Signmaking 101: The 5 carving tools I use most.

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joe cieslowski
Posts: 330
Joined: Sun Apr 11, 2004 6:15 pm
Location: east canaan ct

Signmaking 101: The 5 carving tools I use most.

Post by joe cieslowski » Thu Aug 05, 2004 11:51 am

I am frequently asked what is a good "set" of tools to begin with.
For relief carving (not letter carving) I recommend these 5 tools. They are the ones I use most often.

1. A JW2 3.0 knife handle with a modified #20 blade (pen knife in size)
2. A #5 20mm straight gouge
3. A #3 8mm straight gouge
4. A #7 6mm straight gouge
5. A #7 8mm fishtail gouge

These would cover most work up to about 20"

For larger work, I would add...

A #5 25mm and a #11 7mm veiner.

What 5 carving tools do you use most frequently?

Makin Chip$ and Havin Fun!

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Joined: Tue Jul 06, 2004 9:14 pm
Location: seattle

Post by cheryl » Thu Aug 05, 2004 8:18 pm

Hiya Joe......thanks again for the nice information you sent about sharpening. My chisels were a gift from my kids. They are called 'Mastergrip' and seem like nice tools. But since I am just starting out..I have no clue as to which ones are the best. The size I seem to use most is the 3/4 inch. The contractor who installed my new front door kinda made me mad as he used one of my chisels and made a mess out of it.

Mike Jackson
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Post by Mike Jackson » Fri Aug 06, 2004 12:03 am

We sold our chisels when we sold the shop nine years ago. I was at the shop a few weeks ago and happened to look over the rack. Quite a few look like they have been used to open cans or broken over embedded nails. Yikes!

I believe I am guilty of being a chisel and gouge "user" and not someone who could have ever told you what sweep the gouge had. I just used "the right one" to match the curve of the piece. I had some favorite Japanese chisels that seemed to take a better edge and stay sharper longer, so they were picked up and used first, sometimes even if they weren't exactly the perfect sweep. Also, your question assumes we are all carving dimensional relief carving. (?) A large part of my carving was on a raised routed or sandblasted letter to give it a prismatic face. I probably used a 1" chisel most often for the flat bevels and the appropriate gouge to match the curve of the serif. That would always depend on the size of the letter and the style.

My answer is probably not what you wanted in your survey, but more in lines with the way I work. I seldom get caught up in the nomenclature.
Mike Jackson / co-administrator
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joe cieslowski
Posts: 330
Joined: Sun Apr 11, 2004 6:15 pm
Location: east canaan ct

Post by joe cieslowski » Fri Aug 06, 2004 11:58 am


Like you, I didn't pay attention either. I just saw the tool I needed and picked it up and used it!
That changed when I began teaching and writing thru the Letterhead movement. I had to watch what I was doing so that I could describe what was going on and why I did things a certain way. This forced me to literally watch myself work. It made me think a lot and question everything. It probably even slowed me down a bit.
I've worked hard in my efforts to teach interested people the basics of carving. Carving first of all is a craft. As a craft, the craftsman must obtain certain basic information about the tools, their use and maintainance as well as the materials involved. Then learn and practice basic use of those tools with the required materials. I call it making can't make anything with wood without making chips.....including the use of power tools. Once you can make any kind of chip.....then (IMHO) is when carving becomes an art. Mastery over your medium is the first step.
It seems to me that a lot of folks think they just have to buy that new tool, get that new stone, buy that machine, buy that new program etc. and their problem will be solved. Spending $500 for a grinder doesn't make it better than the $150 one or the $50 one....the same goes for the tools and material. All of those things do NOTHING! You sharpen, you carve, you paint, you design.
My efforts are to help the"you's" out there to suceed.
Thats why when I here the question (and I hear it ALL the time) "What do you use?" I cringe!!!! The easy way out is to just tell them.....Pine, Arkansaus stones, Swiss, 1Shot, yes, no etc. Their real question usually is why or how. But that's not what they ask. :roll:

Sorry for the rant! It is not aimed at you or anyone in particular. It just comes from this burning desire that I have to maybe pass on some of whats taken me so long to learn so that is doesn't get lost and have to be "rediscovered" some time in the future.

This forum may not be where I will find sucess....I thought it would at least be worth a try.

Thank You,

Makin Chip$ and Havin Fun!

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