Woodcarving Tools

For some time I have been carving some quite intricate figures.   My normal tools don’t quite get to all the places I need them to go, so I have repurposed some metal engraving tools.    In the process I have looked at repurposing turning gouges and searched the internet for inspiration.    I came across this site which claims to show 13 Different Types Of Wood Carving Chisels & Gouges- Woodcarving Tools. I thought that I should share it with those of you that have not been able to carve for the last 18 months and may have forgotten what the tools look like and are used for.

Article copied from the Woodworking Trade website

We usually consider chisels under two main categories. The first category includes chisels for general use (click here to see our list of woodworking chisels). The second type of tool comes under the category of wood carving which will talk about below.

Anyone who is into wood carving will have a vast collection of wood carving chisels. To the uninitiated, the number of wood carving chisels that you can get can be mind-boggling. Indeed, considering the scope of creating a collection of these tools, the sky is the limit! In this article, we cover the different types of wood carving chisels that you need, if you want to have a complete setup for wood carving.

Wood carving chisels further diversify into chisels and gouges. While the blade of a woodcarving chisel has a straight edge, that of a wood carving gouge has a curved edge. It enables the tool to “gouge” out the wood to create different shapes.












Different Types of Wood Carving Chisels

As we mentioned earlier, the wood carving chisel has a flat blade. However, unlike a regular woodworking chisel, a wood carving chisel has an angle on both sides. A gouge, on the other hand, has a curved blade called a “sweep.” We express the extent of the curvature of the sweep in terms of a number, which identifies a particular size of the gouge. So, let’s take a closer look at the different types of wood carving chisels:

Wood Carving Straight Chisel












As we said earlier, a wood carving chisel is, specifically, a carving tool with a flat blade. Wood carving chisels differ from ordinary woodworking chisels in that they have a bevel on both sides of the blade rather than a flat back. The standard chisels have a square cutting edge, but the length of the blade may vary.

Skew Chisel









This chisel has a blade skewed at an angle, typically 45°. You will find this chisel useful during wood turning operations. Plane, make different shaped cuts with the skew chisel or use it to make dovetail cuts. You get these chisels in various sizes from 1/8” to 1½”.

Fishtail Chisel








The shaft of a fishtail chisel is thin at the base, and it tapers out in the shape of a fish’s tail towards the cutting edge. You get the advantage of this tool due to its thin shaft, which allows you to cut deep without much interference. Also, you get better visibility while working in tight spaces, due to the thin shaft.

Spoon Gouge








As the name suggests, the spoon gouge assumes the shape of a spoon. You use a spoon gouge to scoop wood out of tight or confined spaces. You can get into spaces that would be otherwise inaccessible with any other tools. Spoon gouges come in different shapes and configurations. Here are some of the common variations:

Spoon Gouge (Right Corner)

This gouge has a cutting edge, which angles itself skewed to the opposite side. It positions itself in such a way that you can remove wood from tight right-hand corners.

Spoon Gouge (Left Corner)

You can remove wood from tight left-hand corners with this type of spoon gouge. The left corner spoon gouge allows you to get into tight corners, concavities, and curves like the right corner spoon gouge, only in the other direction.

Spoon Gouge (Front Bent)








If you need to remove wood from awkward spots, concavities, and curves but don’t need to bend the tool much, then a front bent spoon gouge will do the job. This type of spoon gouge bends in such a way that you get the cutting edge on the convex side of the bend.

Spoon Gouge (Back Bent)

Here is another spoon gouge which enables you to work on concavities and curves like other spoon gouges. However, this spoon gouge bends in such a way that you will find the cutting edge on the concave side of the bend.












The “V” gouge belongs to a group of carving tools that we call “parting tools.” This tool helps us to cut a workpiece from the main block of wood while doing woodturning. The “V” gouge finds a prominent place in carving grooves, letter-work, and outlining, thanks to its distinctive profile. The commonest angles that we get are 60°, 70°, and 90°, although you can get other sizes as well.

Fishtail Gouge










Similar to the fishtail chisel, the fishtail gouge also has a thin edge that flares into a fishtail-shaped blade. The only difference here is the curved blade, which helps us to remove wood from tight spaces in a broad curve.

Dog Leg Chisel










The dog leg chisel has a straight edge with an offset blade to form the profile of a dog’s extended back leg. Due to the double angle of the blade, we can use this chisel to get into awkward, hard-to-reach places and tight corners.

