Good tools bring creativity to fruition
Creating a sculpture with axe and chisel from a trunk is surely one of the most intense experiences that woodcraft has to offer. Not only the creative act itself, but intimate contact with this unique natural material, exploring its organically grown structure, and the unforgettable odour of freshly cut wood all make sculpture a unique experience.
In this creative process, the tool must be the extension of the artist’s own arm. Over a period of time, a heartfelt relationship develops between the sculptor and the tool. When the tool lies comfortably in the hand, when the balance is right, when there is long-lasting sharpness, then mind and body work together creatively. The sculptor’s trust in "his" tool brings creativity to fruition.
Orgin of our sculpting tools
Owing to their complex form and the combined requirements of long-lasting sharpness and lightness of weight, the manufacture of gouges is one of the most difficult challenges of blacksmithing. Today, the Swiss "Pfeil®" brand, with a wide range of products presenting the main part of our offering, is regarded as the leading manufacturer. These are the proven standard tools for sculptors and wood carvers - developed through intensive exchange with professionals and with a consistantly high level of quality.
We also offer hand-forged Japanese gouges with two-layer blades, having a long edge life and excellent sharpness. These are stronger and shorter than European gouges and, thanks to their head hoop, well suited for hammering.
Our Chinese cutting tools, which we obtain from traditional small blacksmith workshops, are unique in Europe. They are distinguished not only by their favourable price, but also by their good steel quality and the conical shape of their blades - particularly advantageous for deep reliefs, cut-outs and under-cuts.
The tools from Sweden, a country where four-year-olds are already engaged in wood carving, are especially convincing in terms of their fine profiling and ergonomic grips.
Gouges are the classical sculptor’s tools. Their curvature is described by sweep numbers (from 2 = very flat to 11 = very strongly curved). We recommend, for example, the basic assortment of the 8-part "Pfeil" set (No. 700896).
These have a cutting edge ground obliquely or at a right angle. By contrast with normal wood working chisels, they are sharpened on both sides. Due to their versatility for use with edges, contours, peripheries, surfaces and inscriptions, they are a must in every basic set.
These have a V-shaped cross-section and are used for cutting sharp-edged grooves, outlining patterns, and carving letters.
Curved or cropped tools are advantageous for elaborating concave surfaces, recesses or relief backgrounds. The narrower the work situation, the greater the tools cropping required.
Besides these basic types, there are also a number of special tools forms, with which one can add on considerably to the basic assortment according to project.
Sharpening on rapidly rotating grinding or polishing wheels is in fact in widespread use - nevertheless, we recommend the traditional method of sharpening on water stones or on the Tormek wet grinding machine. This gives longer edge life, as the cutting edges are not heated, and ensures a more exact cutting edge geometry without rounding off the bevels.
You will find additional information on the sharpening of sculptors’ tools in our Sharpening Primer.
Expert tips on the use of sculpting tools
- Use a lager-sized gauge with mallet for the crude composition of sculputures or reliefs.
- To make things easier, imagine the geometrical shape underneath the surface, e.g. the eye as a ball, the neck as a cylinder, etc.
- Always work your way from the highest point (e.g. the nose) to the back. This gives you the opportunity of making corrections if necessary by moving the form slightly backwards.
- Define your reference points (e.g. centre of the head, tip of the nose, elbow, etc.) These should be best marked with a cross.
- Try to work evenly on every part of the object in order to retain a well-balanced overall picture.
- Always make sure to fasten your workpiece properly (e.g. with the help of carver’s screw) in order to avoid injuries and any disturbances of the working process.
Which tools are recommended for beginners?
For sculpting figures:
- Allongee Gouge, sweep 7, blade width 50 mm (for rough material removal and large workpieces)
- Sweep 3, blade width 35 / 40 mm (clean-up)
- Sweep 7, blade width 35 / 40 mm (clean-up)
- Sweep 11, blade width 15 / 18 mm (clean-up)
These tools are also used for our "Sculpting Figures" workshop.
For relief work:
For hollowing out troughs or bowls:
How do I select a gouge?
There are three criteria:
- the sweep
- the blade width (measured perpendicular to the blade (also with 1S)
- the longitudinal form of the blade
What do I do if I have a gouge but am not satisfied with my choice?
First, decide which of the three criteria are fine and don't need to be corrected. If, for example, the sweep is fine but the blade is not wide enough, stick with the sweep number but choose a wider blade. If both the sweep and the blade width are fine, but you cannot get the cut you need with a straight gouge, choose the short-bent version for shallow recesses and the long-bent version for deep ones.
Working on surfaces with different sweeps results in different surface structures, which means they can also be used to produce variations in design. The larger the sweep, the more noticeable the structure.