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Tool Corner

All about tools for the stone carver.

Tool Definititions

DRILL PRESS: A tall upright machine useful for suddenly snatching flat metal bar stock out of your hands so that it smacks you in the chest and flings your beer across the room, denting the freshly-painted project which you had carefully set in the corner where nothing could get to it.

WIRE WHEEL: This common shop tool is useful for cleaning paint off bolts and then throwing them somewhere under the workbench with the speed of light. Also removes fingerprints and hard-earned calluses from fingers in about the time it takes you to say, "Oh, crap-!"

SKILL SAW: A portable cutting tool used to make studs too short.

PLIERS: Used to round off bolt heads. Sometimes used in the creation of blood-blisters.

VISE-GRIPS: Generally used after pliers to completely round off bolt heads. If nothing else is available, they can also be used to transfer intense welding heat to the palm of your hand.

FOREDOM: An electric motor meant to hang from the ceiling from a hook that is never hanging there when you need it. There is a flexible shaft from the motor to the hand tool that loops down far enough to provide a convenient tripping hazard every time you turn around. The motor is so well made you can’t hear it running. This allows for nice little holes to be cut in your sand bags every time you lay down the hand set.

ANGLE GRINDER: Often used with either a cutting blade that sometimes gets stuck in the stone and then spins the stone or your wrist whichever weighs less, or a grinding blade which within seconds can erase fine detail work that has taken you days to complete.

Slick Way to Move Stone


Submitted to Sculpture NorthWest by a long-time NWSSA friend, Steve Erickson.

All sculptors and landscapers need to move stone whether natural or worked. This can be a problem when too heavy to lift, too light for machinery, or due to constraints of the locale. Here’s a tool that Sabah Al-Dhaher finds useful, easy, manageable and safe.

It’s a section of conveyor with rollers placed downward and two thick layers of plywood bolted to the top of the frame. Two “drawstrings” of nylon webbing, with handles made of garden hose, allow one or two people to pull, turn, pull backward, or prevent rolling by tying to something solid or by driving a crow bar into ground through the handles. Sections of overlapping plywood can be used as a road on soft ground or to protect surfaces such as floors, concrete or tile. This provides smooth, low-friction rolling and facilitates ease of turning. 
Advantages of this device are: low cost, size, control (better than pipe rollers), and it’s safer than a hand truck.
Transporting Stone

For Sabah’s latest installation, a 1500 pound basalt base was transported over 200 feet horizontally, with some inclines, over both concrete and gravel. A previous installation of a one ton stone used the device, with two “pushers” plus two “pullers,” over a grass lawn without damage.

While Sabah doesn’t have any extras, you might try searching for “Gravity Roller Conveyors” in salvage yards.

A Technical Note: Broken Carbide - March/Apr 1996

There are few sculptors who have not had the unhappy experience of breaking a carbide chisel. One's immediate thought is to go wailing back to the dealer:


"It broke! There's a flaw in it! Send it back to the factory and give me a new one!"

Good luck. Purveyors of carbide tooling simply do not issue guarantees. For no matter how carefully carbide sculptors' chisels may be made or the excellence of the quality of carbide, the use to which we put them almost guarantees some breakage.


The blades and teeth of sculptors' chisels are made of tungsten carbide. It is one of the hardest substances known, which makes it capable of holding a sharp edge far beyond the point where ordinary steel tools would become blunt. But whereas tool steel has some tensile strength, allowing it to bend, compress and stretch without coming asunder, tungsten carbide is an entirely brittle substance. When shocked beyond its limits, it fractures. But sculptors can still use their carbide chisels with great effect if they work around this limitation.


It is certain that no matter the care taken, one will experience occasional breakage; but it is almost never the fault of the manufacturer. One just has to accept the problem, buy another tool, and resolve to use more care in the future.

There are three main causes for breakage:


(i) Failure to apply the blade of the tool evenly to the stone. Before the hammering begins: If it is a blade chisel, the entire face of the blade should be touching the stone; if it is a tooth chisel, all the teeth should be touching the stone. Deviation from this practice will guarantee breakage.

(ii) Overpowering the air hammer.

Carbide chisels work best about 85 psi and at the rated volume for the air-hammer. Excess pressure or volume will result in hitting that chisel with the same kind of force as a hand-hammer. More guaranteed breakage.


(iii) Using delicate tooth chisels on stones harder than marble. The softness of most marbles is such that slight, uncontrolled variations in the flatness of the blade-face against the work will be forgiven. It is safe to say that tooth-chisels should not at all be used on granite. Bladed chisels are usable but with the caveats of (i) and (ii). Stock removal on granite should be done with a foursquare-point chisel.



Carbide chisels will take endless thousands of little hits when held correctly-but they won't take even one BIG hit, held correctly or not. That is why carbide chisels are primarily for use with air-hammers which deliver thousands of small hits as opposed to hand-hammers which deliver a few big hits.


Nor should the chisels sold for use with air hammers be used in any other way. They will not accept the shock of a hand-hammer. The striking cap that is sold for adapting to a chisel intended for air-hammers should be outlawed. It invites disaster.


There is a line of carbide chisels especially designed for hand use. They have specially beefed-up shanks and settings for the carbide blades. See your Trow & Holden catalogue.


And on all stones, no matter their purported softness (or hardness) if it seems to you that the chisel is hitting too hard, cut back the air volume.

