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Basic Carving Tools

By L.S. Irish

Tool Patterns

tools_05As 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 bench knife.

The bench 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. Bench 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 bench knife.

Round Gouges

tools_03The 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-Gouge Chisel

tools_07This 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.

Straight Chisels

chiselsChisels 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.

Specialty Knives

tools_04There is a wide variety of specialty knives available to the relief wood carver.  This photo shows just a few in my tool kit.  To the left is a dog leg chisel used to clean the background wood under deep ledges or undercuts.  The three knives to the right are detail knives for fine line work and for cutting into small, tight areas.

 Tool Pattern Cuts

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 knifes. 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.

From your left to your right in the image above the patterns have been made with the following tools; bench knife, chisel or skew chisel, gouge, v-gouge or v-point chisel, and u-gouge or veining tool.

Basic Carving Tools
Carving Tools Close-Up
The Beginner’s Tool Kit
Bracing Table for Relief Carving
Your First Carving
Basics to Landscape Relief Carving

The Basic Wood Burning Tool

toucan burning by Lora IrishThere are three basic styles of wood burning tools – one temperature units, rheostat temperature units, and variable temperature units.  In this article by Lora S. Irish, we will look at each style, how each wood burning tool controls the tonal values of your burnings, and which style is best for you.


Wood burning can greatly enhance your carving project.  Used to create fine line detailing or sepia tones of shadowing, with just one tool and a few basic strokes this craft will open a new dimension to your finished work.  There are two styles of wood burning tool – the one temperature tool and the variable temperature tool.  In this tutorial we will take a brief look at both styles.

Once you catch the “burning bug” you will soon discover that the complete design can be created using just this tool.  Wood burning is a lot more than just dark brown outline on a piece of wood.  From pale golden shading to dark textured areas, there is a wide range of coloring that the burner will make.

The Toucan Family burning, right, is a fun beginner’s project and is  worked using a Walnut Hollow Versa-tool and an end grain basswood plaque.  This rheostat tool has a full range of temperature settings from very pale cream tones to chocolate black.

A wood burning is created with five elements – the wood burning unit, the pen tips, the media on which you are working, the pattern or design you will burn, and the art style you will use to create the design.  Lets look at the pyrography systems first.

Choosing your first wood burning tool

There are three styles of wood burning units – one temperature tools, rheostat-controlled tools, and variable temperature tools.  Which you chose depends on both your interest in this craft and your pyrography budget.

versa tool universal tipOne temperature burning tools

One temperature burners are very similar to soldering irons.  The solid interchangeable tips are made from brass and screw into the front end of the burner.  When this tool is plugged into the wall outlet it heats to a single temperature – high.  The most used solid brass tip is called a universal tip.  This is the tip shown on the burner, shown below, and can be used for both fine line work and shading work. The other common solid tips that are available for this style of wood burner are  the calligraphy tip used for lettering, the flow tip used for large area fills, the cone tip used for detailing, and the large shading tip used to add shadows.

Rheostat burning tools

Walnut Hollow has taken their one temperature burning tool and added an adjustable temperature rheostat to the cord.  This tool uses the same interchangeable brass tips as the one temperature tool which can be used to shade and detail any pattern or design.  With the rheostat you can control the heat settings from very pale cream tonal values to dark chocolate blacks.   The rheostat dial uses a color code for your heat settings from pale yellow to dark red.

optima ball tip wood burning toolVariable temperature burning tools

Variable temperature burning tools use a thermostat controlled base unit into which a pen cord is attacked.  The burning pens – either fixed tip or interchangeable tip pens – are then attached to the cord.  This places the thermostat unit on your work table, leaving you to hold just the weight of the actual pen.  Variable temperature units have a very wide range of heat setting, well beyond what we commonly use in our pyrography.



Celtic knot patterns by Lora S IrishCeltic One
Celtic knot patterns, Celtic animal patterns, Celtic corners, and of course the Celtic cross, contains line designs, centerpiece motifs, corner patterns, arches, and even the Celtic cross.


Enjoy the free, online teaching, tutorials, projects and patterns created by Lora S. Irish which focus on wood carving, relief carving, pyrography, paper crafts, quilting, painting, and general fun art ideas.

