Basic tool setthe carving knife: a specialized knife used to pare, cut, and smooth wood.
the gouge: a tool with a curved cutting edge used in a variety of forms and sizes for carving hollows, rounds and sweeping curves.
the chisel, large and small, whose straight cutting edge is used for lines and cleaning up flat surfaces.
the V-tool used for parting, and in certain classes of flat work for emphasizing lines.
the veiner: a specialized deep gouge with a U shaped cutting edge.
sharpening equipment, such as various stones and a strop, necessary for maintaining edges.
A special screw for fixing work to the workbench, and a mallet, complete the carvers kit, though other tools, both specialized and adapted, are often used, such as a router for bringing grounds to a uniform level, bent gouges and bent chisels for cutting hollows too deep for the ordinary tool.
Gouge – Carving tool with a curved cutting edge. The most used category of carving tools.
Sweep – The curvature of the cutting edge of a carving gouge. A lower number (like #3) indicates a shallow, flat sweep while a high number (like #9) is used for a deeply curved gouge.
Veiner – A small deep gouge with a U shaped cutting edge. Usually #11 sweep.
Fluter – A larger #11 sweep gouge with a U shaped cutting edge.
Sloyd knife – A whittling knife having a strong, fixed blade slightly shorter than the handle (around 5 inches), suitable for marking or carving.
Chisel – A carving tool with a straight cutting edge (usually termed #1 sweep) at right angles (or square to) the sides of the blade.
Skew Chisel – A chisel with the edge at a "skew" or angle relative the sides of the blade. Often termed #2 sweep in the Sheffield list or #1s in continental lists.
V-Tool or Parting Tool – A carving tool with a V shaped cutting edge. Used for outlining and decorative cuts. Refered to as 'the carvers pencil' by old time professional carvers.
Long Bent – A gouge, chisel or V tool where the blade is curved along its entire length. Handy for deep work.
Short Bent or Spoon – A gouge, chisel or V tool where the blade is straight with a curve at the end, like a spoon. Use for work in deep or inaccessible areas.
Fishtail – A gouge or chisel with a straight, narrow shank that flares out at the end to form a "fishtail" shaped tool. The narrow shaft of the tool allows for clearance in tight areas.
Back Bent – A spoon gouge with a reverse bent end. Used for undercuts and reeding work.
Palm Tools — Short (5"), stubby tools used with one hand while the work is held in the other. Great for detail and small carving.
Full-size Tools — 10" to 11" tools used with two hands or a mallet.
Tang — The tapered part of the blade that is driven into the handle.
Bolster – A flared section of the blade near the tang that keeps the blade from being driven further into the handle.
Ferrule – A metal collar on the handle that keeps the wood from splitting when the tool is used with a mallet. Some tools have an external, visible ferrule while others have an internal ferrule.Some old, small detail tools have neither bolster nor ferrule as their light use makes them unnecessary.
Rockwell Hardness – A scale that indicates the hardness of steel. A Rockwell range of 58 to 61 is considered optimum for fine woodworking edge tools.
Selecting a wood
The nature of the wood being carved limits the scope of the carver in that wood is not equally strong in all directions: it is an anisotropic material. The direction in which wood is strongest is called "grain" (grain may be straight, interlocked, wavy or fiddleback, &c.). It is wise to arrange the more delicate parts of a design along the grain instead of across it, and the more slender stalks or leaf-points should not be too much separated from their adjacent surroundings. The failure to appreciate these primary rules may constantly be seen in damaged work, when it will be noticed that, whereas tendrils, tips of birds beaks, &c., arranged across the grain have been broken away, similar details designed more in harmony with the growth of the wood and not too deeply undercut remain intact. Probably the two most common woods used for carving are Basswood(aka Tilia or Lime) and Tupelo, both are hardwoods that are relatively easy to work with. Chestnut, American walnut, mahogany and teak are also very good woods; while for fine work Italian walnut, sycamore maple, apple, pear or plum, are generally chosen. Decoration that is to be painted and of not too delicate a nature is as a rule carved in pine.
A wood carver begins a new carving by selecting a chunk of wood the approximate size and shape of the figure he or she wishes to create or, if the carving is to be large, several pieces of wood may be laminated together to create the required size. The type of wood is important. Hardwoods are more difficult to shape but have greater luster and longevity. Softer woods may be easier to carve, but are less resistant to damage. Any wood can be carved but they all have different qualities and characteristics. The choice will depend on the requirements of carving being done: for example a detailed figure would need a wood with a fine grain and very little figure.Once the sculptor has selected their wood, he or she begins a general shaping process using gouges of various sizes. The gouge is a curved blade that can remove large portions of wood smoothly. For harder woods, the sculptor may use a chisel and mallet, similar to a stone carver. Smaller sculptures may require the wood carver to use a knife, and larger pieces might require the use of a saw. No matter what wood is selected or tool used, the wood sculptor must always carve either across or with the grain of the wood, never against the grain.
Once the general shape is made, the carver may use a variety of tools for creating details. For example, a “veiner” or 'fluter' can be used to make deep gouges into the surface, or a “v-tool” for making fine lines or decorative cuts. Once the finer details have been added, the wood carver finishes the surface. The method chosen depends on the required quality of surface finish. The texture left by shallow gouges gives 'life' to the carving's surface and many carvers prefere this 'tooled' finish. If a completely smooth surface is required general smoothing can be done with tools such as “rasps,” which are flat-bladed tools with a surface of pointed teeth. “Rifflers” are similar to rasps, but smaller, usually double ended, and of various shapes for working in folds or crevasses. The finer polishing is done with abrasive paper. Large grained paper with a rougher surface is used first, with the sculptor then using finer grained paper that can make the surface of the sculpture slick to the touch.
After the carving and finishing is completed, the artist may seal & color the wood with a variety of natural oils, such as walnut or linseed oil which protects the wood from dirt and moisture. Oil also imparts a sheen to the wood which, by reflecting light, helps the observer 'read' the form. Carvers seldom use gloss varnish as it creates too shiny a surface, which reflects so much light it can confuse the form; carvers refer to this as 'the toffee apple effect'. Objects made of wood are frequently finished with a layer of wax, which protects the wood and gives a soft lusterous sheen. A wax finish is comparatively fragile though and only suitable for indoor carvings.