Author Topic: Making an Historically Correct Mid-18th Century English Fowler Part 6  (Read 1119 times)

Offline smart dog

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I finished the shell carving today.  I am going to stain the stock with my own mix of colors to really bring out the figure in the wood.  I use water soluble aniline dyes.  I painted the stock with a dilute solution of the stain I intend to use as part of my whiskering and wood finishing process. As I do the final carving and scraping, I remove the stain, which shows me where I have scraped and where I missed.  It also shows me dents, scratches and tool marks that are not easy to see. My shell carving is inspired by the carving on a turn-off pistol by William Turvey and a fowler by William Bailes.  It is not a copy but definitely of similar style. Now to design the wire inlay and get that done so I can finish the fowler.

Based on some questions I've been asked about shell carving as well as posts on ALR, I thought I would add this little bit describing how I go about it.  Rococo shells carved on British guns generally show 3 forms, (1) a shortened shell folded across its width and wrapped or folded under tendrils extending on either side along the breech tang.  The Griffin family used this style.  Then there are asymmetrically shaped shells that curl in over a tendril from one side or the other (2).  I show rough sketches of these designs below.

Then there are the symmetrically shaped shells shown below.

In the last few years, I've carved and engraved so many of these shells, I think I could do them in my sleep.  Below are all the tools I use to carve the designs.

The upper and lower knives are chip carving knives that I repurposed for scraping and cleaning up back grounds. The 3 edges on the upper knife are all razor sharp. Then I have several small palm gouges, a micro skew chisel, a micro "V" gouge, and a micro flat chisel, which I use to stab in the outline. I use a "pig's tail", a curved round, and a flat tapered riffler to shape and smooth details when needed.  Finally, I have 3 round scrapers made from hack saw blades that are very valuable for shaping and smoothing concave surfaces of shells.
I first draw the design on the stock and then stab in the outline.  I remove the back ground and clean up the back ground and edges.

Then I use the small shallow palm gouges to cut in the concave surfaces of the shells and refine the shapes with the scrapers. The little skew chisel is very useful for shaping and scraping the convex surfaces of the shell.

It does help to know what a shell is supposed to look like and these rococo shells are supposed to be recognizable as shells unlike some shell-like carvings on some American guns that look like Brown Bess aprons with some radiating lines or divots. The edges of the shells can have a thickened border or not. After the shell is carved, I take a small shallow (almost flat) gouge and subtly undercut the edges of the shell at the ends of the raised or ridge-like parts. That will really give the carving "pop" when stained and finished.

Well, the stock is pretty much finished and ready for silver wire.  After the inlay work, I'll do a final clean up and then stain.
Then finish and while it is drying, I'll engrave the hardware.

It took me a few days to work out my designs for wire and inlay on the stock.  I want to add the silver inlay wire to connect decorated portions of the gun but I don't want to obscure the fabulous figure in the wood. Most British sporting guns with wire inlay are extensively covered with some exceptions. I am going to use the main lines inspired by original work but restrain the coverage to use the figure in the wood to advantage.  It is a balancing act. First, I work out the design on paper and then transfer the design to the wood using artist graphite transfer paper.  With a simple design, I just draw it on the wood but as a design becomes more complex, I resort to drawing it on paper and transferring it to the wood.

With the basic design transferred to the stock and darkened using a pencil, I inlet the silver inlays first.  Small inlays are hard to trace on the wood and I used to glue them in place with a dab of wood glue and then trace them when the glue dried.  It worked OK, but after moving to Vermont I visited Dave Price. He showed me a much easier way.  Following Dave's advice, I tape the inlay in place and then place a thin metal ruler on top. I tap the ruler with a small hammer and the inlay dents the wood, marking the outline.

Then I just use my micro chisels to cut the mortice for the inlay. Small inlays will just be glued but larger ones may be anchored by silver pins and glue. I like my inlays to be just proud of the wood when finished like many originals.

Working on silver wire inlay today.  My tools, as shown below, are very primitive. I make my inlay chisels from old hacksaw blades. Word of warning, my chisel design is poor.  I shaped them with prominent shoulders that indicated the depth of the incised cut. I thought I was being clever but being stupid (unlike Bella - Smart Dog) I forgot that as I sharpened the chisels, the cut depth gets shallower and I hit the wood with the shoulder making a mark. I file down the shoulders on all my chisels as the blade gets shorter but Taylor Sapergia showed photos in a post on ALR of a superior design. I hope he might show those again.

