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How to Chisel Sculpture Details
By Ezmeralda Lee, eHow Contributor

Sculpture is an ancient art form predating cave wall paintings and inscriptions, and, as historians assert, one of the oldest of the arts. While early humans used tools fashioned from stone for their work, sculptors today have the benefit of a wide range of chisels to define shape and obtain intricate details in their work. If you are a beginner, here are some basic steps on how to chisel sculpture details out of limestone.

Step 1: Purchasing tools and equipment

There are several tools you can use. Purchase the type and number that fits the complexity of your sculpture design. Select a slab or block of limestone of a size that closely suits the design. This will help reduce the amount of excess stone you will need to chip off and the time spent to do it.

Step 2: Sketching a design

There are several simple designs available for beginners, and you can choose the one that’s of interest to you. Sketch the chosen design of your sculpture on the block or slab of limestone.

Step 3: Cutting out basic sculpture form

First, set your limestone on a sandbag to absorb vibrations and avoid damage to the sculpture when you are using the mallet. To obtain the basic form of your sculpture, use the mallet and a pointed chisel to chip away all excess limestone. Now use chisels to plane the rough edges of the sculpture.

Step 4: Refining basic form

Using a toothed chisel will help you smooth the large grooves made by the point chisel. This will help to refine the basic shape of your stone and will give more definition to the form of your sculpture

Step 5: Chiseling the details

Once you have refined the basic form of your sculpture, start sculpting along the outline of your design with the appropriate chisel. Then sculpt the finer details and features using chisels in this order as you progress: point, claw, toothed, flat, rasp, riffler and file. Decreasing chisel head sizes are used as you proceed. Each head performs finer details than the one preceding it.

Step 6: Sculpting concave and convex areas

For all large concave areas of your sculpture, use the gouge chisels. For smaller concave areas, use the curved rondel chisel. To remove texturing from convex areas and sculpting plane surfaces, use the flat chisel.

Step 7: Finishing your sculpture

Use different grades of wet and dry sandpaper to obtain maximum smoothness. You can now polish or rub wax all over the sculpture using your fingers or a buffing wheel. 

Tips & Warnings:

  • Ensure you angle the chisels at 45 degrees to the stone while working, as steeper angles run the risk of damaging the stone.
  • Make sure that your sculpture is completely dry before polishing.
  • Rock dust is hazardous if inhaled. Therefore, wear safety glasses and a dust mask while working with stone.
  • Do not drive chisels into stone too hard, as this may leave a permanent mark on the stone or damage it.

iDevice icon Vocabulary activity
Complete the following sentences using words from the text above.

1. To a substance on a sculpture means to apply it using firm pressure and a repeated back and forth motion.

2. is a hard sedimentary rock composed mainly of calcium carbonate, used as sculpting or building material and in cement.

3. details are very complex and elaborate ones.

4. A is a hammer with a large wooden head.

5. To plane the edges of a sculpture means to or polish them.

6. A long, narrow cut in a hard material is known as a .

7. A area of a sculpture curves inwards like the interior of a sphere, while a one curves outwards like the exterior of a sphere.

8. You should hold your chisel at about 45 degrees to the stone. If you work at angles you risk damaging the stone.

9. A mask prevents you from inhaling the dangerous, fine powder consisting of tiny particles of stone.


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