This section is from the book "Spons' Mechanics' Own Book: A Manual For Handicraftsmen And Amateurs", by Edward Spon. Also available from Amazon: Spons' Mechanics' Own Book.
The "voluter" is second only to the parting tool in importance and value to the carver, even if it be not equal to it. And this, again, is a tool which must receive special attention when the subject of sharpening is reached. Of this, too, it will be necessary that the carver should have a variety. Like the parting tool, it is one which affords the manufacturer an excellent opportunity of distinguishing himself, if he has any desire to do so. The sides of a voluter - if in speaking of this tool such a term is admissible - should very slightly, but only very slightly, spread. This is necessary, if it is to free itself when in use. For some purposes, the voluter makes an excellent parting tool. In cutting round leafwork, previous to setting-in, instead of always using a parting tool, try the voluter. It will even answer such a purpose better at times, and has this additional recommendation - that it is less liable to break.
A combination of circumstances and conditions in tool and workman go to make a tool that is termed "handy," i. e. eminently adapted to the work in view. Some of the points necessary to earn this denomination for a tool may be considered. For instance, one purpose for which every carver uses his scroll tools is that known as "setting-in." For this purpose, other things being equal, the tools which are the handiest are the shortest. The long tool is objectionable for one or two reasons. If it is struck hard with the mallet, as it must often be when used for this purpose, there is a certain " spring " in it, unless it is a very thick tool, which creates an uneasy feeling in the mind of the carver, for such a tool is liable to break in half. A short tool is almost sure to be a strong tool. A long tool is objectionable, too, because the carver has to raise his mallet to an inconvenient height in order to strike it. But the main reason for giving preference to short tools when used for this purpose is, that the carver can grasp the handle and at the same time rest his hand upon the work to keep the tool in the desired position. It is obvious that with a long tool this cannot be done. The sharpening of these tools must be done equally from inside and outside.
When a tool is grasped in the right hand, and used as in moulding, then it may be full length. A short tool would cramp the hand in using it. We may almost reverse the statement made in connection with tools used for setting-in, and say the handiest are the longest. Not that an inordinate length is desirable. There must be room for the right hand, which pushes, and the left hand, which guides, and more than enough for these if the tool is to have " play," and the carver is to see what he is doing. To produce a long, easy curve is almost out of the question with a short tool. The mode of sharpening tools used in this manner if employed entirely (as in the case of the voluter) or mostly for this purpose is a point of importance. Attention must be directed to the back of the tool, that is the round side, which, when it is used in the manner under notice, is generally downwards - that is, next the wood. There must be no "ridge" running from one side of the tool to the other within 1/4 or 3/8 in. of the edge, otherwise the surface, line, or hollow which is being worked will be one series of "dips" or hollows, which would have anything but a "beautifully undulating" effect.
The sharpening on the back must be with a nicely graduated angle right up to the edge, that the tool may work in a smooth, easy, sweeping style. The necessary strength may be given to the edge by sharpening on the inside at a much shorter angle, that is by what is called "dubbing it up." These remarks apply in an especial manner to the "voluter." This tool must be brought to an edge very much from the inside, the edge being strengthened in the manner just described. If it is to work easily in a hollow, but a little larger than its own size, it must be sharpened on the back with a very long angle; the handle in this case will be inconveniently near the wood, but this inconvenience will be obviated by the use of voluters slightly - only slightly - bent. This tool is made too often, by the absurd manner in which it is sharpened, very much like a wedge. It "binds," and bruises the sides of the hollow in which it works. A third mode in which a scroll tool is often employed is, as in facing the round parts of leafwork. A short tool is perhaps the handiest for this purpose, but no rule can be laid down upon this point. When it is held in position by the left and struck by the right hand, shortness is an advantage, because of the left hand having to rest upon the work at the same time.
But it is as often, perhaps, pushed as in moulding, when a longer tool is better. In sharpening, the same attention must be given to the inside as is required for the backs of those just mentioned. If there is any " ridge " near the edge on the inside, there is a constant tendency in the tool to " glance off" the work; and the tool has to be held in a position too nearly approaching the vertical before it can cut at all.
The modes of use just glanced at are the three principal. If the carver has tools well adapted for these, his tools may be described as "handy." The handiness of a tool, then, may be said briefly to consist in the readiness with which it lends itself to any particular purpose. A tool should be made subservient to the requirements of the workman. If a new tool is too long for the purpose for which it is chiefly required, there is no reason why it should not be shortened before being sharpened. It will be for the ingenuity of the workman to surmount the difficulty which arises from the circumstance that the same tool is often required for every purpose. Sometimes, however, it is worth while to have duplicates of certain tools, that they may be kept largely for one particular purpose. A workman's tools are worthy of his most careful study. Enough has been said to show that the manner in which a tool is sharpened has much to do with its utility, and that the subject of sharpening generally is deserving of special notice.
The first essentials for sharpening carving tools are grindstones and oilstones. These have already been described under Carpentry (see pp. 240-3), but more care is needed in choosing them for carving tools owing to the greater delicacy of the edges to be sharpened, so that the least flaw in a stone should suffice to condemn it. The mounted grindstone is used only to take oft' the thick edge of the tool, as, for instance, when the tool is new. It should be ground back to a breadth of 1/8 to 1/4 in., great care being taken to keep the tool cool by the use of abundant water in the trough, to avoid injuring its temper. The coarse edge is next drawn fine by applying oilstones of progressive degrees of fineness. These oilstones are obtained in slips, and their edges are gradually adapted to fit the inner sides of the curved or angular tools, while their sides become recessed and similarly adjusted to the outer side of the tools. The grinding away should be done from the inside, while the " setting " proper is done from the outside. In the rubbing out, it is well to fix the stone in a vice, with pads to protect it from the jaws, and use both hands in manipulating the tool.
In sharpening the outside edge, the tool should be held in the left hand, and the stone worked upon it by the right hand. Certain slips should be reserved for certain kinds of tools, and care must be observed to commence with a coarser (generally a darker coloured) and proceed to a finer (whitish and semitransparent) grained stone. The final edge is given to the tool by stropping it on] a broad strip of buff leather saturated with tallow and crocus powder rubbed in under the influence of a fire. A well-set tool should pare deal against the grain with a perfectly clean cut. The slips of oilstone will require grinding at the edges to fit the tools. The rubbing out is effected in the case of very small tools by the aid of emery powder and oil applied by a strip of wood. The oil used is generally ordinary machine oil, but petroleum is also in favour. The handles of all tools should be well adapted to the hand using them, and some system should be observed in the style (shape, colour, etc.) of handle, so that the tool may always be immediately recognized by the handle alone.