Tool Talk - Nov/Dec 1999

This article emerges from a lunch time question and answer discussion about power tools with Steve Sandry posing the questions, and Jason Johnston, Tom Urban, and Brian Bennan expressing their opinions on power tool performance.


For working in hard stone, and for doing certain detail work in any kind of stone, many of us have found power tools essential. Though power tools will help you accomplish the job of stock removal and finish work quickly, there are some drawbacks which include personal safety, noise, dust,just to mention a few. These issues can be fmther covered in future articles. So on to the discussion with Steve (S) posing the first question:


S: Which size compressor should one have?

Tom (T): Most compressors will run at 90 pounds of air pressure which will run most air tools (pneumatic), but you must check the CFM rating (cubic feet per minute) on the tool or the box it comes in and make sure your compressor exceeds the CFM requirements of that tool. A 5 HP compressor will usually generate enough CFM though even some 3 HP units will generate enough. Watch out for air grinders that require 20-50 CFM like you might find at Boeing Surplus or other iudustrial suppliers. Pneumatic air hammers from Trow and Holden use about 4 CFM. Working alone is no problem but running two or more will require an industrial compressor with high CFM oulput.


S: Why use compressor power as opposed to elecrric power?

T: Longevity of the tool. Air tools, when properly maintained, last longer than electric tools.


Brian (B): If you learned to sculpt with hammer and chisels, then switching to an air hammer is the next progression. It can save your body when working large pieces.


S: You would get more raw power with electric tools, would you not?

B: For cutting, yes!


S: If you were going with electric for your first tool, go with what?

B: Angle grinder. You can use the grinder with abrasive disks for sanding, or with a diamond blade for slice and dice stock reduction. Fast stock removal.


S: That's true! Jason, what power tools do you like to use?

Jason (J): I use a lot of air grinders at the foundry, with carbide bits to do detail work. Die, pencil, and angle grinders.


S: So do you find yourself using these to carve here?

J: Yeah! Heel right at horne with them. I know how much air pressure to use

and with which carbide bits to use to create details like fingernails. I started using an angle grinder with a diamond blade to get it going, then the pneumatic chisels for large stock removal, then the grinders to not damage the surface of the stone. I've been working mostly in alabaster.


S: So you can actually do pneumatic carving in alabaster?

T, J, B: Sure.

B: You can do very delicate detail work using a small air hammer like the bantam or the Cuturi E. Turning dowu the air pressure and using small chisels enables you to do delicate and detail work.


S: What new tools did you see or use here at the symposium?

J: The rotary chisel in a die grinder. I didn't think it would work at first. The triangular shape cuts really smoothly, so you can pull out concave shapes as well as make texture. I used them in soft stone. I tried it on a harder stone and it rattled a bit unless I ran it at a real high RPM. (Die grinders run approx. 20,000 RPM.)


T: That was running the smallest bit on a 1/4" shaft. The bigger ones can walk you across the stone. They are better for wood. They advertise them for marble, but I think them best for softer stones. On the long nose die grinder you can get more control than with the short die grinders.


B: I found that the chisel Alphonso was using for detailed work on tile face of his Madonna was a treat to see. He took a small flat chisel and ground it into a carving drill. He then placed it between his hands and spun the chisel like a drill. He used it to create the deeper details in the corners of the eyes, the mouth, the nostrils, and the depths of her hair curls.


S: So let's wrap it up talking about grinders. They seem to be a major tool around here!

T: It's the main power tool for a sculptor. The angle grinder is. Do steel, stone, sand wood, it's the tool for them all.


S: It's like a table saw for a wood worker. That's good, so what elements do you look for in an angle grinder?

B: Amperage for power, the higher the more powerful. Comfort in the grip, placement of the switch, weight and balance.


S: Is there a safety factor between a paddle switch or a top mounted push switch?

T: That's a personal preference.


S: I find a top switch to be awkward.

B: What happens to me is that I tend to choke up on my grinder and I hit the top switch with my glove and it shuts off the grinder while I'm working. So then I have to stop what I'm focused on and restart the tools and begin again.


T: To me what's important is the quality of the machine. For $20 you can get a 4.5" grinder from Harbor Freight and it will get you going. If you are going with one speed (10,000 rpm), we've had good luck with Hitachi and Black and Deckers.


S: Industrial grade?

T: Yeah! The Hitachi is very useful; it's rated at almost 7 amps (good power). But when you go to variable speed angIe grinders, which is the best way to go if you can afford it, we've had pretty good luck with the Milwaukees.


B: To have an angle grinder that you can put on a silicon carbide grinding stone, that's rated to run at 6500 RPM, you need a grinder that you can cut down the RPMs to match the manufacturer's maximum wheel speed. This warrants a variable speed grinder. You don't want your grind stone flying apart because you're running it at 10,000 RPM.


S: The other situation is using sandpaper. You burn it up if you run it too fast!

T: Everything (abrasives) run better slower. ZEK wheels run better at 67000 RPM. The 4-5" dry diamonds are designed to run at 10,000 RPM to keep them cool. Slowing them down can wear out your diamond blade prematurely.


B: What I heard from Joanne Duby was that the adhesives used on abrasive discs to hold the abrasive to the disc, break down under high heat. So when you run them real fast you break down the adhesives and you lose the abrasives. With the Trim Cut discs, if you run them too fast you can melt the backing disc and they won't grind or sand evenly. So I turn down the RPMs and they last a long time. They run best at 1000-1500 RPM.


S: So I'm going to reiterate: You recommend the Hitachi and Black and Decker for one speed grinding and cutting; and the Milwaukee and the Metabo for variable speed work.

