20 January 2010
No surprise here: I'm still carving my page from John Eliot's Wampanoag Bible. I have about two more day to go, I think.
Just to be clear about my process, although I began the project using a traditional Japanese toh (straight blade), I soon changed tools and began using a #2 X-acto blade.
#2 X-acto blade (top) and traditional toh (bottom) compared
I know that there are some awesome carvers out there who could do this with a toh no problem. I thought I could do it given that I've finally mastered the art of sharpening my toh, but I found the thickness of the blade to be problematic with these tiny letters. Because I'm using plywood, it's awfully easy to pop off the little dots on the i's , commas, accent marks etc. The blade of the toh, although just as sharp as an X-acto blade, gets thick as you move away from the point. The angle of the blade is less acute (less pointed) than the X-acto, too, so it feels blunter and clunkier to me.
The X-acto blade, on the other hand, is uniformly thin. I've found it much easier to handle the twists and turns of tiny Roman letters with this shape. There are drawbacks, though. The point of the X-acto blade is actually too sharp. It breaks off very easily in the wood, so I've taken to carefully breaking off a tiny piece of the point at the outset with a scrap piece of wood.
After making the initial cuts with the X-acto knife, I then begin to clear along and between the letters, making little "release cuts" with the toh. Then I use successively larger gouges to continue clearing. And of course, I'm wearing magnifying glasses.
And of course, I'm making mistakes and popping off some little dots on the i's , commas, accent marks and even whole letters. I make repairs when I see a clear way to do it, but I'm also letting some of the mistakes go. Only about 10 people alive today would notice. More on that later...