Introduction: How to Carve a Rune Stone to Decorate Your Yard/garden

About: I'm a frustrated artist, happily married, retired military and a reenactor. I love to find things that I don't think archaeologist got quite right and then figure out the nuts and bolts of things. A…

About a thousand years ago plus or minus five hundred years, rune stones where being carved all over Europe.  With a little bit, OK a whole bunch of patience and tenacity you can have one for your garden or a greeting card for a close friend who will really appreciate the gift after they have to move it a couple of times.  This is my first "Instructables" so bear with me, here we go

Step 1: Tools

I've got a lot of tools that I reserve specifically for stone carving, but the truth is all you really need is a really big nail, a file to sharpen it with and maybe a big hammer and a small hammer, but lets look at the optimal stuff, the important thing is just start carving.

Step 1 Part 1  The tools

The tools pictured here represent approximately one fourth of those in my stone working kit, it’s ironic that out of more then 100 tools the majority of the work will be accomplished with only two, my light sledge and heavy point. In detailed free sculpture all of them might very well be used

Step 2: Minimum Tools

If you want to buy some stone carving tools this is all I recommend at first, a 1 lb or 1/2 kilo hammer and a medium center point chisel, there's lots of sources for both online, I like "Sculpture House"  I got my "Baby" sledge on Okinawa a long time ago and I have no idea if you can still get them.

Step 3: Historical Tools

Historical tools for stone carving in Northern Europe were pretty simple so you don't need to spend a lot of money, start out simple and add as you need to, and you can always use more hammers, there's always something that needs hammering.

The top most chisel phots were proveded to me by Sandy Sempel, from the "Frojel Gotlandica" site

Step 4: The Center Point

Step 5: Selecting and Prepping the Stone.

You can get large pavers or small ones for that matter at most landscaping yards.  Rather then me try and explain the different types of stone, just go to the yard and ask if they mind if you test your chisel (chenter point or nail) on their stones to see how they'll carve.  Limestone is almost aways a winner and if your lucky enough to be able to get Indiana limestone your on the right track.

I like slate and flagstone because it ussually has a nice texture, and it's important to be able to lift your stone without a tractor.

This stone is a limestone flagstone. Being limestone it is a sedimentary stone, which means it comes from the bottom of some long gone sea. This particular specimen comes from Pennsylvania and is about 120 million years old. It also comes from relatively high in the strata and so would be considered a medium pressure stone or of a 5 hardness on a scale of 1-10. it seems to be free of fossils and other inclusions but there are numerous flake and strata separations.

The stone is mounted on the easel. Currently it is 5 ½ feet high and weighs about 220 pounds. I built this easel for the purpose. After attempting to raise the stone using various levers I finally just grabbed it and lifted it into position, which is about 18 inches above ground level. In the future the easel will be made more rigid and two people used to mount the stone. The easel is made of It’s 2x4s and plywood with steel re-enforcement chains. There are three hold downs to keep the stone in place against the bottom rail. Two area lights were added for indoor work. Initially this was constructed for a Ren Faire demo, honestly I prefer working flat on the ground, some folks make turntables

Step 6: Finding and Marking Flaws

Step 2 Part C

The selected stone is examined for fractures and surface condition. Numerous areas are noted and marked. (normally I would I would scale them off as I found them but for the purpose of documentation of process I have marked them) A very large flaw is noted near the top of the stone on the left side.

Step 7: Flaking Off Loose Pieces

Step 2 Part D

Loose areas are flaked of by inserting a chisel into cracks and either scraping or twisting. 

Step 2 Part E

An 8 oz. hammer is used in combination with a 1 inch flat chisel to remove more stubborn flaws

Step 2 Part F

Step 8: Learn to Use Either Hand

This is a good time to practice with you off hand, sooner or later you'll get tired and it's the wrong time to practice when a mistake can cost you 100 hours of labor

Step 9: Practice Different Directions

Up or down left or right, more practice less mistakes

Step 10:

The large flaw at the top of the stone is very deep and there are an additional 4 flaws higher up the stone. I decide to remove the top 1 foot of the stone. The arrows indicate the main flaw and the broken line the line I will cut to remove the top section. I incorporate the flaw to minimize effort.
The initial cut is made using a flat chisel and a 2 lb maul. The flaw is deepened

Step 11:

I begin to concentrate on the flaw, deepening it into a cut, as much as possible I want to preserve the natural appearance of the stone sot the cut line is deliberately uneven

The spike side of a bush hammer is used to deepen my cut. The hammer is used to remove material faster but requires more skill. This process is called direct percussion, as opposed to indirect percussion which uses a chisel, the chisel tends to allow more precision at the cost of speed. Once I am satisfied with the depth I change up to a masons hammer, to start an in line fracture.