B: I was watching Michael Jacobsen use a small circular tile saw to make repetitive cuts even curved cuts. He prefers using it to an angle grinder. There's something awkward about using an angle grinder for cutting.


T: Different tools for different jobs. Michael's doing cuts on a fairly flat surface. If you have a piece standing up in front of you, thattile saw would be quite uncomfortable to use; not so with the angle grinder.


S: So how was he making those decorative curved cuts?


T: With a smaller diameter you have less blade that penetrates the stone, the easier it is to make curved cuts.

B: I have a number of different sized diamond blades for that purpose. I can control the depth of my cut by the diameter of the blade and the clearance to the body of the grinder.


S: That's a good point! Parting comments

B: An electric drill is also an important power tool!


S: Don't forget the electric drill!

B: Masonry drill bits for drilling holes in your stone, like for pinning and mounting your work. Then you can upgrade to a hammerdrill for the harder stones.


T: Make sure you run the carbide tip bits at a slower RPM or you cook the bit (crack the carbide). Drill speeds vary by size of the drill. 1/2" drill rarely goes over 500-600 RPM. 3/8" drill runs l 000-1500 RPM. 1/4" drill runs 20002500 RPM so don't chuck a large bit in a 1/4" drill and drill at 2000 RPM or you'll bum up the bit.


B: Drills can also be used with a buffing wheel to polish your sculpture.


S: You can also put die grinder bits in a small drill to play around with and use it like a die grinder. (Play to Steve is really what we call work!)

T: One other tool I find useful is the silicon carbide stones that have 1/4" shanks and fit in die grinders. Those things are so handy for doing unique shapes.


J: Yeah! that's what I've been using all week. In a die grinder, then I use a penci I die grinder which I love.


So we end on that note, the love of tools. Thank you for your interest, and if you'd like to hear more about tools or have some specific questions, please send me an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. mail to: 8025 W. Pt. Madison Rd, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110


Building a Sculpture Shipping Crate Sept/Oct 2007

If you are entering art competitions with your sculptures, and need to ship them to the exhibit or to customers, you need a sturdy, reusable crate. These foam lined crates will protect your precious sculptures. Remember that old Sampsonite commercial? Gorillas handle the freight. The following instructions will take a little of your time, but trust me, it is well worth it.

Click to enlarge Leon's Crate building diagram.


Plywood, Use a middle grade, not the splintery stuff. I recommend using 3/8 or ½ inch for smaller crates, those up to 15 X 15 X 24 inches. Use ½ to ¾ inch plywood for larger crates. Also consider the weight of your sculpture. The heavier your sculpture, the sturdier the crate needs to be.

  • Great Stuff Foam (there are other brands)
  • 12 Gallon White Trash Bags 
  • Disposable Rubber Gloves
  • Wood Screws 1 & 3/4 Inches Long
  • Several Pieces Of Two To Three Inch Thick Styrofoam
  • Two To Four Cupboard Handles (depending on crate size)
  • Electric Drill
  • Jig Saw
  • Sand Paper

1. Cut Plywood

You will need a full sheet of half-inch plywood for this 2 X 2 X 3 foot crate.


You can cut your own pieces, but the big stores like Lowes and Home Depot will also do it for a dollar or two per cut.

2. Lay Out Plwood Pieces

 Allow two or three inches between the sculpture and the plywood, including the bottom for the dense Styrofoam.


The walls will fasten around the bottom piece.


Mark A, B, C, D on the sides and their corresponding edges on the bottom so you and the receiver will know which sides go where when reassembling the crate.


3. Handles

For handles on small crates, use the cupboard door handles, make sure to fasten them from inside the crate.


For large, heavy crates, cut hand holds in the plywood sides. After drawing the hole outline, drill a hole at one end for the jig saw blade and cut out the hand hold. Make it large enough for a gloved hand. Sand any rough edges.

4. Screw Sides Together

Using a bit a size smaller in diameter than the screw, drill holes the length of the screws into the upper corner and into the adjoining piece. Set the first screw, but not too tight. Then align the bottom and drill and screw that.


Repeat until the crate is assembled at all the corners. Now drill and set screws between the corners, about two or three inches apart.

5. Surround Sculpture with Foam

Visualize that you are making a Styrofoam mold around your sculpture. Note: If you are not sure how much Great Stuff foam expands (about 5 times), squirt some onto a piece of paper, let it dry and use this to estimate how much foam to spray into the plastic garbage bags.


Block off deep cuts with rags taped onto the sculpture. Otherwise, the dried foam cushioning will not pull away easily. Snug is good.


With the crate screwed together, set your sculpture onto the fitted Styrofoam bottom piece. Gently push your sculpture into the Styrofoam a little to allow for settling. Put a plastic trash bag down along the sculpture. Do not get the foam on your sculpture!


With rubber gloves on, spray the foam into the bag starting at the bottom. Screw the top on if you want the foam to flatten against the top. Let dry. You can always add more. If it expanded too much after drying, just trim it off.


Repeat this procedure on the other side if sculpture is fairly flat or a simple design. Make three or four sections if more complicated. Be very careful when doing the last bag or top bag if you have one. Too much expanding foam can break open the crate.

6. How to Un-Pack

To remove sculpture from the crate, unscrew the top and sides. Mark each foam section with the corresponding sides: A, B, C, D and top.


Anyone repacking will know which foam goes where. Gently pull each foam section off. Each bag will have formed perfectly around your sculpture for a secure fit. Leave the bags on the foam, but trim extra plastic off.


