Making a bowl from Caithness stone

A previous stone bowl

I have been making a bowl recently and thought I’d show you the different stages in the process. Every stone is different, and my working techniques and choice of blades will vary according to what works best. It’s often a case of just trying things out, and seeing what cuts and abrases best.

Firstly, I selected a sound slab of stone
Disc cutter, with nice new blade, cutting the rough outline.

With this Caithness stone, I initially used a multi purpose 12″ disc cutting blade. I then found a 5″ granite flush cut blade worked much better than the marble/limestone ones. Then a combination of cup wheels, spiracut semi-flexible silicone carbide discs, and velour/velcro sanding discs, then hand sanding with wet and dry paper. A big portion of tenacity, concentration and elbow grease is needed. It’s pretty hard stuff……but lovely, and satisfying.

A cylinder is the first goal. Breaking it down into stages….

I designed the bowl before starting, and made a scale drawing of the section, in order to calculate the largest possible chamfers I could remove to start forming the desired curve for the underside of the bowl. The two lines that describe the chamfer are scribed onto the stone, one on the side and one on the bottom.

Slots cut with a granite blade, then these pieces are tapped off with a hammer. This removes a lot of material quickly.

It’s really important that the first chamfer is very carefully and accurately ground off, and is straight, in section, not curved, as otherwise you’ll never get as much material off as you want, you’ll end up with a chunkier, heavier bowl. You must work to the scribed lines, making a straight cut between them. Eventually the curve is found, once you have taken off a series of incrementally smaller chamfers and roughly rounded everything off.

After removing several chamfers and rounding off
Rubbed with sandpaper
Flipped over and ready to mark out the inside
Compass used to scratch on the inner line
Cut an accurate groove on the line to protect it and to help with visibility later….. it’s a dusty phase coming up and this will help me to get stuck in without taking too much away.
Slots cut with a granite blade, deeper in the middle obvs!
Chip out the waste
Roughed out inner section

The inside is more tricky as you’re kind of working blind and trying to take enough material away, but without digging in too much. I don’t want this too deep, as it’s a birdbath, and also I’ll be drilling into the bottom for a stainless steel dowel.

Grinding and polishing with the 5″ grinder

Now the stone is brought in for finishing by hand, which is when you can feel it taking shape, and also get rid of all the mini chamfers and kinks in the grinding process. Wet and dry paper is used, from about 60, 80, 120 grit dry, then 120, 240, 320 600 with water.

Wet and dry finishing
Wet and dry finishing
A close up of the wet stone

Here are a few pictures of the finished stone, prior to the final rinse and oiling it. I chose to leave the rough natural top surface as a nice contrast to the smooth underside and interior.

Showing the section

Trees, monoliths and memorials

Well, it’s been a weird few months hasn’t it, with the COVID situation. I have pretty much been able to continue as my design room is at home, and we have been careful to alternate time in the workshop, and Dan (my long suffering dust maker!) has been able to carve things at home during the worst of the lockdown.

So here are a few pictures of what we’ve been working on recently.

Willow carving, reverse of Welsh slate memorial
The front of the previous memorial, destined for Black Isle near Inverness
Oak tree relief for a small tree marker memorial in Northumberland
Rustic sculptural York stone signage
Preparing a huge slate monolith for carving. This is in the private garden at Holkham Hall. It was very hot! See next pictures
South facing side featuring the inscription ‘THE UNEXPECTED IS THE HISTORY YOU HAVE NOT READ’ close-ups to follow. Lady Leicester wanted the wording to be subtle, read up close, so as not to detract too much from the power of the monolith.
Close up of the South face
Close up of the South face
Close up of the South face
Close up of the North face
Close detail of riven slate monolith above
York stone memorial to the 7th Earl of Leicester, Holkham Hall. I took this picture while I was carving the monolith above. It’s weathering nicely now.
Welsh slate memorial in Ashdon, near Saffron Waldron, see reverse on next picture
Reverse of memorial with words from Mother Julian of Norwich and a wee hazelnut
Moleanos limestone plaque for St Mary’s Church, Primrose Hill
Yotk stone memorial, Sculthorpe, Norfolk
Detail from the stone above
detail from York stone memorial
detail from York stone memorial
Monolith inscribed with words from Rumi, a 13th century Sufi poet…. See next few images. This was planted in a field in Suffolk.
I had to grind back some of the stone to accommodate the lettering as it was very rough in places. Detail to follow
Sometimes grinding back the surface reveals a different sort of beauty within the stone
Seem like a good place to end this blog….. I hope it was interesting. Feel free to comment, I welcome your thoughts and reactions

Bishops’ tablet final stage

I was able to finish the gilding yesterday as the cathedral was empty, which was ideal for uninterrupted loose leaf work. Here are the final pictures

Gold enamel undercoat
Application of tinted gold size with tester patches
Gold leaf laid in, ready to sand back
After sanding
Close up. These are only 20mm tall
Another close up

Gilding is always quite a fraught business, laying in the gold too soon and it wrinkles up, and too late it won’t adhere. This went well. I used 4 hour size, but it was ready within an hour.

