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Professional quality tool brands?

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  • Professional quality tool brands?

    Hi, all. New to the forum. I’m a young guy, and for a few years, I’ve been working for artisans, trying to learn all I can about as many things as I can. I’ve been working as an apprentice frame maker and gilder for about two years now. Everything is one off, using traditional methods. Carving is becoming my favorite part of the job, and I’ve worked up to the point where I’m doing some sort of carving almost every day. I also take on any other carving job that comes my. At this point, I can’t see myself in a profession that doesn’t include wood carving in some way.

    Anyway, that’s my situation. My parents bought me a set of 8 Hirsh tools to get me started, and I absolutely love them. Am I correct that Hirsch and Two Cherries are the same? I’ve also bought a couple Pfeil Swiss Made tools over the last year. My boss has an extensive collection of Pfeil tools (he only buys Pfeil), and I’ve been using his tools a lot, when I don’t have the right gouge in my own collection. I’m looking to start expanding my own set, and I’d like to stick with professional quality tools that can stand up to frequent use, and ones that will hopefully last me my career. That said, I don’t make much money, so I’d like to get the best bang for the buck that I can. I know a lot of people consider Pfeil the gold standard, including my boss, while other people are loyal to other brands. I like Hirsch and Pfeil tools, and I don’t really detect any true differences in quality, just differences in the way they feel and behave. I find that my Hirsch gouges are somewhat more substantial in size and weight than my boss’s comparable Pfeil gouges, and I often like the extra weight. Is this generally true across the board between the two brands?

    I’ve also been reading about a few other brands. I’m interested in Stubai, Ashley Isles, and Dastra, especially. It seems like these brands tend to be somewhat less expensive than the Pfeil and Hirsch/Two Cherries. The way I see it, if I can get three gouges from these brands for the same price as two Pfeil gouges (rough guesstimate), that would seem to be the way to go, as long as I’m not sacrificing quality. Then once I have an adequate selection of shapes and sizes, I can go back and acquire duplicates from other brands. I understand that they’re all going to be different, but is it true that these brands aren’t really any worse than Pfeil or Hirsch? What characteristics should I expect from the different makers? I’ve read that the English brands are heavier than the continental tools. Would I be better off buying the larger gouges for mallet work from English brands, and get my smaller detail tools from the European brands? Are there other brands that I should look into? What about Narex, Henry Taylor, or Auriou? I plan to get a few from several different brands and compare them myself, but I’m worried about throwing away money toward tools that are going to disappoint, and that I’m going to want to replace.

    If you’ve bothered to read through this whole post, thanks for bearing with me. I hope I’m not asking too many questions in one post. Maybe I’m over thinking all of this. Part of this is that I’m growing into a bit of a tool geek, and I’m just naturally interested in what else is out there. Thanks in advance.

  • #2
    It is my understanding that Hirsch and Two Cherries tools come out of the same factory. I own a few of both brands and they appear identical and both seem to use a like 4-digit number on the handles. I own more Pfeil than any other brand in the larger mallet tools, intermediate tool, and smaller hand tools. I also own several Stubai, Ashley Isles, and Taylor.... not to mention old Bucks and Frank Mittermeier (now Dastra) tools. My personal favorite is Pfeil, but I would recommend any of these other brands as they have a solid history of quality. If you're looking at Sheffield tools, I don't think you could go wrong with any of them... Record Power makes carving tools and so does Robert Sorby (best known for their lathe tools).... both at Sheffield... I think.

    You'll find that everyone has their own favorites for one reason or another. You need to find what works for you... thinner, heavier, etc. Best advice I can offer is buy the best you can afford and learn to use and sharpen them. Don't think you'd go wrong with the brands you've listed, although I don't know anything about Narex or Auriou. For the smaller hand tools, you might look at Drake as well. They make a very nice line of smalls.

    Good luck.
    Old carvers never die... they just whittle away.


    • #3
      What are "professional" grade tools? Hard to say.
      There must be 6-8 major tool houses, some very old names and some are new comers in the marketplace.
      For the most part, if they make one edge that;s useful to you, you can predict that the next one will be a keeper.

      As dave.keele says, you buy a brand which seems to have the variety of edges that you need in your carving style.
      I bought Pfeil for years, a few other things.

      I've changed to the adzes and the crooked knives used in the Pacific Northwest.
      I can modify a worn down $5 hoof knife with ease to become a quality carving edge.

      Look for the durability of the edge and the bevel angle.
      Look for all-day comfort and the relative ease if sharpening.