Note. Be sure to write the unpacking and repacking directions and glue to the under side of the lid.  If your sculpture sells or is shipped to a client, request the return of the crate for using again.

Tool Column: Quiet Your Dust July/Aug 2004

While attending the Camp Brotherhood symposium last year, I admired not only the work, but also noted the tools other sculptors were using. Like others, I became enthralled with Tom Small and his beautiful detail work in basalt using electric die grinders. One of his grinders was variable speed and did not have the screaming intensity that I associate with die grinders. Always willing to share information, Tom obligingly doffed his dust mask and answered my questions regarding the tool: variable speed die grinder by Metabo, 6.2 amps, 7000-27000 rpm, and electronic speed control. Tom was also using diamond, silicon carbide stones and tungsten carbide burrs to carve and smooth the facets in his basalt pieces.


Tool catalogs and the web disclosed two Metabo VS models: GE700, 7000 - 27000 rpm rated for 2” wheel at 6.2A, and the heavy duty GE900 Plus, 2500 – 6000 rpm rated for 3” wheel at 7.5A. I would suggest you carefully hide all credit cards and checkbooks before you plug one in for a test ride.  I chose the model GE900 Plus:  its lower rpm and smoothness delivered quiet power to the stone with very little dust thrown up. I have other grinders, single speed electric and air, but generally have to move away from everyone else due to the enormous amount of dust and noise. Goggles quickly cloud over even with antistatic, respirator elements clog, and the sun is in eclipse for several hours. Exhausted, half deaf, and numb, I had avoided die grinders whenever possible.


Now, however, grinding at slower rpm, neither tools nor stone seem to heat as quickly. I have noticed less fatigue from vibration, noise and dust. I frequently just grab this grinder and lose track of time and whatever else was going on. My smile has returned. This grinder comes with a torsional stabilizer handle that fits on the barrel, similar to those on beefy drills, keeping the grinder from twisting out of control. Using the stabilizer, I have chucked a 3” SA type sanding disc and reached deep to smooth and polish out cavities inaccessible with other sanders. The tool has a built in spindle lock on the ¼” collet, so only one wrench is needed to tighten or remove attachments. Needless to say, I am delighted with the grinder and seldom reach for another of the multitude of similar tools in my studio.

Bottom line, well, if those credit cards happen to surface after all, consider it $300 well spent!


Hold it!  Late breaking news flash: I was about to disclaim putting a manufacturer’s name in this column, because I considered Metabo a “single source” manufacturer for this particular tool. As luck would have it, I was at a wholesale house in Seattle (my first visit, honest) that is frequented by many members of this association, and between conversations with Kirk McLean, noticed a competing tool in the showcase. Yes, yes, a little web activity Googled out Makita’s brand new GD0810C, variable speed ¼” die grinder. Most of the stats are similar, but without a collet lock, the Makita requires two wrenches to add or remove attachments. Power is slightly less on the Makita at 6.6A vs. 7.5A on the Metabo. The Makita runs 1800 – 7000 rpm, compared to 2500 – 6000 rpm. Both use similar electronic control to maintain constant speed under varying load.  Metabo is a little bulkier and heavier at 2kg (4.4 lbs), compared to 3.7 lbs for the competition. As unreliable as the web is, current street price was about $40 less for the Makita. Choices, choices, what would we do without choices?


I’m sure that, by the time you read this, our esteemed Mr. Urban, the toolman of Brotherhood, will have had some enchanting dialogue to offer us this summer during the power tool segments of instruction.

Tool Column: In Hot Water March/Apr 2004

February in our Northwest is pretty predictable: sun, clouds, wind, rain, maybe all in the same day or hour. Temperature, too, is all over the place, generally hanging around 40F somewhere. I usually bundle up in raingear, working out under the trees rather than abusing my privileges in the garage.  Once the gloves, goggles, respirator and earmuffs are on, it is easy to get lost in the stone world and forget about the weather.  There does come a time in the process for sanding and finishing, usually with water to lubricate and clear away particulates.

Maybe I’m getting soft or lacking passion, but for whatever reason, the water seems colder these days.  It generally comes out the tap around 45-50F degrees. After about 15 minutes in that environment the imagination gives way to reality and fingers don’t function like they should.  Gloves are generally cumbersome and sweaty, but sometimes the disposable blue nitrile’s give a little protection from abrasion without much loss in sensitivity.  They don’t keep hands warm. I recall talking with Stu Jacobsen about this in the past; he installed a hot water tank in his studio to reduce pain and suffering.  Unfortunately, my outdoor studio doesn’t have a secure space for the tank, nor the electrical capacity for heating.  The garage is 75 ft away, so temperature losses would be too great to install the tank there.

I followed Dave Haslett’s example and brought a small piece down to the house and sanded in the kitchen sink.  Warm,? Yes. Inconvenient and destructive to sink and countertop finishes? Yes. Provoke outbursts of disapproval from householders not obsessed with the joy of stone sculpture? Yes.  You get the idea?  I quickly shut off my fantasy of plunging a rather large sculpture into the hot tub for a somewhat lengthy period of hand sanding.