Straight “U” Gouge

We consider the “U” gouge to be the workhorse of wood carving. The “U” shaped cutting edge of this chisel may vary in radius. As we mentioned above, the “sweep” of a chisel, corresponds to the radius of the blade’s curvature. So, we get “U” gouges of different sweeps. You can scoop out wood with your hand or by using a mallet. The shape of the scooped-out wood will correspond to the shape of the “U” gouge.









By now, you should be better informed about the different types of wood carving chisels that we can use. You may be an artist, or you may create carvings for commercial use. Whatever the case, it is vital that you have a complete set of wood carving chisels to perform each task.

Knowing the purpose of each wood carving chisel or gouge and how to use it is crucial to becoming successful in the skilled job of wood carving. We hope that the information provided here will help you in carrying out this skillful activity to the best of your abilities!

Marquetry by Adrian Carter and Martin Haigh. Club members

Back in October 18, Adrian and Martin gave us a thorough insight into marquetry and even provided tools and veneer for us to have a go.    They have a different approach to the craft.

Martin with finish work

Martin started with a kit as an eight year old.  In the kits there are all the veneers needed, plus a baseboard, a knife and glue and a pattern to follow.   The first piece of veneer is cut to size at the top, but slightly oversize at the bottom and glued to the base board.   The next piece is cut in the same way.   The second piece is placed over the first and the first piece so that the second piece fits snuggly, then that too is glued down.   Further pieces are cut and fitted in the same way, always working down from the  top to the bottom of the baseboard.  There is considerable skill in cutting the veneer accurately.

Adrian learnt his technique at Leeds Marquetry Group   The patterns, veneers, glue, and tools are the same, but the method of cutting is different.  Each piece is cut to size but the cut is at an angle of about 10 degrees from vertical, so that it fits in to other pieces like a dovetail.  The work is only glued to a board after it has been completed and the  Leeds group test work before it is put on the board by holding it to the light to see if there is any light showing between the pieces

Adrian with. a part finish piece

Both Adrian and Martin have moved on to doing their own designs

Adrian Venetian scene

Adrian’s work with the original image

Martin’s birds to be incorporated into a larger work

My first attempt at marquetry using Martin’s technique. I did break one side of the A

Bone carving by Nick Pantelides

Today we had a presentation and a variety of topics from one of our long-standing members – Nick Pantelides

Nick’s morning session wasa discussion on carving in other media such as Bone, Alabaster, Soapstone, Ivory, animal horn and Antler.

Bones need a lot of preparation to ensure all the marrow is removed. this includes first boiling the bones in water, then boiling the bones in bleach and finally boiling the bones with salt and vinegar.

To cut bone Nick uses a hand fret saw, holding the pieces in mole grips or a piece of wood with a V-shaped rest.

It goes without saying that you don’t want to be breathing in bone dust – Always wear a mask.

Nick uses ground down chisels or a dremel for bone carving. When using chisels he uses a scoring action.

To finish off his work he sands to get a smooth finish and there are buffing waxes available.

For staining bone he has used concoctions such as onion leaves and coffee.

When asked about identifying bone versus ivory Nick sent around examples of both to illustrate that? bone has fine black spots and that ivory has a grain.

There was then a discussion Scrimshaw which is a form of carving developed?on whaling vessels and involves carving on bone or ivory and then using the soot from lamps to define the carving patterns.

Again ground chisels or a ground nail is used in a scraping fashion.

To replace the soot Nick has used black boot polish which is put on and then buffed off or black ink, the surface is then sanded to remove the ink from the raised surfaces.

Life sized elephant sculptures

I came across a story of these sculpted elephants that are travelling around the world to increase awareness of the plight of elephants in India.   I wondered how these life sized elephants were made?  The best I could find, initially was in The Hindu newspaper

The sculptures have been crafted from Lantana camara, a plant introduced to Asia where it has become a notorious weed; toxic to grazing animals and outcompeting native species leading to a reduction in biodiversity. Sculptures made with invasive plant draw attention to the threats elephants face.”

Each sculpture sculpture is based on an individual elephant and they are made by artists and indigenous Adivasi tribespeople in the Nilgiri Hills of the Indian province of Tamil Nadu.  The villagers normally supplement their income by making furniture using lantana in the style of cane furniture.  It is as good as the cane furniture and half the price

I eventually found a website of the designer that has a video I could not copy, so I took some screen prints of the process.