      Brian T


      • #4
        It sounds like you have a good start on your tool collection. Apart from sticking with Pfeil, I would suggest giving Ashley Isles tools a try. I have a complete set of the minitools and they are my go to tools. It really depends on what you carve, as to what tools are best. I have some Henry Taylor's but seldom use them, Pfeils are my next go to tools, as well I have a few Japanese tools that I find useful. An invaluable tool is the curved skew by Ashley Illes, the Roy Gonzalez tool.

        Last edited by squbrigg; 12-24-2018, 08:35 AM.
        Before they slip me over the standing part of the fore sheet, let them pipe: "Up Spirits" one more time.


        • #5
          Schaaf is a relative new-comer. They sell only a kit of what appear to be a useful variety of profiles.
          Look like Pfeil clones for 1/2 the price. All positive reviews. No open stock or I'd have bought a couple by now to try.

          Brian T


          • #6
            I have Pfeil and Two Cherries,....Henry Taylor, Dastra, and a few Japanese. I use almost always my Pfeil, and my Henry Taylor....the others at times. I always buy Pfeil at Woodcraft during sale times. When I buy is always Pfeil.


            • #7
              Some thoughts
              1. Hindsight, stick to one brand if you can. Why? Brand A sweep 4 is the same as brand B sweep 5, so you order the size you need in a different brand and it's not the size you need.
              2. Almost all European or English tools are top notch.
              3. You like the heavier Hirsch, why not stick with them. Lee Valley will custom order anything they don't stock in Hirsch.
              4. The best deal on Pfeil is to order from a Canadian seller like Rick Weibe. When you factor in the exchange rate you are miles head. Order 3 or more tools at a time and the shipping is not a concern.

              I own Pfiel, Stubai, Dastra, Henry Taylor and have had Hirsch, Two Cherries and Lamp. I prefer thinner tools so like Pfeil the best, then Stubai or Dastra. If you want heavy tools check out Ashley Iles. Enough steel in one of those to make two tools. (not necessarily a good thing).

              There really isn't a right or wrong brand. Get what you prefer.


              • #8
                Thanks for the responses. Glad to know that these are all high quality tools. I haven’t been able to find many reviews online, other than on this forum. I got a couple Ashley Isles tools, and so far, I love them. The edges were not square out of the package, so they took a bit of grinding to get them ready to use. Not what I was expecting after having bought Pfeil and Hirsch, but a small price to pay for otherwise really nice tools. I did get the Ray Gonzalez hooked skew, and I’m a changed man. My boss also gave me a bit of money over the holidays to go toward a couple tools, so I ordered a few Stubai’s, which won’t arrive until later this month. Fiddlesticks, I had not yet seen your advice to stick with one brand when I made these purchases, but that makes a lot of sense.

                The picture frames require a lot of tiny detail work, often in hard to reach spaces, and so I often find myself using the smallest tools my boss and I have. I bought a really small tool from Ashley Iles, I believe it is a 2/4 (I left it at work this weekend), and it has already proven itself quite useful. But it has a lot of bend, which makes sense, because there’s so little steel there, but it makes me a little nervous. I’d like to get a few more small detail tools. Should I expect so much bend from these small sizes? I’ve seen pictures of detail tools that are really short, and I went with the longer Ashley Isles tool because I’ve got pretty big hands, an gripping shorter tools can be awkward. But now I realize that these short tools may have much less bend. Am I correct in this assumption? It doesn’t look like all of these brands make really small detail tools, and it seems like there’s more variation from maker to maker. Can you make make some suggestions for small detail tools? I’d like straight handles, rather than palm gouges, unless there’s a real advantage to using palm gouges. It seems like the width of the handle would limit where the tool can fit.


                • #9
                  I realize now that I’m talking about micro tools or mini tools. I worry with both the micro tools and the palm tools that the handles will get in the way, and I won’t get a low enough angle to pear away the ground in really tight spaces. Have any of you had this problem?


                  • #10
                    I have a carver acquaintance in Europe who does a lot of repair, restoration and replication.
                    He made up his own micro-tools. Started with kits of little screwdrivers for the steel tips and did some careful grinding.

                    I can grind very nice edges from the hard steel strapping which is used around bundles of dimension lumber.
                    Given your occupation, Gilder, making your own tools might be a consideration to get what you need.
                    Brian T


                    • #11
                      I like the sound of making my own micro tools. I don’t know much about steel. What should I be looking for? Should any screwdriver do the trick? I think I’ve also heard of people grinding down files.