Insight occurred during a stroll through the local homeowners warehouse store.  Still dreaming about the hot tub no doubt, I wandered down the aisle where the water heaters lived.  There sat this cute little white cylinder about a foot and a half tall, with a standard three-prong power cord coming out the side.  A two and a half gallon Point Of Service water heater is meant for remote bathrooms, where there is not a demand for large quantities of hot water, i.e., no tub or shower and there would be significant heat loss running the normal hot water system that distance.  The POS heater uses 115 vac, at about 12 amps.  This means it could be plugged into a standard 12 AWG extension cord without overloading the circuit.  Flash, flash, buy it. I did for $130.

I used ½ inch pipefittings with a female hose coupling to the inlet (cold water) side and a standard ½ inch hose bib faucet to the outlet (hot water). I also put ¾ inch pipe on the blow off valve to divert any discharge downward.  Hook up a garden hose to the inlet, plug it in, warm water comes out the hose bib.  A flag raised, questioning what occurs if someone plugs in the unit before it fills with water.  There is a thermostat that automatically controls the heater element, but the tank needs to be full of water for that to work properly.  I installed a low-pressure cutout switch ($30) on the inlet side and wired the power cord in series. These are standard controls for water pumps, meant to shut off a pump when a well runs dry, and prevent burning up pumps.  Now the heater will not come on until the tank fills and there is 20 lbs water pressure on the supply hose.

I set the thermostat as low as it would go, 90F.  Use a long hose on the supply side to bring the tank out to the work site.  Then use a short 10 ft hose on the hot water side to reduce heat loss (it is not a very efficient space heater).  Plug in the extension cord.  It takes me about fifteen minutes to gather and haul tools from the garage to the studio area.  The water is usually hot by this time. The 2 ½ gallon unit is adequate for one person hand sanding or using small power tools with center water feed or side jets.

The wind still howls and the rain still comes in sideways.  Turn on the water. Start sanding. Tropical 90F water flowing over the fingers, maybe some slack key playing through the headphones...ahh, stone sculptor reverie, where will it take me next?

Some simple calculations for the numbers enthusiasts:

Heater output is 1440watts x .0569 Btu/min watt = 82 Btu/min.

Energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gallon of water  from 48 to 90F is 1gal x 8.34 lb/gal x (90F-48F) = 350 Btu/gal

Energy required for a tank full of water is 2.5 gal x 350 Btu/gal = 875 Btu

Time to heat tank of water is 875 Btu / 82 Btu/min = 11 min.

Maintainable flow through tank at 90F is 82 Btu/min / 350 Btu/gal = .23 gal/min (roughly 1 qt per min)

Using water at a rate greater than this would cause the water to slowly get cooler because the heater can’t add enough energy to the cold water.  I measured start and stop temperatures and timed the duration of the startup heat cycle.  It was within 10% of calculated, way close for studio work

Jacks or Better - Sept/Oct 2003


It was a bright sunny day; the air was warm but not uncomfortable. There seemed to be little chance for rain to dampen my enjoyment of my first Stone Carvers’ Symposium at Camp B. Feeling in good spirits, I had just finished setting up my work bench when suddenly I looked up and was shocked to see a rabble of 30 or 40 persons bearing down on me. This unruly mob appeared to be led by a wild-looking woman riding a strange motorized vehicle! As they drew nearer I became aware that many of them were carrying rocks and various other threatening objects. Then, as I cowered further back under my shade canopy, they charged in, pelting me and my work bench with the rocks and dust and such while ranting all manner of strange incantations! But, I get ahead of myself.

I had been carving in clay for some years when I heard of the Symposium and decided it was time to try a new medium. Unfortunately, I knew only two things about sculpting in rock: 1) Rock is hard, and 2) Rock is heavy.

I couldn’t do much about the first, but I assumed I should be prepared for the second. So, I set out to construct a work stand.

It is easy to build a sturdy, fixed stand, but I also knew that one often needs to change one’s perspective (angle of attack) and that the simple, center-pole apparatus used with the light clay pieces wouldn’t work with a heavy stone. Hmmm, what to do?

The answer magically appeared in the Sunday ads: Schuck’s Auto Store was selling an ATV jack for $69.99. The thing could lift 1200 pounds a full twelve inches. (I have seen Michelangelo’s  David  and, although I suspect that it is heavier than 1200 lbs, I didn’t think I’d be working on a piece that big. Well, not at first.) So, off to the store I went.

Once I got the jack home I realized there was one small problem; it was designed to sit on the garage floor. I am not. So, I needed to lift the lifter. A trip to Lowe’s and a few saw cuts got me the necessary ingredients which I list at right with a drawing of the lifter table.

First, I removed the wheels from the jack, no need for those things. But then the basic question was: how high? I initially made the legs 36” long, giving me enough height to occasionally sit on a stool and work. I also knew I could easily shorten them later if necessary.

Next I built a frame for the jack to sit down into. The inside of the frame is just a scant 1/8” longer and wider than the jack’s footprint, so I could lift the jack out if need be. (I had to cut down the rear cross piece a bit to allow for a lifting handle on the jack.) The long side supports are dropped down 1-1/4” below the top of the legs and end supports to keep the jack in place.

I added four more support pieces half way down to give the legs stability and to hold up a half-inch plywood utility shelf.

Finally, I added 2” x 6” outriggers to give the stand stability in its narrow axis. I attached the outriggers to the legs with lag screws for easy removal.  I also cut a 2” x 12” step to set across the outriggers giving me seven more inches of attitude adjustment. (19” total.) I cut the step so it barely fits between the vertical legs. This tends to keep it in place but allows me to slide it to the other side or tuck it under the bench as needed.

