I’ve found them to be particularly useful, is in their ability to broaden the techniques and tools employed in the larger craft of furniture making. Until these four projects, I had a fairly limited repertoire of curved, organic pieces. While dimensional furniture projects that use a nearly infinite combination of rectangles and angles are great, they can limit your ability to integrate curves, organic and sculpted forms into woodworking projects.
Arbortech’s wood carving tools and accessories have been a catalyst to opening up new designs, and new opportunities for me as a designer. In fact, the last two projects (coffee table and sculpture) have been a fantastic and fun experience, which didn’t require a single dovetail, mortise or tenon. Very few woodworking tools can deliver on opening up a whole new aspect of the craft to anyone with 20 years under their belt. I certainly can’t recall ever having a revelation on design and furniture style after purchasing a hand plane or chisel. These tools have been the exception. So if you are either a beginner looking for a project you can build in a weekend, or an advanced woodworker that happens to just be in a design rut, give Arbortech a try.
My hope is that if this adventure in creating sawdust over the last year can inspire even one more woodworker to try something different and open their eyes to the possibilities sculpting wood can bring, then I will have succeeded. Good luck to whoever you are, and don’t forget to share your experience with others.