Saturday, March 31, 2012

I need a wife

Killing time and slaying dragons! Why this carving woman needs a wife----Its Saturday morning and I wake up. I sit at the pc for a moment to collect my thoughts and read my email. I think about what I will do with the rest of my day. I know what I want to do, I want to carve. But then I think about what I have to do. Laundry, food shopping, cleaning dust bunnies, take the dog out, If I want to eat I will have to cook.  I just want to play today.  I have been in a carving slump lately.  Today is a dreary rainy day.  It is a great day to carve.  However, if I don't take care of the things that need to be taken care of, no one else is going to.  Sometimes, it seems like it would be better to be a man.  When a man and a woman live together, they must have their own activities.  The man usually wanders out into the garage or down into the basement, or goes to a friends house so that he is not underfoot.  This allows his wife to get her work done.  Now I am a woman so this may sound funny coming from me but I do believe that a wife does housework better than a man.  My brain is more like a man's.  I tend to walk over and around things.  Until I actually trip over something I don't really see it.  I have no explanation for why that is.  I like to work on the cars.  I like to do repairs.  I like to work in the yard.  It's not only that I like these things, I am actually better at them.  I am not good housework.  If I were given a task to do, I could do it adequately.  But I just do not see what has to be done.  I am sure that this comes in some way from how I grew up.  My mother did not do housework.  Things did get to the point where we tripped over the clutter.  It is almost as if my brain is programmed not to see something until it absolutely must.  So for me housework does not come naturally.  It takes a great deal of effort on my part.  I find every excuse in the world not to do what I should be doing.  Right now I'm sitting here writing a blog instead of doing my dishes.  I did take the dog out but that was only because she cried to go out.  All I want to do today is carve. Is that so wrong?

Friday, March 30, 2012

A Note on the Passing of a Woodcarver

Killing time and slaying dragons!

                                George Reinfried 1932-2010

     As a relative youngster in the woodcarving world, I have witnessed the passing of many older woodcarvers.  Each has been special in his or her own way, and I have felt the usual feelings one does when a mentor, friend or colleague leaves this world but the recent passing of George Reinfried, 78, of  Lancaster Pennsylvania, has had a profound effect, not only on me but on the woodcarving world at large. For those of us lucky enough to have known George, there are no further words needed.  He was a humble man who probably would have preferred not to have any fuss made about him but for those of you who never had the pleasure of meeting George, allow me a moment.  I know George will forgive me. 
     George Reinfried was a simple man, leading a quiet life.  He was born and died in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He was married to his wife Ann for 29 years. Together, they raised 8 children, had 12 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren.  He was a printer for the National Cash Register Company for 25 years and was an avid hunter, fisherman, camper and golfer. He was a man of faith and a member of the Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Lancaster.  He found no greater way to spend his retirement than to be in the company of his beloved family. These things alone would have been a great legacy for the average man. But George was not your average man.  George was a woodcarver.
     George had never planned to be a woodcarver but the day that George met Jack Miller of the Lancaster Woodcarving Club at a woodcarving show, the direction that George’s life would take changed dramatically. What began as a hobby to pass the time in his retirement years soon became a passion to promote woodcarving in his corner of the world. Jack, already an accomplished carver, invited George to start carving with him in the evenings and George took him up on his offer. Georges’ first carving was a labor of love, a cane with his pointer Katie on it, his beloved dog who had just passed away. George continued on his personal carving journey in his basement workshop and could often be found on nicer days, carving out on the patio.  He graced his family with many a wonderfully carved gift. George also found that he enjoyed carving birds, with each and every little feather burned into the wood. George eventually joined the Lancaster Woodcarving Club. Along the way, he also became a member of many other woodcarving groups, the York Carving Club, the American National Cane Club and
a small group of guys that would get together each week in Ted McClains garage. they
kept the number to 7 members and called themselves the WoodBee Carvers. The story could end here but the best is yet to be.  As George got deeper into woodcarving, he and his wife, Ann began accompanying Jack Miller, traveling in their RV to other carving events throughout the country. After traveling to a large woodcarving roundup in Evart, Michigan a few times, where free carving instruction was being offered, George had an idea. “Why don't we have anything like this on the east coast? Lets give it a try.” Sandy Holder of the Michigan Roundup reassured, “If you have it, they will come.” With the support of  his wife, Ann and Jack Miller, he contacted family friends Al and Cindy Waiter who just happened to be the owners of a large camp ground in Honesdale PA, high up in the Pocono mountains.  There was no stopping George. He just kept talking about it and dreaming his dream. In 2003,  George and Jack began contacting talented carving instructors around the country. Ann contacted lots of carving clubs to get the word out. The Northeast Woodcarvers roundup, which became known as the NEWR was underway. As a result of the first NEWR, a caving club was formed at Cherry ridge.  Bob Muller and the Cherry Ridge Woodcarving Club got  involved in this endeavor and things just took off.   George, Ann, Jack Miller and the Cherry Ridge Carvers have since been organizing this annual event.