The jack’s lifting surface is made up of two rubber-covered feet with a lug at the toe and heel to keep your ATV from sliding off.  This arrangement makes a rough 12” x 12” platform but it really isn’t suitable to hold a stone, so I cut a 21” x 21” work-top from 3/4” plywood. I needed half-inch deep groves in the bottom of the plywood to fit over the lugs so the top would sit flat on the jack’s feet. The lugs keep the top from shifting.  Finally, I screwed ‘L’-shaped pieces of angle-iron along the perimeter of the work-top to keep my piece from sliding off.

I built a second, Lazy Susan work-top using a TV-rotator set between a pre-cut 18” round table top I found at Lowe’s and another plywood base. (The base is the same diameter as the table-top and also has the lug groves to keep it in place.) I arrest the Lazy Susan’s rotation by dropping a carriage bolt down through a hole drilled in the top into one of several holes drilled along the perimeter of the base piece.

The three-foot long pump handle that comes with the jack was just too ungainly, so I drilled a hole in a wooden hammer handle to fit over the pump stud instead.

For transportation the whole thing can be broken down into easily managed parts by unscrewing the outriggers and lifting the jack out of the stand.

There are several bells and whistles you might want to add: a small grinder on the utility shelf, a drawer for chisels, pegs for hammers, a power bar for electrical tools, a swivel light, a drink-of-choice holder, etc.

Now, where is that pesky rock?

The author makes the following disclaimer. Caution! If you build one of these things, do not casually mention to Verna Dee Dice that you would like for her to ‘bless’ it or else you may suddenly look across the field at Camp B and see a gaggle of people advancing upon you with rocks and stones and dust and flower petals in their hands.

Stuart is retired and lives in Warm Beach, WA with his wife and two young daughters. He would be glad to answer any questions on this project.  Phone: (360) 652-1897 or  e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



4 - 2” x 3” x 36” for legs

4 - 2” x3” x 31 - 1/4” for side supports

4 - 2” x3” x 19” for end supports

2 - 2” x 6” x 37”  for outriggers

1 - 2” x 12” x 26” for step

1 - 13” x 34 - 1/4” 1/2” plywood for utility shelf

1 - 21” x 21” - 3/4” plywood for work top

1 - 18” rd. - 3/4” plywood for Lazy Susan base

1 - 18” rd. end table top (pre-cut, ready-to-finish)



36 - #10 wood screws 3” long

8 - 3/8” lag screws 3” long

1 heavy duty Lazy Susan turn-table

4 - L shaped pieces of angle iron 12” long for stops

1 wooden replacement handle for a hammer

1 - 3/8” carriage bolt 2-1/2” long for Lazy-Susan stop

Note:  I used the unusual 2” x 3” sized lumber because 2” x 2” seemed too weak and the more traditional 2” x 4” seemed too clunky. The dimensions in this drawing reflect the actual finished size of 1.5” x 2.5”.




The Tool Column - Oil That Hammer - July/Aug 2003

My first “power tool” for sculpting was an angle grinder fitted up with a masonry grinding disc. It seemed an amazing step from the serenity of hand tools to the dust and noise of machinery, and yet the allure of power had touched me.

At a Camp Brotherhood Symposium workshop, I learned about fret cutting and bought a turbo diamond blade that still seems so indispensable for roughing out forms. I also watched the figurative carvers dance their carbide chisels in and out of tight spaces on voluptuous marble forms.

In another arena, granite gods and goddesses with bushing tools were contouring, texturing and anointing salt and pepper obelisks and spires. Maybe it was the beauty of the sculpture, or perhaps the romantic notion of historic production (air hammers have been around for over a century) that coaxed me over to the demo booth. I nervously plugged a pneumatic hammer into the air hose and attacked a piece of white marble with a 3/4 inch, 3 tooth chisel. Plug in your earplugs, suck the straps down on the goggles and snap some new filters into the respirator; I am hooked! Of course I bought one - a big one. And yes, quite a few chisels too.

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Tool Column - Stone Fired Furnace - Nov/Dec 2002


Hand tools, yeah! One arm swings the hammer; the other braces the point or claw. This drum beat sends us on a journey into the stone. It’s primitive, direct, a linking of human spirit to the earth itself. It’s that pulse and flow, that ancient meter that pushes deeper into the stone, producing a connective rhythm, a groove getting closer to form. Hand tool Junky! The purist quietly smiles, the power junky searches for yet a bigger blade (yes, I did buy the big saw).

And yet, even the simple steel chisel or point requires some maintenance.  Sharpening the edge with a hand stone suffices for a while. A bench grinder corrects even more. Eventually the edge or point is worn beyond the quick fix and the tool no longer functions for us. We brace up the credit card and look for the favorite tool store to give us another chance, another dancing partner with a special kind of magic, at a price of course.

But Wait! Remember those halcyon days of yore, you and your comrades gathered around Camp B, sparks rising through the air as a bellow handle spins the coal fire to life.  Alphonso directing, his shouts like Latin lyrics over the harsh metallic clave from Chuck-o’s two handed power swing. The pavilion jumps to their tempo. A writhing bar of plastic metal changes shape. A transformation, “scrap” to “tool” in just a few blows. It is the magic of fire, my friend: the forge.   I’ve assisted this process, built the fire, turned the handle, danced with joy when it all went right. A forge can allow us to repair, modify, or custom create the tempered steel tools used in stone sculpting. Fueled by propane or coal, the forge creates enough heat to anneal, shape, and temper tool steel. My enchantment goes back to childhood memories of turning the blower handle for grandfather, while he worked some magic with various metals.