1 Drawing the animal full size and showing how the armature should be made










2 Using drawing to bend reinforcing rod to shape to make armature










3 Welding the reinforcing rod to make armature










4 Armature with some of the lantana rods attached










5 The structure showing armature and wooden blocks to which lantana will be nailed











6 Preparing the lantana be stripping the bark.   I don’t want to be sexist, but again it is the women doing the boring hard labour.








7 Fixing more lantana to the armature to near full size and shape








8 Nailing on the outer layer of lantana








9 Trimming the lantana









10 Trimming the elephant’s nails









11 Detail of the finished work


The BBC’s web page gives dates of when and where the elephants can be seen

Bob Burton – Journey to being a carver

Bob is a new member and told us about his first adventures in carving.   One day, he had amazing luck, and found an advert in a carving magazine for a Furniture Making school that was only yards away from his front door.  There he could make what he wanted with the guidance of Peter Shepherd, use professional tools and just soak up information.  His first piece was a pie crust table. The top was made out of a solid wood, i.e. the crust was not carved separately and added to the table top.   The detail especially round the central column and the legs and feet is impressive.   He took 12 months to complete the work, time well spent in creating an impressive job, and in learning everything he could














Under the guidance of Peter Shepherd, Bob made a long case clock.   More fine furniture making than carving with lots of fruit wood and laburnum veneers.   The curly edges of the clock face were first turned to be narrower at the top and then carved into the twisted format,











Unfortunately Peter Shepherd left the country and Bob was left to his own devices, but he soon met up with a local group of artists and experimented with all sorts of materials.










This is an array of experiments that may one day be made in a bigger and better form.   The heads are plasticine.   The bird skull is real, and there is a version in wood.   The two bits of wood and plywood, were made using the drawing and plasticine model.









The jaguar head is a traditionally made sculpture, starting with a clay or plasticine master, a flexible mould, and cast in cement mixed with SBR ( SBR is more formally known as Styrene Butadiene Rubber. … When added to a standard mortar or concrete mix, SBR significantly enhances its adhesive strength ).









This gull has a wire armature with a builders expanded foam body, which has been shaped and coloured.


Michael Painter- Master Carver

On Saturday 18th August 2018 Michael Painter gave us another fantastic insight into his carving expertise. He had his career chosen for him by helpful Job Centre employee who volunteered to ring for an appointment. He served his apprenticeship, but did not know that a huge stone heraldic carving was to be his apprentice piece until it was completed. There was 40 employees in the workshop which was designed to give constant north light on work, to avoid the variation in shadow caused by the movement on sunlight during the day. The master carver had the best light and then the journeyman , with the apprentices having the poorest light. The master carver naturally chose the most interesting, challenging work for himself but avoided working in stone where ever possible. Life is not fair?

Drawing of design for client, working drawing and wood prepared for carving












Drawing of design for client, working drawing and wood prepared for carving
The basic aim of master carver is to work efficiently as it is the only way to stay in business. Michael visits his clients to make sure that he knows what they want and that it is possible to carve it. He also sees where the work is to be placed, taking in the prevailing light, the height above the floor level, and whether the audience will be sitting or standing when viewing the work, as all this effects the design of the work. The client receives a drawing of the design or a plasticine model for approval and authorisation. The joiner gets a cutting list and diagram of how the carving block is to be constructed. The carver gets a carving blank made up of kiln dried wood planks glued together as per the drawing. He is down to the basic shape and has less waste wood to carve off. The work proceeds. The most difficult areas are targeted first. With a figure carving, the eyes are the most difficult. Michael leaves the work for a few days to see if the eyes are right. If not they can be recarved slightly further into the wood. The back of the head and the back of another part of the work, are not carved until Michael is happy with the front, as this allows him space to move the work further back into the wood. He says that the face should never be life-size as it is too real and the viewer is confused. A 90% or 110% head is recognised as a piece of sculpture and not real. The level of detail varies with the height of the work above the viewer, the higher the work the bolder the detail.

Michael painter carving an eye











Michael painter carving an eye
Michael went into some detail about carving a face. He gave us the usual proportional measurements for the elements of the face and body, eyes in the middle of the head ( not face), etc , which can be found in any drawing or painting book on portraiture. What is not in those books, is that the eye ball is about the size of a ping pong ball and we only see the front of it. If the carving is a portrait, then these “usual proportions” have to be carefully checked against the model. Michael started to carve an eye. He started with a fairly large fluter, roughing out where the eye should be, then using smaller fluters he defined the eye, a closed eye at this point. The eye is opened cautiously with a small fluter,to look half asleep. Then when he is sure that is right, it is opened to up to the full extent, remembering that sad eyes slope down on the nose side and happy eyes slope the other way. Only when this looks right is the eyelid defined with a bull nose gouge. The pupil is carved, remembering that it tends to rest on the lower eyelid. He does not hollow out the pupil which is a practice that seems to come from Greek and Roman carvings, which if fact had the hollow filled in with a colour stone.