     The NEWR now attracts approximately 300 woodcarvers from all over the east coast, from Canada to Florida.  Its premise being that it was a place for woodcarvers to get free excellent instruction from skilled instructors and while it excelled in its intended goal, I find the NEWRs greatest achievement was the camaraderie among woodcarvers that it has fostered.  There was “something for everyone” at the NEWR, carving contests, pot luck suppers, non-carving classes, beginner classes and classes for children as young as 14, ice cream socials, trips into Honesdale, Pa for Music in the Park, sing-alongs and funny presentations by the instructors. George was the leader of a merry bunch of misfits and cut-ups, who made the NEWR special.  What I personally will always remember was the twinkle in his eyes when he laughed.  It was contagious. George set the tone for the NEWR and down played any of the work involved with organizing it. The NEWR was playtime for George, often sneaking into town to partake in huge bowls of ice cream with dear friends. If he had one fault, it was said that George could not talk and carve at the same time and woe-be-gone to the carvers who sat in a class that George also took. There would be much more laughing than carving going on. 
     George also had a more serious side as a woodcarving promoter on a national level and became a personal mentor of mine as he playfully cajoled me into becoming a NEWR instructor. I was already an instructor for the Parks Dept in New York City but George did not understand that teaching in a city of 9 million people was immensely less intimidating than joining the ranks of his esteemed carving instructors at NEWR.  It took him a few years and he never let up on me, never let me doubt myself as he put his gentle hand on my back and pushed.  That’s who George was, a playful man with a big heart, who encouraged children and adults to try their hand at carving, much as Jack Miller had once done for him. He even helped his wife start carving.
     The Lancaster Woodcarving Club awarded George their highest
honor, the John Harrington Award, not just for carving but for participating in all
club activities.  Jay Herr and George started beginner carving in the Park and it had
been held each fall in Lancaster. He and Ann were contacted by a woman that taught home school and asked if it would be possible for their club to teach 14 students for 10 weeks, 3 hours a week. Of course George said no problem, and in turn George and Ann approached the Lancaster Woodcarving Club members and had many willing to participate, and now for the last  6 years the club has been teaching students age 14 - 18.
 George also started inviting guest carvers, Floyd Rhadigan, Mike Bloomquist,  and Don Dearolf for seminars at the Lancaster Woodcarving club, George handled all details.
 Two years ago, George thought it would be great to have carving seminars held in a beautiful building in the Lancaster County Park, with his wife, Ann cooking breakfast and lunch. Forty carvers attended. The instructors were Pete LeClair, Don Dearolf, Jan Oegema and Bob Statlander.
     Georges’ story could end here, but it doesn’t.  His true legacy is yet to be seen as George has had a direct hand in beginning and improving the carving careers of many a talented woodcarver. Ann and Jack Miller will, no doubt, continue to be driving forces behind the dream that George once envisioned.  There will be more carving and more laughing as the NEWR has now become bigger than George, Ann and Jack could have foreseen. It has taken on a life of its own. This year will be a tough one for the NEWR as the pain of losing George will be a fresh wound on the hearts of many.  Among the din of all the carvers talking and laughing and the instructors teaching, there will be an unplanned moment of silence when I will swear I can hear Georges mischievous laugh float through the air. I will choke back a sob and I will smile.  Thank You George Reinfried! Thank You for all you’ve done for the woodcarving world but more importantly, thank you for who you were, a humble giant.  George will be looking down on us from that golden workbench which is magically always clean, where the tools are impossibly always sharp, the wood is wonderfully sweet and carvings actually get finished in a timely manner.  He will still be laughing and smiling. He will still be George, my friend.

Maura Macaluso

Chisel Sharpening and Repair

Killing time and slaying dragons!

To start with you should determine if the chisel has to be sharpened or repaired.

Sharpening a Chisel

Clamp the chisel into a fixed table vise so that the taper or bevel is facing up. To determine what grit to start the sharpening process with check to see how sharp the edge is. If it is very dull but still has some bite start with 400 grit wet/dry paper or stone. If you use paper put it on a block to make the paper sit even on the bevel. Make sure to lay the block or stone flat on the bevel. It doesn’t matter if this is a round, flat or “V” chisel. Press down evenly on the block with a slight more pressure to the front or cutting edge side. Use the back and forth motion or round and round motion. But do not rock the block or stone back and forth.  A good way to see where you are sharpening is taking place on the bevel is to see where your scratches from the paper or stone are taking place. When you can see that your edge is getting sharper you can advance on to the 600 grit paper and after you have done a few strokes and advanced the sharpened edge go onto the 800 grit. Do the same with the 1,000 and the 2,000 grit papers. After this you will want to use the 10,000 grit paste on the leather strop. You can use a flat strop on the bevel and on the inside use a strop that is wrapped on a dowel. The inside of your chisel will determine the radius of the dowel. Do the majority of the stropping with the flat strop on the bevel side and clean the burr off with the round strop on the opposite side.

Again when you are sharpening the chisel do not rock the sharpener back and forth because what happens is you will set up a convex bevel and it will have very little if any bite going into the wood, To determine if the bevel has a convex  area put the bevel down on a flat area if you can see a crown or a convex surface it is time for a repair.

Repair A Convex Bevel

If your chisel is not too hard you can use a good or new file. If the file slide off of it you will have to resort to the slow speed belt sander. Use a course, 80 grit belt,  Determine the angle you want when you are finished and work toward that angle. Press the convex area  lightly on the belt for a two seconds and determine how hot the metal is getting. To do this you will have to touch the sharpened end to determine the heat. You don’t want it over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit. Dunk it in the water to keep it cool. Also yopu can press on for 2 second and off the belt for two seconds then back on for 2 seconds. Keep on dunking it every onces in a while. Don’t get in a big hurry with this process because you can make lots of work for yourself if the chisel turns brown or blue in color from sharpening. If this happens the structure of the steel has been changed to get it back to a normal harness for this steel it will have to be re-tempered. So go slow. In this case slow is fast. After you have taken the convex out and you have the angle on the bevel you want then you can start with the 400 grit and use the sharpening instructions above. Remember avoid the rocking motion with the sharpener be it the paper or the stone . To do this watch where your scratches are taking place.

Repair a Hollow Bevel Chisel  ( Recess bevel on the round chisel )

This will happen if the back of the bevel has been sharpened too much. To recognize this you will see the inside or bottom side of the chisel goes back and the shape looks elongated.

Take a new or good file and file the cutting edge straight. This means knocking the corners back. Then get the bevel you want either with the file or belt sand as above. If you are using the belt sander do it slowly and lightly  so as not to cause too much heat in the metal. After the corners have been knocked back then get the bevel you want. Watch the bevel it maybe convex at this point too and this will have to be straightened out also. When this has all been straightened out then use the sharpening method to touch up the edge to where you want it.

An Intoduction to Classical Carving

Killing time and slaying dragons!

Carving Safely 

Be Alert!!!   Keep a well stocked first aid kit nearby as eventually you will cut yourself.   Keep you’re your tools sharp and in good condition.    Remove unnecessary items from your workspace.  Use carving gloves and tape to protect hands and fingers until you have the experience to go without them.  Pay attention to the direction your tool will take if it slips.  Protect your fellow carver when carving in close quarters.  Do not carve on your lap.  Keep all body parts out of a tools path.  Try not to carve towards yourself and if you must, use part of your arm/hand as an anchor to prevent the tool from injuring you.  Use hold-down devices such as clamps, vices, carving hooks/sleds, rubber mats or carving arms and carver’s screws. Remember that most carving injuries happen when reaching for and putting away tools.  If you don’t know how to do something safely, ask someone who does!!!  Listen to the little warning voice in your head. 

I choose to teach classical woodcarving because it is important to me that this knowledge not be lost and it seems almost no one is teaching it today. After doing much research, I understand my place as it relates to the tradition of historical woodcarving.  There is a reason that this knowledge has been passed down through time, simply put, it works!