I was recently gifted with a small farm forge, similar to the one used at Camp B and by my grandfather. Hard, low sulfur coal is available at a Chehalis heating supply. A small kindled wood fire builds up enough heat to start the coal burning. Place additional pieces around the perimeter of the fire pan, so the heat will drive off impurities and begin the coking process. It takes about an hour to get a good coal fire going. Coal forges should be fired outdoors. They emit noxious fumes.

A great way to take a break from the studio on a crisp winter day! I will be putting together an article reviewing heat-treating procedures in the future. There is a wonderful website for anyone interested in building or using a forge.  has pages full of plans, projects, discussions, tools, links to other sites, coal sources, tutorials, etc. . . . Friendly smiths, farriers, and metal work artisans offer the sage advice. They have some interesting discussions on safety that are applicable to stone workers.


Tool Column - Time for a Bigger Saw?- Sept/Oct 2002

Early summer saw a number of NWSSA members at a granite seminar organized by Hank Nelson and hosted by Judy and Kirk McLean. I ambitiously bring forth a 1200 lb piece of Fraser River salt and pepper. Envisioning the Rites of Spring joyously filling the ears and large fuzzy bumblebees tumbling around the cushy and aromatic centers of large peonies in a sun filled garden is as easy as sitting on the patio beside Judy’s ecstatic flower garden. Transforming this granite block into a garden seat resembling a peony blossom, luring the casual stroller to sit and smell the fragrance of the Season . . . the sculptor is the eternal optimist!

The 7 inch angle grinder that diced and sliced so easily on a Sierra white granite lantern is shamefully slow in parting ¼-inch deep cuts in this hard Canadian stone. Clearly it is time for a more efficient tool.

I query seminar participants and begin the search; larger blade, more power, water for cooling continuous cuts and reducing dust. It’s a good list. I remain adverse to combining water and electric if personal contact is involved, so consider an air- or gas-powered tool. Later, I talk with construction trades, rental shops, query the web and yes, I discuss it with my wife.

The search continues. Tom Small carries a new gas-powered 14-inch cut-off saw into Camp Brotherhood. Connecting to the water hose, he apologizes for the well-worn blade . . seems he broke in the saw removing enough granite to gravel an average driveway. The saw fires easily with a compression release. The 20-pound tool balances nicely as I begin a flat cut to about 5 inch depth. Quarter roll the boulder. Follow the kerf for guidance and continue around the stone. Sweet! The hook is set!

Several manufacturers produce gas-powered cutoff saws with similar specifications: 70cc, 4.5 hp, 20 lbs, 14 inch blade(5 inch cut), water cooled cutting, prefiltered air cleaner, decompression starting, reversible cutting arm, ergonomic design, vibration damping. Similar prices around $900 for the saw and $200 to $300 for the 14” diamond blade. Oh yeah, and another $30 for some good hearing protection, ‘cause none of these guys are proud enough of noise levels to publish them. The gloves, goggles and respirator are already in my toolbag, inspiration is pushing me out the door. I’m thinking, I hear a saw in my future.

Tool Column - Angle Grinders - July/Aug 2002

A workhorse in any stone studio, the standard 4 to 5 inch angle grinder spins up around 10,000 rpm.  This is pretty much designed speed for metal and masonry cutoff and grinding discs.  Diamond blades and cup wheels for dry operation are engineered for this speed and rely on the higher rpm for proper cooling.  Silicon carbide cups, Zec discs and similar abrasives are rated at the higher speed, but perform smoother and longer around 5000 rpm.  Finishing and polishing materials are happier around 3000 rpm.  So, three different uses at three different speeds; go buy three different grinders?

The frugal stone carver soon discovered that plugging into a router speed control would let one grinder do an adequate job at three different speed requirements.  The router speed control works similar to a fan rheostat or a light dimmer.  Moving a dial varies the amount of a.c. current available to the connected device; less current means less power and slower rpm.  So really, what you get is a variable power grinder that runs fast under no load and slows down to some slower speed dependent upon how hard you push on the stone.  Tool manufacturers saw $$$ in the demand for this flexibility and incorporated the handful of electronics for current control into “variable speed” grinders. Despite their shortcomings, these are a viable all-around tool.  Hang on tight when you hit the start switch.  Ease onto the stone for slower speed operations.  Pay attention to what the attachment is doing on the stone and vary pressure accordingly to control the speed.  After a while it all seems normal and you don’t even consider getting along without one.

Enter a new breed of grinders; advertised with “electronic speed control maintains desired speed under load”.  These are a grand step forward in multi-function tools.  They use an electronic feedback circuit to monitor the shaft rpm and vary the current to hold the speed steady regardless of the load (well, at least within the current/power rating of the tool). Dialing up a speed, like setting a cruise control, lets the sculptor attend to form and technique with less distraction imposed by the tool. Smooth operators they are, with repeatable and consistent performance during cutting, grinding, shaping and sanding. A few models also use the electronics to reduce the current for sudden drops in rpm, like wedging a disc in a corner, thus preventing motor burnout and reducing damage to attachments.  Some also incorporate “soft start” features, slowly and smoothly bringing the tool up to speed instead of instantly torquing against the hands and wrists.  Most of these new grinders have some type of shaft clutch to protect the gears and the sculptor from kickback caused by serious jamming.

