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Woodcarving Tools: Carving Knives, Gouges

febrer 24, 2023 5 minuts llegits

Woodcarving Tools: Carving Knives, Gouges

Wood carving is a beautiful activity, but when we want to get into it, we often find ourselves with many questions and don't find the right answers. I want to share with you all that I know about hand-carving tools and guide you as best as I can into woodcarving.

Let me explain: When I became interested in wood, especially wood carving, it took me months to find a space where they taught me the basics of carving. Once I discovered this world and became more interested, I found that there were many possibilities and different techniques to learn.

When I talk about woodcarving, I mean carving by hand with gouges and knives. There are numerous techniques and a plethora of tools to consider when thinking about woodcarving.

Woodcarving gouges gubias talla en madera gúbies de talla en fusta

Relief carving, for example, is mainly practiced with gouges and chisels. It is the carving that creates pieces in relief, such as flowers, landscapes, faces, sculptures, and certain geometric patterns of medium or large size. We carve wood until we achieve the desired volume to start shaping our ideas. 

If we look at a catalog of gouges for the first time without understanding it, it can be overwhelming! There are hundreds of options, shapes, and sizes. For relief carving, I personally recommend the following tools from the Pfeil brand:

D5/8 – D12/6 – D9/7 – 2/8.

The numbers on the left indicate the shape of the tool, and the number on the right indicates the size. For example, the 2/8: the 2 indicates that it is a semi-piano tool, and the 8 indicates that the carving tool is 8mm in length.

There are usually some kits available that include 3-4 gouges. I'm not a big fan of these kits since they sometimes include gouges that we hardly ever use. However, if the price is right for you, go ahead. Write to me if you have any questions when buying!

The gouges I recommend are smaller than normal gouges and less expensive. Pfeil's idea here is to enable people to start carving without having to invest a lot of money. The quality of the tools is the same; only the size varies. Two Cherry tools is another brand that offer a huge variety. Both Peil Tools and Two Cherry tools have worldwide distributors, to find the one closest to you go to the distributor tab on their websites.

As we carve different designs, we may find that the gouges we have are not suitable for making certain types of cuts or reaching difficult areas. This is where the myriad of gouges on the market come into play.

Usually, when we get to the point of not knowing how to continue a carving, it is because we lack the correct tool for that particular cut. There are tools that we will use in all our carvings, and if we keep practicing and buying gouges, there will be some that we will only use occasionally, and others that will stay in the drawer collecting dust because we only used them once. It is normal because not all the carvings we do require the same gouges.

Of course, if we buy quality tools, things can be expensive! We are talking about approximately €20-25 for each gouge in small and medium sizes; if we start carving and use larger-sized gouges, prices can be around €40-50.

When we are relief carving, a good thing to have in mind is that we need to somehow hold the piece we are working on to the table either with clamps a block system or any similar method. 

Chip carving is wood carving using knives and, in terms of tools, is much more accessible and easier to practice than relief carving. With a single knife, we can make infinite cuts and patterns since the vast majority of cuts are repeated. The challenge here is the creativity that we have in drawing geometric patterns.

Chip carving is a form of woodcarving that involves the removal of small, triangular and curved shaped chips from the surface of a wooden board to create decorative patterns and designs. This technique has been used for centuries to embellish furniture, boxes, bowls, and other wooden objects.

For Chip carving, there is also a certain variety of knives, but the vast majority of cuts can be made with any of the different knives available in the market. Prices range from €15 (unsharpened) to €35 (sharpened).

Why mention whether knives are sharp or not?

There are many brands that sell knives, but not all of them offer their knives suitable for cutting with optimal sharpness. For example, a well-known brand like Pfeil manufactures good knives but on a large scale, which may not allow them to invest in providing optimal sharpening for cutting wood. Before we begin cutting wood, we should sharpen the knife.


For practicing Chip Carving, I recommend the Klötzli #2 carving knife and/or the 36mm Pfeil C2 carving knife (if sharpened before!). Both knives have the same design, which is the most popular shape in Western Europe and the United States. This design was created in the 50s by two Swiss men, Ernst-Ulrich Klötzli and Christian Rubi.

There other brands offering Chip Carving knives such as Mychipcarving, Two Cherry Tools, Flex Cut, Beavercraft amongst others. I’ve carved with and know that Flex cut knives come sharp from store, but the knife handle is too thick for my small hand. I can’t talk much about all these brands since I still have to test them to have an opinion.

The main difference when we compare relief carving to chip carving, is that in chip carving we only carve with a single knife. This makes it much more accessible and practical. We normally hold the wood board with our own hands or with the help of an anti-slip mat.  We can take the wood boards and the knife with us wherever we go, whether it's on a weekend in a rural house, on vacation, etc.

With all that being said, I hope to have enlightened your path to woodcarving and that you now can take some decisions based on what you’ve read in this article.

You can find carving supplies in my shop such as Chip Carving Kits, Sharpened knives, Decorative Patterns files & more!

You can also learn Woodcarving and Chip carving through my live workshops in Barcelona or my Online Chip Carving Course in Domestika. I do really encourage you to find a local woodcarver and learn from them! It is a beautiful craft to learn amongst others and being guided by experienced carvers!


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