Which tool set you chose depends on several factors – your budget, your style of carving, your favorite carving woods, and your skill level. The carving knives that you use for whittling are very different from the ones you use for architectural wood accents and still different from the knives used in relief carving.
If you are just starting your hobby of wood carving I would strongly suggest that you begin with a beginner’s carving knife set with five to six tools – a large round gouge, a small round gouge, a skew chisel, a straight chisel, a v-gouge, and perhaps a veining tool – at an initial investment around $50 USD. As you decide what style of carving you will be working you can add higher quality and specific specialty tools to your kit.
This Japanese carving tool set contains five basic carving knives – a skew chisel, a straight chisel, a v-gouge, a large round gouge, and a small round gouge. While inexpensive, the steel quality is nice and these tools will last you a lifetime of carving. They hold a sharpened edge fairly well, yet can easily be re-beveled to change the cutting angle.
While not the highest quality of steel, this type of carving tool set will get you well started in our craft and give you time to decide what style of wood carving you prefer, which will determine what type of higher quality tools you will want as you grow in your carving skills.
This photo shows two sets of palm handled carving tools – micro tools along the top row and regular sized tools along the bottom row. The regular-sized tool profiles are used for roughing out the background and levels in your relief carving, or for shaping your three-dimensional carvings. The micro tools are then used to add extremely fine-cut detailing. Both sets shown are manufactured by Ramelson, and will last a lifetime.
Carving tools come with several styles of handle shapes. Which shape you chose is determined by your style of carving, your hand size, if you have arthritis, and whether you want hand-held or mallet tools.
The wood carving set, shown right, has one, ergonomic grip handle and eleven interchangeable cutting blades. The blades range from a wide sweep round gouge – top left pocket – to an extremely fine veining tool – shown in handle. It also includes a straight chisel, tight round gouges, and a large v-gouge. This is a great starter kit if you don’t mind taking a moment to change out the blades as you work.
Pocket knives have been the standard whittling tool for generations. We all have that image of great Grandpa, sitting on the back porch, on a hot summer’s day, whittling away on some small toy for the grand kids or for a new bottle stopper for Grandma. There are many high quality pocket knives that can be used for whittling.
This particular knife is a Sea Horse Case with three blades. The largest works as your bench knife with its long straight edge and strong point. The smaller blade has a curved cutting edge and narrower point and is used as your detailing knife. The third blade has a flat edge with a blunt end and is used for shaving.
Where my bench knives will last for decades of use, this Case will last for generations and be pasted along to my grandchildren for their joy in whittling.
If you chose to use a pocket knife for your whittling, chose one that has a locking blade if possible to prevent the blade from collapsing or folding during use.
Page 1 – Bench Knives, Detailers, and Whittling Knives
Page 2 – Beginner Carving Tool Sets
Page 3 – Rasps, Rifflers, Dental Picks
Page 4 – General, Tracing, and Sanding Supplies