Step 12: Cutting Through for Large Stock Removal

The stone is cut through initially on the far left then the crack widened

Step 13:

Success! A sharp rap on the area to be removed causes a crack to run through the relief cut. This process is similar to the process used in quarrying. A fracture is either started or an existing one used, wooden wedges are insert and a relief cut is made. The wedges are driven and if the relief cut is properly placed and deep enough the stone cuts. The break appears natural as I intended

Step 14: Vibration

I become concerned about the percussion from hammering causing the upper section to visibly vibrate and so remove the free hanging section thus stopping the vibration. There was a possibility of the vibration causing a crack to run in an unforeseen direction. To remove the section I struck it sharply centered on the yellow highlighted area.

Step 15: Knapping

Still concerned about vibration I knap off more of the upper area. Knapping involves striking the stone on it’s edge sharply to remove chips, it requires substantial practice to avoid removing more then the desired area. If my relief cut has sapped the integrity of the stone it will act as a stop so that an unexpected crack will follow it versus running across the main part of the stone.

Step 16: Dressing the Edge

After the larger portion is removed, sharp edges are chipped down by direct percussion

Step 17: Layout

Oepir my favorite Rune carver from the 12th Century may or may not have been several people or a guild of sorts, he was one of the most prolific carvers and recently laser studies of stones that he signed are hinting that there may have been several people working on each stone.  After my 4 year old walked in picked up a hammer and chisel and started helping me carve a previous stone I can see how it could have been a family affair.

Step 18: The Border

with practice you can not only carve to the edge but over the edge and to the back of the stone, but for this one I stayed on one side

After all flaws which might cause problems are removed or otherwise resolved, I spend an hour or two studying the stone and considering which style and form to use. I decide to use a hybrid late style based on Oepir, which will incorporate facets of the Poetic Edda. The first step is using chalk and my hand as a caliper I draw a line marking the edges and define the boundaries I will work within.

Step 19: The Base Artwork

After laying out the edge, the border is laid out, which is a lindisorm, or a great serpent.   The main portion of the verse will be written in the central figure. Because of stone iregularities it may not be possible to complete the verse there so it will be continued as necessary onto the border. This style is seen on numerous runes in Sweden U-11 is a good example. It adds entire lines onto the border. Next following Oepirs style three circles are laid out. Another lindisorm or a drakkar (dragon) will be wound and knotted around these three circles. 

Step 20: Modifying the Artwork

The second figure is drawn in incorporating the three circles. Lesser orms (serpents) are drawn in but will not be fully incorporated until the carving phase. These lesser orms allow modification during the carving phase. The greater orm uses a basic knotwork system of over, under, over. By adding the lesser orms the design can be modified to allow for stone defects and/or conflicts of appearance when the runes are added later.

Step 21: Trading Chalk for Wax

Wax takes the place of chalk and design issues are resolved. Since all three loops intersect at the center, one bend is moved slightly out of line to avoid a cluttered appearance

I trade up for wax because chalk can accidentally be removed while wax take an effort, I once had an entire day of work lost because one of our cats decided that the stone looked very comfortable while it was laying flat and slept on it.

Step 22: Painting and Finishing

Paints and colors are a matter of personal choice, I usually limit myself to historical paints that I've made myself just because I'm crazy that way.  Stay away from latexs since they'll peel over time.  I promise a future Instructable on how to make your own paints  (done)

I begin painting the stone, I tested the paints on a scrap that I cut from the parent but for reasons unknown to me the yellow paint did not behave the same on the larger stone, perhaps because it is vertical but this hasn’t posed a problem in the past. The yellow paint is a blend of hand ground yellow ochre from the Sandia Reservation, alabaster and a contemporary yellow to brighten the colors, a portion of the red is a dried animal protein suspended in an oil base, after demonstrating its feasibility I discarded it’s use in favor of a contemporary translucent red which matches the protein base exactly. The green is a contemporary translucent stain which simulates a vegetable stain (artichoke) in oil and the white is a hybrid white incorporating burnt bone, and alabaster in a contemporary white base.

