Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Wood Carving Tools, What You Need

Wood Carving Tools

Scrolling through pages upon pages on the internet, my mind boggles with so much information, that I simply cannot process it all at once. I love the colour, look and individuality every wooden sculpture or piece of furniture has. 
But how do I get into it? What do I need, and where do I begin?

Clicking through various videos on YouTube, I find that all wood carving videos I come across tend to be very ‘dumbed down’ introductions, or advertisements to pay for full video downloads and access to carving websites.
I just want to know what I need, to start cutting chunks out of wood!?
Finally coming across a few explanations, and talking through forums, I receive the same answers:
“Depends on what you’re carving!”


Well that’s not helpful in the slightest!

I will assume that you, like I, have or had no idea on what I was going to carve, so without being able to provide an answer to their question, I failed to receive an answer to mine.

My answer to that same question, now with a little experience under my belt, is…..

“Depends on what you’re carving!”

Yes, yes. I know! It really does come down to that!
Wood carvers are generally very nice people and happy to help. 
As much as it may feel like it, they aren't just fobbing you off with an unanswerable question, just so they don’t have to listen to you.

So what I shall do, is not ask you another question in return, but simply tell you what I ended up buying and what I feel is useful and what was not.

1. People will say not to buy a chisel kit because you will probably not use all the chisels. I say….

“That’s rubbish!”

Agreed, you will find some chisels you will only pick up once a year, but they’re there when you need them, and the range will enable you to better understand what types of gouge you mostly use in what you do.
My first kit was this, from Flexcut.
Click the picture to view product!

A small palm tool set, and as a beginner I loved them and would highly recommend them, the range is great for all your needs, and being a beginner you will be playing with small scraps, so there is no real need to get anything bigger.
The only downfall with them, is that the handle is interchangeable. Again that’s fine at first but as you progress and speed up, you really need to be able to pick up and put down chisels rapidly. Changing handles over is a tedious and time consuming process, but to be fair it hasn't stopped me using these great chisels.

    Search through old antique shops and house clearance shops for old chisels. Most of mine have been bought cheaply from these places, and they’re much better quality than the cheaper chisels you will find online. Downside is that you will need to clean them up at times and re sharpen them.

    Find a copy of the ‘sheffield list’.
This is a drawn, cross section, list of all sized and shaped chisels. which can be found in the back of this great Chris Pye book. 
Click the picture to view product!

 You can reference your current chisels to it, to figure out what they are and what size you need next.
Remember; the shape of the chisel should closely, if not exactly, fit the contours of the piece you’re carving. I find I carve similarly sized pieces each time, so I use similar sets of chisels on each piece.

    Get a bandsaw!
Click picture to view product!

This is the exact bandsaw I use and I could not say a bad word about it after 4 years of owning. Please take a look or click on the picture to see related bandsaws at various price ranges.
Obviously you can use hand tools to get the same results, but you will be getting stuck into projects in less than quarter of the time with one of these and can spend more time sculpting and less time hogging out waste wood. I couldn't recommend one enough as you will end up using it for general DIY as well.

    A work bench.
Click the picture to view product!

For carving, this can be as simple as a table or you can follow the link to view more specific wood working benches. Make sure it’s sturdy, and I like to raise mine up to about waist height to prevent having to lean down on a project.

    A vice or a couple of clamps.

Click the picture to view product!

There are so many ways to hold your work. Methods change from preference, to type of carving. This is a clamp I use for a lot of work, especially for 'in the round' carvings. It simply clamps to a table, then the vice itself swivels to allow for access to all angles of your carving. Best thing? This is over £80 less than a proper carvers vice, which does the same thing! 

Vices and clamps aren't always completely necessary, I've seen many a video of Japanese mask makers carve on the floor, in their laps! I must add that I don't encourage that method! But I suggest getting into a comfortable position and just get the work piece secured or butted up against something so it doesn't slide of shift while you're working on it.

    Sharpening equipment. 

Click the pictures to view products!

This should have come after the chisels! Like with most things, there are many methods and products that will essentially produce the same results, just maybe some are easier or a little faster than others. Click the pictures above to view a few and see related products. Sharpening is a skill, and as such, companies produce wildly overpriced machines that make quick and easy work of it. But if you’re strapped for cash after buying all your chisels, learn the old fashioned way and get a cheap rough/medium or medium/fine stone. The type will really come down to preference. This is just for shaping the bevel so there’s no real need for top end. Then I would recommend a high end, very fine stone, for refining the edge and a slipstone for the insides of gouges. I make do with an old rubbish slipstone and just use a light touch, but go with your budget.
Finally to get the perfect edge you will need a strop. This is just a piece of suede stuck to a flat board and covered in stropping compound. They’re easy to make, but flexcut produce a nice small one (above) with multiple curved parts on the opposite side, for the insides of gouges.

It seems like a lot, and I won’t lie, it’s not a cheap hobby to start! But once you are established, all these tools last a lifetime, with proper care, and the carving bug will take over your very existence!

Now all you need to do is go get some wood, and you can create anything your mind can imagine!


  1. That looks pretty good. I agree, wild olives is not easy to find. Only a certain part of the world have those kind of wood.
    Adrian G

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