Classical Carving

     Classical carving is not a new way of carving; it is the oldest recognized form of carving.  Classical carving does not refer to any style of finished carving but involves the method used to carve something.  It is a system of techniques which stresses safety, efficiency, speed, ergonomics and tool specific knowledge.  Classical, or traditional woodcarving, traces its beginnings back through time although no one is really sure when it came into use.  It is a method which has been handed down through the generations, from master to apprentice, from father to son and in the modern age, from teacher to student.  It began sometime before 1000 a.d in Europe.  Classical carving relies heavily on the use of a v-tool or veiner with stop- stop cut only being used when absolutely necessary.  It should be accomplished on a proper work bench, the height of which should be one palm-width below the point of your elbow.  It is important the carver stand in order to get the maximum benefit of leverage.
      Classical carving may or may not involve the use of a mallet to maximize the strength of a stroke of a carver’s tool.  Woodcarvings should be securely fastened to the workbench in any manner available and suitable for the carving being produced.  You may use vices, clamps, smaller carvings being glued onto larger surfaces or in the case of in-the-round carvings, a “carver’s screw”.  Instead of moving the carving, the carver moves around the carving and learns to use both hands to add great efficiency to his method.  It is to the advantage to the carver to learn to become ambidextrous while carving and also to learn the proper way of holding their tools while carving. The coordinated use of both hands can not be understated as it will bring the greatest efficiency to any technique. You have to be able to work with your left as well as your right hand. If you can't, there will be certain cuts you cannot do. Both hands should always be kept behind the cutting edge.  Speed  will come from  the repetition of using these techniques over time.
  It is very important for a carver to get to know their tools and what they can do.  For the most part, a single chisel or gouge is capable of making 4 different cuts.
#1 almost horizontal to the wood with the bevel facing down
#2 almost horizontal to the wood with the bevel facing up (upside down)
#3 with the shaft vertical to the wood (stop cut)
#4 with the shaft held angled and vertical to the wood (slicing cut)
In order to carve efficiently, you must get familiar with the tools you have at hand and pick the proper tool for the cut you want to make.  A carver who practices classical carving will accumulate a wide variety of tools in his lifetime.  It is important that these tools are kept in good working condition and be kept cleaned and sharp.  We do not whittle in classical carving but make clean precise cuts which for the most part, will eliminate the need for any sanding. This alone is a  great timesaver .

Carving History

Woodcarving in general traces its beginnings much further back in history to at least the Paleolithic (Stone-age) era. Due to the fact that wood is an organic material, there are no known examples of woodcarvings which have survived from before 4000 b.c.   However, when we look for stone carvings created by Neanderthal man, there are findings nearly 300,000 years old.  The theory of intelligence strongly suggests that woodcarving was a highly developed skill long before stone carving was attempted.  And that any tool that a prehistoric man would have used to produce a stone carving, would have been perfected as a woodcarving tool beforehand.  It is debatable which came first, woodcarving or painting, but it is generally accepted that that the first art was drawing, using charcoal from fires to make marks on rock faces and it now is thought that woodcarving or wood etching was the second art form in wide usage.  A sharp rock scrapped across a soft piece of wood could be used to remove some of the wood, leaving other parts behind.

     Wood itself existed before man ever stepped foot on this earth. Primitive cavemen are sometimes depicted with a wooden club and wandering tribes probably used branches as walking sticks.  It is known that stones were affixed to wooden handles and used as hammers and axes. Smaller, sharper stones were affixed to thinner, longer pieces of wood to create arrows which were used for hunting and eventually for protection from other humans.  At some point, longer and sharper pieces of stone were attached to shorter wooden handles, thereby creating a knife-like instrument. Wood was probably one of the most abundant resources early men made use of.  It must be assumed that even though early mans time was primarily taken up with survival related activities, there also must have been moments when he was left to his own devices.  I would guess that the origins of art must have developed from the cavemen's boredom. Imagine the wonder of man as he touched his flint knife to a soft wood and realized that he could remove some of that wood, leave other parts and wind up with something completely of his own creation.   Now imagine that caveman bringing his object back to his clan and being greeted with grunts of awe and admiration.  I think that alone would spur him on to carve again and again until he was producing usable items for his tribe, eating implements, personal items and hunter gatherer tools.   His skill at producing necessary items most likely elevated him above the non carving males of the tribe.  Imagine also, at the dawn of primitive religions, the skill to carve Idols and other religious items elevated the status of woodcarver even higher.

    The earliest known woodcarvings have been found in the hottest driest regions of the world.  It is ironic but the climate in which the scarce trees grow is exactly the climate needed to preserve wood.

The Tomb of Hesy-Ra

            In 1860, the tomb of Hesy-Ra, the royal physician of ancient Egypt, was opened.   Eleven wooden relief carved panels were discovered to have stood the test of time. Each of these panels measured two feet by one and one half feet. It is estimated that theses carvings date back to 2600 B.C.  The majority of these panels were in well preserved condition.  It is thought that the wood used is either Acacia or Sycamore as these were the only carving friendly woods known to be growing in Egypt at the time.

The earliest three dimensional figures yet found is thought to have been carved around 2500 B.C. The carving is three feet high and is in the usual Egyptian pose, walking forward with both feet flat on the ground and holding a staff in one hand.
            There is even mention of woodcarving in the ancient texts of the Bible, in the book of Exodus, Chapter 35
30-35:And Moses said unto the children of Israel, See, the Lord hath called by name Be-zal'e-el the son of U'ri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah;  And he hath filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship; And to devise curious works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass,   And in the cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of wood, to make any manner of cunning work.

            It is thought that woodcarving was practiced in all parts of the ancient world, very rarely have any examples survived for thousands of years as in Egypt and China.
            In Medieval Europe, Woodcarving had ,along with the other arts, became subject to mans inhumanities .Particularly in the Dark Ages, the art of woodcarving was pretty much confined to Monasteries as that was the only place that was safe enough practice it. Most parts of the world experienced long periods of war and the horrors that accompany war, looting, burning and the attempts to eradicate treasures of those foreign cultures. From approximately 700 A.D. to about 900 A.D. the practice of idol worshipping was strictly forbidden in some parts of Europe.  Death was the punishment for the carver or possessor of an idolic symbol.  This did not only relate to religious images but to any depiction of a human or animal form.  This is still practiced today in some parts of the world.  I had a friend, Wendy, who moved to Saudi Arabia in the early 1980's to take a lucrative position in an oil company.  She had a vast collection of Hummel porcelain figurines that she had shipped ahead of her in anticipation of her arrival.  Imagine her shock and dismay, upon retrieving her Hummel's from Saudi Arabian customs officials, finding that each and every Hummel had had their heads and faces smashed by the authorities.  Photographs which depicted people were also subjected to this form of eradication and the heads and faces were torn off.
                  Woodcarving was not the only art form affected by these barbarian times.  All forms of arts and artists were forced underground and much of the art work was searched out and destroyed.  It is only natural that Woodcarvers fled to the safety of Monasteries as Monasteries and Churches had been the main employers of woodcarvers in Medieval Europe.   The woodcarving that was done in these monasteries was mostly elaborate relief carvings done on doors and wooden panels. Carvings done in each country in Europe were remarkably similar which can be attributed to the   carvers traveling from monastery to monastery practicing their trade.
                  After the year 1000 A.D. the arts experienced a revival in Europe known as the Renaissance period. All of the arts came out of the darkness and oppression of the past years, with a renewed vigor and flourished.  Woodcarvers were influenced by stone carvings and based some of their work on artifacts uncovered in parts of Europe. In England carvings were also based on stone carvings. These carvings were not usually statues but decorative carvings. Some of these seem to be based on carvings done in Scandinavia. Century’s later Scandinavian woodcarvers would seem to have been influenced by early stone carvings found in England. Some works carved between 1000 A.D. and 1200 A.D. can still be found in old Churches in England. Unfortunately during this time, many new carvings were made to replace old carvings which were by then, showing their age.  Almost all of these old carvings were destroyed.