Also checkout my instructable on How to make Viking age Paints

Step 23: Text

Step 4 Part B

My first couple of stones were done in English transposed to Elda Runor (calling it Futhark is like calling the English alphabet Abcdef)  later I started using lots and lots of references to translate, one of these days I'll take an Old Norse class.
I did this stone for a great friend although each time he has to move it he calls me and gives me grief. The texts is taken from the Fafismal and U-11 also known as the Adelso Stone which was carved for a living person as opposed to other stone which were carved as monument to folks who had departed. I've left out some parts that are personal but if you can read Old Norse and Runes it's all there. 
Old Norse/Swedish                             English
Fjarri hu gekt                                     "Better is heart
Mehan och a Fafni rauok                 than a mighty blade
Minn inn hvassa hjor                         For him who shall fiercely fight;
Afli minu                                            The brave man well   
atta ek vih orms megin                       shall fight and win,    
mehan hu I lyngvi latt                        Though dull his blade may be.         
Lengi liggia                                         "Brave men better
letir hu lyngvi I                                   than cowards be,
hann inn aldna jotun                         When the clash of battle comes;       
ef hu sverds ne nytir                           And better the glad
hess er och sjalfrgerda                       than the gloomy men
och hins hvassa hjors                         Shall face what before him lies”

Check out for help with doing your own runes

Step 24: Final Finnish (no Pun)

The protective coating, being a hardheaded historical type I finish my stones by rubbing them down with linseed oil but you can use any clear finish, the disadvantage of linseed oil is it can take a while to dry if it's cold or the humidity is high and you can get dust or other stuff imbedded in the surface.

Step 25: Give It Away

Serriosly, give it away or else you'll bury your self in rocks.  Find some unsuspecting sap and give it to them.  They can put it in their garden or make furniture out of it.

Finally remember this, it's just a rock, even if you bought it you probably didn't pay that much for it unless it's alabaster or something.  If it breaks while your working it, that's just the way it goes, as you get better you'll learn how to spot problems and fix them or avoid them. 

Why Stone?

Someone a long time ago told me that when the artist finds his or her medium they know it and they can not be shaken from it. I've worked in iron and steel as a smith and an armorer. If asked at the time I would have told you that iron or steel was my medium but one day on an impulse and inspiration I stopped in a dry river bed and procured two stones. I didn't have the right tools for the job but I plugged away and was pleased with the result, both stones reside outside my front door. One is a short poem to my wife and the other depicts both of our heraldry and names.

The appeal of stone as a media is many layered. I suppose the greatest appeal to me is its permanent nature. We have phrases like "It's written in stone" and "As immovable as stone". They infer permanence and touch on the eternal. Stone also offers numerous options from two dimensional to three dimensional. My predominant interest is in what is referred to as runestones. For eight hundred years the Scandinavians erected monuments on stone which where two dimensional, they usually but not always incorporated runes and or drawings incised in stone

Every stone has its own personality and soul. What we see on the outside is often very different from what is on the inside. Things that we think of as flaws are simply differences within the whole. One ignores that soul and differences at their own peril. Just as with people, you never really understand someone until you can feel what they feel and appreciate those feelings and give them their own value rather then simply seeing them as something counter to your own desires. Stone is like that, if you carve before you understand, your work is most likely doomed. Hidden differences can surface and then the stone chips, splinters, splits or breaks. To carve you must understand, you must converse, you must touch and you must listen. You cannot force a stone to your will. You must feel the stone and value it and only after that may you teach the stone to feel you and value what you have to say or show. If you can do that then as an artisan you will touch on what stone and only stone as a medium can give you, immortality.

The significance of the stone is often missed by those who focus on the art of the stone, while that art can be extraordinary and the endeavor of carving granite is often appreciated as one of great labor it pales beside the stones end effect. That effect is simply the immortal nature of stone. It is a permanence that lives on long after its creator has returned to dust. It touches on the fears that we all have of being forgotten, of not leaving a legacy. How many of us remember the achievements of our great grand parents? How many of us can touch something that an ancestor of ours accomplished a thousand years ago? We touch on the spirit of the stones in our modern culture with grave stones. We are not permitted to see beyond the veil of this life, to know if we shall be sustained by our spirit or a greater power. But we are driven to know some part of us lingers and is of significance. That significance is simply “I am”, and in the face of a huge world where individual significance is lost, it gives comfort to the soul in knowing that we have done something that will last forever. Our oldest ancestors spat ochre or charcoal across their hands and left imprints on stone for us to see, They raised dolmen in England and stacked stones into pyramids in China, Egypt, Ethiopia, and the new world , and they carved rune stones in Scandinavia. They all cry out the same thing, “I am, and I have made something larger and more long lasting then myself”, I lived, I loved, I fought and I died, but I was, and by tying myself to this immortal substance my memory will live forever.
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