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Choosing Carving Tools

Choosing Carving Tools







*by Philip Malenfant

*Philip Malenfant sent this photo in from the North Pole, Alaska. Philip worked 35 years for an airline and after retiring he moved up what he calls God's country to be near his son, grandkids and fish!

Choosing Carving Tools

Phillip tells us he never took a carving class and just picked up the carving tool and started carving. For those if you who want a little more instruction on choosing carving tools, we have written a brief introduction on the shapes and uses of the most popular carving tools. When it comes to buying and sharpening carving tools you can never know too much.


Choosing Carving Tools

Carving tools are identified according to their shapes by a universal numbering system. Regardless of who manufactured it, for example, a #1 tool is always a straight firmer chisel, a #2 always a skew, #3 and higher tools are gouges.

All gouges have a curved cutting edge which allows both with-grain and cross-grain cutting. This curve is referred to as a sweep. The shallowest sweep is the #3 and the deepest sweep is the #11. Generally speaking, the deeper the sweep of the tool, the greater the amount of wood you can remove. If you were working in sequence, the deeper gouge would be used for roughing out, and you would move to a shallower gouge for smoothing.

If you are relying on the mark left by the tool for texturing your workpiece, the choice of a specific sweep and width comes into play. Likewise, if you are carving mouldings or reproducing an existing pattern, a specific sweep may be required to duplicate a radius.

Carving Gouge Types
  • The Straight Gouge
    Straight Gouges are the most popular carving gouges and can be used on flat or convex surfaces. With sweeps ranging from #3 (close to flat) to #11 (very curved) and a wide range of widths, they can be used for roughing out material to fine detail work.

  • The Bent Gouge
    Bent Gouges are used for concave surfaces. Made in two variations: long bend and short bend (usually spoon gouge). The number of sweeps on the bent gouge is the same as for the straight gouges.

  • The Spoon Gouge
    The Spoon Gouges allow you to cut a concave surface with a tighter radius than the long bent gouges can handle. Spoon Gouges are also used for undercutting in relief carving.

  • The Fishtail Gouge
    The tapering blade of the Fishtail Gouge allows access to areas that would be impossible to reach with a straight-sided gouge.

  • The Back Bent Gouge
    The Back Bent Gouge is utilized for undercutting in relief carving.

  • The Straight Chisel
    The Straight Chisel (#1 Straight Gouge) is used in relief work for setting and ground work, and flat cutting on convex surfaces.

  • The Skew Chisel
    The long point of the Skew Chisel allows you to cut into an area where access is limited to an angled approach.

  • The V-Gouge
    The V-Gouge (or Parting Tool when bent) produces a V-shaped mark. It is used for incising and texturing.

Extra-large and extra-small gouge profiles:
  • The Swiss Pattern Gouge
    The Swiss Pattern has a wide, flaring blade to prepare larger areas of ground efficiently, easily reaching into acute corners around raised elements in relief or sculptural carving.

  • The Veiner Gouge
    Veiner Gouges are the smallest sizes of "U" shaped gouges, generally 1mm-2mm wide. Their tiny size allows you to get into tight spaces and make fine lines like carving the "veins" in a leaf.


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