Carving Q&A

Q: “I was told not to purchase woodcarving tools as a set, instead purchase them individually ….. what is the reason for that?”

A: Tool sets from regular retailers (hardware/hobby stores) normally contain many tools that you don’t use that much in day-to-day carving. We call these “3-Chisel Sets”, you’ll often see a v-tool, a gouge and 3 chisels (no curve to the edge) which often have the same edge just one tool is straight, one bent shaft and one angled …… you RARELY USE chisels in woodcarving. You almost always use v-tools and gouges. Also, purchase tools from a woodcarving shop .. always. We here at Whillock Woodcarving put together our own sets with teacher recommended sizes and sweeps. So bottom line .. our sets are perfect to purchase as is … they contain gouges and v-tools! PLUS we hand sharpen each tool razor sharp .. ready-to-carve!

Q: “What is the difference between palm tools and full-sized tools? Which should I get?”

A: If you are planning to carve hand-held items like figures, caricatures, animals, wood spirits, ornaments etc you can use knives and 5″ palm tools. If you want to be able to carve smaller and larger items then 10″ full-sized “Pro” tools are for you. When using 10″ full-sized tools us must have the wood mounted, clamped, held down in some way. This way you can use two-hands on the tools or use a mallet and remove much more wood. You can also use full-sized tools to carve small items like figures, animals that you would with palm tools .. just be sure to leave extra wood on the bottom (base) of the carving so you can use a carving screw, bench screw, clamp or some other holding technique. You can get the same detail with palm and full-sized tools.

Q: “What do those #’s on the tools mean …. what is the difference between sweep & size?”

A: Tools are referred to by 2 numbers … the sweep and the size. The sweep refers to the depth of the cutting edge. I tell people to think of golf clubs ….. a lower number like a #3, #4 will hit the ball really flat … a #8, #9 will go higher in the air creating a larger curve. Carving tools are the same. The basic sweeps are numbered from #1 to #11. A #1 sweep would have a straight across cut, a #3 would have a shallow gouge, a #5 is a medium deep gouge, a #9 is a deep gouge (close to a 1/2 circle) and a #11 tool would be a “U” shaped gouge cut. The second number in a tool description refers to the width (in mm) of the cut from corner to corner (straight across). So a #3-6mm tool is a shallow gouge about 1/4″ across. A #5-12mm is a medium deep gouge with a 1/2″ width cut. A #9-20mm is a deep gouge with 3/4″ cut and #11-25mm would be a deep U gouge 1″ across.


  1. Today my teenage son came to me and asked about the tools for carving. I said he could carve animals with a low relief or birds with sharp-edged tools, but his thoughts are aimed at more precise work. What should I buy him?

    1. In the first place, importantly – carving knives must be purchased in any case! It would be terrible to think that you can’t make more finished work because of lack of tools. Look for examples of carvings made by this or that master and then decide on style.

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