I had the privilege of watching Dave Price and Ed Wenger do wire inlay. I hope folks realize they are two of the best wire inlayers alive.  I also have the benefit of a precious home produced DVD of Frank Bartlett doing silver wire inlay.  Frank used screw drivers ground to cut incised lines and Dave and Ed use full length chisels and gouges. For whatever reason, I cannot do the work with those tools. I have real trouble making sure a gouge fits a penciled curve and cuts to the desired depth. I also cannot see what I am doing really well stabbing in designs with a full length chisel. Dave, Frank, and Ed seem to have no trouble making precise cuts for wire but I have to huddle over short and small tools to make sure I hit the mark.  It may just be that my fingers lack feeling and coordination after 3 bouts of serious frostbite during my mountain rescue and climbing days. I do struggle with dexterity. I am an embarrassment when I try to pull dollar bills out of my wallet or open plastic grocery bags because the nerves in fingers (and toes) are so damaged.  Anyway, I use the chisels made from hack saw blades to cut incised lines and then lay in the wire.
British guns with wire inlay have wire that is very thin. All of the wire inlay available today from TOW or MBS is too thick for proper British work. I buy 34 gauge (0.006") sterling silver sheet from Rio Grande and cut 3/32" wide strips from it with shears. I use a ruler to mark a straight line across the silver sheet and then cut it out with shears. It curls as you cut, which is fine. Then hold an end with pliers and draw the curled wire through 2 coarse files pinched together with your hand. The files flatten the ribbon and score it with lines that will help lock it in place. I stab in the design with my hacksaw chisels and then lay in the flat ribbon. I tap it down lightly with a hammer and then tap it more forcefully by covering it with my thin metal ruler and tapping it with a hammer. Once tapped in place I wet the wood with water to swell it and lock in the wire, and then file the excess silver down.  It is best to leave the edge of the wire proud of the wood so finish does not cover the wire and prevent you from polishing it. I find that a key tool in this process is the little screw driver pictured above. The end of the tiny flat screw driver is ground round so I can use it to smooth curves in the wire. I just lay the tool against the wire before filing off the excess silver and gently nudge it to smooth curves. The photo shows one side of the stock.  On the other side silver wire will fill a similar space but a different design.  Most British guns with wire inlay did not have identical designs on both sides.  There will also be wire inlayed on either side of the wrist.  My designs will be open so they do not obscure the figure in the wood.  One little note: do you see the line connecting the bird with the rest of the design? It is a simple device but without it, the bird just hangs on the bottom without connection to the rest of the work.  It adds a lot despite being so simple.

Finished wire inlay in the butt stock.  I created designs that were sophisticated but relatively open and simple so the figure in the wood was not obscured.  They are consistent with designs found on British and other European guns of the time but they are my own creations and not copies of any originals.  From an historical perspective, it seems most British guns with wire inlay were extensively covered. Even on a couple in which the wire inlay was restricted to a few locations on the stock, the density of wire at each location was very high. I find that interesting given the penchant for restraint shown by British gun makers for almost all other decoration (with exceptions of course).  In addition to the usual volutes, scrolls, and leaves, religious and hunting scenes were sometimes lavishly created with silver wire.  Another fashion was chinoiserie.  With the rapid expansion of British maritime trade in the Far East including China, and events like Clive's victory at Plassey in India, the middle classes and elites in Britain went mad for things oriental.  The fashion spilled into clothing, furniture, upholstery, wall paper, and firearms. Guns were decorated with silver sheet and wire inlays depicting imaginary Oriental scenes of bridges, trees, Chinese dragons, and pagodas.  It is all fascinating and the craftsmanship is awesome but in my opinion, artistically not so good.  It appeals to me about as much as a portrait of Elvis painted on velvet. Anyway, I am not going there on my fowler. I will be much more restrained and let the beautiful wood show through as it should.
I inlet a satyr's face, some flowers, a couple of birds, leaves, lots of volutes, some "ringy thingies", and some blobby things that look like portions of a knockwurst. It all came together though and I think keeps the bling to butt stock ratio in balance. With all the wrapping and overlapping I had to keep straight what goes over and what goes under. You have to plan these things out before laying in the wire. All of the inlays will be engraved and are not permanently locked in place yet so I can remove them for engraving. With the butt stock done, I still need to inlay wire on both sides of the wrist and that will be all.  I don't think I'll inlay wire in the fore stock but I may change my mind if I can envision a good design.
More to come.


 I've not done much wire inlay on the wrist area of guns and it is a real challenge both with respect to design and execution.  The space is thin and linear, which confines scroll work and it is easy to cover it with monotonous little scrolls all horizontally lined up.  I wanted more creativity but nothing too ornate that would detract from the beautiful wood.  So I added a diamond with a little sun in it, some piggly wigglies, and some guitar string-like bridges.  I started by doing the diamond and main scrolls first, and then moved forward and then backward.  To accommodate bending the ribbon both into scolls but also around the wrist, I made sure the wire was dead soft and I cut the ribbons thin, about 1/16".  I also bent one part of my thin, flexible metal ruler so I could hold it against the wrist and tap in wire. The bend kept it in contact with wire around the wrist preventing one end from popping up as I tapped the other end.  I also frequently wet the wood to lock one portion of the wire in place before working on another section. It worked pretty well.

These last photos show the full effect of the wood and wire.

I have to clean up a few little spots and then stain, and finish.  Oh boy!  I forgot, I have to engrave it too and do up the barrel and lock.

End of Part 6
"Flick Lives!"