Michael Keller

Michael Keller lives in Lake Chelan, Washington and is a master wood carver. Rather than take our word for it, you can see Michael's work at this White Eagle Studios Web site. In July of 2010 Michael published a blog entry about his new Grip-All Jaws Tilt-Top Portable. We reprint the article here as Michael says it pretty well.

While I have never been shy about recommending products that I like or even facing those that don’t work so well with a degree of criticism, I have never offered a posting that was an out-right “product review.”

This posting is a rare exception simply because I have discovered a woodcarver’s tool that I believe to be indispensable. It is the best new tool since I don’t know when. I am speaking of the Grip-All Jaws Tilt Top System. This is a built “hell for stout” holding device that will hold virtually any shaped carving project and allow you to tilt it up for easy, comfortable access. It does not use typical carving screws or clamps. Projects are held securely in place with Pivot Arms and Grip Pins. I am quite sure that you can even hold a bowling ball in there if you really wanted to do such a thing. And this thing is completely portable. You can easily pack it up and take it with you to club meetings or the local picnic grounds.

I was introduced to the Grip-All when I received a newly issued 2010 catalog from Cascade Carver’s Supply . The photo caught my attention and the write-up hooked me. The photo is of the Grip-All holding one of Ron Lunde’s incredible North Coast Masks. I immediately telephoned Cascade and placed an order with Linda (aka Helga Smilegreat). While I was so very anxious to get it, I also worried that I might be disappointed with it. Believe me, there is nothing to be disappointed about. [Note: Cascade Carvers Supply no longer carries Grip-All Jaws products but they are available from this website.] 

When it arrived, I immediately put it to work with some small 6″ Teddy Bears that I was carving for an upcoming art festival. Even the small odd shape of these Teddy Bears were easily handled by the Grip-All … and it saved my aging hands in the process.

Okay, so this thing handled these little Teddy Bears but will it handle something larger? My next project was a deep relief carving of a Native American male. With this project, I had to engage in some serious pounding. No problem. The Grip-All held up to rigorous pounding without any movement at all. Within the first two weeks that I owned this thing I tried just about every application I could think of as I am preparing for the three-day art festival that I mentioned earlier. I found great success, not just success, but GREAT SUCCESS with everything that I did. I have done “whittle-carving” (as Don Mertz calls it), I have done detail work, I have done heavy duty work, and I have worked on some very unique shapes.

I had always wanted to build such a gizmo after seeing the easel type carving table offered by Veritas or the one built and used by Chris Pye. But, I am not a cabinet maker by any stretch and I was not about to attempt to build a Chris Pye type table and I am not wealthy enough to afford the Veritas table.

The Grip-All Jaws is perfect for my work and it is most affordable. The unit is portable so I can easily move it from my carving desk to my carving bench or my stand-up carving stand. In fact, being able to stand at my stand-up bench and work on a relief carving in a tilted up position is a “God-send”… saving my back and neck. I simply secure it to whatever surface that I am using with “C” clamps and I have an instant, stout, work holder without using screws or anything else that has the potential of ruining my work. My ongoing complaint about most work holders is that they have movement or that they “flex” under pressure. This Grip-All Jaws Tilt-Top is solid as a rock and holds my piece with-out any damage to the carving itself. It holds planks for relief carving, it holds odd shapes, and it holds heavy wood chunks. This thing is “too cool.” By the way, the tilt angle is adjustable as well.

As I have gotten older, I have gotten to the point that I really don’t like to hold any work in my hands. Not only do my hands ache a bit these days but I like to keep my hands out of harm’s way. This tool is an answer to my needs.

The Grip-All Jaws was invented by RP Myers of McCleary, Washington. As RP reflected – “need is the mother of invention.” RP has enjoyed a long career in home design and building. At the same time, he is a sculptor utilizing several media. However wood has been his favorite. When working on wood, as many of us have experienced, RP found himself holding his project and using Kutzall cutters and the like. After a few near misses, he quickly concluded that he needed a good holder for his projects. Typical holders were not a good option as they require screws more often than not and RP’s projects would have been ruined with a screw hole in them. Vices did not work well either. He tells me he even tried sand bags. There was nothing on the market that would meet RP’s requirements. So, he set out to create a good strong holding device for odd shaped pieces. It was obvious to RP that pivot arms and grip pins were the answer. His first creation was similar to the one I am discussing here but it was to be added to your work bench… and it did not tilt.

This first Grip-All was a good one and it clearly has its applications still. While he created this thing for himself, he thought “why not market this thing to over carvers and crafts people.” After filing for a patent, he took it to shows and enjoyed success but he also received feed-back from carvers that they sure wished that it was portable and that it would tilt. As they say, “the rest is history.” Today RP Myers offers three Grip-All Jaw systems. One, which I can’t wait to try out someday, is a light weight version for smaller work. This smaller model is called an Orbital Holding System. It is “orbital” as it will completely rotate. It is also something that can be attached about anywhere and will position the work right in front of you.

I urge you to look into the Grip-All Systems and see for yourself. RP tells me that he will be at many woodcarvers’ shows in the Northwest so take in one of these shows and try this thing out. By the way, I don’t sell these things and I am not paid for referrals. I am just excited as heck about these that I want to pass the word on to other carvers. These things are like adding magic to you woodcarving resources.

Keep sharp and be carveful!