Can you provide me with a “get-started” list of carving tools?


While visiting several museums that showcase Early American furniture, much of what I saw had ornate carvings. I'd like to replicate those elements on my furniture pieces, but I don't have the tools for this. Can you provide me with a "get-started" list of carving tools?
—Craig Shaw, Baltimore


Craig, carving tools are classified as knives, chisels, and gouges. The first two compare somewhat to common paring knives and bench chisels, although many carving chisels have dual-beveled cutting edges. For the type of work you want to do, you likely won't need knives, and you can get by with your bench chisels until you become more accomplished or want to expand your work. Gouges come in two basic shapes: vee and semicircular. The width of each gouge is measured in millimeters at the cutting tip, and the shape of a semicircular gouge, known as the "sweep," is designated with a "#" symbol and number. The smaller the number, the greater the radius of the circular shape. Curved, or backbent, shanks on some gouges give you better access for carving concave and convex shapes compared with straight-shank tools.

To get a list of the most-needed carving tools for a beginner, we posed your question to acclaimed furniture-maker, author, and educator Lonnie Bird, who teaches carving among many hand-tool classes at his woodworking school in Tennessee. (Find it at Lonnie suggests the gouges shown below for carving furniture elements, such as the shell above. You can buy these 10 carving gouges in a set (part no. 05I14 ) from Woodcraft for $340: 800-535-4482 or


As you get more into carving, you'll probably want to expand with double-edged chisels and more gouges. Most carvers, Lonnie says, have dozens of chisels to create specific sizes and shapes.

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