Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Dockyard Micro Tools, Part 2

Suddenly I hear Majel Barrett's voice saying, "Last time on Brush and Baren..." Even if you understand that, you won't admit it. Just rest assured you have friends here.


Finally, the chance to take a closer look at the Dockyard Micro Tools generously shared with me by Don Butler, the Carving Glove Guy. You can find my first impressions in the Dockyard Micro Tools Part 1 post.

I twiddled around with the tools for a while... picking them up in the middle of other carving adventures and using them a bit, and then putting them back down in favor of more familiar gouges. Hm. Didn't really learn much, so I decided to take a more systematic approach. Enter the sample block.

This is an unmounted sheet of regular battleship gray lino, available from various supply houses. The actual size of the test block is 4" x 6", so I've scanned all the samples at 100% size to place here. If you click on the image you should see the full-size scan.

As I mentioned before, the full set of 25 tools includes several items that were outside my experience or interest, including plough, paring, and parting tools. Since I do not typically use these tools in my carving I didn't feel I could give them a fair shake, so they remained in their handy carrying case. I kept my experiments limited to the U-gouges (5 sizes) and V-gouges (4 sizes).

I divided the test block in to columns, and made some sample marks with each tool. In particular I was looking at a variety of mark lengths, and maneuverability for curved lines and shapes.

Did I mention these things were sharp? Wow. I did manage to nick my thumb, not during carving but just moving the tool from one hand to the other. Yes. Sharp. Pay attention.

I initially headed straight for the narrowest tools, anxious to find a delicate workhorse. I would say in the end that the Micro V15 gouge makes a mark comparable in size to the cheapie Speedball #1 V, although I think deeper and definitely more sharp.

To my surprise, it was in the wider U-gouges of the Micro tools that I found real pleasure. In my regular practice I use a cheapie Speedball #5 U (sad, but true) and a shallow Ramelson 1/4" gouge to clear large areas. The Micro G5 and G4 tools tackled the same area with good results, the G5 providing, in my estimation, a wider mark.

Typically I don't spend a lot of time with V-gouges in my practice, but I was delighted to see the variety of line weight one could achieve with the range of Micro V-tools. If I did more "white line**" work, I think I would find plenty of reasons to pick these up. (** By "white line" I mean that the carved line is the focus, rather than the raised lino material left behind by the gouges. This sample print is an example of what I think of as "white line.")

This sample print is made on a sheet of Hosho "professional" paper, smoother side up. Any "fuzzies" you see in the carved shapes are the fault of the printmaker, not the tools. All marks were clean, I just didn't use my jig when I made this print, so things slid around a bit.

In case you can't read my notes on the side, the marks are made, top to bottom, by:
Speedball #1 V-gouge
Ramelson 1/8" veiner
Speedball #5 U-gouge
And then the Dockyard Micro tools: 75V, V15, V2, V3, G15, G2, G3, G4, G5.

I'm using the Dockyard Micro tool numbers as they appear on the tools themselves. If you look at Don's website you'll notice the numbers are slightly longer, but I think you can suss out which is which. The V3, for example, is listed on Don's site as V3090. (V-tool, 3mm, 90 degrees.) There is one odd tool out, the 75 V. This is a 3mm gouge, but the angle of the V is 75 degrees, rather than 90.

In all I think these are perfectly fine tools for linocut work. The blades are sharp and from trolling through comments on a few woodcarving forums they seem to be durable.

In my earlier post I mentioned that my first impressions of the handles was that they were flimsy, and this remains my chief complaint for these otherwise fine tools. I do not find the thin, straight handles to be comfortable in my hand for long periods of time. They are octagonal in shape, which is better than just round, but I still prefer a mushroom-handled tool with a flat bottom surface. A mushroom "bulb" fits into the palm of my hand, and the flat bottom helps me to control the gouge better. These straight-handled gouges tend to turn in my hand, so that the width of the carved line becomes irregular. Probably okay for the way some people work, but I found it distracting.

The steel stock on the Micro tools is very narrow below the actual cutting surface, and I found this less comfortable, also. When I grasp my tools for carving, I keep my index finger on top of the steel stock. On Ramelson tools this is a wider, flatter, and longer surface, which feels more natural for the way I work.

Ramelson 1/8" veiner, grip from top.

Ramelson 1/8" veiner, grip from side.

Dockyard Micro G15, grip from side.

Ramelson 1/8" veiner, grip from bottom

Dockyard Micro G15, grip from bottom.

The biggest disappointment was that on a few of the tools in the set, the steel stock was set crooked in the handle! Probably one could bend them straight with a good pliers, but it seems to me that they should be set straight in the first place.

So... overall, a mixed review. Definitely the Dockyard Micros are sharp tools offering a wide variety of mark-marking for the linocut printmaker. Price range is moderate, certainly these are good blades for their cost. But those darn handles! In the end I'll be keeping the G5 (widest U-gouge) and G15 (narrowest U-gouge) to supplement my existing tool selection. If I had more confidence in and comfort with the handles, I would seriously consider buying the complete U- and V-gouge sets.


  1. A good review and a fair assessment.
    I, too, have difficulty with my grip;my hands are small and a bit arthritic-y so I'd find a long, narrow handle awkward.
    Yes, I did notice the band-aid ;-)

  2. I think the bandaid says it all :) Fascinating review thanks, Sherrie. Inspired me to sacrifice a piece of lino and make my own test patterns. I too prefer the mushroom handles.

    If only I could learn how to properly sharpen the little devils, I'd be very happy. My favourite small V cutter now has a round shoulder :(

  3. :-) I tried not to draw attention to the bandaid, you smarty-pants girls!

    Sympathy and solidarity over sharpening woes, Robyn. The last time you saw a bandaid on this blog it was affixed to my adored 1/8" veiner for the same reason. That's some of the appeal of these little Micros... everything I read on forums indicated they were easy to maintain.