Coniscliffe Carving Club

A Brief Guide to Buying Woodcarving Tools.      By Alan Suddes


As a newcomer to woodcarving, you will be impressed by the array of tools used by established carvers, and there is a tendency to want to rush out and buy a set of tools of your own. The advice is wait, use Club tools for a while, find out what you need, and buy individual tools rather than sets. There are hundreds of shapes and sizes of carving tools and, at an average cost of £15 - £20 per tool, sets often contain tools that you may not use very often.

The second consideration is Quality. Cheap tools are not up to the task, and will not hold a sharp edge. New tools are still made in the UK by HENRY TAYLOR (Sheffield) and ASHLEY ILES (Lincolnshire). Excellent tools from Europe are PFEIL (which are Swiss and are, in the writer’s opinion, some of the best), AURIOU (France), STUBAI (Austria), and KIRSCHEN (Germany).

Specialist second hand tool dealers do sell top quality old carving tools and gouges by ADDIS, HERRING BROS., WARD & PAYNE, MARPLES, MOULSON BROS., SORBY, and T. HILL that are all good. Some of these can be over 100 tears old, so make sure that they are not sharpened to a short stubby length – the blade should be a minimum of around 4” long. Cracked and damaged handles can be replaced. As a comparison, an old ADDIS gouge will probably cost from £10 - £15.

The Tools (Chisels, Gouges and Parting (or V) Tools) Woodcarving tools come in various widths, from 1.5mm to massive 60mm (over 2”) sculpture tools. British tools are numbered according to the 19th Century “Sheffield List”, which standardized the profiles via a numbering system as follows:-

No.1   Always a straight edge chisel, sharpened on both sides unlike a joiner’s chisel.

No.2   Similar to No. 1 but has a cutting edge at 45 degrees, and is known as a skew or Corner chisel.

Nos.3 - 11   Are all straight shafted gouges, the “workhorses” of the carver.

As the  number increases, the gouge becomes deeper in profile – e.g. a No. 3 is a fairly flat  “sweep”, whereas a No. 11 is a deeper U shape. Lower numbers are sometimes known as “slow” gouges, higher ones are “fast” gouges.

There are many hybrids of the above tools, with curved blades, tapered blades (longpod and allongee) and fishtail, which you do not need at this stage.  

British tools follow the Sheffield List, which does not comply exactly with Continental profiles, so a British No. 3 will not match a Swiss No. 3. Ask for advice if buying European tools. Buying your tools via the Club will give you some discount. They are not available locally and come from specialist tool dealers:- Axminster Power Tools, Tilgear, Rutlands, Alec Tiranti, and Classic Hand Tools. Google any of these and you will see the range available.

If you look after your tools they will last a lifetime!

Now click here for Sheet No.2 “Basic Carving Tools – What to Buy”.