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Tool Corner

All about tools for the stone carver.

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!