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Tool brands, quality and what to look for

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  • Tool brands, quality and what to look for

    Hi everyone. I'm a beginning carver. Not wanting to overspend on a hobby I wasn't sure I'd enjoy or stick with, I decided to go for the Schaaf 7 piece expansion set, which after some hiccups, seems to be working well. I also added a set of 12 from Deadwood Crafted Tools, which also is of surprisingly high quality for the price. Both sets seem to hold their edges well, although without much experience, it's hard for me to tell. I've also added a few Pfeil and Ashely Isles, both of which are excellent. The AIs are definitely more robust, which really shows up when using a mallet.

    I've also looked into Henry Taylor's "Professional Line" carried by Classic Hand Tools (CHT) in the UK. I ordered a few of their double bevel carving chisels, but sent them back because some of the blades were not lined up with the handles. I don't think the actual blades were bent, rather, it seems they weren't fitted properly in the handles. It's a shame, because I really like the look and feel of these tools. More recently, I've been reconsidering ordering a few more HT gouges, hoping I could find some that weren't misaligned, but it seems a high percentage tools in this line are just not straight. CHT claims that as hand made tools, this in not an indication of a quality control problem -- it's just a result of making tools by hand. By most accounts, the steel is excellent for holding an edge, and the blades are very robust, and much thicker than Pfeil blades.

    I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts on this. More specifically, my question is how important it is for the blade and handle to be aligned, or straight (talking only about straight chisels and gouges here, not spoon bent or long bent tools). To be fair, I have one new Pfeil Blogs fishtail that isn't dead straight (but very close). But some of the Henry Taylors I bought (and returned) were at least a few degrees off line.

  • #2
    Clearly, you have done a careful study of carving tools. The ultimate test of any tool is how it performs for the task at hand. It doesn't matter if it is thick or the handle is misaligned, unless those shapes affect your use of the tool. If the alignment of the tool shaft with the handle were critical, then long bent or spoon bent gouges would be ineffective. I personally believe they are not meant for use with mallets because they rely on a prying motion.

    I think it's time for you to choose a project and produce your own assessment of tool brands.
    Last edited by pallin; 05-24-2023, 06:45 PM.


    • #3
      Thanks for your responses Nebraska and Pallin. It really helps to have more experienced carvers weigh in. Just to clarify, I meant the shafts of both the HT's -- and Ashly Isles-- both from the UK, are more substantial than Pfeil. There's just more steel. I guess some would see this as a good thing, while others might see it as overkill, only adding unnecessary bulk. Til recently, I've carved soft woods so I didn't notice any difference. But I've been carving madrone, which is quite hard, even green, and the Ashley Isles just feel more solid with less vibration when struck with a mallet. It's not a criticism of Pfeil, just an observation. And to be fair, the few Pfeils I have are less than 20mm, so I'm using only light strikes. I would expect larger Pfeils to be plenty sturdy.


      • #4
        I agree with Pallin. If the tool is holding its edge and is working for the task you are using them for then they are all you need. In the early days of my carving life I bought a large set of Lamp tools. I found very quickly I did not need 2/3rds of them with the subjects I was carving. While I have done some larger carvings I prefer carving on canes and walking sticks. Most of which I now do with power and palm tools. My point is start out with tools you need for the work you are doing. You can do alot of carving with 5 to 7 mallet tools and a couple good carving knife.
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        • #5
          Major agree with Phil...every tool has its pro and cons depends what kind of effect you want. All my chisels were bought when they were highly recommended by top cavers for carving hardwoods. The wood and end effect determines which chisels I use big time... softwoods can be carved with old reliable box knives. Henry Taylors were prime at one time. Pfeil is my top choice in exotic hardwoods that I carve, next would be my Henry Taylors more due to shape and not ease of sharping and cutting. Next would be the old Japanese handmade chisels. I have read but haven't bought the new tools which I have heard people complain about. I am THINKING IT IS rather an issue of cutting cost and quality by manufacturing companies. I did get a new one about five years ago...Henry Taylor's palm tool was not impressive enough to put it in my line of preferred tools. I do not recommend top-of-line tools unless you carved long enough to get your money's worth. It is my finding most pro wood carvers have Pfeil tools and I agree with their choices. I will note the Pfeil tools I have today cost over a hundred dollars or more as I carve large. As far as Ashley Isles never was able to get my hands on one so zero experience with know people who love them. Today you need to be very careful what you buy as they can go from great and best to total junk especially if they change new hands. As having more or less steel shaft is rather meanless, if you know about forging steel and sharpening, it about the chemistry of steel is perfect then you can cut anything with thin walls. But again my opinion also depends on the chemistry of the wood to which kind of chisels and tools I will use...I find what works for one wood will not work for another.
          . Explore! Dream! Discover!” aloha Di


