Saturday, August 22, 2009


This stamp was carved using a needle and a gouge...and tweezers!
(actual size 1.75")

There has been much talk lately about using needles, and by extension wire knives, among carvers. I had given needles a try quite a long time ago, and was sorely disappointed with the results. I ended up throwing them into a tin and stashing it in my craftroom to be forgotten. However, as talk continued about needles, my curiosity was again aroused and I researched further into their use. Using the needle with a pin vise is definitely the way to go, and I have enjoyed more success with the needle this time around.

The stamp above was carved using a needle along the straight lines (I chose the 18 gauge). I then gouged out inside the lines to remove the bulk of material, following up with my tweezers to remove the material closest to the needled lines. Talk about tedious! But, my lines were sharp, for the most part. Practice is needed, to be sure. I definitely felt like I was getting sharper lines when I was carving than shows in the finished printing. *frown*

I chose this image to needle carve because of all the corners and small boxes. To be honest, it would be quite a challenge to get the corners as tight with a gouge...possible, but a challenge. If it were a portrait, I don't think I would chose a needle to outline - far too tedious and you absolutely cannot see where you have cut with the needle. I think the gouge is far more suited for portraits, but that's just my opinion.

As far as lettering goes, the needle is handy to have for those corners (H, T, E, etc.) and for the inside of capital A, which is always a pain. But for curves, I'll grab my gouge every time.

The technique of carving with needles is similar to x-acto knife carving. You do not want to 'undercut' your lines for obvious reasons. So, to avoid undercutting, angle your needle or knife away from the line you are cutting next to, to create a type of peak (instead of cutting straight down along the line). This will make your stamping surface more stable and secure...less wobbly and prone to breakage. Another tip I was given, and used, is to only use the very tip of the needle, instead of trying to push it down farther into the material. You are actually cutting deeper than you realize with the needle, and by using only the very tip, you can get more control with your cuts.

One other thing; I would not want to needle carve without my magnifying lamp...not by a long shot! I really took my time and was careful. One slip with that needle and...oops! As you can see in the stamped image above, I almost took out one line completely. I'll have to be careful cleaning that stamp or else I'll lose that line altogether.

So, will I continue to use my needles? Heck, yeah! For all those little, tight corners and small bits that are easier to snag with a needle than with my gouge. Will I forsake my gouge for needles - no way! My gouge is like an extension of my hand at this point. *smile*

As conversations have progressed, it would seem that some have some misconceptions about carving and creating stamps. I'd like to share some of my thoughts, just to get it off my chest.

One method of carving is not better, or more advanced, than another.

It has been suggested that needle carving is the 'next step' to advancement in carving skills. This couldn't be farther from the truth, in my view. Some like to carve with a gouge, some like x-acto knives and some like needles or wires. I have seen incredible stamps produced by all these methods. But to suggest that needle carving is more advanced than gouge carving is untrue and misleading.

You just can't get good detail unless you use a needle or wire.

Again, this is just not true. Carving with a needle, wire or knife is completely different than carving with a gouge. That's right - different, not more detailed. I am sorry if this disappoints anyone, but the only way to achieve detail in carved stamps is with practice and lots of it. Challenging yourself to images just outside your comfort zone is an excellent way to stretch your skill and prowess with whatever tool you choose. It may take years to achieve your goals, but probably not. Most improve their carving skills within a short time and soon are able to produce pieces that they are quite satisfied with.

You cannot get good, detailed images to carve using the pencil transfer method.

Wrong again. I have always used the pencil transfer method and it has yielded excellent results. To claim otherwise is foolish and silly. I am not suggesting that it is the only or best way - I'm sure that other methods are just as good. Whatever the carver feels comfortable with is what they should use.

One side benefit to the pencil transfer method is that it's portable, and since I carve while traveling, this suits me best. I can't imagine taking along chemicals, an iron or trying to find the right copy machine in a strange town just to get my image onto the rubber.

And one final thought to newer carvers: be patient. You will not be an accomplished carver overnight and there is not a better tool that will make that happen. There are some things that will improve your carving skill - good material, sharp tools, a magnifying lamp, and practice, practice, practice. Carve to your hearts content, plant traditionals, create LTCs or postals, and create sig stamps for you, family and friends. I think practice is the best new 'tool' you could add to your carving kit.

And me? Well, I'm looking for that next great challenge of an image to push it to the next level. I need to practice some more with that needle, and I can't wait to give the wire knife a go...


Mama Cache said...

Trés bon! Toss that frown! This is impressive.

You did a beautiful job explaining how you carved with the needle.

Loved the debunking of the misconceptions!

Ari C'rona said...

It turned out great! I sure appreciate your opinions and all - can't wait to get my pin vise and try out those needles! :o)

Onefourth said...

I use a needle with pin vise as my main carving tool and use the gouge for carving away the larger chunks. I didn't like the needle at first but with practice I found it gives me cleanear/crisper lines.
I agree that one is not better then the other it's just a matter of preferance.
Your carve is fantabulous!!

Mama Cache said...

I couldn't help myself. As I am often inclined to do, I threw that image into Photoshop and resized it to your specs . . . wow. Just plain wow. Everybody ought to do that just to see how cool it looks when it is tiny.

Nitrocat said...

What excellent instructions! Even stubborn li'l o me is tempted to try it.
Tedious is a good word for exacto carving. There certainly are times when a gouge is faster. But it's worth it to get the tight corners.


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