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Author Topic: First wood carving chisels  (Read 1955 times)


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If one were to get their first, oh, 1/2 dozen chisels, what would be the starting set that you would recommend?

I'd specifically like to learn to carve shells (concave and convex), acanthus leaves and eventually ball and claw feet. Looking to take that next step.

Ted Leger

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Re: First wood carving chisels
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If you search, you'll find dozens, or more, answers. I'm no expert, but they all seem similar to me though they each differ in the details. (I think probably the differences come from from the scale of the work and the set the carver started with themselves.) The beginners set Mary May recommends, and she carves the type things you are interested in, is:

#12/6 V-Tool 6mm wide
#3/3 3mm #3 Gouge
#3/6 6mm #3 Gouge
#3/14 14mm #3 Gouge
#7/14 14mm #7 Gouge
#8/10 10mm #8 Gouge

I found that on her website or an article she wrote long ago and have lost the reference.

(You may want to check out her site. She runs an online school with step by step lessons that gets rave reviews. I haven't done used her school, but have seen her present several times, both on the Woodwright's Shop and in person at a session at WIA. She explains things very well, though I need a *LOT* more practice before I'll call myself a carver.)


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Re: First wood carving chisels
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I'm just starting out myself. In another article I found, Mary May listed the tools she uses the most and always takes with her (for classes, etc). They are:


Having the same beginning carving subject interest as you mentioned, I went with the list above.


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Re: First wood carving chisels
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What Ted said.

 I took a class with Mary May last year. I know you didn't ask but I will say I very quickly discovered sharpening PROPERLY so you don't ruin the edge is quite different than the normal sharpening we do. Looking at both Mary May and Chris Pye IMO Pye has the best sharpening information and I like the convex stone he developed much better than the tapered cones. I learned to like the Arkansas oil stones and DiaSharp flat plates. Learning to strop is a must, too.

I agree with the basic set Mary May advocates. I prefer fishtails in as many tools as possible.

I think the best strategy is to choose simple carvings and build your tool set as you go.

As for brands, after quite a bit of research, I started with (and plan to stay with) Pfeil. I'm not saying they're the best but they are quality tools.

Chippingaway.com has the best prices on Pfeil that I have found anywhere.

Karl Moody

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Re: First wood carving chisels
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I have been a full time carver for nearly 30 yrs now carving all types of architectural pieces and when I started for the first several years I used 20 chisels. None were near the sizes suggested and for good reason.

Since the the question was for 6 chisels ironically enough I did a tutorial on just what can be carved using only 6 chisels. I carved this green man which is approx. 18" x 11" in 1"+ stock.
besides the facial features many elements of architectural (and general ) carving is found.
The chisels I limited myself to for this carving were:
and a knife/x-acto type blade .
Using larger chisel is frustrating and limits you in so many ways that I would not recommend them. Actually the other professional carvers I know rarely use larger chisels that are being recommended for their day to day work.
On my blog I have a tutorial covering this carving as well as a listing of "tools I can't live without " which encompasses 20 chisels that I could use to make a living carving. Which I do