Woodcarving Fundamentals

Chip Carving Project

cutting straight-wall chips in chip carving

Beginner’s Info


Basics to Wood


Tools and Supplies


Sharpening Your Tools



Working With Patterns



Basic Cuts & Carving Tips



Specialized Techniques



Finishes & Sealers



Woodcarving Projects




Pyrography Fundamentals


Pyrography Projects


Painting your Project


Basics to Painting


Paper and Quilting Crafts


Quilting Tutorials

 Butterfly Quilt Art

Wood Carving

cane, walking stick, and wizard wand carvingWood Carving, Relief Carving, Carving Techniques, Wood Carving Projects
Canes, Walking Sticks, Chip, Spoon, Scroll Saw
As of June 8, 2021 – 169 Articles, Projects, and Techniques

Basic Techniques Carving Projects

Wood Carving Basic Techniques

Cane Carving

Chip Carving

Relief Wood Carving Projects

Spoon Carving

Scroll Saw


Lora S Irish is the author of a series of woodcarving, pyrography, and craft pattern books.  Her first in-depth wood carving book is Classic Carving Patterns, published by Taunton Press, in 1999, publisher of ”Fine Wood Working Magazine”.  Other popular craft and hobby titles including the Great Book of Dragon PatternsRelief Carving Workshop, and The Art and Crafts of Pyrography,  and Classic Chip Carving published by Chipping Away, Inc.


The Art of Spoon CarvingThe Art of Spoon Carving

Wood carving is coming back into style, and making kitchen utensils is among the easiest ways to learn the craft. This beautifully illustrated guide by master woodcrafter Lora S. Irish teaches the basics of wooden spoon carving. Perfect for beginners, the book presents 12 step-by-step projects that illustrate a variety of historic carving styles.

A selection of mix-and-match patterns offer suggestions for creating dozens of unique designs for spoons and other implements — forks, ladles, dippers, spatulas, knives, pie servers, and scoops. In addition to clear, detailed directions accompanied by helpful drawings, inspiring photographs illustrate decorative ideas for using the carved spoons in kitchen wreaths, centerpieces, and other ornaments. A great gift for crafters seeking a new hobby, this book is loaded with stylish designs for handmade treasures.

Art of Leather Bu7rning

Art of Leather Burning
New Lora S. Irish Book

Legendary wood and leather crafter Lora Susan Irish focuses solely on leather pyrography techniques and projects for the first time in this book. She presents instructions for a dozen easy-to-make projects, including jewelry, wallets, journals, and belts, in a spectacular array of patterns ranging from American West and Celtic motifs to wildlife and tattoo-inspired imagery. The completed projects are perfect for gift-giving or personal use.

Moving from tools and supplies to pyrography and leather crafting basics; pattern techniques; leather selection; and the projects themselves, the book includes detailed, step-by-step directions with full-color photographs. Sidebars and tips offer helpful hints. This invaluable guide is ideal for experienced crafters as well as those who wish to acquire leather-crafting and leather-burning skills.
The very best place for the very best prices
Lora S. Irish books on the web!
 Relief Carving Workshop by Lora S. IrishRelief Carving Workshop
Chip Carving Workshop by Lora S Irish
Chip Carving Workshop

Great Book of Woodburning by Lora S IrishGreat Book of Woodburning
Great Book of Celtic Knot Patterns by Lora S IrishGreat Book of Celtic Patterns Arts and Crafts Pyrography by Lora S IrishArt & Craft Pyrography EAsy & Elegant Beaded Copper Jewelry by Lora S IrishEasy & Elegant Jewelry
 Great Book of Dragon Patterns by Lora S IrishGreat Book of Dragon Patterns  Great Book of Fairies by Lora S IrishGreat Book of Fairy Patterns  Great Book of Floral Patterns by Lora S IrishGreat Book of Floral Patterns
 Relief Carving Wood Spirits Relief Carving Wood Spirits
Great Book of Modern Tattoos by Lora S Irish
Modern Tribal Tattoos
 North American Wildlife Patterns for the Scroll Saw by Lora S IrishNorth American Wildlife
 Great Book of Tattoo Designs by Lora S IrishGreat Book of Tattoos  The Original Vampire Artists Handbook by Lora S IrishVampire Artists Handbook  Wildlife Carving in ReliefWildlife Carving in Relief
 World Wildlife Patterns for the Scroll Saw by Lora S IrishWorld Wildlife Patterns, Scroll Saw ……..
101 Artistic Relief Patterns by Lora S Irish
 101 Artistic Relief Patterns
Classic Carving Patterns by Lora S IrishClassic Carving Patterns
Essential Links for Wire Jewelry by Lora S Irish  Essential Links Pyrography Basics Pyrography Basics Learn to Draw Dragons
Learn to Draw Celtic

Wood Spirits & Greenmen

135 Gunstock
Carving Patterns
Art of Spoon CarvingArt of Spoon Carving
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