Is Stone Sculpting for You?

by DLSproule

Since stone sculpture requires such an investment of time to get good at, it appeals to only the most ardent hobbyists. The time investment/patience aspects should be part of the appeal for anyone who takes up stone sculpting as a hobby or profession.

How to Tell if You’re a Born Sculptor

Run your hands over a big piece of polished stone. Does it make you feel more connected to the Earth? Do you get pulled into the cool depths of the stone, hypnotized by the colour, bewitched by its unimaginable antiquity? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you might really enjoy the process of stone carving.

As hobbies go, it’s not that expensive.

For the price of a ski pass you can probably buy a pretty impressive chunk of Soapstone or Wonderstone.

Trying to carve jade or granite for your first sculpture would be hard and frustrating enough to put you off sculpting forever, so don’t even try carving ‘found’ stone unless you have a chunk of soapstone or limestone lying around in the backyard or find one while walking along a riverbed or country road.

If you’re trying to find a free stone, bring a hammer and chisel and take a few whacks at the stone. If it clinks with a short high pitched chink or sends of sparks when you strike it, don’t try carving that stone with handtools. If pieces of stone larger than the tip of your thumb break off, it may be too brittle to carve. But if it emits a satisfying thump and the head of the chisel cuts into the stone (even if it only goes in a quarter of an inch) and leaves a groove the same size or shape as the chisel head, you’ll have found a good carving stone. Stone that shatters may be okay for experienced sculptors and very hard stone may be workable with power tools.

The Drawbacks of Found Stone

Soapstone and serpentine from central Ontario occasionally have traces of asbestos or uranium. This is a (small) risk you take with free stone. Be aware of the danger if you’re carving stone with visible fibres and wear a mask when you are rasping or sanding (something you should always do when stone carving) and you’ll be fine. Historically, sculptors were only vaguely aware of this and many lived very long lives and frankly the risk for hobby sculptors with very limited and sporadic exposure to stone dust is extremely low (it is higher for those using power tools).

For about the same amount of money that it would cost you to drive to a ski resort once, you can probably pay for a set of tools that will last you for years.

You can use tools from garage sales for your first sculpture or two. The best tools I’ve ever used were handmade from automobile undercarriages by Zimbabwean sculptors. The steel from a car suspension holds its edge unbelievably well. If you go to your local scrapyard, you might even be able to talk somebody there into cutting and sharpening some nice broad chisels for you. I would recommend any brand new sculptor buy at least a few tools:

  • One good point chisel, a heavy-duty solid metal awl might suffice but would need to be sharpened and would probably lose its point quickly.
  • One four to eight inch rasp. One large and one small would be best, but if in doubt go for a large rasp with a tapered point that will allow you to work on smaller, deeper surfaces.
  • A narrow wood chisel, medium size file or files and a regular sized claw or autoshop sized ball peen hammer – all readily available at garage sales for a total investment of five dollars or less.
  • Access to a grinder and/or your own whetstone to keep your tools sharp. They will last longer if you use a whetstone.

Total cost for tools that aren’t already in your toolbox should be less than $40-80.

If you don’t know what these tools are or what they do, then go to the tools and techniques section.

If you love the look or feel of stone sculpture but would prefer buying a finished piece, check out our on-line galleries and e-mail us (honestly, a few of the displayed sculptures are available for under $200 – plus shipping) – or go to our links section to check out some real or virtual sculpture galleries.