We often write about wood carving and we already covered wood carving tool sets, sharpening of the tools, books for beginners etc. Now we decided to make a small guide to all of you that want to learn the basics and more about the types of wood carving tools. Professional wood carvers use a huge array of tools and it’s hard for a beginner to understand which tools are used for what. In this article we will cover the most basic things about wood carving tools, from general shapes and sizes to specific tools.
Parts of wood carving tools
Every wood carving tool consists of the main parts, the handle and the blade. The straight or curved shape of the edge starting from the cutting edge of the blade is referred to as the sweep. The point the blade can be either beveled on both sides, if it is a straight sweep and beveled on one side only if the sweep is curved. If the bevel is on the inside of the curve the gouge is said to be incannel and if the bevel is on the outside of the curve the gouge is outcannel. The blade starts to taper near the handle at the shoulder reaching its narrowest point at the neck.
The blade flares out from the neck towards the handle to form the bolster. A rod always extends out from the bolster into the handle (not always the case with cheap carving tools). The tang gives extra support to the blade within the handle. The handles of carving chisels are usually made from wood. Straight grained and slow growing hardwoods such as ash, beech and hornbeam are best for handles. This is because the wood is dense and strong and the straight grain is less likely to split due to inherent knots and faults. In the place next to the bolster where the tang enters the handle a brass or steel ferrule usually supports the handle.
Basic shapes of wood carving tools
There are huge number of various wood carving tools and they all have specific names. In order to understand the part of the article about sizes, first we’ll cover the basic shapes of wood carving tools. Chisels have a flat blade and they can be single or double beveled. Skew chisels have a flat or straight cutting edge also but these shaped on a slant or skew. Gouges have a curved cutting edge which is called a sweep. Veiner is a gouge with maximum curvature of the sweep. V-tools or parting tools have blade in “V” shape in various degrees of the corner. There are many more shapes of wood carving tools but those are the basic shapes.
Sizes of wood carving tools
There are three main sizes of wood carving tools; palm size, mid size and full size. Palm sized wood carving tools are used for smaller carvings – especially those carvings that you hold in one hand and the palm tool in the other. Mid size and full size tools are used for medium to larger size carvings. They made to be pushed using one or both hands or may be struck with a mallet.
Wood carving tools are numbered by the size and curvature of the blade. The curvature of the blade or the “sweep” is defined by numbers from #1 to #11. For instance, #1 sweep is a straight chisel and #11 is almost a semi-circle gouge. The other number is the size or the length of the blade and it is mostly stated in millimeters, although some US manufacturers still state the length in inches. For instance, a #4 8 mm gouge has a #4 curvature and it is 8 mm wide at the blade. You may find that the level of curvature may vary between various manufacturers of wood carving tools. When it comes to non basic shapes of tool like v-chisels, spoon bents or back bents the sizes vary too great between different brands.
Wood carving chisels
As we said earlier, wood carving chisel is, specifically, a flat bladed carving tool. Wood carving chisels differ to ordinary woodworking chisels in that they are beveled on both sides of the blade instead of having a bevel and a flat back. The standard chisels have a cutting edge that is square to the sides and it varies only in the length of the blade. Chisels can also come with a skewed edge, which is particularly useful when cleaning out tight corners where there is little clearance.
Wood carving gouges
Wood carving gouge is the most commonly used type of carving tool. Gouges come in various degrees of blade curvature and they can produce all kinds of concave and convex shapes and surfaces. As we said earlier, this curvature is called the sweep and it is denoted by a number. Higher numbered gouges are particularly good at cutting channels and deeper details. There are lot of variations of wood carving gouges and each variation is used for specific carving tasks. We’ll cover the most commonly used gouge variations.
The long bent gouge has blades that are curved along the entire length. This shape of the gouge allows you to hollow out and make deeper cuts than with a straight gouge. Long bent gouge is available with a range of sweeps and it is extremely useful in relief carving.
Spoon bent gouge is the short version of the long bent gouge. Spoon bent gouges get their name from having a blade that is mainly straight along its length and only curves at the end just like a spoon. Spoon bent gouges are used for hollowing and deep cutting however because of the unusual blade shape, these gouges excel at cutting in hard to reach areas.
With the fishtail gouges the blade starts off thin at the handle, flaring out towards the end to reach its widest point at the cutting edge. The unusual shape of the blade gives clearance in hard to access areas where full width blades would have difficulty fitting. The fishtail form can be found in chisels also.
Carving knives, V-tools and Veiners
Carving knives are important tool in any wood carver’s collection. They can be used for lot of tasks like whittling, chip carving, letter carving and detailing as well as for general carving work. Wood carving knives, like chisels and gouges, come in many different blade shapes, each one designed for a specific purpose. The process of picking the suitable carving knife is the same as choosing the suitable chisels and gouges. Think what the knife will be used for and then select a blade shape that will best suit your needs.
We already mentioned that V-tools get their name from the V profile of their blade. They produce a V shaped cut with a crisp angled bottom and they are used for detailing and adding decoration. V-tools are sometimes also called V parting tools. They are available in a variety of different angles with the most common being 30 and 45 degrees.
As we said earlier, the veiner features a tight U shaped profile with maximum curvature of #11. Veiner is used for adding fine details such as veins and stem on leaves as well as cutting deeper grooves.
In this article we covered the most commonly used wood carving tools but there is still some highly specialized tools we didn’t cover here. We hope that you enjoyed reading about wood carving tools and if you want to learn something about sharpening, you can check out our guide on How to sharpen wood carving tools.