Selecting a good carving tool
I have been carving for over 30 years. I owned Smoky Mountain Woodcarvers Supply for 25 years. During that time I helped lots of carvers with selecting the right tools. I also sharpened thousands of tools during that 25 years. I conducted beginner classes and sharpening seminars.
Selecting a good carving knife is important and can be daunting and frustrating especially since most people now do their shopping online. When selecting a knife keep in mind that the type of woodcarving you do will factor into this selection. For example, there differences between a beginner knife and a chip carving knife or a knife for detail work .
A knife should have good metal. Most of us have heard the term ‘high carbon steel’ in reference to the steel in a carving knife. Steel, such as stainless steel, is much too hard to sharpen. Knife makers choose steel that carbon has been added. Just the right amount of carbon softens the steel but it still hard enough to use for carving without the blade chipping or breaking and will allow re-sharping. The blade should also be tempered properly. Tempering makes it hard enough to maintain its edge yet flexible enough to endure regular and sometimes intense use. Hardness of steel is given a rating according to the Rockwell hardness scale. A Rockwell hardness (RC) of around RC59 is considering optimal. A thinner blade knife is ideal. The thinner the blade the easier it will be to slice through the wood.
How does a carver know what type of steel, amount of carbon and tempering when purchasing a knife online or in a store? Sometimes a vendor will publish on their website this information but rarely. So it comes down to having faith with the seller. A good rule of thumb is to buy from a vendor that has been in business for a long time and has a good reputation. You could get advice from an experienced carver or attend a local carving club meeting where you could also get advise. You could also take a carving class where you can get advise from an instructor. It is a good idea to avoid cheaper knives and most home made knives. A cheaper knife can be too soft or too hard. A soft blade could chip or break and would require constant stropping. A knife with hard steel is very hard to sharpen. A thin blade requires the best steel and good tempering.
Knife blades come in various widths, lengths and shapes. Select a knife that will be the best for the type of carving you plan on doing. A knife with a one and one half inch long blade would be a could knife for a beginner. Longer blades tend to unwieldy and could result in cutting the hand not holding the knife. The blade width is usually ½ inch. A chip carving knife is a short-bladed knife used to make triangular shaped cuts to create intricate designs. A detail knife has a short and narrow blade. Other types of carving will determine what other shapes to select. As in selecting a knife seek out advice to help find the right blade shape.
The next thing to consider is the knife handle. The handle should be comfortable in your hand. If it is not you will probably be laying it aside after a little while and seeking out another knife. As with the knife seek out help from a carver who could let you feel a handle in your hand. But it will take using the knife for awhile before actually deciding if it is comfortable for you.
Use same criteria when selecting a palm tool such as a gouge or v-tool a you used in selecting a knife. Gouge and v-tool handles come in short or long handles. It is a personal choice as to which one you will like. Generally I prefer a shorter handle but sometimes I will use both long and short handles on the same carving. Hand tools and mallet tools are basically the same. The main difference is the tang. The tang is the part of the metal that extends into the handle. The tang will have a ferrule where the tang enters the handle. This prevents the handle from splitting when struck with a mallet. Mallet tools are usually longer than palm tools and could have a wider cutting edge.
You should not buy a cheap v-tool. Quite often cheaper v-tools will have thick metal and too much carbon. A thick blade will mean a lot of metal will have to be removed to get a sharp edge. This is not an easy process. Carbon is cheaper than steel and will make the tool softer so that it not hold an edge. Usually the metal in a cheaper v-tool is too thick. As with the knife a thinner edge will slice through the wood easier. Of course you could have the same problems when purchasing a gouge but it is particularly important for a v-tool. Carvers have more problems with sharpening a v-tool as well as keeping them sharp. Usually cheaper v-tools are not sharp when purchased.
GENERAL TIPS & INFO
Members of the Smoky Mountain Woodcarvers Association have over the past 20-30 and even 40 years have gain a lot of woodcarving knowledge and experience through, listening to other carvers, taking classed, judging competition and personal experience, have gathered many tips, ideas, suggestions and carving information in general. We wish to share those with you and hope you will find them useful and would share one or more of your tips with us. Send them to: firstname.lastname@example.org
First and foremost, have fun.
CARVE. CARVE & CARVE some more. Nothing beats experience.
REPAIRING YOUR CARVINGS
KEEPING YOUR TOOLS SHARPGenerally speaking, you should concentrate on keeping your tools sharp. Most tools you buy will already be sharp. You should not re-sharpen a tool unless you break it, chip it or round the edge off with poor stropping techniques. Remember, whatever works will work. Even a rock or a piece of wood might do. Find the method that works for you.
The bevel is the part of the tool that you sharpen and is the part of the blade you cut with. The bevel on a knife generally goes the whole width of the blade. Just concentrate on sharpening the bevel that is already on the blade (this mainly applies to gouges) unless you have a reason to extend the bevel. The strength of a blade is determined by its bevel length. Shorter bevels provide more strength, such as mallet tools.
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