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I am new to woodworking and want to get started with carving on woods. I bought some hand tools, but I am open for power tools.

Please suggest any and all tools, hand and powered, that are really required for a beginner.

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Hand tools
No real surprise here, carving chisels are the main tools used to carve wood if you're doing it with hand tools. But knives of various kinds are also used by some carvers (and used exclusively by some for whittling and chip carving).

As with bench chisels it's usually a good idea for the beginner to buy a set and build from there, instead of buying them individually to begin with.

Here's a fairly typical larger starter set:

Starter woodcarving chisel set

Chisels and carving knives come in a huge range of different styles and sizes. This is just a quick snapshot of some types and various sizes of carving tool available commercially:

Carving tools snapshot
Unlike with bench chisels it's quite common for carvers to eventually build up very large collections of carving tools, dozens of tools would not be at all uncommon after a few years. Here are a few photos of benches and tool racks of working carvers to illustrate:

Woodcarving montage

But initially just a few key profiles, such as provided by the starter set pictured first, will allow you to accomplish a great deal. After you've used them for some weeks or months you may be able to identify where you'd want a new tool or tools: a new shape to do specific types of cut more easily, a larger or smaller size of one of the tools you already have, and so on.

One of the Comments below reminded me that it would probably be a good idea to mention the high cost of many carving chisels (knives too). Because they're a relatively specialised tool they tend to be much more expensive than bench chisels, so much so in fact that individual high-end carving chisels can cost more than some sets of bench chisels. So be prepared for some sticker shock when shopping around for hand tools for carving from established, name-brand, makers.

Note: in addition to the carving tools themselves some sharpening equipment is a must. And with many tools you have to have sharpening supplies from day one as they are not supplied sharpened and ready to cut wood. Also one or more mallets are regularly used with large carving chisels (smaller chisels are usually used with hand power only). Mallets can be bought but are easily made by the carver.

Power tools
The main tools used for carving work are probably various burrs or cutting bits (usually made from HSS or carbide) held in a mini drill such as those made by Dremel and Proxxon, or a flex shaft attached to a regular power drill or bench grinder. Or if you want to go for a much more dependable long-term solution the flex shaft from a hanging motor, e.g. from Foredom. These are much more expensive than most consumer-level drills (although the price gap is closing, with the higher-cost units getting more and more expensive every year) but they are far more robustly built as a rule, intended for all-day, every-day use.

To put some real-world numbers on this, a Foredom could be used six days a week for most of an eight-hour day and last more than a decade with zero maintenance. With consumer-level drills you could easily have burnt out five motors in that time, and/or a dozen flex shafts. And even at that you wouldn't have been able to work as continuously during long working sessions (Google duty cycle for more on this issue, e.g. "Dremel duty cycle").

Power wood carving

For bulk material removal you can actually use an angle grinder. Various wheels that have embedded carbide particles such as the Galahad from King Arthur's Tools are often employed today, but sanding disks of various kinds are also widely used. Great care must be exercised when working wood with an angle grinder as they run at very high speeds and remove material extremely quickly, and make sure to wear eye protection (a full-face mask is recommended instead of just safety glasses) and some form of hearing protection for personal safety.

  • There are also tools betwden the chisel/gouge and rotary -- handheld power tools which rapidly vibrate a chisel bit. Thd advantage is thatbthey may be less work than a hand-driven gouge and more easily controlled than a hammered gouge, with no sideways pull rom rotation.. Interchangable bits may also be an alternative to sharpening, or at least let you swap tips several times before sharpening thd whole set. The disadvantage is cost, limited size range, and some risk of RSI from the vibration. Have one, haven't used it yet. – keshlam Nov 10 '15 at 13:25
  • @keshlam, totally forgot about powered chisels! I even have one :o I don't know if I spaced on them because of this but I think they're mostly good for stonework and not working wood, although some people do use them successfully on wood. – Graphus supports Monica Nov 10 '15 at 14:48
  • Hm. May have to try mine on soapstone, then; talc is soft enough to be easily worked with woodworking tools, and may be less abrasive than some of the tropical hardwoods. – keshlam Nov 10 '15 at 15:12
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    Good answer. It's also worth noting that carving gouges are expensive, and usually you can't afford to buy all that you "need" at one time! – grfrazee Nov 10 '15 at 15:27
  • @keshlam, yes talc would be much much softer than the silica deposits in some tropical hardwoods. – Graphus supports Monica Nov 10 '15 at 16:02
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The hard part of carving wood is actually not the carving, its the sharpening. The most important tools a wood carver has are his sharpening stones. It can take years to get really good at sharpening. To carve well you need chisels that are razor sharp, much sharper than they are when you buy them. There is a huge difference between carving with a tool that is razor sharp compared to carving with one that is just "kind of" sharp.

You are better having just a single gouge that is razor sharp than having a whole chest full of chisels with factory sharpness.

To start out, just get a mallet, a cheap paring chisel, and the book "The Razor Edge Book of Sharpening" by John Juranitch. Follow the book's instructions using sandpaper grits on plate glass and start working on that chisel. Plan to spend weeks before you ever see wood. It needs to have a 20-degree relief grind, so it will take you FOREVER to work the average factory chisel down to that relief. You might ruin 3 or 4 chisels before you get it right. Once you think your chisel is sharp (heh heh), try it on your arm. The hairs on your arm should just pop off when you touch the chisel. When this happens you are ready to start cutting some pine wood.

Get a block of pine wood, or an old pine stump or something and start carving away.

Since you are using a paring chisel your first works will be inspired by the "Cubist" movement.

Once you get good, you can eventually move onto to using Arkansas slip stones and water stones to sharpen gouges and stuff like that, but it will take a few years before that possibility materializes.

If you don't want to learn to sharpen, an alternative is to pay somebody else. Find a GOOD Japanese-style sword polisher or professional chisel sharpener. He will charge like $500 to sharpen 5 or 6 chisels. Of course that will save you years of work and study.

  • There are lots of ways to sharpen. I had good luck with just a regular arkansas stone and a strop w/ compound for a while, getting them hair popping sharp. Also a 20deg bevel will get crushed on any hard wood like oak -- I found this out the hard way. So it is important to know how to grind your tools at different bevels depending on the wood: paying someone $600 dollars to put a good bevel on your gouges is not worth it. Eventually you'll drop one anyway :( – jbord39 Jan 6 '17 at 6:54

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