Sculpture is the branch of the visual arts that operates in three dimensions. It is one of the plastic arts. Durable sculptural processes originally used carving (the removal of material) and modelling (the addition of material, as clay), in stone, metal, ceramics, wood and other materials but, since Modernism, there has been an almost complete freedom of materials and process. A wide variety of materials may be worked by removal such as carving, assembled by welding or modelling, or molded, or cast.

Sculpture in stone survives far better than works of art in perishable materials, and often represents the majority of the surviving works (other than pottery) from ancient cultures, though conversely traditions of sculpture in wood may have vanished almost entirely. However, most ancient sculpture was brightly painted, and this has been lost.

Sculpture has been central in religious devotion in many cultures, and until recent centuries large sculptures, too expensive for private individuals to create, were usually an expression of religion or politics. Those cultures whose sculptures have survived in quantities include the cultures of the ancient Mediterranean, India and China, as well as many in South America and Africa.

The Western tradition of sculpture began in ancient Greece, and Greece is widely seen as producing great masterpieces in the classical period. During the Middle Ages, Gothic sculpture represented the agonies and passions of the Christian faith. The revival of classical models in the Renaissance produced famous sculptures such as Michelangelo’s David. Modernist sculpture moved away from traditional processes and the emphasis on the depiction of the human body, with the making of constructed sculpture, and the presentation of found objects as finished art works.

Types of sculpture

A basic distinction is between sculpture in the round, free-standing sculpture, such as statues, not attached (except possibly at the base) to any other surface, and the various types of relief, which are at least partly attached to a background surface. Relief is often classified by the degree of projection from the wall into low or bas-relief, high relief, and sometimes an intermediate mid-relief. Sunk-relief is a technique restricted to ancient Egypt. Relief is the usual sculptural medium for large figure groups and narrative subjects, which are difficult to accomplish in the round, and is the typical technique used both for architectural sculpture, which is attached to buildings, and for small-scale sculpture decorating other objects, as in much pottery, metalwork and jewellery. Relief sculpture may also decorate steles, upright slabs, usually of stone, often also containing inscriptions.

Another basic distinction is between subtractive carving techniques, which remove material from an existing block or lump, for example of stone or wood, and modelling techniques which shape or build up the work from the material. Techniques such as casting, stamping and moulding use an intermediate matrix containing the design to produce the work; many of these allow the production of several copies.

Purposes and subjects

Moai from Easter Island, where the concentration of resources on large sculpture may have had serious political effects.
One of the most common purposes of sculpture is in some form of association with religion. Cult images are common in many cultures, though they are often not the colossal statues of deities which characterized ancient Greek art, like the Statue of Zeus at Olympia. The actual cult images in the innermost sanctuaries of Egyptian temples, of which none have survived, were evidently rather small, even in the largest temples. The same is often true in Hinduism, where the very simple and ancient form of the lingam is the most common. Buddhism brought the sculpture of religious figures to East Asia, where there seems to have been no earlier equivalent tradition, though again simple shapes like the bi and cong probably had religious significance.

Small sculptures as personal possessions go back to the earliest prehistoric art, and the use of very large sculpture as public art, especially to impress the viewer with the power of a ruler, goes back at least to the Great Sphinx of some 4,500 years ago. In archaeology and art history the appearance, and sometimes disappearance, of large or monumental sculpture in a culture is regarded as of great significance, though tracing the emergence is often complicated by the presumed existence of sculpture in wood and other perishable materials of which no record remains; the totem pole is an example of a tradition of monumental sculpture in wood that would leave no traces for archaeology. The ability to summon the resources to create monumental sculpture, by transporting usually very heavy materials and arranging for the payment of what are usually regarded as full-time sculptors, is considered a mark of a relatively advanced culture in terms of social organization. Recent unexpected discoveries of ancient Chinese bronze age figures at Sanxingdui, some more than twice human size, have disturbed many ideas held about early Chinese civilization, since only much smaller bronzes were previously known. Some undoubtedly advanced cultures, such as the Indus Valley civilization, appear to have had no monumental sculpture at all, though producing very sophisticated figurines and seals. The Mississippian culture seems to have been progressing towards its use, with small stone figures, when it collapsed. Other cultures, such as ancient Egypt and the Easter Island culture, seem to have devoted enormous resources to very large-scale monumental sculpture from a very early stage.