Carving in America began with the Native American cultures.  Jewelry, totems, pipes and household items were regularly carved.  Traditional woodcarving in America evolved from the building and furnishing of timber frame ships and buildings. Ship carvers were our first traditional sculptors of wood as exhibited on the mastheads of the wooden ships. Other early American carvers produced wagon wheel spokes and highly decorated stagecoaches.
                  As the next waves of Europeans landed on these shores, they brought with them a wealth of traditional carving knowledge.  This was employed mainly on the east coast as the fine furniture industry flourished.   In Philadelphia, the Chippendale-style furniture made reached the climax of mahogany carving in America. There seemed to be a very competitive spirit among these furniture makers and they continually tried to outdo each other, their fine designs and execution of such shows in the elaborateness of the pieces.  Philadelphia highboys and lowboys were unmatched in beauty of workmanship either here or in England. Richly carved feet, knees, skirts, central drawers of highboys and lowboys, quarter columns, frets, finials and cartouches were done in shells, scrolls, flowers, and other beautiful carvings which sometimes was merely lines of beauty, not necessarily modeled on any realistic forms, and usually surrounded the shell like carvings on the center of the piece. Although mahogany was the favorite wood of the period, there was furniture made of other woods. Some fine specimens are to be found in maple, cherry, and curly maple.  As factories began using modern wood shaping equipment, there was less and less demand for quality woodcarving. Subsequently, less and less young adults choose to pursue carving as a career. Quietly, behind the scenes, in almost every town and city, folk carvers took over where the traditional carvers left off.  Craft woodcarving came to the forefront in the late 1800's and did well right until the mid 20th century.  Almost every house was adorned with some type of carving, from weather vanes, decorative and functional kitchen items, picture frames and architectural moldings and details.  The skilled carver could usually find employment.  Wooden sign makers were in huge demand as cities grew and more businesses were established.

But then something happened in America, Factories were starting to churn out plastics and other moldable synthetics which in turn other factories used to mass produce items that had traditionally been made out of wood.  Mass producing meant better prices for the general public, and there were less and less people paying for woodcarvers’ skills.  As the older generations of carvers began dying off all over America, middle aged men and women started inheriting their father's tools.  Most were discarded or left to rust, but here and there, as their own retirements approached, people started playing with wood again for their own enjoyment.  As Americans began living longer due to advances in medicine, they had the time in retirement to perfect their carving skills. The hobbyist carving business took off in full flight.  Clubs were formed and businesses were started to cater to these new woodcarvers.

The Guild System
. Many European carvers believe that one of the weaknesses of carving in America is that so many carvers are self taught.  Europe used the guild system in which carving was approached much the way that a college degree is today.    The history of the European guild system stretches back to at least the 12th century.  The members of the guild were divided into masters, apprentices, and journeymen. The masters were the proprietors of the businesses and were required to take on apprentices. The apprentices were bound to the masters; they were accepted to the apprenticeship for a agreed upon sum paid to the masters for training. The masters paid the apprentice just enough money to live on.  Often the apprentices slept in the workshops. The amount paid and the length of time varied from one craft to another and from one city to another. The masters had complete control over the work and education of an apprentice but the conditions of control were set by guild regulations. The journeymen were men who had finished their training as apprentices and were no longer bound to the masters but could not yet attain the status of masters. The number of masters was limited to a certain quota. A master craftsman was a member of a guild. In the European guild system, only master craftsmen were allowed to actually be member of the guild. To become a master, a carver had to first become an apprentice and then in turn a journeyman.  He then had to wait until a master died or retired, sometimes replacing his own master in the guild.  He would often times have to pay a hefty sum as his guild entrance fee and also had to produce a masterpiece before he was even considered for election to the guild. Becoming a master was often no easy task. In many guilds the master craftsman was regulated and had strict obligations, one of which was to take on an apprentice (or several depending on the craft) to help ensure the survival of the guild
Over the centuries in Europe groups of woodcarvers worked together.  Technical knowledge was passed down from one generation to another. In Europe, woodcarvers were only paid a little more than furniture makers and were by no means rich.  If they made a mistake they would have to re-do it and if a piece broke off, they would have to glue it back on. They couldn't lose any time with bad habits so they had to develop the most efficient way of carving. Carvers had to learn to work with both hands.  Being ambidextrous has great advantages.  You can make the same cut on the right and left side of your carving without repositioning the carving, or yourself, which leads to much greater efficiency.  When just starting they were taught to carve with small cuts so that they always had complete control. Like the old masters, you must have control of the tool so that it does not run away from you and take things off that you don't want it to.  Speed will come with time and practice

On Purchasing Carving tools
Unfortunately, buying carving tools is an area where it pays to buy the best. Buy one or two at a time when you can afford to. Buy quality tools by from reputable manufacturers.  A cheap tool is simply that: a cheap tool and it will frustrate you and not get used. Buy the best you can afford. If, as a new carver, you feel you must buy a set, do not buy larger than a 6 tool set.  When buying larger sets you will find that there will be a few tools you will never use.  Learn what the different profiles can do and buy tools for specific purposes. Keep track of which profiles you already own so you don’t duplicate them when buying new tools. The easiest way to do this is to take a piece of cardboard and make marks in the surface with all of your chisels, keeping like sweeps together.  Take this cardboard with you wherever you think you may purchase new chisels. There are differences in handles and metal weights from different makers, ask other carvers if you may try their tools before deciding which to buy.  While it may take time and be expensive, one day you will have a set of quality tools which will suits you well in whatever type of carving you choose to do.
Your carving Tools

There were once approx. 2400 carving tool profiles available to the carver.  Almost half have been lost to time.  How do we know this?, from old shipping manifests which have been uncovered during archeological digs.   There are almost 1200 profiles still being manufactured today.  Before the industrial age, highly skilled metalsmiths and blacksmiths were relied upon to make a carvers chisels.

