Power carving is becoming more popular all the time. The rotary tools available today like the Ram Micro Motor, OZ Plus, and Foredom make carving so much easier. With power carving the carver can use just about any type of wood and make projects from caricatures, realistic animals and people, to relief carving and so much more.
As people get started into power carving often times they feel lost knowing which type of burs they should get to get started. We get questions quite often on what the different grits do and what each shape is used for. We briefly explained some of these in the video above, but in this blog article we hope to answer some of these questions and to help you get started.
What are the Different Grits/Coatings:
Saburr Tooth Burs/Roughing Burs: These are the bits we call roughing bits and color coded in Green, Yellow, and Red. These are the burs to use when large amounts of material needs to be removed. I would consider using these burs during Stage 1 of the carving process when the carver needs to shape, roughout, and form the carving. These bits are made out of carbide and are incredibly long lasting. Sometimes these burs get clogged and need to be cleaned. The best way to clean these is to use a small torch to burn out the buildup. Don’t worry about a torch harming these bits. Most butane torches will not get the bit hot enough to affect the temper of the carbide but will do a much better job than a wire brush. These bits are available in 1/8” and ¼” shanks.
Fluted Carbide, Vanadium Steel, and Stump Cutter Bits:
After the initial roughout is complete it is time for Stage 2 of the carving process. The carbide bits, vanadium steel, and stump cutters are the best to use in this situation. Normally, I would start using these bits when you have less than ¼” (in depth) of material to remove. These cutters do cut fast but not as fast as the Saburr Tooth Burs. They do, however, cut incredibly clean and leave a relatively smooth surface. I would compare them to using a knife or a gouge in the way that they slice the material away instead of grinding it away. These burs are available in 3/32” and 1/8” shanks.
Diamond and Ruby Bits:
Stage 3 is the clean-up stage. Usually when you power carve you are left with those pesky “fuzzies”. These are areas where the wood has been torn but not removed. The Diamond Bits and Ruby cutters are some of the best bits to use for clean-up. Treat these cutters like you are using 120 grit sandpaper. You would never try to use sandpaper for roughing out a project, but to finish it when it is almost complete. Diamond and Ruby cutters are used in a similar way. Because they are so fine you can also use them for doing a little detail work where you may not want much material removed. Most of these burs are available in 3/32” and 1/8” shanks.
Ceramic Stone Bits:
Ceramic stones are some of the finest cutting bits available. They hardly remove any material at all, but are wonderful to use when fine and intricate details are required. Many people will use these stones for hair and fur texture and the results are great. They do have a tendency to load up and turn black. When that happens simply turn the tool on and touch the bit against a diamond sharpening stone. This will remove the outer layer and expose new grit. You can also use a diamond stone to reshape the ceramic bit to fit your needs. Ceramic stones are available with a 3/32” shank.
What shapes should I get?
Asking this question can be similar to asking, “How long is a rope?” The size and shape of the bits depend entirely on the scale of project you are working, what type of texture you want to create, how much material needs to be removed, etc. With that in mind, there are about 3 different shapes of bits that are pretty standard. Even though the length and width may differ, these 3 different shapes make up a good starter set.
#1. Ball or Sphere Bits:
The ball shaped bits are usually the best bits to use when you have quite a bit of depth to remove. This shape gives you a gouged look and allows you to use any part of the bit head and get a similar texture. Use a ball bit wherever you need a concaved cut. You can also stipple a background with a ball bit by making a series of dots on the surface of the project.
#2 Cylinder Bits:
Cylinder bits are dual purposed. The sides of these bits are straight and will not leave a concaved cut like the ball bits. If you are shaping a project and you don’t want as many divots then a cylinder may work well. With the square top you can also use these bits like a V-tool. Simply tilt the bit so only the top edge or corner is contacting the wood and you can outline parts of your project and even apply V grooved textures (like hair, feathers, and fur).
#3 Something with a point
Some parts of your project will require a smaller tipped bit to reach in tight spots and clear material away. The flame, taper, bud, and football shaped bits are perfect for these areas. The flame, bud, and football bits have a slight radius to them and are great when you want to clear away a concave area or to soften a ridge on an outlined cut. The tapers are angled straight to the point and are best used in areas where you need a fine point but do not want to concave the cut.
There are a few other tips that are a little different than these three basic bit categories but may be useful in many projects.
Ballnose bits: A combination of a ball and a cylinder. This multi-purposed bit can be used on the front end to make concave cuts and remove bulk material and then the side of it is flat and can be used when you need to make a flat or convex type cut.
Roto Saws: Great for making trenches and undercutting.
Inverted Cones/Dovetails: These are exaggerated cylinder bits and great when you are making V-shaped groves such as hair, feather, and fur texture. They can also be used for slight undercutting to make shadows around relief carvings.
Ok, I hope that was at least as clear as mud. Most power carvers usually end up with 20-30 bits in their collection over time. You will find that some bits are used all the time while a few are used occasionally but are perfect for the texture you need. If you are still a little uncertain about how to get started and what bits to get, we have put together two bit sets with some of these basic bits included. You will have a few for roughing out (Stage 1), a few for doing some fine shaping and detailing (Stage 2), and a set of diamond bits that can be used for clean-up and fine textures (Stage 3). I think this would be a great way to start your bit collection and give you a good jump in this incredible hobby of power carving.
Here are two kits that can help you get started.