          • #6
            Another thing to consider is the bevel included angle on the gouge/chisel. A larger included angle (20 degrees plus) is usually recommended for really hard woods, as it provides more support to the cutting edge. Thinner included angles for the less hard woods means it takes less effort to split apart the wood with the gouge and the less-hard woods don't need the heavier steel backing the cutting edge. As Phil says, decide on what you want to carve, and then select tools that support that type of carving.

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            • #7
              If cost is no object, any of the traditional brands that have been in business over the last fifty or more years will probably serve you well. Differences in the major brands usually fall into the "individual preference" category. Tools that sell below $10 each are generally not worth the effort. Sets that feature the same profiles as the expensive brands generally allows for a good all-around useful variety and lowers the cost-per-tool expense. Having a basic set of twelve or so tools allows a beginner to experiment in the craft so that they can discover the methods and styles of work that suits their projects and style. After the carver has some experience, they will be prepared to add any additional tools they desire as individual purchases. If a beginner wants a decent set of tools for most traditional carving while keeping expenses reasonable, I always recommend the Schaaf brand since they are good tools and a good place to start for that basic set if you are willing to spend a little effort in getting them properly sharpened. If you decide to leave the hobby, then you haven't invested a ton of money, and if you decide to continue, then you still have very useable tools. Don't forget to try a basic knife or two even if your primary interest is in using gouges and similar shaped tools. They can enhance or make the craft.

              Just a important as the edged tools, I also recommend the beginner buys an inexpensive two sided-Good tools and basic skills diamond stone (400/1000 or 1200) and a strop. The edged tools are useless without sharpening tools and while every craftsman has their sharpening preferences, this is enough to get the job done at a low cost and will perform the task for many years. Above all else, the beginner should be aware that learning to use the tools requires a learning curve and having all of the most expensive tools will not automatically make you a better carver. Once you know how to really sharpen a fine edged tool the "work" becomes a joy. Have fun and stay safe.​


              • #8
                I am the poster child for buying cheap tools to get by until I felt I could carve well enough to get good tools. I now subscribe to the adage of 'buy once, cry once'! I pass that on to new carvers when we do our classes locally here. Our club provides them a great quality knife free of charge when they take the class so they know how a good knife should negotiate its way through basswood.

                My thoughts after carving 25 plus years are this: (Caricatures using basswood)

                Knives: Deepwoods, Helvie, and OCCT. Those are the only brands I have in my carving box to carve basswood. Deepwoods actually will make you a knife based on your specs, and Paul's stock knives are great as well. If you want to put your own handle on your knife, he offers just the blade for sale. Not much to say about Helvie, just consistent good knives...getting them is a challenge right now, though. Mike Shipley at OCCT is an awesome carver, and makes tools for carvers that just work.
                Palm Tools: FlexCut, Ramelson, OCCT, Drake. Flex Cut knives suck, but their palm tools are priced well, hold up well, and hold a good edge. Not sure they make Ramelson anymore, but they are great tools. Mike Shipley makes awesome knives, and his palm tools are the same quality! Drake tools are not cheap, but they offer lifetime sharpening if they need to be touched up.

                I would defer to those above that carve larger pieces in wood harder than basswood.

                Just my .02!