Wood carving as a creative pursuit and has interested people for thousands of years. It is fascinating to see how a block of wood can be converted into a decorative piece or a functional object with the use of the right carving tools. A wood carving project can be as simple or complex as the carver desires it to be. To be able to successfully execute such a project, one should have a good understanding of the type of wood that should be used and the various carving tools that one can make use of. If you are a beginner wood carving enthusiast, it is advisable that you start with soft wood with straight grains as they are easier to carve with minimum tools. As you develop your carving skills, you can try your hands on harder woods and play with intricate designs.
To help you choose the right tools for your wood carving project, we will discuss the various types of hand carving tools that you should know about. Typically, widest part of the cutting edge in wood carving tools, like chisels, gouges, etc., are used to signify its size, with an exception of parting tools which are measured on one side of their cutting edge, a measure also known as sweep.
Here are the essential carving tools that a woodworker cannot do without.
- Carving Knife: This is perhaps one of the very first carving tools that a wood carver starts with. They come in various sizes and are typically used for whittling, chipping and paring wood. The handles of these knives are ergonomic in design so that it fits the hands of wood carvers comfortably as they might need to work with it for long hours. The blade is generally about 1 1/2” long and is made of high carbon steel for endurance.
- Carpenter’s Chisel: This is another indispensable tool in wood carving. Typically, a chisel comes with a sharp rectangular metal blade that is attached to a handle. Their sweep is ranges from wide to narrow and is generally used by carvers to peel curls of wood from a block or for flat cutting or finishing.
- Skew Chisel: It is similar to the normal carpenter’s chisel with the exception that the cutting edge of its blade is at an angle of 45 degree from the leading edge.
- Gouges: Gouges are a close cousin of chisels. They also feature a straight handle, however, the difference between the two lies in the curvature of blades of gouges. There are a various types of gouges like the U gouge and V gouge. The U gouge features a blade that is curved in half circle making it suitable for carvers to dig it deep into the block of wood to scoop out wood thus creating deep or shallow hollows or curves. V gouges on the other hand come with a blade that is shaped as a V on its tip.
- Bent and Spoon Gouges: These are specially designed gauges that helps are carver reach spots on the wood that are not accessible via straight gauges. These gauges feature a shaft that is bent. There are a few variations of them – for e.g. in bent gouge the entire length of the shaft is curved, in spoon gouge the last 1 ½” of the shaft is bent into a spoon shape and lastly the back-bent gouge that features a curve that is opposite of a spoon gouge.
- Parting and Veining Tools and Fluters: The parting tools come with a V shaped cutting edge with 45” or 60” cutting angle. So, for narrower cut use parting tools with smaller V and vice versa. These are typically used for making rough outlines and for giving finishing touches to the inside corners. The veining tools or veiners are smallest straight gouges that come with a deep U shaped cutting edge making it suitable for grooving or for giving rough outline to small areas. Fluters are also a type of straight gouges but they come with blades that have wide curvature. They are used for carving wide hollows into wood.
- Palm Tools: The tools discussed above come in smaller size in a kit that has an assortment of various carving tools. It is perfect for beginner and comes in handy for professional wood carvers as well.
- Riffler: It is a typical small curved file used to smoothen the surface of the carved area on a wood block.
- Mallet: It is another tool that is essential in wood carving. Typically it is used to strike the end of a chisel or gouge to drive the blade of these tools deeper into the wood. Various types of mallets are available: Some are made of maple, Beachwood, lignum vitae, Hickory, etc. If you are a beginner it is advisable that you start with smaller mallets that are lighter in weight. As you gather the skills in wood carving, you might eventually need to have a variety of them for working on various types of woods and designs.
- Leather Thumb Guard: While this is not a tool for carving woods, all beginner carvers should wear it to minimize the chances of getting hurt while craving as the carving tools they will with are typically sharp.
The various hand carving tools do come in various sizes. In general, the sizes of these tools are typically the radius of curvature of the blade is mentioned on the handles or the shank of the tool. The tools with various sweeps may be available in the same radius of curvature. The tools with a higher size number have a greater curvature and can make deeper cuts and vice versa.
Lastly, a word of advice for woodworking beginners: Start with amateur carving tools as they typically have a shorter shank making them easier to handle. You can buy a beginner carving tool set that consists of all the basic selection of chisel, gouges, parting tools, etc. It should be enough to give you a good start in pursuing this creative hobby.