Today I got a package from England containing my slate-carving tools, and I am in heaven. The package contained one nylon mallet, weighing maybe half a pound; one beechwood mallet, weighing about the same as a large butterfly; one teensy (6mm across the tip) carbide-tipped chisel; and another chisel, even teensier (4mm).
Until now, I\’ve been carving slate with the same tools I used to carve Indiana limestone, which is almost as hard as marble: big steel chisels, and mallets weighing as much as five pounds. I\’ve said before that slate is like mineral fillo dough. Put a big chisel on it and whack it with a heavy mallet, and chips–noses, chins, eyelids–go flying everywhere.
But these small, light, sharp, super-precise tools give the most amazing control, so that carving slate is no scarier than carving any other stone, and a lot easier on the body. You put the tiny chisel on the surface of the stone, give it the lightest whack, and four specks of dust fly off: no harm done. Put the chisel down again, whack it lightly, and four more specks fly off. You\’re definitely getting somewhere. (Have I mentioned that one reason I love direct stone carving is that it is slooooow?)
The downside of slate is that it cannot be carved in the round. You can only do bas relief, which is kind of between sculpture and drawing. But, for a lover of line like me, that is not a downside at all.