Michael finally showed us how to carve hair. He drew overlying leaf shapes and cut them at the top to look like tiles on a roof. Working through various fluters from a middling one to the smallest, defined the lazy S shape of hair

Richard Colbran talked about Relief Carving

On 19th May 2018 Richard ( a long standing member of the club with a wealth of experience)  brought in a number of his relief carvings and gave us a talk relief carving.


He discussed a number of tricks and tips around adding dramatic shadow, the difficulty of perspective in high relief carving and thinking about the grain in three planes.



Richard discussed his use of colouring, the types of wood he uses and how he treats pieces differently for outdoor display on projects such as the nature walks in Townley Park.

He is a keen woodworker and likes to use these skills to make his own frames for the carvings, these enhance the carvings and are ofter tailor-made to match the images.



Tribute to Jim Lupton

My last post was about the repair of a carved horse made by Jim Lupton.    I had been brought to me by his granddaughter who shared some pictures of his work.     I have never met Jim, but his work shows that he is the sort of carver I would have liked to meet.   Here are the pictures and his granddaughter’s memories of Jim Lupton










“The Pied Piper “by Wood carver Jim Lupton












Wood carver Jim Lupton

Jim with the elephant he carved aged 9









Penninghame House_

Penninghame House












His Granddaughter’s memories

Jim Lupton was born and lived his whole life in a little village called Creetown in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. His very first woodcarving was of a baby elephant which Jim whittled using a penknife at the age of 9 However it would be many years before this skill would turn Jim into the artist he became.
He began his career as an apprentice stonemason at Milligan’s Monumental Masons, Carsluith after missing out on the joiner’s apprenticeship he was hoping for. Unfortunately  after some time Milligan’s could no longer afford to employ Jim, so he sought employment in the local village quarry, a Granite Quarry on the Fell Hill, Creetown. It was here he learnt about the structure and properties of stone. From the quarry he went on to hone his career as a monumental stonemason at McKenzie’s Monumental Masons, Newton Stewart.
Jim made many headstones and memorials over the years, including a war memorial that sits in Fossvogur in Reykjavik, a headstone for the founder of Logan Air, Willie Logan and a stone marking the Queen’s Way, which was unveiled by Princess Anne to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee In 1977. McKenzie’s were asked to create a headstone with an eagle carved out of local granite. There was only one man in their yard who they could entrust with such a challenging task, Jim. The headstone has an eagle’s head and wings projecting from the large granite boulder and is situated in Anworth Cemetery near Gatehouse of Fleet. It was carving this eagle out of granite, that would become the catalyst in developing Jim’s woodcarving hobby in later years. 
Once Jim ended his career in the granite industry, he took on the role of school bus driver and janitor at the local primary. It was here he had the opportunity to pass his musical knowledge onto the local children through teaching instrumental brass; a passion he developed during his National Service with the KOSB. He even took a small group of children to appear on BBC Radio Scotland. However, Jim missed having something tangible to show for his days work. His wife Janette and his 4 children decided to club together to buy him set of woodcarving chisels and from there he never looked back. All Jim’s spare time was spent in his wood carving shed in the back garden, he started carving in 2D, a skill he had mastered as a stonemason, but he soon progressed to 3D carvings, “carving in the round” as he liked to call it. Jim loved to challenge himself and tried many different ideas, some that paid off and some that never saw the light of day. Inspiration came from many sources including suggestions from family members, characters from both history and folklore as well as from travelling with his family. 
Jim was a humble character never looking for the limelight, but in 1987 he appeared on a Border television programme that looked at local people and their hobbies. He was also featured in an edition of Dumfries & Galloway life magazine, which showcased a selection of his carvings. 
In 1996 Jim purchased a lathe and began woodturning. He produced bowls, lamp stands, …. and even a finial that adorns the roof of his daughter’s house. But carving was where his true passion remained and like all good artists, he was continued developing his skills and honing his craft. He amassed a huge collection of carvings before his sad passing in 2011, the most of which remain with the family today. Jim wasn’t on keen commission pieces because he could never guarantee a piece of would evolve into the vision he had. However, a couple of commissions which he did take on, and was proud of, were the carved door for the Creetown Clock Tower and the staircase finials for Penninghame House, Newton Stewart. Both commissions are still in situ today.