Norwich Cathedral additional inscriptions

The Bishops tablet in progress
Setting out the High Stewards inscription

Last week I was working in Norwich Cathedral adding names to two stone plaques. The material seemed to be Nabresina Gold, which I have carved before. It’s quite hard, and ‘plucky’ in places, so I had to be extremely careful chasing in the serifs. The previous inscriptions were of varying quality, and stylistically a bit all over the place (for example the narrow 0’s on the High Steward numerals, which were somewhat at odds with what had gone before). I drew lettering that was close to, but not copying some of the better examples, attempting to create some harmony with the original carving and letterforms, and hopefully set a good precedent for future additions.

Some of the earlier inscriptions were quite poor, and some not even set out square on the tablets. It was awkward work as these letters were only 20mm tall, and there were stone columns in the way on both sides, which meant that some physical contortions were necessary. I can see why previous carvers struggled…..

Detail from existing inscription
Detail from existing inscription
Detail from existing inscription
Detail from existing inscription

Here are some pictures of my work on this. The Bishop’s inscription is yet to be gilded, and has an undercoat at present in these pictures.

Flood painted, prior to rubbing back
After careful sanding
A close up of the 20mm letters
The High Stewards tablet
Another close up, again 20mm letters

I look forward to gilding the Usher inscription, it’ll look great. It was a lovely experience, with the choral and organ accompaniment. I hope to be lettercutting there again soon.

Some recent work

Here are a few pictures of recent work, in different materials.

First a bowl and memorial, both made using Caithness stone:

Next, some York stone memorials:

The last one is in Holkham Hall churchyard. I hope you find these interesting….

A road trip to The Black Isle

Dan my trusty assistant and I have been installing a stone in Cromarty, and exploring some of the historic sites here. Last time I came up this way I visited the enormous Sueno Stone near Elgin, now encased in glass, and the Nigg stone. These Pictish stones have both been unearthed and re-erected. They are from around the 8/9th century. Here are some old pictures:I was commissioned to make a stone to go in Cromarty cemetery. I had previously installed one in Kirkmichael. These were both Caithness stone, which is a hard mudstone, rather like slate. It can be highly polished, but I opted for the more natural and rugged riven finish. The more recent one for Calum is a neutral grey colour, it will become a bit more rusty in colour over time, as can be seen with the other stone here, which I installed about 10 years ago.Kirkmichael is a wonderful small church that has recently been restored. During the restoration many wonderful stones were unearthed and they are on display there. They’re amazing and some are from the 13th and 14th centuries. They feature swords alongside the crosses, tree of life imagery, steps of Calgary, and some of the later ones have sextons tools, imagery relating to death and spirituality, the mort bell, hour glass etc. Feast your eyes on these.

Bale Church piece

I recently installed my second memorial in Bale churchyard in Norfolk.

The first I carved for here was to an inventor and featured some nice cogs on the back. This second memorial features an angel head reminiscent of the 18th century style, along with the cross keys on the back and a runner…..I also really liked 4 deeply carved panels on the font and some lovely inscriptions in the floor

A plaque in Westminster Abbey

This exciting commission was delivered recently and will have been set into the floor by the Abbey’s own stonemason ahead of a gathering to remember Wesley Carr, the previous Dean of Westminster who passed away last year. It’s exciting to have a piece set into the fabric of the building, now part of the building itself and with an eclectic set of neighbours also set in the floor. Prominent poets, scientists, politicians, musicians and so on. It’s an interesting place to visit as a lettercutter.

London Design Fair

I finished setting up my stand today, and had a bit of a wander about. There’s an exciting array of designs by some of the country’s top craftspeople. Furniture, pottery, wallpaper, textiles, lighting, and all sorts of innovative products. Here is a snapshot…. pictures taken during the set up. Come and see me there. At the bottom of this post you will find a private view invitation and complimentary pass. You can download, complete and print these for free entry. I hope to see you there.