Stone carving is a physically demanding art form that can produce stunning results. The method of producing stone-carved art has changed very little through the centuries, with the exception of the introduction of pneumatic hammers. Most stone artisans still prefer doing it the hard way, with chisels and hammers, making stone carving an art form that takes patience and time. Learn how you can take a piece of stone and chip away until you find the sculpture beneath the surface.
Tools of the Trade
Hammers, chisels and files are your basic tools. You'll need point chisels to rough out the beginning form of your structure. Point chisels, typically made of hardened steel, are pointed and used with a hammer or mallet to break away the rough design of your sculpture. Tooth chisels are for phase two of the carving, where you will be working to refine the roughed shape of your carving. You may also use handsets during this time, but only if you need to remove large chunks of stone. You need flat or rondel chisels for the third phase, where you will begin to find the final shape of your carving. Steel hammers can be employed if you want to dig deep into the stone, but you will want to use rubber mallets if you're working in a more delicate stone-removal situation. You will also need metal files in your toolbox, which come in handy for smoothing and filing away stone bruises. Don't forget the safety glasses either.
The type of stone you decide to work with will depend on the color and texture you're looking for with your sculpture. Granite and limestone have a gray color. Alabaster comes in many different colors, including gray, and shades of oranges and yellows. Sandstone has a reddish-brown look. A beginner may want to choose a softer stone for his first project. Alabaster and soapstone are extremely soft, while marble has a medium density. Granite is ideal for carving, but it is very hard and physically demanding.
Use your point chisels and start to work on your stone. Work with a sketch if you can. The point chisels, which look a little like railroad spikes, allow you to work out the surface stone until you find the rough shape of your sculpture. Be careful not to go too deep because you can leave stone bruising, which you'll recognize as white marks in your stone. If you get any of these, you will be able to remove them later.
Refining the Rough Shape
The tooth chisel looks like a claw. It comes in different sizes. You'll use one of these to refine the rough shape of your sculpture. The tooth claw removes large chunks of stone. Use it with a heavy hammer to help dig valleys and form the peaks of your sculpture. You'll notice how the the tooth claw deepens the roughed-out shape you achieved with the point chisel.
Flat chisels and rondel chisels come into play when it's time to work on the texture of your sculpture. Up to this point you will have a recognizable shape, but the stone will be rough and probably bruised. The flat chisel in conjunction with a rubber mallet will allow you to shave away the rough edges of your sculpture and remove bruises in the stone. If there are bruises you can't remove with the flat or rondel chisels, you will be able to take them out with a metal file. The flat chisels have a thin, flat edge and are used for shaving stone, while the rondels have a rounded tip and are good for pounding down higher areas of stone.