Whether you're prototyping something or doing a decorative carving, you might need to sketch something on paper and transfer that pattern to wood, which you can then carve or saw out. Never mind fancy CNC machines, I'm talking about when you need to do it quickly by hand. Here are some low-tech methods that I've used over the years.
1) Draw the pattern in reverse, go over it in soft pencil, put the pattern pencil side down on the wood and rub the paper. The pencil pattern will transfer to the paper.
2) Lay the pattern on the wood over a sheet of carbon paper. Trace over the pattern, the carbon paper will transfer the pattern to the wood.
3) Lay the pattern on the wood and go over it with a pricker of some sort. You can use a single pointed awl, a revolving multi-pointed pricker, or even a ball point pen. The latter puts a readable dent in the wood and works pretty well. Just make sure you put a mark at all the important junctions in the design. I have had good luck with the ball-point method. With the rotating pricker, which I bought specifically for this purpose, the points were too small to see, and I had trouble steering the wheel.
4) Attach the pattern to the wood with a low tack spray adhesive. This is my current favorite method, and when I first tried it I used what I had, which was Super 7. This worked great except that at the end of carving, I could not remove the bits of the pattern that were not carved away. Most annoying!! Chris Pye showed me the error of my ways, and I switched to a low tack spray mount, which works perfectly. There are two things that are really important to do if you use spray mount. The first is that you have to make sure that the pattern is bonded all over the work. Otherwise when you carve, if you hit a dry spot, the pattern will probably tear and you will lose the design. If the paper is solidly bonded, you just carve through it with no worries—as long as your tools are properly sharp. If your tools aren't sharp, what happens is that you rip the paper as you carve and ruin the pattern. But to be fair, if your tools aren't sharp enough to cleanly carve through a paper pattern, they also aren't sharp enough to cleanly cut wood in many situations. So a torn pattern is a good wake-up call.
5) Another method which I have never tried, is to print out the pattern in reverse on a copier or laser printer, and lay it pattern side down on the wood. Then pour some acetone (wear gloves and other safety stuff) over the paper which will release the ink from the paper and transfer to the wood.
I'm sure some of you have got your own tricks as well. Please share in the comments!
This "Tools & Craft" section is provided courtesy of Joel Moskowitz, founder of Tools for Working Wood, the Brooklyn-based catalog retailer of everything from hand tools to Festool; check out their online shop here. Joel also founded Gramercy Tools, the award-winning boutique manufacturer of hand tools made the old-fashioned way: Built to work and built to last.