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HELPFUL HINTS FOR THE WOODCARVER
(These are topics I use when I teach beginning
carving. I will expand on some of these over the
next few months.)
- Your tools must always be sharp.
- Use the wood grain to your advantage:
- Never cut in the direction where your knife blade
can go between the wood fibers.
- For a clean cut, sever all the wood fibers.
- Develop a mental image of what you want before
you start carving.
- Analyze each cut before you make it:
a) Why am I making this cut?
b) Where are my hands in relation to the
- Analyze each cut after you make it:
a) Did I achieve what I wanted?
b) What did I learn?
- Clamp your work whenever possible.
making a "stop cut",
the handle of your tool should angle over the
piece you want to save.
- To have control of a cut, you should
always see both edges of your gouge.
detail too soon.
- Never put anything that bleeds in
front of the blade.....
WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN BUYING CARVING TOOLS
is no way to know how well a tool will hold an
edge just by looking at it. A tool may look nice,
but may be made from poor quality steel which
will not hold a good cutting edge.
So what can you do to insure you are purchasing
a quality tool which will hold a good cutting
edge once it is properly sharpened?
good way is to talk with experienced woodcarvers
and get their opinion. Another way is to
buy name brand tools. There are a number of
tool manufacturers to choose from; some of
the more common ones (listed alphabetically
Flexcut, Helvie, Murphy, Notto, Stubai
CHIP CARVING KNIVES: Flexcut, Lampbrand, Moor, Notto, Pheil, Stubai, Wayne
CHISELS / GOUGES / "V"TOOLS: Ashley Iles,
Dockyard, Flexcut, Henry
Lamp Brand, Pheil, Ramelson, Robert Sorby, Stubai, Swiss Made, Two Cherries,
Buy a tool from any of these manufacturers and
you can feel comfortable the tool will hold a good
If you look at the specifications on any of these
tools, you will find they are made of high carbon
steel with a Rockwell hardness between 58 to
63. This is what makes them good quality carving
What does the statement "high carbon steel
Rockwell hardness between 58 and 63" mean?
In the process of making steel used for good
carving tools, a number of trace elements
are added to
give the steel certain characteristics; carbon
being a very important one of them. The alloy
content, or trace elements, along with the
carbon will determine
the maximum hardness the steel can achieve
when it is heat treated.
Heat treating is a very complex process where
steel is heated and cooled in a tightly
The heat treating process consists of at
least two steps. Heating the steel to a
temperature and then cooling it quickly
in water or oil (called
quenching) to give the steel hardness.
When steel is initially made, and before
heat treating, the carbon atoms are suspended
the steel but
are not attached to the iron atoms. What
happens during the heat treating process
to give the
steel hardness is; each steel has a "critical temperature
range", which is the temperature where the
steel goes into a solid solution. Chemically this
is where the atoms of the iron and the atoms of
the carbon in the steel mix freely and bond together.
If the steel is cooled quickly (quenched) the iron
and carbon atoms remain bonded together. This is
what changes the characteristics of the metal and
makes it hard and very brittle.
To reduce the brittleness, the steel
is reheated to a tightly controlled
and cooled. Reheating the steel to
allow some of the carbon atoms to unbond
from the iron atoms and reduce the
This is called "tempering" the steel.
Tempering reduces the hardness of the steel somewhat,
but will produce the desired toughness required
for good carving tools.
Hardness of the steel will determine
how well the blade will hold an edge.
it will bend easily and not hold
an edge. If the steel is
too hard, the
have a tendency to chip or break.
The hardness of steel is usually
graded by a standard called "the Rockwell scale". There are
three distinct hardness scales used in the Rockwell
standard, determined by the type of metal being
tested; they are "a, b, or c". The small
letter "c" is the scale used for hard
steel (like that used for cutting tools). The Rockwell "c" scale
runs from the low 40's (unhardened steel) to the
upper 60's (the hardest steel can get). If a hard
steel is tested and has a Rockwell hardness of
58, you will usually see it written in an easy
to read format as R58c or Rc58.
The Rockwell hardness of steel
is measured by a machine which
cone into the
at a known force. The machine
then calculates the diamond cones depth
into the steel,
with the depth of penetration
determining the hardness of the steel. The
diamond will penetrate
into soft steel than it will
into hard steel. The softer the steel,
For carving tools, a steel hardness
less than a Rockwell of 58
(R58c) is too soft
that razor edge needed for
carving. Over R63c becomes
too brittle and will chip easily.
From my experience, the range
of hardness desired in a carving tool is between
R58c to R63c. Buy
a tool with that specification
and you can feel comfortable you are getting one
which will hold
that razor edge necessary for carving.
Good steel in the blade will
insure the tool can hold a keen edge. However;
to insure the tool will slice through wood easily,
it must not only have a keen edge but must also
have the proper blade contour. Blade contour determines
how much wood will be displaced as the tool is
driven through the wood.
video "Sharpening Simplified" shows
you step-by-step how to put the proper contour
on your carving tools, and a razor edge, so your
tools will flow through wood with minimal effort.