View Electronic Edition

Inroduction to Woodcarving Tools

Imagine that the camping hike you've planned Will be taking you through the famous site of the Fallen Tree-Trunk, where amateurs and professional wood-carvers alike have chipped away and added to an evolving sculpture for over 100 years!

Or, fancy carving an intricate pattern on the door of the main entrance of your own home, ornamenting a head-board for your bed - or even crafting an entire bed itself - posts, canopy, and all!

Whether you plan to spend only an afternoon carving during a camping trek, or devoting entire days to creating at your own workshop, the following information on shapes, sizes, and uses of the many available types of wood-carving tools will undoubtedly prove necessary to your basic selection of equipment.

Shapes. Sizes, and Uses

Wood-carving tools are usually measured across the widest part of the cutting edge (chisels, skews, gouges, fishtails), except parting tools, measured on one side at the cutting-edge. This width is called the "sweep."

A tool's name usually indicates its particular function.

PARTING TOOLS usually have either a 45" or 60" "V" shaped cutting edge. Naturally, the smaller the "V" the narrower the cut. Used for outlining, roughing-out (undercutting), and finishing inside corners.

VEINING TOOLS are the smallest sizes of straight gouges and have narrow but deep "U" shaped cutting edges for grooving and roughing-out small areas or lines.

FLUTERS (firmers) are straight gouges, larger and wider than Veining tools. Whereas the deepest "U" shaped cutting edges are for roughing-out, the flatter the edge, the more the tool is used for smoothing and finishing.

CHISELS have straight cutting edges occurring at 90" to the plane of the shank of the tool; their sweep ranges narrow to wide, and they are used for flat-cutting and finishing, as well as for sharp edges. The Macaroni (box) chisel has the shape of a square-bottomed "U" and is a specialized tool for straight-fluting and flat-cornering.

SKEWS are chisels whose straight cutting edge are ground at about a 45" angle and are excellent for cornering. They are available to skew-left or skew-right, depending on the type of cutting desired; and sweep is similar to straight chisels.

LONG-BENT GOUGES (curved-fluters) correspond to straight gouges given a concave curve along the length of the whole shank of the tool. Available in sweep narrow (veiners) to wide, and used for such purposes as roughing-out or hollowing-out. Long-bent chisels and parting tools are also available.

SPOON GOUGES (short-bent gouges) have a straight shank with a concave "spoon-shaped" crook, or bend, at the cutting-end. The sweep may vary from narrow to wide, and from that of a parting tool to a veiner, straight gouge, chisel, or skew. Spoon gouges reach into roughed-out areas and hollows for the purpose of smoothing.

BACK-BENT GOUGES (short-) are like spoon gouges but have convex-shaped curves bending backward from the shank. Sweeps available from narrow to wide and also in chisel-form. Back-bent gouges are useful in clearing undersides and for making abrupt down-turns.

FISH-TAIL GOUGES resemble the posterior-, or tail-fin, of a fish. Available also as a chisel, and in sweep narrow to extremely wide, the latter size known as a "Swiss patternmaker" tool. Without interfering with nearby edges, this tool provides clean cuts in tight or sharp corners and may also serve somewhat like a straight gouge. Also available in chisel form.

In general, sizes of tools, stamped-in on the shank or handles, give the radius of curvature. Tools of the same series or style number, although available in various sweeps, all possess the same radius of curvature: i.e., no. 4-1 /8"; no. 4- 5/16'/; no. 4- 7/8"; no. 4- '/a"- all curve to the same degree.

Thus, tools of flat or lesser curvature have low size-numbers and make shallow cuts (finishing tools), while tools of greater curvature have higher size-numbers and make deeper cuts.

Choosing Tools

It is difficult for one to manufacture his/her own wood-carving tools. Therefore, it is often recommended that students, beginners, and elementary wood-carvers begin with "amateur" tools, which have shorter-length shanks than "professional" tools, supposedly making them easier to handle. These tools usually come in sets which are prepared with a basic and practical selection of straight chisels and gouges, accompanied by one or several parting tools, skews, long- or short-bent gouges, and spoon gouge. Mallet and sharpening stones usually are extra.

Professional tools, with longer shanks, allow more work to be accomplished at once. But usually, the sizes and sweeps of professional-length and amateur-length tools are identical.

Tools are variously honed and/or sharpened, depending on the specific make. Most often, the blades and shanks of the tools are full-finished clean and smooth.

Handles are usually of wood but are available in a number of styles: round; octagonal; squared, with angled-edges; handles with single- and double-hoops: usually a brass ring ferrule at one or both ends, to give added strength; plastic-ended handles, for added strength; leather-capped handles
(again, for added strength); and plastic or rubberpid handljss.

Angled-handles help keep tools from rolling, and the various types of special ends help the tool give extra wear by taking extra pressure.

Tools should be sharpened frequently.

The Mallet

Mallets are available in various types of construction, wood, and weight. Although lignum vitae is the heaviest, most popular of the hardwoods, several other typ^ of hardwood mallets are available: Maple, Hickory, Boxwood, and Beachwood.

Mallets are usually hand-turned, and balanced. Many are solid-body construction, but some have separate, wedge-set handles. Mallets will be found available measured by the inch in diameter at the broadKt end, by the ounce-weight, or by both. For example, a 2%" Boxwood; a 1 lb. 9 oz. Lignum Vitae; a 16 oz. 3" White Hickory; a 15 oz. S'/a" English Beechwood; a 24 oz. 4" Maple.

Some mallets are manufactured of carefully chosen dense wood cores which are laminated together and then lathe-turned, to assure a density of volume.

Smaller, lighter mallets are recommended for beginners, but the experienced wood-carver will probably have several mallets of varying weight and wood.

With this bit of introduction, more-and-more camping trails should begin to have sculptured trail-markers; more homes should abound with lovely, well-ornamented portals; and more-and-more amateur and professional wood-carvers will be getting a good night's sleep in beds they've crafted with their own two hands.