The Toothed Chisel and the Scutch

by DLSproule

”The Toothed Chisel and the Scutch” sounds like a children’s story, doesn’t it?

A chisel lived by himself on the edge of the quarry. He was very hardy and upstanding, but he had spent his whole life carving a statue of a beautiful princess. Carved from white marble, she was as stubborn as a stone can be, so the chisel’s six teeth had grown very dull. On his journey to the great whetstone, he came across the evil scutch!

As fun as that was, it’s time to abandon the metaphor. Hopefully you’re not here to hear fairy tales, you’re here to learn more about sculpting tools.

And so, what is a tooth chisel and why would you use one?

Tooth chisels combine many of the best qualities of flat chisels and point chisels. The “blade” width of a 6 tooth chisel would be about the same as a medium blade chisel – about an inch (2.5 centimetres). A point chisel breaks the stone, enabling you to cut deep grooves without worrying too much about cleaving a huge piece off of the rock. Tooth chisels are like point chisels with more than one point. They won’t cut much deeper than the depth of the teeth, which is usually about a millimeter. It will help you flatten, shape and texture on the surface of the stone, and if you use it in concert with a point chisel, you can use it to remove a great deal of surface stone very quickly.

I should probably dissemble here for a moment and point out that we are talking about stone-carving, so when I use the words “very quickly”, I am usually suggesting that you can shorten a job that would have taken you six hours down to three or four hours, or I may even be suggesting that a job that would otherwise take six days can be done in four. Stone-carving will teach you patience and perseverance.

At any rate, here’s an example of how you would use a point chisel and a toothed chisel together. Once you have roughed out the shape of your sculpture with your point chisel, a tooth chisel is the perfect tool to remove the high peaks and deep valleys. If you cut two parallel grooves in the stone with a point chisel, you should use a toothed chisel to get rid of the stone between the two channels. If you’re just getting into sculpting and don’t have many tools, you can use a flat chisel to do the job, but you would probably find a toothed chisel easier to use. If they were garden tools, a flat chisel would be a hoe and a toothed chisel would be more like a rake.

The main drawback of toothed chisels is that they are hard to sharpen without gradually removing the teeth. And since the prices range from 20 to 50 dollars, this can become a serious expense when you are working in harder stone.

This is where the scutch comes in. A scotch comb is a removable toothed chisel head. They are usually double sided. Some scotch combs have the same chisel on both sides, so that when one side gets dull, you just flip it around and use the other edge. When that edge gets dull, you throw it out. At 2 or 3 dollars per comb, that’s certainly less expensive than going through two $40 tooth chisels…although the scutch combs will also wear out much faster than the chisels – which are generally made of much better steel. Other scutch combs come with, for example, 4 teeth on one end and six on the other, so you basically get two tools instead of one. And as if that wasn’t enough, you can use the same combs on a instrument called a scutch hammer.

The scutch chisel and scutch hammer work much the same, removing surface stone in a very controlled way.

Which brings us to the other major way these multi-toothed instruments can be used. The rough surface a toothed chisel or scutch creates can be used as a texture when you are finishing your sculpture. By leaving one area rough or textured and polishing another area, you can create some very interesting effects.

By guiding a toothed chisel across the surface, tapping very lightly with a hammer, you can create narrow parallel grooves that resemble hair or fabric. A scutch hammer can create more random textures – a feathered effect if you glance the comb over the surface and a dotted effect when you strike the stone directly. Through experimentation and practice you can learn to create striking and very expert looking textures on your sculptures.

The two examples to the left show the effect you can get with a toothed or scutch chisel and the two examples on the right show effects that can be created with a scutch hammer.

At the end of a long day of sculpting, chances are you feel very satisfied, and too tired to read anything more complicated than a children’s story. Which brings us back to our fairy tale… or not.