He was a true artist with an eye for perfection and detail.


Repair of Horse Carving by John Adamson

A client brought a carving of a horse that her grandfather, Jim Lupton,  had made.  It had an accident and now had five breaks.  Each leg had two breaks and the tail was also broken.   My first thought was that there were too many bits to handle with only two hands, and it would work better if the horse and the base could be held in something like the correct relationship to each other.     The work consists of a horse carved from a fairly soft wood, on a carved  base, on a flat base plate.     The flat base is 6in wide and the horse and the carved base are only 3in.     I thought that if the horse and the flat base plate could be separated, then the horse and the carved plate could somehow be rested in the right relationship.    No such luck.    The original carver, Jim Lupton, must have been a belts and braces man as the flat base plate was screwed and glued to the carved base plate.     So I put a flat back board on to my carving clamp, and screwed some blocks to it, so that the flat base base plate could be clamped firmly.












I found some scrap wood to pack out the space between the horse and the back board, and hold the horse in position.












There theoretically 8 different ways I could try fitting the first of the broken leg pieces ( I will leave it to you to work out the 8 ways).   Having done it once, I colour coded the legs and appropriate broken bits, so I did not have to do it again.    Remembering Nick Pantelides talks about joining the head of a walking stick to the stick using a threaded rod to strength the joint, I hunted round my “Will come in useful one of these days” box and found 2 bolts of a suitable size.   I drilled into the broken bits, the legs attached to the horse and the legs attached to the base.   Although I tried to get all the holes in line, they were a smidgen off, and had to be ground out to allow all three bits of the leg to be inline and meet correctly.

The horse upside down in a vice with the bolts in place











Again remembering Nick’s talks, I knew that I had to get special glue for the job and a provide an escape route for the expanding glue.   Richard Colbran had mentioned using the method in his report on  his Fence Post carvings, and as I was not sure of the details of the process, I asked his advice.
















I took all my courage in my hands, and mixed and applied the glue, to both ends of the rods, and the tail, and clamped it all together.   The only clamp I could apply was to the tail, as the legs had no parallel surfaces.    So I had the 4 leg joints to hold and squeeze the legs together for the 5 minutes before the glue sets.   That’s not easy with only 2 hands.     When I was able to look closely at the legs joints, they were a bit out of line, less than a 16th of an inch but noticeable.   With the owners consent, I smoothed over the problem joints, and filled in parts of the tail.    As you can see from the picture above the paint round the joins had split off when it was broken.   As there was no way I could match the faded black paint, I rubbed down all the horse, touched in some of the bare patches, before repainting all the horse.
















I am not a good painter, and all my doors have paint runs marring the surface, so I approached the painting task with some trepidation.      As preparation, I have been told, is the most important element, I covered the base with lots of plastic to prevent drips and splashes.













The final result!!     Looks ok even with a close up of the legs



Walking Sticks with Nick Panteledies

Nick laid out his main criterion for a walking stick – It must be comfortable.  This is at variance with the British Stickmakers Guild (www.thebsg,org,uk) which marks sticks down if they are not billiard cue straight, amongst it’s other petty rules.

Sticks are traditionally made from hawthorn, ash, holly, hazel although interesting sticks can be made from the centre of a Brussel sprout stem.   The wood should be cut January or February before the New Years growth has started, but it is commonly agreed that 5 minutes before someone else cuts is is also a good time.   The size should be about 1 inch diameter as this fits nicely into the hand.   Nick prefers leaving the bark on the wood although there are those who always take it off.

Nick may not be favour absolutely straight sticks, but he has come up with a simple way of doing it.  All previous speaker we have had on this subject have described long metal tubes filled with wet sand and the sticks, being heated from the outside to straighten stick.  Nick uses a hair dryer and a bit of plastic that started life as a rain water ware for straighten, relying on the water that is already in the wood as he does the straightening soon after cutting the stick from the wild.

The heads are fixed to the sticks with 6 inches of 1/4 inch screw bar and Araldite two part glue.  Heads should be comfortable in the hand and Nick has found that some of the designs shown in magazines are just too big, so beware.  A short head as in the Photos above, avoids the possibility of the neck breaking  on the short grain.  The sticks are finished with several coats of Danish Oil

Nick’s straightening system