If you are new to woodcarving and looking to buy your first set of tools, then the decision and investment can be a little daunting. There is a good selection of hand tools available but you do tend to have to look a little further afield than your local DIY store.
Our club’s normal advice is to encourage people to go along to their local woodcarving club/class, and have a good look at the tools other people are using before making any purchases.
The type of tools you buy will to some degree depend on the type of carving you plan to do. There are many different types of edge tools that you may come across in a woodcarver’s tool box, here are a few:
While these notes only really attempt to cover hand tools, there is also a diverse range of power carving tools. From specialised chain saws to mini rotary tools.
For some people the size and shape of the tool handles is an important factor. For example, some carvers may find a certain shape/size handle of a given manufacturer fits better in their hands, while others may be looking for something robust so they can hit it hard with a mallet.
What we would suggest is shop by brand, make sure you are investing in some tools that you know are made from a good steel. For example:
You will pay more for these tools but they will hold an edge and get better results. Here are a few online shops that sell carving tools:
You do not need to buy them all at once. Most carvers would probably find that of their many gouges they tend to favour a small number. While arguably every possible size and shape of gouge is useful (They all leave a different shape/mark in the wood) it should be possible to do most things with a minimum of just two gouges and bit of patience.
As new members join our club with little or no experience of carving we have a relatively “standard” bit of kit we let them use. For their first project, we ask most beginners to carve a leaf in relief. As a project this allows most beginners to get the feel from both the tools and the wood.
Typically, we would try to provide (Depending on demand on any given evening):
Gouges (Shape numbering from the Sheffield List):
There is only a gradual difference between the gouge shape numbers 3-9. So, if the No.4 gouge in 12mm is not available then a No.5 gouge in 10mm might do a very similar job.
The Sheffield List is a number system that describes the shape of the cutting edge of the carving tool. This video on YouTube by Master Carver Chris Pye provides a very good introduction into how this numbering system works:
We are very lucky to have a selection of Black and Decker Workmates, but similar portable benches are available. Most people carve standing, so we use a small wooden box/uplift to clamped into the workbench to raise its height a little. Good posture when carving for any length of time is important.
It is worth avoiding a some of the small starter sets. They tend to try and cover many options and new carvers may end up with a couple of gouges that they don't use much.
If your shopping online make sure anything you buy is a "carving gouge" and not a "turning gouge". If there is no sense of scale in the photo they can look very similar.
Cheaper tools are often made from softer steel that requires regular sharpening. This often also means that the tools are thicker to compensate and consequently harder to use.
The notes on this page are a long way from being comprehensive.
They where written with the intension of supplementing the information that Exeter Woodcarvers would normally give new members at our club.
But we hope that others may find them useful to invest in their tools to make beautiful carvings.
As ever we would welcome any feedback.
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