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Whilst looking for new exhibitors for the "Dorset Do" we came across "Mens Sheds"
We are hopng to have the local branch at this years show but in the meantime follow the link below and watch the videos, particularly the one about woodcarving chisels
Mens Sheds

carvers corner

Hints and tips from one of our members.

It was decided at one of our recent meetings that we should become a little more structured without losing our relaxed "learn as you go" approach.

One of our more experienced carvers, agreed to do a short teach-in, at our meetings, primarily for beginners, on various basic topics and we have decided to publish the hand-outs that he has generated for this purpose.

These notes will be updated from time to time when they become available.

Ringwood Woodcarvers accept no responsibility for any material included, it is not suggested that our recommendations are a complete list of suppliers or materials and everyone is responsible for his or her own safety.














Lack of concentration and thoughtlessness causes accidents.

A sharp tool is a safe tool and a blunt one is more likely to cause accidents. A blunt tool requires more effort to cut through wood than a sharp one. In applying that extra effort the tool becomes unstable and behaves in unpredictable ways when exiting the wood. The use of a mallet can often reduce the effort and unpredictability.

Most chisels and gouges are two handed tools. Both hands should be on the tool with the blade hand resting on the wood. Keep both hands and all fingers behind the cutting edge at all times. Always carve away from your body and that of anyone else. Never carve towards you or anyone else.

Never carry a carving tool around unless necessary. When doing so always carry it point down by your side with your thumb close to but not on the cutting edge.
Never use a carving tool to point or to gesture.

Never perform another, separate task whilst holding a carving tool. Do one job at a time.

When not using a carving tool put it on the work bench parallel to any others that may be there. Always have all such tools pointing in the same direction, preferably with the cutting edge away from your body. Do not lay tools down with their cutting edges projecting close to where your hands are working.

Always ensure that your work is securely fastened to a stable bench or surface while carving it.

Never try to catch a falling carving tool. Never carve in sandals or open toed shoes.

When sharpening tools always follow the manufacturer’s published safety instructions particularly when using equipment such as grinder/polishers. Always wear safety goggles when using such equipment.

Most accidents occur during placement in or retrieval from a tool roll, take great care at this stage.

All wood creates dust in sanding, if not sawing. All that dust is potentially harmful if inhaled. Some of it is toxic and some causes cancer. Always wear a mask when carrying out this process. Also consider dust extractors. Remember the dust that builds up on clothing, even when a mask is worn.

When using finishing products such as sanding sealers, oils, stains, paints and polishes always read and follow the manufacturer’s safety instructions. Many of these products give off harmful vapour and should not be inhaled. Application should take place in a well ventilated environment. Oil impregnated rags can spontaneously ignite so they should be washed carefully, left to dry flat and then safely disposed of. 

Vigorous use of a mallet can cause flying chips of wood. Consider eye protection. Tough gloves should be worn when using rasps.

If using knives when carving very many other safety considerations come into play which cannot be dealt with here. However, always wear slash proof gloves.
Carvers should be up to date with their tetanus jabs.



Although the Club does have, and makes available, some tools for the use of members during meetings, members should start to acquire their own tools as soon as possible. Tools are expensive and great care should be taken over their selection. Sets of tools are not the best way to acquire them for reasons set out elsewhere. Although second hand tools are less expensive than new ones, there are a number of reasons why acquiring them can be a false economy, in the initial stages of a carvers career. These are stated elsewhere. The decision is one for the carver.

A good idea is to buy individual tools made by a premium quality manufacturer. These include; Henry Taylor, Ashley Iles, Pfeil, Robert Sorby, Ariou and Kirschen etc. Beginners should confine their purchasing to the types and sizes indicated on the list below. The numbers shown on the list are those taken from the “Sheffield List” which in each case indicates the type of tool and/or the shape of the curve of the gouge. The size shown is the width of the gouge or chisel. Some foreign makes such as Pfiel, (but not Kirschen) do not all follow the Sheffield List and have their own system or systems which, although similar to the Sheffield List, are different.

Tools that you should acquire
Chris Pye in his excellent book “Woodcarving Tools, Materials & Equipment” recommends, as an initial selection, the following:

No.   2      3/8  or 10 mm skew chisel*
No.   3       ¼ or 6mm “flat” gouge (straight)
No.   3       ½  or 13 mm “flat” gouge (straight)
No.   3       ¾  or 19 mm “flat” gouge (straight)*
No.   6       ¼ or 6mm medium gouge (straight)
No.   6       ½ or 13mm medium gouge (straight)*
No.   6       ¾ or 19mm medium gouge (straight)
No.   9       ¼ or 6mm quick gouge (straight)*
No.   9       ½ or 13mm quick gouge (straight)
No.   9       ¾ or 19mm quick gouge (straight)
No. 39      3/8  or 10mm V-tool (parting tool)*

It will be noted that there a five tools marked with an asterisk.  These are considered by us to be tools that should be acquired before others on the list. To narrow things down further and in order to assist the beginner even more, three tools have been identified and costed for you from a well known supplier. This is The ToolPost, Didcot (full contact details are in the “Supplies and Suppliers” section above. The tools are manufactured by Henry Taylor ,a well established maker of quality tools that offers good value for money as well as a very wide range of patterns and sizes. What has been outlined is merely a suggestion and is not a requirement and there are other manufacturers and suppliers.

The three tools suggested as first buys are:
Skew chisel  No 2 (2 sweep)  Cat No 370210 10mm (3/8”) £21.33 inc VAT
Straight gouge  No 3 (3 sweep) Cat No 370320 19mm (3/4”) £22.41 inc VAT
Straight V tool  No 39 Cat No 373910 10mm (3/8”) £29.77 inc VAT

It is believed that these prices are correct at the date of writing (Sept 2013)but enquiries should be made. Similarly enquiries should be made in relation delivery charges, if any.
Most people will be much better off buying three good quality tools initially than buying lots of poor quality tools or second hand tools that may not be useable. The initial three can be added to at any time when the need is identified and money is available.



