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Short Guide to Carving Tool Terminology

Aside from cosmetic differences in handles, and of course differences and preferences in brand, the standard sizes and shapes of carving tools have been the same for about 200 years. There are three criteria in defining a caving tool: the shape of the tool shank, the width of the tool at the cutting edge, and the profile of the cutting edge.

(For brand differences between Two Cherries and Ashley Iles click here).

The Shape of the Tool

An example of straight carving toolsIt can be straight,

An example of bent carving toolsHave a gentle curve going the length of the steel shank (long bent or curved).

An example of spoon carving toolsA pronounced curve, like a spoon at the end of the tool, with the cutting edge on the convex side of the bend (front bent or spoon).

An example of back-bent carving toolsSimilar to the front bent gouge, except the bend is the other way, with the cutting edge on the concave side of the bend (back bent).

An example of spade or fishtail style carving toolsMost tools are widest at their cutting edge and have a gentle progression from edge to tang. An older design, which some carvers like because it gives them more access, has the cutting edge flaring out from the shank. These tools are called spade or fishtail tools.

Cutting edges

The cutting edge is defined by two things: the width of the blade at the cutting edge and the shape of the cutting edge. The rule of thumb is that wider tools work faster. The shape or profile of the cutting edge is harder to describe.

An example of a double beveled carving toolsIf the blade is flat with no curvature it is called a chisel or a firmer chisel. Carving chisels are ground differently from bench chisels used in cabinetmaking. These chisels are usually beveled on both sides of the blade.

An example of skew carving toolsIf the blade is flat and cut at an angle to the tool it is called a skew or corner chisel.

Each sweep comes in many different width of carving toolThe most common carving tools are gouges - chisels with some sort of curvature to them. Gouges come in a vast variety of curvatures, from nearly straight to a very tight arc. This is in addition of the overall width of the tool. You can have, for example, a 12mm gouge of a very shallow arc or a different 12mm gouge with a very pronounced arc. The term for defining these arcs is called "sweep" and the sweeps range from #1 which is a straight chisel to #11 which is almost a semi-circle of the diameter of the width. We have divided up the listings for individual gouges by sweep and each category is illustrated by a diagram showing the curvature of the tools. In theory the sweeps are standard but in fact each maker's sweeps might vary. For example European sweep numbers are usually one sweep greater then the equivalent English sweep. So, for example, an English made #5 sweep 1/2" Ashley Iles is equivalent to a German made Two Cherries #6 sweep 12mm gouge. Most people usually stick with one brand or another so this isn't normally a problem, but it you decide to mix and match it's a point worth knowing.

Once you get past the gouges the landscape simplifies

An example of V carving tools There are "V" tools of different angles

An example of some specialty carving toolsAs a gouge gets increasingly curved it eventually is greater than a semi-circle. These tools are called "veiners" or "grooving tools" and are primarily used in smaller sizes for detailing. Macaroni tools are rectagular, and we also carry the fishtail tools in the specialty depeartment.

Click here for the entire carving department