Wood Carving Chisels Chisels and Gouges | Their Parts and How Gouges are Numbered
Chisels are an essential tool for woodworkers – this is how they work!
I’ve recently become interested in carving and have been shopping for more wood carving chisels and gouges. I ended up completely confused by all the choices out there. I didn’t know what the different numbers meant, or which type of handle to get, so I sat down to make myself an easy to follow guide.
The Difference between Chisels & Gouges
First of all, there are two major types of cutting tools: Chisels which have a straight cutting edge and Gouges which have a curved cutting edge.
Wood Carving Chisels
Straight-edge chisels can have a bevel on one or both sides.
What is a bevel? Bevels are angles on the face of the chisel that help to draw the tool into or out of a piece of wood.
- A double-beveled chisel works with either side up. The edge will not pull in or out.
- A single bevel chisel will pull the edge into a work piece if the bevel is up and push it out of the wood if the bevel is down.
Single-beveled wood carving chisels are generally good for woodworking while many carvers often use double-beveled chisels because they do not dig into the wood.
If you are planning on buying chisels, you don’t need a lot of them.. I would suggest a 1/4″, 3/8th”, 1/2″, 3/4″ and you want to get some that will hold an edge well.
We keep various grades in the workshop:
- Glue chisels that are the cheapest possible, that we don’t sharpen, do mean things to (like opening cans) and will eventually throw away. We don’t spend more than $10-15 on these.
- Intermediate chisels – we sharpen these every now and then and do rough work. We have a set of Marple Chisels for this $25-$35.
- Sunday Best wood carving chisels – we fuss and baby these chisels and really look after them, we only use them for joinery work and keep them razor sharp. You’ll want to take a look at some brands like Pfiel, Two Cherries, Narex, and Sorby
What are Gouges?
Gouges are usually used for carving and come in a lot of flavors and it can get really confusing plus manufacturers aren’t always consistent! The manufacturers I’ve become familiar with are Pfeil and Two Cherries and the best way to think of gouges are by using two numbers:
- The first number tells you the shape or the sweep (how shallow or deep the curve)
- The second number tells you the size of the cut. (how far away the two points are)
For example, here is a cut (not to scale) that a 3/10 5/10, 8/10 gouge will make. The distance from edge to edge remains the same but as the first number increases the scoop between them gets deeper.
So these gouges will all cut a cavity that is 10 millimeters wide but either 3, 5 or 8 millimeters deep.
As the first number go up, the sweeps get progressively more curved until they really aren’t curved any more. This chart shows you the different sweeps of each different size gouge.
At around #11 the profile becomes V-shaped you can begin to refer to them by the angle of the V. You will find that the tighter or narrower the V angle, the harder it is to cut through the wood. This is because the tool’s cutting edge has an inside dimension that is smaller than the outside dimension.
The second number is easy. It tells you the how far apart, or how “wide” the cut is going to be and is usually shown in millimeters.
The Odd Ducks – Spoon, Marcaroni and Fluterini Wood Carving Chisels
There are some gouges that have unusual names. Like Spoon, Macaroni and Fluterini.
A spoon gouge is used to make concave cuts in tight areas. The end of the tool resembles a common spoon because of the short curve at the end of the blade. The shape of this tool raises the handle angle significantly—to almost 90°. This position allows you to make a nearly right-angle cut. We will be doing some spoon carving classes and we will have a chance to use these.
You can get these chisels from woodworking and carving suppliers like Woodcraft and Pfeil. Start out with a small assortment and grow from there. You don’t need to get the entire set in one fell sweep (groaning at my pun). Always start out by practicing on sample boards until you get your hand movements under control.
Of course once you’ve been using your gouges you are going to need to sharpen them, so stay on the look out for a post on that in the coming weeks.
The Parts of a Chisel and Gouge
Sometimes vocabulary can trip you too, so here’s a quick run down of the parts of a chisel.
Some things to remember about the parts are:
The Chisel Hoop, it helps to stop the butt getting mushroomed.
The Chisel Blade. The quality of the metal will determine how sharp you can get your chisel. And how long it will stay sharp.
And a Chisel Handle – The shape determines how easy it is hold. You’ll find round, octagonal and shouldered handles so you want to try make a cut with these different types so you know what your personal preference is.
Thank you. I’m a new carver (less than a year) and have found everyone’s explanations so confusing when I want to purchase gauges. I am now a little less confused.
I know right! I’ve been a furniture maker for a really long time and learning a new skill is fun but it get kinda confusing at times.