Social status of sculptors

Nuremberg sculptor Adam Kraft, self-portrait from St Lorenz Church, 1490s.
Worldwide, sculptors have usually been tradesmen whose work is unsigned; in some traditions, for example China, where sculpture did not share the prestige of literati painting, this has affected the status of sculpture itself. Even in ancient Greece, where sculptors such as Phidias became famous, they appear to have retained much the same social status as other artisans, and perhaps not much greater financial rewards, although some signed their works. In the Middle Ages artists such as the 12th century Gislebertus sometimes signed their work, and were sought after by different cities, especially from the Trecento onwards in Italy, with figures such as Arnolfo di Cambio, and Nicola Pisano and his son Giovanni. Goldsmiths and jewellers, dealing with precious materials and often doubling as bankers, belonged to powerful guilds and had considerable status, often holding civic office. Many sculptors also practised in other arts; Andrea del Verrocchio also painted, and Giovanni Pisano, Michelangelo, and Jacopo Sansovino were architects. Some sculptors maintained large workshops. Even in the Renaissance the physical nature of the work was perceived by Leonardo da Vinci and others as pulling down the status of sculpture in the arts, though the reputation of Michelangelo perhaps put this long-held idea to rest.

From the High Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo, Leone Leoni and Giambologna could become wealthy, and ennobled, and enter the circle of princes, after a period of sharp argument over the relative status of sculpture and painting. Much decorative sculpture on buildings remained a trade, but sculptors producing individual pieces were recognised on a level with painters. From the 18th century or earlier sculpture also attracted middle-class students, although it was slower to do so than painting. Women sculptors took longer to appear than women painters, and were less prominent until the 20th century.

Uses for Carbide Burrs

Use carbide burrs in air tools such as die grinders, pneumatic rotary tools and high speed engravers. Micro Motors, Pendant Drills, Flexible Shafts, and hobby rotary tools such as a Dremel.

Carbide burrs are widely used for metalworking, tool making, engineering, model engineering, wood carving, jewelry making, welding, chamferring, casting, deburring, grinding, cylinder head porting and sculpting. Carbide burrs are used in the aerospace, automotive, dentistry, stone and metalsmith industries.

What cut should you choose?

Single cut (one flute) carbide burrs have a right handed (up cut) spiral flute. Single cut is used with stainless steel, hardened steel, copper, cast iron and ferrous metals and will remove material quickly with a smooth finish. Use for heavy stock removal, milling, deburring and cleaning.

Heavy removal of material
Creates long chips

Use double cut carbide burrs on ferrous and non ferrous metals, aluminium, soft steel and also for all non-metal materials such as stone, plastics, hard wood and ceramic. This cut has more cutting edges and will remove material faster. Double cut also called Diamond Cut or Cross Cut (2 flutes cut across each other) and will leave a smoother finish than single cut due to producing smaller chips as they cut away the material. Use double cut for medium-light stock removal, deburring, finishing and cleaning. Double cut carbide burrs are most popular and work for most applications.

Medium- light removal of material
Fine finishing
Smooth finish
Creates small chips

What RPM speed should you use?

The speed at which you use your carbide burr in your rotary tool will depend on the material you’re using it on and the contour being produced but it’s safe to say you do not need more than 35,000 RPM. If the burs are chipping easily this could be due to the speed being too slow. It’s ideal to start the bur off slow, increasing the speed as you go along. High speeds will prevent clogging in the flutes of your carbide burs.

As with all drill bits and burrs, let the burr do the work and apply only a little pressure, otherwise the cutting edges of the flutes will chip away or become smooth too quickly, reducing the life of your burr.

Our carbide burrs we manufacture are machine ground from a specially chosen grade of carbide. Due to the extreme hardness of the tungsten carbide, they can be used on much more demanding jobs than HSS (High Speed Steel). Carbide Burrs also perform better at higher temperatures than HSS, so you can run them hotter, and for longer. HSS burrs will start to soften at higher temperatures, so carbide is always a better choice for long term performance.

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