Last Updated on November 5, 2022 by Barry Gray
While using power tools means you can rip through a project in next to no time, I think there’s still a time and place for doing things the old-fashioned way.
That means you need to put down those tools powered by 20V batteries, shut off that mains power supply, and turn back the clock. This certainly applies if you want to get into wood carving, as this old art form requires patience, as well as the correct tools.
But this is the problem that you then face. Where do you even begin when looking at tools that allow you to go ahead and start your hobby of wood carving?
Well, don’t stress about it. I’m going to take you through the seven essential tools that I think any beginner wood carver will need to get started. I’m not saying these are all of the tools you should have at your disposal, but they will certainly allow you to begin producing some pretty cool things in your workshop.
I think one of the things I love most about these tools, and wood carving in general, is that anybody can indeed do it. You don’t even require a whole lot of space via a huge workshop to produce some finished items, and I love that fact.
But as with any project, you can only produce your intended end result when you have the correct tools at your disposal, so let’s see what you need to get started.
What Tools Do You Need to Begin Wood Carving
One thing I love about wood carving is that anybody can get started. You do not require any expensive tools, and I’d even suggest that you do not need too many tools to ultimately produce something.
Add in the fact that you can practice on scrap pieces of wood, and you see that this hobby is very accessible.
So, what I have below are seven different types of tools that should be on your list of tools you need to really start your wood carving hobby. None of the tools will prove to be expensive either, so I feel that there should be nothing stopping you from the beginning.
With that in mind, let me take you through the different tools.
1. A Carving Knife
The first tool I need to mention is a carving knife, and this really is an essential piece of kit. Now, I know that carving knives come in different shapes and sizes, and the truth is that each has been designed for a specific use.
This can also be referred to as a whittling knife, so don’t get confused by the different terms. Basically, this knife is used to ‘whittle’ or carve away pieces of wood. It’s a method humans have used for a long time, and even though it does take practice, it’s highly effective.
I would certainly recommend you opt for a smaller carving knife at first. This should give you a greater sense of control over what you do, and it will also mean you remove smaller pieces of wood at first.
If you choose a larger blade, then any mistakes you make while learning will only be magnified. You then run the risk of creating additional mistakes simply by continuing to use a knife that’s too big.
But here’s another tip for people starting out with wood carving and using a carving knife, try to learn the techniques on wood such as pine or another softwood. You will then be able to quickly see progress being made, which kind of inspires you to carry on.
What I love about this tool is that they are inexpensive to purchase, and you can carve a number of things with absolute ease. But on the downside, you need to understand how to sharpen the blade because it will wear down over time.
A good set of chisels is another absolutely essential item you need for wood carving. I say a set because you need different sizes to really get into the wood using different depths and widths.
But you must ensure the chisels you purchase are for wood. Other chisels are designed for working on stone, but they won’t deliver the finesse or control you need when dealing with wood.
I do find chisels with a smaller head to be best, especially when looking at those delicate details. You need to have the ability to make those small marks and to get in at specific angles with various projects, and a chisel is the best way to do this.
But as I said, I would always recommend a set of wood chisels and ensure you have a wide range of sizes to choose from. It will just make your life a whole lot easier.
Also, if you are wondering about the sizes, you will generally see the chisels being referred to in sizes such as ½” or 1”, with this referring to the width. You can see why I then suggest a set, as you can hardly chisel out a smaller, finer area if you only have those larger chisels.
However, I’m also only talking about your standard flat chisel set for now. You will learn later on how there’s another type of chisel that I believe you need to have in your arsenal when starting out with wood carving.
Gouges are tools you may not have thought about before, but if you plan to get involved in wood carving, then a set of gouges will quickly become one of your most used tools.
The name sort of gives the game away as to what they are used for, and I do love how you can effectively scoop out small pieces of wood while also maintaining so much control.
Also, gouges can remove pieces of wood without you then having to deal with any corner marks having been left behind. In addition, gouges are fabulous tools for stop-cutting around objects.
But there’s more to using a gouge than just those couple of things. I also find that they do not become stuck in the wood, which is a massive problem with chisels, and you feel you can get on faster with a gouge as a result.
The primary purpose of a gouge is to allow you to carve grooves and trenches in the wood. Also, with the size of the gouge, I find you can do this with a lot of precision, which is essential when it comes to wood carving.
Gouges also come in different sizes, which then relates to how much wood they will remove at any given time. But if you have never used a gouge before, then this is what I suggest you go and do.
Get a scrap piece of wood, and use both a chisel and a gouge to remove some wood in a straight line. When you do that, you will see the different marks both tools make, giving you a much better insight into how you would use the various tools.
I guarantee that you will then have a better understanding of what to expect when you use a gouge on your project.
