Want to make art from wood? You'll need these wood carving tools
Wood carving essentials
Wood carving is one of the oldest art forms. There are examples that date back thousands of years. Today it offers creative individuals a multitude of outlets for their talents, from small pieces whittled in the backyard to large sculptures on public display. For most, it is an absorbing hobby, but some highly skilled practitioners turn it into their profession.
The tools used can be as varied as the pieces created and range from small knives and hand chisels to electric power carvers and chainsaws. We’ve put the following article together as a guide to the carving tools you need to get you started making art from wood.
Making art from wood can be as simple as whittling. It’s an easy way to get started, and it’s a great way to relax and de-stress. You can get started with a single knife, though sets of three offer more versatility. The inclusion of a leather strop or sharpening stone is also convenient.
Palm chisels are a very popular way to start hand carving, and there are dozens of different profiles. With practice, it’s possible to create incredible detail, though their size means they are usually used for decorative art pieces of modest size, the kind that might be hung on a wall or displayed on a shelf or bookcase.
Larger chisels still make great hand tools but can also be used with a wooden mallet (never a metal hammer, which would damage them). The extra force means they can make deeper cuts and remove material more quickly. These are the tools most commonly used to decorate pieces of furniture or make more substantial stand-alone sculptures.
Wood-carving knife and chisel sets run from around $10 to over $200. We would caution against buying cheap carving tools. They can look very similar to more expensive knives and chisels but the metal for the blades is inferior. They soon go blunt and are almost impossible to keep sharp, which gets very frustrating. Always invest in quality.
Best hand carving tools
Schaaf Wood Carving Tools: available at Amazon
Our take: Set of 12 quality chisels suitable for a beginner or experienced craftsperson.
What we like: Very hard, chrome vanadium blades have excellent edge retention. Hardwood handles are octagonal so they won’t roll off the bench. Good range of profiles. Can be used by hand or with a mallet. Smart canvas tool roll included.
What we dislike: Very little. There are occasional reports of damaged or faulty edges.
Best bang for your buck hand carving tools
Beavercraft Whittling Wood Carving Kit: available at Amazon
Our take: This high-quality tool set is all that’s needed for whittling at any level.
What we like: Three well-made knives with slender blades to allow cutting of fine detail. Ergonomic handles minimize hand fatigue. Includes leather strop, sharpening paste and tool roll. Can also be used for chip carving.
What we dislike: Not the strongest blades. May bend or break if too much force is applied.
In principle, a powered chisel can remove material more quickly than a hand tool, though good control is still required. Rotary tools — the best known brand is Dremel — offer the ideal combination, and control can be improved even further with an attachment called a flex shaft. The device at the end is much like holding a large pencil, so high levels of precision are possible.
Most carving with rotary tools uses metal burrs and sanding attachments to cut and grind material away. Some flex shafts can turn the rotary action into a kind of hammer motion and chisels are available, though the range isn’t extensive.
An upgrade to the standard rotary tool is a dedicated motor and shaft with a foot control for speed adjustment. Prices can be anywhere from under $30 to over $300.
Best power carving tool
Our take: Reliable, durable, high-performance machine from the leading brand in powered wood carving.
What we like: Kit offers everything for the power wood-carving enthusiast. Powerful 1/6 HP motor runs at up to 18,000 rpm. Comes with a wide selection of accessories, foot pedal and three DVD wood-carving tutorials.
What we dislike: Expensive. Plastic foot pedal cover should be improved.
Best bang for your buck power carving tool
WEN 2305 Rotary Tool Kit: available at Home Depot
Our take: Versatile tool can be used for power wood carving and a host of other craft and DIY tasks.
What we like: Comprehensive kit with a range of cutting and grinding burrs and detail sanding drums. Includes flexible shaft for detailed work. Variable speed from 8,000 rpm to 30,000 rpm. Great value for money.
What we dislike: Occasional quality-control issues, particularly with shaft not running true.
Chainsaw carving is not something we’d recommend for beginners. However, if you’re comfortable using a chainsaw around the yard then it can produce some impressive results. Focus on the safety aspects before everything else. There are a number of introductory videos online that can help you get started.
Best chainsaw for carving
Our take: Highly maneuverable chainsaw offers the new carver terrific control.
What we like: Lightweight model offers easy chain adjustment and efficient lubrication. Battery provides great freedom of movement. Wraparound handle is easy to hold at almost any angle. Chain brake also shields hand.
What we dislike: Modest cutting capacity. Slow charging.
Best bang for your buck chainsaw for carving
Our take: Lightweight and easy-to-use chainsaw offers outstanding value for money.
What we like: For those who want to try chainsaw carving, plus this is also a good tool for yard work. Eight-amp motor produces reasonable power. Has tool-free chain adjustment and automatic oiling.
What we dislike: The cord can be frustrating at times. Not for professional use.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.
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