If you are new to wood carving don't immediately rush out and spend hundreds of
dollars in new tools. Many a fine carving has been done with as little as a
simple one or two bladed Jack knife. Besides, if you have a local carving club
in your area, members will happily lend you a knife until you get a feel for
what style of carving interests you and any specialized tools that may require.
The most important thing is that whatever knife or tool you use, that it be
sharp! (more on that later).
A Sharp Knife
By far, the most useful and universal carving tool is a sharp knife. Ideally, a good
general purpose carving knife should have about a 1 1/2 inch hardened steel
blade in something like a "Sheepsfoot" profile and have a comfortable handle to hold. The harder the
steel the longer it will keep it's sharp edge, but the more brittle the blade. A
good quality knife should have a Rockwell hardness somewhere between about Rc 58
and Rc 63. Anything softer and it will require frequent re-sharpening,
much harder and that fine edge will be chipping or snapping off.
Manufacturers such as "Flexcut" and "pfeil" offer a variety of good carving
knives at prices typically about $ 20 to $ 25. For some carving styles,
this one knife may be the only tool you ever need!
Basic Knife Cutting Strokes
Straightaway Cutting is just as the name suggests. The knife is held firmly
in a closed fist with
the sharp edge facing away from yourself and the blade is pushed away at an angle
into the wood with a slicing motion, using the full length of the blade. This is
a powerful stroke and is useful for quickly removing large amounts of material,
but be careful because you have very little control over the path of the
blade... if the wood splits or when the blade cuts free of the wood that sharp
edge will fling out dangerously. Never leave an arm or leg "down stream"
of the blade when using
Draw Cutting is used where more control is required. The knife is held in
your curled fingers with the sharp edge facing the thumb. The thumb is then placed on
the end of the workpiece as an anchor point while the fist is slowly closed,
drawing the blade through the wood toward the thumb. A secretary's rubber
thimble or a little tape wrapped around the thumb may be good insurance here.
Thumb Push Holding the knife in a fist with the sharp edge facing
away, place the thumb along the back (dull) edge of the blade for additional
force. Resting the back of the fingers on the workpiece adds stability and
Stab Cut is used to produce heavy, deep cuts. The knife is held like
a dagger, sharp edge facing you with your thumb on the top end of the handle and
the blade projecting out of the bottom of a closed fist. As with straightaway
cutting, use care, this grip affords very little control.
most carvers, the V-tool is second only to the knife in its usefulness. The tool
is essentially two chisels joined at an angle to produce a "V" shaped groove as
it is pushed along with the point of the V cutting into the surface of the wood.
It is most often used to outline the lines and shapes in the wood the way a
pencil would on paper. It is also frequently used to produce flowing hair and
beard effects in figure and caricature carving.