4. A V-Tool
Some people mistake a v-tool, also known as a veiner, for a gouge, and I can see why. After all, it too comes with more of a scoop blade at the end, as you see on a gouge, but there is a major difference between the two.
With a veiner, it comes with longer sides. It also has more of a downward curve on what is basically the blade part compared to a gouge or a u-tool. The mark it then makes on the wood significantly differs from what you tend to get with any other tool.
A veiner is certainly more of a detail tool than anything else. I find it works well for really getting out those small pieces of wood where you feel you have absolute control. Also, it can work well even on wood such as maple or oak, so don’t think you are restricted with the materials you can work on.
Once again, a veiner does come in different sizes, so it’s obvious how it will generate different results depending on which one you use.
But the way I like to view this tool is that it’s really for producing those smaller details that most tools simply fail to achieve. Think of those tiny marks that can appear on furniture legs, as an example, and you start to see how a veiner could be used to make that thin v-shaped slot just big enough to provide you with some definition on the wood.
Sure, you may not use this tool regularly, but it’s certainly one that will prove its worth from time to time.
5. A Skew Chisel
I know I mentioned a chisel set above, but a skew chisel is a different tool that I think any beginner woodcarver needs to have at their disposal. The difference here is that this chisel has a bevel edge, and that angle leads to it being called a skew chisel.
What it means for you is that the tip has an angle, and it allows you to remove wood in a completely different way to the more straight edge on a regular chisel set. Also, if you plan on carving out some slightly more complex shapes, then a skew chisel will allow you to complete the process a whole lot easier than a standard chisel set.
I know that some people argue that skew chisels are better for things such as furniture making, but I also think it works well for any individual looking to basically sculpt something out of wood.
The ease with which you can remove wood using this tool is impressive, and I believe it would quickly become one of your main tools.
Also, you can produce several different effects with one tool. From a v-shape to planing wood and also making little chip cuts, a skew chisel is pretty versatile, and that makes it a great tool to use in this setting.
Once again though, you clearly get skew chisels in different sizes, and that’s something you may want to think about. Clearly, it’s best to have smaller sizes, and they do go exceptionally small if you already know you will either be carving out fine details or simply working on a smaller project overall.
6. Rotary Tool
I know I told you at the start that I wanted you to put down your power tools, so the idea of including a rotary tool seems to go against that. Well, I’ve included this tool for an excellent reason.
Now, I’m not talking about you using a rotary tool as a small drill. Instead, it’s all about the array of attachments that come with your standard rotary tool. With these attachments, you can carry out multiple actions and achieve some amazing things regarding wood carving.
From miniature sanders to plunge-cutting bits or abrasive wheels and more, a rotary tool is something you can use in more ways than you would expect.
But I do feel that using a rotary tool is something you should do when you have at least some experience with wood carving. This is because a rotary tool can rotate at speeds of up to 30,000 RPM, which means it could result in you losing some control over the tool and your project.
However, even though it may make life harder for you, a rotary tool is still something I would suggest you check out because it could speed up certain aspects of your project. Just try to get a set with as many accessories as possible.
7. Leather Strop Kits
So while a leather strop kit is not exactly a tool used for carving wood, I still see it as something that is essential for a wood carver.
The problem with the tools listed above is that they do lose some of their edges as you use them. You certainly do not want your carving knife to start to struggle with removing wood. It leads to a poorer result and will also slow you down.
That applies to chisels and anything else. If you notice you are having to use more force to get the same outcome, then there’s a good chance you will need to sharpen your tools. That’s where a leather strop kit comes into play.
This kit will allow you to sharpen your tools and get things back to normal. They are easy to use and don’t require any sort of experience. However, the outcome is that you will be able to sharpen your tools in a little time.
I would strongly suggest you go ahead and purchase a leather strop kit when starting out with your wood carving hobby. It’s going to be one of the best purchases you will make, and it will allow you to go ahead and carry on with more projects.
And those are my top seven wood carving tools that I think any beginner should have in their workshop. I know each tool can come with slight variations, but as long as you have these seven available, then I think you should run into no problems.
Wood carving is such a worthwhile hobby. The ability to turn a piece of wood into something completely different via your own hands and at a slow pace does mean this is quite a mindful practice.
If I was you, I’d get my hands on some of these tools and just have a go. It doesn’t matter how the first piece turns out, as the learning process can be pretty tough. However, with some perseverance, you should have no problem turning out something pretty cool and also something you have carved out all on your own.
These tools do not have to be too expensive either, and when you then add in the cost of a piece of wood, then this is a hobby that remains highly accessible. This low-cost entry point allows you to really build your set of wood carving tools quickly, which, in turn, means you have the ability to produce more items that become more elaborate and intricate as your experience of wood carving develops.