Wood Carving: How To Choose The Right Tools
If you're going to be a wood carver and not just a whittler, you'll need to select a number of tools. You could use just a handful and work with small projects. Or you could use a variety, including power tools, to work on really large projects. There's just no way around it. So what are the right tools for wood carving?
If you're going to be a wood carver and not just a whittler, you'll need to select a number of tools. There's just no way around it. So what are the right tools for wood carving?
Tools for Sharpening. Before the carving tools, it seems appropriate that tools for sharpening them should come first. After all, first we sharpen and then we carve.
At the very minimum, you should have a sharpening stone and a strop. The sharpening stone is used to get your edges to sharpness. Many sharpening stones come in different shapes and in different sizes. Some are very accommodating to the typically short blade lengths of wood carving blade edges. There are diamond coated slipstones that work very well to sharpen an edge. Some sharpening stones can even be found on a key chain or as small as a credit card. So very convenient.
A well-sharpened edge will have a burr and micro-bits of metal still clinging to it. A strop can easily remove all of these. This is very important in wood carving. Anything added to the edge will only slow your progress. You've got to get everything off. If you prefer, you could use a honing compound or a honing board to smooth out your edges.
If you're really serious about becoming a wood carver, it is highly recommended that you learn how to sharpen and strop a knife. Once you've learned that, you'll also be able to sharpen most other carving edges. The need for smooth sharp edges is a constant in wood carving. When you can achieve them, you'll be worlds ahead of the rest. No kidding.
Tools for Shaping. Each type of carving tool that is meant to shape wood has a specific function. At the very minimum, you should have carving knives, wood chisels, wood gouges, wood rasps and rifflers, a mallet and maybe even a power drill.
æ Carving knives. This is your most basic of all carving tools and there are many kinds. There are straight-edged knives, skewed knives, bent knives, chip knives, detail knives, special pocket knives modified for carving and folding knives with lockable blades. And these aren't all of them. There are even micro-knives or micro-tool kits, if you'd like.
It's a matter of functionality. Each edge is target specific. When you've learned what each type of knife can do, and you've considered the carving project ahead of you, then you'll know which knives are best for that job. The best knives used for one specific task may not be the same knives that are best for another. That's why you've got choices.
æ Wood chisels. Chisels can be found with a bevel on only one side of the edge or they can be found with a double-sided beveled edge. The head may be slanted or square in shape. They may even be bent forward or backward. You'll have quite a selection.
æ Wood gouges. This is one of the most used tools in wood carving. There are many shapes and sizes. Some are very short and stout while others extend for a few inches with an extended blade edge. You'll probably end up with several kinds. That's not a problem. Surely, you'll use each one at some time or another.
æ Wood Rasps or Riffler files. It's easy to get confused when you're shopping around for these tools. Not all merchants agree. Really. Some stores call it a rasp, others will call it a riffler. And yet another will call it a rasp riffler. How to know, how to know. Well, the majority of merchants appear to agree that a rasp is a very coarse, straight file. The tool itself may be thick and rectangular like a sharpening file but don't be surprised to find those that are slender with a curving head, looking just like a riffler.
Rifflers, on the other hand, are usually slender with a curved head. Many times these curved heads can be found on both ends of the riffler. You can even find kits that offer you different shaped heads and at different sizes.
æ Mallets. These little hammers are invaluable in the right circumstance. They are a must for chip carving, relief carving and intaglio carving. (What am I saying?) Mallets are a must for all wood carving. You may need just a few millimeters off of here and no more, maybe add a little notch there, an indent over here, maybe create a shadow. It really is such a valuable tool.
æ Power tools. There are some pretty nice power tools for wood carving. There are power drills, rotor saw burrs, power chisels and mini grinders. You can even find power carving kits. There's even a wood carver's kit that offers its own selection of power grinders.
These tools are quite extraordinary in how much time and labor they can save wood carvers. Many consider them only for life-size or extremely large carvings. It's all up to the carver. Hey, how about a carving created entirely by power tools? (... Wonder how big that'd be.)
Tools for Sanding and Smoothing. When all the wood carving and shaping is done, you'll want to sand and smooth all surfaces. This is an important step that precedes any painting or varnishing. In doing so, you'll remove any remains from any previous finishing process and you'll also prepare the wood to bond with any non-penetrating chemicals. Sanding can be done using sand paper, sanding clothes or sanding sticks.
æ Sanding is often accomplished using sand paper. There are many grades, from very, very coarse to very, very fine. There's quite a selection. Something very similar to this is the defuzzing pad. It does as it sounds. It removes all fuzz still clinging to the wood surface.
æ There are sanding clothes that come in a roll and are available in varying grit sizes. Sections may be cut from the roll and rolled or folded as you wish. Best thing is, you don't have to worry about it cracking or falling apart on you.
æ Sanding sticks may also be found in varying grit sizes. You can also find sanding stick kits or sanding detail kits that can remove glue or minute remains of your finishing products. Mini-belt sanding sticks or sanding belts may be used for large sanding jobs.
Wood carving is an amazing craft to develop. You could use just a handful of tools and work with small projects. Or you could use a bunch of tools, including power tools, to work on really large projects. Either way, it's very relaxing, oftentimes exhilarating and extremely satisfying. Have fun!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Len Q. is a knife sharpening expert and protector of the natural world. If you would like to find out about ª Knife Sharpening: How to Sharpen Knives, Maintain and Store Them ª Sharpening Other Edges (e.g. Lawn Mower Blades, Gardening Tools, Chain Saws, Axes) Find it here at http://www.MakeKnivesSharp.com .