The Steel
The Rockwell C scale is a way of measuring metals hardness and its ability to indent into a softer surface. The higher the # the harder the steel. Soft steel will not hold an edge for very long.  Harder steel will tend to be brittle and will chip and perhaps crack. A good carving tool will have hardness 56-62 with most top quality tools at approx 59
Sheffield (English) and soligen (German) steel is the best steel available today

The Sheffield List

Carving Knife
     Probably the first tool any carver starts with is a knife. Its primary use is for whittling and chip carving. The blade is about 1 1/2" long, and has a handle designed to fit the hand. Like gouges, it should be made of high carbon steel that will hold an edge for a long time.
Carpenter's Chisels
     These chisels have a flat edge (#1 Sweep). They are not usually used for sculpture, because the edge of a flat chisel tends to dig into the wood, twisting and plunging the tool deeper on one side than the carver may have desired. They can give a crude, unschooled look that may be desirable on some types of sculpture
     Gouges are the work horses of carving. U-gouges are designated by the width of the cutting edge (in inches or millimeters), the sweep, or amount of curvature of the edge (an arbitrarily assigned number), and the shape of the shaft (straight, bent, spoon, and back bent).
     Gouges can be purchased:
  - in widths from 2mm (1/16") to 60 mm (2 3/8")
  - in sweeps from #2 (a barely perceptible curve) to #11 (a very deep, half round curve)
  - in straight, bent, spoon, and back-bent shapes
     V-gouges are designated by the width between the top edge tips and the angle of the vee bottom edge.
     Gouges can be purchased:
  - in widths from 2mm to 30mm
  - in 60˚ (#12 sweep) and 90˚ (#13 sweep)

Bent and Spoon Gouges
     These specialty gouges are used to get into inaccessible spots on a carving that a straight gouge can't reach.
     Bent gouge: the entire length of the shaft is curved.
     Spoon gouge: the final 1 1/2" of the shaft is deeply bent in a spoon shape.
     Back bent gouges: a spoon gouge with the curve reversed so the cutting edge is convex instead of concave.

 Skewed Chisel
     A skewed chisel's cutting is angled back from the leading edge at a 45 degree angle.
     They come in straight, bent, and spoon shapes and in varying widths.
     These are specialized tools and are seldom, if ever, used
Palm Tools
     Most of the above tool shapes can be purchased as smaller palm tools. A chip-carving knife and an assortment of palm gouges are all that is needed for creating small carvings in basswood or other soft woods.
     The traditional mallet for carving is cylindrically shaped and made from a heavy, dense hardwood.
     I prefer using a rubber mallet. While it doesn't have the driving power of a wood mallet, it is less noisy, easier on the chisel handles, and has some spring that brings the head back up for the next swing.
Basic Carving Strokes
Tool Patterns
As a beginning carver, the choice of carving tools available can be overwhelming. Which tools you really need to learn this craft and which tools you really will use can be a hard decision. There are several basic tool shapes that are standard to this hobby. The primary carving blade is the carving knife.

The knife has a thin blade that will be about 1 3/4 inches to 3 inches long, and tapers to a point at the tip of the blade. The entire straight faced edge of the blade is sharpened to provide you with an ability to cut lines into the wood and to whittle away long slivers of excess material. Short blades are usually referred to as bench knifes where a longer style blade will be called a Sloyd knife. Carving knife styles are also marketed under the names of 'detail knives',  'whittling knifes', and 'straight knives'. Of all the tools that you will purchase, this one is the main stay of your kit and it is worth the investment for any beginner to begin with an excellent quality of blade. There are many fine examples of detailed carving that are done using only the knife.

The second style of tool that you will be using is the gouge. Where the bench knife tapers to a point, the gouges end with a blunt cut. The full length of the blade is either rounded for c-curve gouges, tightly rounded for u-curved gouges also called veining tools or parting tools. The final edge of the blade is sharpened to slice out the wood. Gouges remove great quantities of wood at a time and so are used to do the rough cutting in carving.

V tool
This tool comes to a sharp "v" point at the tip creating a deeply scored line in the wood.  "V" gouges are available in a variety of angles from very tight "v"s to widely open "v"s. Use this one to carve along joint lines in the design and for detailing as the beard and hair in a North Wind pattern.

Chisels also have only the final edge of the tool sharpened, however the end will be cut in a flat end or angled end. These flat blades are used for the stop cut in relief carving, for removing large areas, and for crisping corners. They are also excellent for scraping the final surface of your work to leave a clean smooth finish. Chisels cut at an angel are called "Skews"
There are many specialty carving tools that have been developed over the years. For undercuts and removing the background areas in tight corners you might want a dog-leg skew. There are also bent gouges, backbend gouges, spoonbit, and fishtails available for your use. As your craft is developed, like most carvers, you tool kit will increase with a variety or knife shapes. Tools also come in a variety of widths from the micro carvers that are used for very fine detail and miniature works to the large fish tail gouges and awls that remove great quantities of wood with one stroke.
Each tool creates it's own pattern of stroke in the wood. Use a scrap of softwood to practice and explore each of your new tools. Remember also that each individual blade style can create a variety of strokes depending on the depth of the cut and the angle of the blade entry into the wood. A c-curve gouge will make a beautiful tear dropped shape stroke that both tapers into the cut and then back to the surface of the wood. Yet if you hold it upright at a very slight angle and push into the carving you can make fish and dragon scales with the blades imprint.

Odds and Ends
Most carvers are self-taught or taught by someone who was self-taught.  The problem with this is that bad habits are learned and taught.
There is no “magic” tool which will make you a good carver, only knowledge, quality tools and practice will accomplish that.
Long standing techniques have come down to us through the centuries.  The reason why they are still being taught is because they are reliable methods that work.
A good tool is an extension of a carvers arm.  Tools by themselves do nothing but look pretty.  It is the carver who makes them work.
Modern carving tools have only been around since the Victorian era, before that Blacksmiths individually fashioned tools. Before the iron age, bones, obsidian and rocks were used to fashion carving tools.  Carving is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, craft.  The possessor of carving tools and skills assured himself a valued place in the harsh primitive times. A 6000 year old carver would recognize most of the modern profiles and would understand their purpose.
Carving tools are not disposable and are manufactured to last several lifetimes.  Pass them on!

Now get carving!!!

Tool Sharpening Tips and Techniques

Killing time and slaying dragons!


