September 23, 2009

Practicing Rope Tricks


I found some soapstone to use for the fireplace. I want to carve a rope twist detail on a couple of the upright  pieces of the fireplace. You are looking at my practice rope twist carving scrap with all the flaws I made. It is sitting next to one of the pieces I will carve for the fireplace. I love the soft, grey and cream colors and that is how I will use it. If I put an oil finish on the soapstone it is dark grey, green, black, brown and yellow. What a Chameleon this stone is!


I show my practice pieces because I want everyone to realize you don't start out as a master the first time you try something. I expect my practice pieces to look pretty bad overall. But I know what I have learned and if I have gotten enough of a clue to do it right the next time.

I have never carved soapstone before so I grabbed a scrap piece and started practicing. Oh boy do I have room for improvement. Problem one, it is not that easy to get the segments marked out nice and even and then maintain that spacing. Problem two, dust immediately covers over what I am carving and that sure makes it tricky to see what is happening. Problem three, it is  hard to carve perfect rope curves with tools that don't have concave curves. Problem four, no teacher around so this is a slower learning curve. The online instructions I found were of no use for making miniatures.

You can't learn how to do something just by reading a blog although it will give you some pointers in the right direction. If you want to do something you have never done before get out some scrap material, grab some tools and have at it. You will quickly figure out what does not work, that is the easy part. Finding out what does work and then being able to repeat those motions is real the trick.

I am truly enjoying working with soapstone. It cuts with a hand saw, band saw, scroll saw or table saw. It sands nicely too. You can detail it quickly with swiss needle files. That feels more like erasing material than carving stone. Using carving knives is tricky as you can flake off chips you do not want to remove. The needle files give better control for fine detail. A final sanding can be done with diamond coated needle files or wet sandpaper. I find it easier to carve soapstone than it is to carve wood so be sure to try it sometime. Fireplaces, fountains, stone sinks, miniature sculptures, bathtubs, doorsteps, stairways, counter tops, tables, benches, you can make any of these in real stone with just a few basic tools.

After measuring a few real ropes I realized that the lines are placed at 45 degrees and the width of the individual diagonal twist section  is very close to half the width of a three strand rope.
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