For me, power carving is one of the most challenging aspects of woodworking. It all started back in 2003 when I got hooked on David Marks’ show, Woodworks. On several occasions he would pull out a grinder and get all medieval on a beautiful piece of wood. The end result would be a beautifully sculpted creation that could only be called art. Not being a naturally artistic person myself, I was intimidated and intrigued by this process. Thankfully, my wife Nicole was thoughtful enough to arrange for me to spend a long weekend in Santa Rosa, CA to learn the power carving technique directly from David himself. The piece we made was really just for practice, but it has adorned a wall in my shop ever since. Thanks to the knowledge I received from David, I have been able to incorporate this technique into several of my projects throughout the years.
The Arbortech TURBOPlane
The key to this process is the Arbortech blade. It’s a carving blade that fits into a standard grinder and turns it into a wood-hogging machine! The blade I have been using all this time is the Arbortech Industrial Woodcarver. It was just recently brought to my attention that they have another carving blade called the TURBOPlane. The TURBOPlane differs from the Industrial Woodcarver in that it’s capable of a much finer cut. Not only that, because of the shape of the blade, you can get more or less aggressive depending on how you approach the wood. The other intriguing thing about the design is the fact that the blades don’t extend to the outer rim. That means you can butt this thing right up against a template, which is incredibly helpful for things like chair seats. Since I plan on building a Maloof-inspired chair some day, I decided it would be good practice for not only rough-carving a chair seat but to also get to know this new tool.
The Power Carving Process
Whenever you’re doing a project that involves power carving, the first order of business is to make some reference marks with a template. These marks will serve as guides or border lines. While your eye has to fill in a lot of blanks and you do need to be careful, the reference lines are there to remind you not to go too far. For me, the lines turn a relatively “artistic” process into one that is more systematic. My science nerd brain understands systematic!
The next step is to hog away the bulk of the material. It took a few minutes to get the hang of using the TURBOPlane. For those of you who turn, it’s kind of like using a super flute bowl gouge where one subtle change in the angle of approach can make a huge difference in the aggressiveness and quality of cut. But once I got to know the tool, it was smooth sailing.
I put the TURBOPlane’s template-cutting ability to the test as well and it passed with flying colors. Unfortunately, my technique did no fare so well. I mistakingly gouged my template thanks to one wayward stroke. Two things would have prevented this: using a thicker template material and changing the angle of the tool as I round the corner. Fortunately, that was the only mistake during the entire carving process but it’s one that I am thankful for. Sometimes you need to make mistakes to truly understand what a tool can and can’t do!
After this little practice exercise, I feel much more comfortable with the TURBOPlane and I actually prefer it to the older Industrial Woodcarver. It gives me a finer degree of control and more options in terms of cut aggressiveness and template use. When the time comes for me to make my first Maloof-inspired chair, I’ll feel quite confident going into the seat carving exercise.
And if you just can’t get enough wood-carving goodness, here’s a quick video from Arbortech showing how to use the TURBOPlane with a template.