I've found that there are two types of carvers when it comes to tools. Those that see the tool as just a means to carve the wood, and those that see the wood as a chance to use the tool. I fall into the later category.
With a bent blade, the first type sees this as a loss of carving time, while the second type sees this as a chance to reshape the tool. Now you may fall into the first type, but even if you don't really like messing with your tools, you will find a great deal more freedom when you develop the skills to fix and reshape your tools. So here goes.
When I started carving, I was extremely frustrated with sharpening. I finally found that practice was what made the difference. Sharpening a tool is not rocket science, its being able to hold the tool in the same position repeatedly while going through the sharpening process. The other part is having some basic knowledge about edge shapes. If you are at all mechanically inclined, and can visualize what the edge looks like, then you have all you need.
Pictures make all the difference, but text editors don't do them, and I'm no good at doing that funky ASCII art. So here are words for some basic principles.
1. The shallower the angle (smaller), the sharper the knife edge. Conversely the shallower the angle, the weaker is the edge. So for choking done trees, you need a much steeper angle then for shaving your beard. Angles in books are nothing more then general guidelines. If you are too shallow, then the knife cuts great, but gets dull quickly. If too steep, then the knife cuts less great, but does it for a lot longer before resharpening. As you continue wood carving, you will form opinions about what that angle should be based on the particular tool, the wood being carved, and your own particular style. Don't agonize too much over the proper angle. "Good-enough" goes a long way here, but I like 27.43 degrees.
2. It is the microscopic edge (the leading edge) which determines how sharp the blade is regardless of the angle used. That's why you can shave with an axe that's well sharpened. Once you have an appropriate angle, all of your effort is to make this microscopic edge; clean, polished, and true. How this is accomplished is where you get all of the differences of opinion.
3. You can sharpen your knife with a flat rock found in the back yard. It will turn out just fine. But, it will take a lot of work, and it will be a pain. You will need to buy some things to make your job easier. What you buy though is wide open. It mostly depends on:
- $ or $$$$
- Are you high tech or low tech (new fangled vs old fashioned)
- You like hand tools or power tools.
- You just want it sharp, or you want to perfect the craft of sharpening.
- Big workshop or small box in the hall closet

--> I am a cheap, low tech, tool sharpener with a garage (part of it at least, the rest keeps filling up)
Now, since you have no opinions, and are looking for specifics, I will give you my idea of the basics you should have. This is roughly in order of priority.
1. a double-sided carborundum stone at least six inches in length. This can be found in any hardware store. This is your basic stone for reshaping and establishing the edge. It has two sides, a rough side, and a medium side. Note: you will need to use oil or water or spit to keep the pores clean while cutting (see 2 below). For these stones I find spit best. Oil is too messy, and water soaks right through too quickly.
2. a soft Arkansas stone, again at least six inches in length. These are a little harder to find, but any store that handles knives will have one of these. You should get a small bottle of honing oil for the stone. It usually comes with the stone. The oil keeps the particles of metal from getting embedded into the pores in the stone (the little crystalline cutting edges which do the work) and clogging them up. You can use any light oil for the job, including cooking oil. Water or spit works too, but I like to stay consistent with a stone.
3. a honing strop (sp). This you make your self. Instructions below.
4. polishing compound for the strop. These look like big fat Crayons. It is a polishing powder mixed with wax to hold it together. You rub it on the surface of your strop, or on some cotton or felt power sharpeners. You can find this at many hardware stores hidden away someplace. Also you can find it at jewelry supply and some auto supply stores. It comes in different colors (the color of the powder used). They have different hardness and polishing characteristics. The box they come in will give you some guidelines. I've just always used the red rouge and never really experimented with the rest much. You don't need much. It goes a long way I still have the original set after 20 years (but I don't use power buffing tools much).
5. two good flat files. A medium one, and a fine one. By good, I mean not too small, and one with a decent handle.
At this point you have everything you need. It's about as cheap as you can go. From there on, you are getting into specialty items which can make things easier or faster. You can get:
- harder Arkansas stones for finer polishing
- specialty ceramic stones instead of Arkansas
- Japanese water stones instead of Arkansas
- Diamond surfaced stones instead of Arkansas
- cotton and felt polishing pads for a bench grinder
- belt sanding rigs replacing the carborundum
- water bath power sharpeners
- bench grinders for fast reshaping and blade making
- $$$$