If you are in the market for a new variable speed grinder, or maybe you’re just another tool hog like me, check these new machines out.  They don’t have much history.  They do seem to perform at a level different from their predecessors.  I’m interested in any feedback? Oh, yeah . . .gloves and goggles and muffs, oh yeah. Mail/email your comments to us at NWSSA.

Tool Column - Drill That Stone - May/June 2002

It’s another typical drill job in the sculptor’s studio. Assemble a sculpture from three pieces of stone. Fix them together with 5/16 inch stainless pins, either sleeved for disassembly and transport, or epoxied for permanent placement and strength.  Topmost is this black and red marble wing, scorched brittle by the SW desert heat.  A carbide-tipped drill bit could work if done carefully. The hole must go through a narrow area and the tangential force of the drill flutes could wedge an unseen fracture into disaster.

I chicken out and opt for an electroplated diamond holesaw. These look like a piece of pipe dipped into diamond dust.  Chuck one into a 3/8 inch variable speed drill motor and turn it fairly slowly to minimize heat buildup. Hold the alignment stable and use light pressure to smoothly penetrate about 3/8 inch then pull the bit out to clear the stone dust and cool the bit. Do it again. Occasionally point the drill at the floor and tap the side of the drill shaft to clear the buildup of dust or stone in the hollow bit. A small screwdriver snaps out the stone core remaining in the hole.

The marble fin sits on a layered black sand flagstone. A carbide-tipped masonry drill starts the hole precisely and smoothly at medium speed.  Withdrawal pulls out the drilling residue and cools the tip. The varying cross-grain density of the stone layers is similar to drilling plywood. A piece of masking tape on the shaft clears the mounding stone dust away from the hole and informs approach of the required depth.

The flagstone stands on edge and must be pinned to a base for stability.  Holes are marked equidistant from the ends. The holes are nearly parallel to the layers. Splitting is a threat. The edge is C-clamped between pieces of plywood to stabilize the layers. The masonry bit starts at the mark, then skews across the grain. Wrong!  An anxiously applied electroplated diamond holesaw nimbly rescues the holes and the pinning.

A red granite base laughs at the spinning masonry bit.  Rotary hammer drill. . . .no problem!

Tool Column - Flush Cut -Mar/Apr 2002

Whether you’re slicing away hard stone or minimizing impact during the reductive process, a diamond blade is the edge of power.  Coupled to an air or electric angle grinder, it quickly becomes an ally searching for the stone spirit.  A turbo blade locked between the standard disc flanges works well for a straight on approach like slice and dice or fret cuts. The blade sings a sweet song until the outer flange nut hits a parallel plane and . . and . .now what?  Flush Cut!

Flush cut blades are drilled for screw mounting on special hubs or flange adapters machined from brass or steel.  Both materials have their proponents.  The hub has standard 5/8 – 11 threads for attaching directly to the angle grinder.  Each manufacturer has a distinct bolt pattern and requires a matching diamond blade.  Larger blades require larger hubs with more bolts to handle the stress.  Be sure to use threadlock on the screws and torque them down properly.  Loose screws will cause vibration, make the blade out of round and generally be a hazard to the sculptor and the surroundings.

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Tool Column - Maquette, a piece of clay? Jan/Feb 2002

Tools help us open the stone and reach for the image.  The best ones enable and enhance the creative process.  This column endeavors to be a clearinghouse of tools.  If you have questions or revelations, email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or snail mail to Dan Michael, 7211 Bayview Dr NE, Olympia, WA, 98506.  Questions about use or selection of tools will be referred to a group of sculptors, manufacturers, distributors, and tradespersons who are familiar with the particular item. The column may also be the reflection and ranting of a sculptor entangled in the web of stone.  You get the picture?

Maquette: Not Just the Peace of Clay

The tall block of Yule marble balances on the dunnage and stares back with white intensity.  A nervous knot of anxiety rolls through the stomach.  Point away the loose and irregular material.  Anticipate the genius within.  No arm reaches out to pull away the veil.  This bedded block of stark white and precision frames what? There is no preconceived motif.  Move around the 600 pound piece of stone and sketch the fleeting images that flirt with consciousness.  All work stops to attend a mandatory group lecture.

It’s the first day of the third session of MARBLE/marble 13.  After the preliminaries, instructor Scott Owens provokes some laughter as he dramatically emphasizes the importance of a maquette for sculpting.  He outlines a procedure using clay to form a shape proportional to the marble block.  Use a knife or wire scoop to reductively model the form.  This maquette will then lead the dance with diamond blade and chisel around the marble block.  The mandate is proclaimed: each sculptor should have a maquette before carving stone!

Returning to the worksite with provocation and method, clay is molded with hands and fingers into a form proportional to the block.  Move around the stone. See and transfer flaws and surface modulations to the clay.  The process achieves a clay miniature of the marble block and enhances awareness of bedding planes and spatial form.  A general feeling of inner form emerges from the familiarity.  This acquaintance is given form using a small curved blade.  Give the stone constant reference. Stone centers and grounds awareness.  The clay is a three-dimensional sketch held in the hands and viewed with advantage to all angles as the dialogue continues.  When complete, set the clay aside.  Wipe away the sweat of passion, pour down some liquids and refresh the body.

Take up another piece of clay and again go through the process. What was the energy that brought this particular stone into consciousness? What form was missed through avoidance or lack of awareness? When the dialogue finishes, set down the second clay sketch.  

A third sketch attempts to bring form to the essence of the experience.  What was this form before the dialogue?  It becomes the maquette that choreographs the dance ahead.  Now let the music play!