Ok, now how do you fix the point on your new knife. I have not had much success with bending the points back. If you have a hammer and a solid surface (like a metal anvil) you can try hammering it flat. It will still need some fix-up, but not as much.
With your file, file off the bent point. When it starts to get flat, you can switch to the rough carborundum. Work on it until all of the bend in the metal is gone and you have only the original "plane" of the blade. Then its decision time.
You said it was a roughout knife. Not knowing what it looks like, but clueing off the word roughout, I'm figuring that a pointy type end is not real important. If so, you are almost home free. You just resharpen the end to make it match the rest of the blade.
- well no, not really because you will find that you are going to put an entirely new edge on the blade anyway which take some time.
If you think you want a point back on, or want to reshape the end, then you are going to do some major surgery. This is the real hard part - it takes faith - take the edge off your knife with the rough stone so you don't cut yourself while reshaping. Have faith, you will get the edge back on.
With your file, filing perpendicular to the edge, file the point until the shape looks right. You can use the rough stone here too. You aren't trying to put an edge on, just to get the shape (profile) right.
Ok, now how to resharpen. I would use this as an opportunity to practice. This will take about 30 minutes, so get a good flat surface, and a chair to sit in. You are going to go rough side, medium side, soft Arkansas, and strop. You want to develop control and consistency. You want to experiment with pressure, and with different postures of hands and body which help the consistency. Some people use a round-and-round motion when sharpening. I just do a sweep in one direction - cutting edge leading rather then trailing. I will use a round-and-round motion when I want to take off metal faster, particularly at the start, but then switch. This is personal preference (and it works for me)
Ok, here is where the visualizing comes in. What your are doing is grinding a face on your blade. In the books and instructions, this face looks nice and flat, but because you can't keep the blade at exactly the same angle your face will be more rounded. The flatter the better (consistency). As you are working you blade, stop, wipe it off and take a good look at the edge. If you have a good magnifying glass, use it. Also, get a black magic marker and go over the edge with it. Then go back to the stone for a little. Stop, and look at the edge. You can see real clear where you are grinding and where you are not. Bright light helps too.
You will likely get a bias in the blade from change in angle as you move it across. This means that one side is at a different angle then the other, or that the front or back of the knife is at a different angle. Try to minimize this bias.
To test the knife, use your fingernail rather then shaving your arm. Push the edge across your thumb nail as if it was the sharpening stone (not a slice or saw motion). Don't push down on the knife, let the weight of the knife be the pressure. When it starts to get sharp, it will "grab" the nail rather then slide over it. This is rather dramatic, and you will know it when it happens. Also slide the edge of the nail along the knife edge feeling for smoothness. You can feel the slightest micro-nicks this way. Do this slowly and cautiously. We don't want to cut ourselves.
You will spend the most time on the rough stone. Your are going to remove a lot of metal. Stay with it until it starts to catch your nail, and has a good face on the edge. Figure 15-20 minutes here (but it depends).
Next go to the medium. You want to make sure to keep the same face angle. The magic marker works well here. You are also smoothing the scratches from the rough stone. You are done here when the edge starts to look polished, and there is a significant increase in sharpness. If you "think it feels a little sharper", then you aren't done. If you aren't making progress, then you are probably changing the angle and are trying to grind a new face. This is the mistake I always made. With a magic marker and a magnifying glass this is real obvious.
With the Arkansas stone, you want to finish the polishing of both the edge face and the edge edge. Watch your angles here. Check yourself. You will see some improvement in the sharpness as measured on your thumb nail, but it will be more refined. Keep going as long as you see increased progress. Use the magnifying glass and watch the edge.
When you think you are ready, You want to put about 5-10 strokes on each side at a steeper angle - just slightly steeper, say 5 degrees. This puts on your micro-cutting edge. It is this micro edge that you will be reconditioning as you resharpen your knife while carving. You don't have to go back to this major resharpening as described here until you no longer have success in touching up the micro edge. The strop and Arkansas stone will be your tools for the touch-up.
Wipe the knife, and then under a bright light gently press the knife almost flat on your thumbnail. If you have done the job right, you will see the extreme edge appear to bend (the reflected light lets you see this). The part that is bending is called the "wire edge". It is very thin, and is an artifact from the sharpening process. If used this way, it will break off causing micro-nicks (can't see them, but can feel them with the nail). We use the strop for this.
Take the strop, and lay the knife flat on it and use some pressure pushing it against the strop. Then draw the knife with the edge trailing (else you cut the leather strop) across the strop switching from side to side. 10 strokes usually does it. If you test the knife for sharpness on the thumb nail, you should see a dramatic increase in sharpness. Keep stropping until it doesn't improve. Use this same procedure to touch up your knife while carving. When you don't feel an improvement, then go back to the Arkansas and re-do the micro-edge. Eventually you have to go back and put the face back on. How often depends on the steel, the original face angle, and the carving. Re-doing the face is never as dramatic as putting the original face on the tool. Much faster.
The knife should now catch immediately in your thumb nail. It doesn't skid at all. You are doing this with little or know pressure. The weight of the blade is all it takes. If your are unsure of the feel of this, get a razor and test it on the nail. This should be your benchmark.
Now, how to make a strop. Get a 14-16 inch piece of 1x2 pine. Carve a decent handle in the first six inches, and leave the rest flat. Now get a chunk of leather at least 8-10 inches long and 2 inches wide (and not real thin). Glue the leather onto the rest of the stick. White glue or contact cement work fine. Clamp or weight the thing down to set overnight. When set, use a sharp knife to trim off excess leather. Take the polishing compound as described above and rub it all over the leather putting on a reasonable coat. Every so often I will scrap off the old stuff and put on a fresh coat. Well, there you have it.
Chris Nelson

Any sort of buffing with any type of wheel/strop/buffer will EVENTUALLY round off a tool's edge. That is because the is always a little deflection of the buffing wheel as it comes off the tool,... as sort of depression... that rounds the tool edge ever so slightly. The buffing wheel, though, rounds the edge off less than, say, a stitched cloth wheel. Unless of course, the person at the "handle end" of the tool is causing the tool to contact the felt wheel at too "blunt" an angle.
I watch my students buff their tools on my felt wheel, and honestly, sometimes I just cringe. They may as well just push the "sharp" edge right into the wheel, the way they are attempting to buff the tool. When a tool's cutting angle becomes blunt from buffing, it is a very simple matter to take the tool to the bench stone, dress the edge with a few stroke, take the burr off with slip stones, and buff the edge to a fresh, sharp finish. I can do this in less than 3 minutes in a pinch.
No sharpening system is EXACT, especially when it comes to buffing. This is because the person who holds the tool is not EXACT (like a machine) and also because buffing wheels/strops deflect. Instead of trying to find something that is EXACT, try your best to develop the SKILL you need to keep your tools in shape. It takes practice, but the effort is worth it.
Just accept the fact that ONCE IN A WHILE you will have to reshape the edge on your bench stone to bring the cutting angle back to specs. It's a fact of life where sharp edges are concerned. Hope this helps.
Bill Judt
Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada

One of the major advantages of felt is that it will deform to the shape of the applied object - it has some "give" to it. How much it will round (or deform) the edge depends on the amount and aggressiveness of the compound applied, the angle at which the edge is introduced, the length of time in contact, and the force with which you apply the edge to the wheel.
With that out of the way, yes it will round your edge, but how much and how soon depends on your individual sharpening practices. I personally use two cardboard wheels to sharpen with, one charged with 220 grit aluminum oxide abrasive and lightly coated with wax. The second is plain cardboard with slots across the face, and a buffing compound, usually white rouge applied, for honing.
I use the grit wheel for normal sharpening, which is only required occasionally, unless an edge becomes damaged. I use the honing wheels for final honing and light touchup. This is on all knives and the outer bevel of all sweeps and gouges, including vees. The commercial name of this system is Frizzell's Razor Sharp, but I have seen similar under other names.
I also use a muslin buff, a fairly stiff one, as a final touch to remove all traces of rouge from the edge and on the inside of gouges.
I know many professional carvers who use felt wheels, but always in conjunction with some sort of hard wheel, most frequently a conventional grinding wheel.
If you use felt, eventually the edge will round enough that you must go back to something else to flatten it.
If, however, your edge will cut a thin curl across the end grain of a piece of basswood, that is a curl thin and smooth enough to curl near full circle before breaking, it is suitable for carving.
Regardless of all the theories and pundits - myself included - the ultimate standard in sharpening has to be the ability to cut clean and smoothly, without requiring excessive force. Jim

From: Graeme Vaughan (
The best information I have received on sharpening (after a good deal of reading and asking and trying) is from Les Miller at the recent Working with Timber show here in Melbourne (Les also produces videos on this and other subjects but I don't have the contact details - sorry! perhaps some other Ozwoodie can help).Advice as follows:
The sharpening process is best divided into three parts:
  • grinding or setting the bevel
  • honing
  • stropping or polishing

For this you will need a soft start bench grinder with an 8 inch white Aluminum oxide wheel (NOT the Silicon Carbide wheel which is sold with most bench grinders), 46 grit and rated K or J for hardness. The wheel is large, quite coarse and soft. The reason for this is that it enables material to be removed quickly without heating the tool and ruining the temper. There is no need to dip the tool in water to cool it as it remains cool throughout the process. To clean and true the wheel do not use diamond sticks etc, but use a silicon carbide dressing stick as this keeps the wheel true. You will also need a tool rest which adjusts to any angle. Daniel Starbuck's point about maintaining the bevel is absolutely spot on. It is very difficult to maintain the correct angle freehand.

2. Honing
For honing, use a diamond impregnated steel plate or Arkansas slate slipstone (the former is preferred). Use WD40 to keep the stones clean. For plane blades, chisels etc, use a bought or shop made holder to keep the blade at the correct angle to the plate. See any good sharpening book on the techniques. Hone the flat side of single bevelled tools first.

3. Stropping
For this you will need a leather wheel and polish rouge. There are power strop systems available for power drills. Hope this helps. Cheers. Graeme

Sharpening and Maintaining an edge

Killing time and slaying dragons!

                                                      Always be Alert and never attempt to sharpen if you are not in full command of your mental and physical faculties.   

If you maintain your knife blade after it has been sharpened you will not have to sharpen it. To maintain the blade give it a couple of strokes as suggested below, with the  1,000 grit or 2,000 grit wet/dry sand paper or stone. Then strop it with the 10,000 grit paste.

Straight Single Edge Blade
If the knife is very dull start with a 600 or 800  grit wet/dry sand  paper. Lay the knife flat on the edge of the paper. Lift the back of the knife slightly about 5 to 10 degrees so as the edge that is to be sharpened is resting on the sandpaper. Slide the knife away from the cutting edge. See diagram on the bottom. Do this two time on one side then turn the blade on the other side and repeat the same process on the opposite side of the blade. You have removed metal about 1/16” from the cutting edge, which is normal. The key is to keep it almost flat on the paper and rotate from side to side. The pressure you put on the paper should be light but firm. After you have a good edge with the 600 or 800 grit paper you will want to repeat this process with the 1000 grit paper and the same with the 2,000 grit paper . You may want to go to a higher grit, for a finer edge. You may also want to strop the blade, on leather with the white compound , to clean off the burrs at the end of your sharpening. To strop put compound on the strop and raise the back up 5 to 10 degrees and use the sharpening motion. You can go back and forth so long as you keep the knife fairly flat so you don’t cut the strop. When the compound gets black and shiny it is used up so scrape it off and recharge it and let it dry.
Caution:  Do not raise the back of the blade too high you will remove the cutting edge with a couple of strokes or put shoulders on the or cutting edge side of the blade.

Double Edge Curved Blade
If the knife is very dull starting with the 600 to 800 grit wet/dry sandpaper. Rip the paper sheet into ¼’s. Wrap one of  the ¼’s around a dowel that will fit on the inside of the curve or hook on the blade. Lay the paper & dowel flat on the blade. Lift the paper & dowel up 5 degrees toward the cutting edge then stroke away from the edge. Do the same amount of strokes on each side until you have the desired edge. Remember to do the same amount of strokes  on  each side for even wear.  Repeat this same process  with  1,000  and  2,000 grit wet/dry sandpaper  or sharpening stone. You may want to go to higher grit,  for a finer edge. You may also want to strop the blade on leather to clean off  any burrs at the end of your sharpening. Spread some white lightning stropping compound onto the leather strop. When the compound dries on the strop use the sharpen method on the compound. When your compound gets black and shiny gently scrape it off and recharge it with clean compound.  It is about a 10,000 grit and brings the  tool up to a super fine edge.

Woodcarving Tips I wished I had learned Years Earlier

Killing time and slaying dragons!

            I started out in woodcarving not knowing much.  I had some general novice woodworking skills, some middle of the road household tools and not much else.  When I actually began carving, I didn’t know any other woodcarvers so I was a true self-taught hand carver, toiling away in the basement in the middle of the night while my family and the rest of the world were fast asleep, using whatever tools I had at hand.  Some things came easily, other things I struggled through, but little by little, I learned.  It would have been great to have had an experienced carver guide me along, but that was not to be.  If there was any advice I would give to a beginner carver, which he would carry with him through all his future years of carving, it would have to be some tips on accumulating tools.

            Initially, I thought I needed to have a whole bunch of different sets of tools and being on a budget; I wound up with a whole bunch of useless tools.  I was buying economy tools and judging the value on how many tools I bought vs. how much I spent.  It didn’t take long for the inferior tools to frustrate me and to come to the conclusion that I was going about things the wrong way.  I soon came to accept that a quality tool was easily worth its price and if cared for, could last a carver’s lifetime and perhaps generations longer.

            The first tool purchase should be an all purpose carving knife, not a utility knife, not a bench knife but a knife made specifically for carving.  I personally recommend the 1 1/2” Mora Frost carving knife.  It is a top quality knife at an economical price. It can be found many places on line for $10-$20.  It is made in Sweden of laminated steel and is a strong knife that will hold a well sharpened edge with only occasional stropping needed. You should also at this time purchase, sharpening stones, a strop and some decent polishing compound.  Your carving tools will only be as good as they are sharp.  A dull tool is a dangerous instrument in any hand.

            The next tool purchase should be a 6 piece set of top quality carving chisels and gouges.  These should be full-size professional tools.  If you buy a larger set, you will find that there will be a few tools that you will never really use. It is wise to spend your money on tools that you will want to use often.  I recommend Pfiel (swiss-made) tools.  They are a well constructed balanced tool and come pre-sharpened from the factory.  You will not be disappointed. A starter set should include a 60 degree v-tool, a straight chisel, a skew chisel, a veiner, a #5 gouge and a #9 gouge.  These are the basic profiles that you will use again and again.  From this point on, chisels and gouges should be purchased on a need by need basis, or from a personal preference point of view.  There are over 1200 profiles of woodcarving tools manufactured today. There are detail and roughing knives, palm chisels, micro chisels, bent, dog leg chisels and more, all to be considered when fleshing out your original set.  Try out different brands, different styles of handles and different sizes and weights.  Other carvers’ recommendations can guide you but the tool must feel good in your hand or you will not reach for it.  Remember to be careful reaching for any chisel, injuries seem to occur more often when reaching for or putting away the tools rather than when you are actually carving.

             When contemplating before beginning a carving, imagine where the difficulties will lie and try to purchase a chisel which will make the job easier.  When estimating a commission carving, I will sometimes include the cost of a certain chisel which will be used.  You can purchase one chisel every month or every two months and before long will have a set which many will envy and you will have a core selection of chisels that you not only will use but that you will look forward to using.  

Maura Macaluso