Your first project was probably suggested to you and a suitable piece of wood supplied. This is not the case with the second project and you should start your planning for the second project while still working on the first. Apart from deciding on the design etc, you will have to obtain a suitable piece of wood (hopefully lime), which may take some time and effort. The club holds only limited stocks of wood for carving and that is mainly for first projects only.

1   Have you found a suitable design?

Select something that is within your capability. Preferably select a design from the “Woodcarving” magazine or a woodcarving book that has not only photographs of the finished article but also scale drawings from at least the front, sides and rear elevations. These should also have a stage by stage set of instructions on how to carve the item. Anything less than this information will require you do far more work than is necessary.

2   Have you the appropriate piece of wood?

The appropriate wood foryou is lime. If you pick the wrong wood you could end up with a carving that does not work, is too difficult to continue or is in some other way unsatisfactory. Generally appropriate wood is only available from specialist timber dealers. See the “Woodcarving” magazine for details. Sometimes members arrange small group trips to Yandles and other wood suppliers.

Exotic woods can appear attractive in the piece but can spoil the finished product by having too strong a “figure”, i.e. the grain pattern being too pronounced and hiding detail.

Terry Porter’s book “Wood Identification and Use” published by GMC Publications is an excellent source of information about the characteristics of wood and even the health hazards connected with various types.

3   Have you considered the tools that you need?

Fortunately the club has a selection of tools that beginners can use until they can acquire their own. However, some projects do require specialist tools that the club does not have. Some members may well have these specialist tools.

4   How do you propose to hold your wood while carving it?

Holding wood is not only a safety issue but also one of practicability. Different types of carvings require different holding techniques and equipment. Consider these issues and research solutions through the “Woodcarving” magazine or woodcarving books.

You should always discuss these matters with an experienced carver before committing yourself.



Carvers use many things in the way of materials and equipment. It is not proposed to set out a full list of these and possible suppliers as the list would be extremely long. For fuller details refer to the “Woodcarving” magazine. What follows is a selection of the suppliers in the area that are most likely to stock most of the things that you are likely to need

Always work out in advance of buying, or looking at a range of tools, what you need. If in doubt seek advice from a more experienced person. If you can afford it start with between three and five quality tools and add to that number as you discover a need. A suggested list of tool types and sizes is available (under “ Tools that you should acquire” below) and it is recommended that you should buy only from that range at this stage. Advice can be given on the merits and demerits of particular makes but all quality manufacturers make good tools generally and some not so good, at times.

For seasoned and part seasoned wood of the type most commonly required by carvers (lime)  Yandle and Sons Ltd of Hurst Works, Martock, Somerset TA12 6JU 01935 822207 probably has the best selection in the area. Although in Somerset, Martock is not far from Yeovil and is well worth a visit. The company also sells new tools and stocks  Pfeil, Ashley Iles, Flexcut and  Robert Sorby chisels and gouges. The selection within any one range is not particularly wide but tools can be ordered. Additionally the company stocks many other requisites including Abranet “sanding” sheets and the excellent value for money Record woodcarvers’ vice.

Another new source of supply for timber is at: Chilbolten Woodturning Supplies near Stockbridge. We haven't visited them yet but John Davis is the man to speak to. He normally has large stocks of good quality kiln-dried Lime and Jelutong carving blacks. His team is attending the Dorset Do 2014 this year and will also have turning tools etc. If you can't wait till them ring him up and test his mail order service.

For tools and other supplies Axminster Power Tools at TrafalgarWay Axminster, Devon EX13 5PB 01297 35058  stocks a wide range of tools and supplies. The company also offers short wood carving courses. Like Yandles, Axminster Power Tool is well worth a visit. It stocks some wood (including lime) that carvers would find useful though not a wide a range as Yandles.  Axminster stocks only Kirschen and Flexcut chisels and gouges but has a wide range of  patterns and sizes always available. Additionally, the company has a very helpful and obliging technical service department on a nearby industrial estate that can often solve problems for you.

 The ToolPost , Unit 7 Hawksworth, Southmead Industrial Park, Didcot, Oxon. OX11 7HR , ,01235 511101 stocks and supplies a wide range of tools and supplies including Henry Taylor tools. Details of costs of some important tools for beginners that can be obtained from this supplier can be found below in the section headed “Tools that you should acquire.”

A number of finishing products are stocked by W.E. Boone and Co Ltd at 91 High Street, Poole (01202 674010). These include a range of Liberon sanding sealers, quality waxes and varnishes etc.

Alec Tiranti Ltd. Of 3 Piper’s Court, Berkshire Drive, Thatcham , Berkshire RG19 4ER 0845 1232100 stock a wide range of tools and equipment used by sculptors, including those working in wood. Apart from Stubai and Flexcut chisels and gouges , it also stocks a wide range of rifflers (small wood rasps), work holding devices, sharpening requisites and other specialist woodcarvers’ tools.

Classic Hand Tools of Hill Farm Business Park, Witnesham, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP6 9EW   01473 784983 , stock a wide range of woodcarving tools including Ashley Iles chisels and gouges. They also stock a range of Auriou rasps and rifflers, This company also regularly attends major woodworking shows such as that held by Yandles.

Tilgear of Bridge House, 69 Station Road, Cuffley, Hertfordshire EN6 4TG 0808 1681800 also stocks a wide range of woodcarving tools and supplies including a wide range of Pfeil chisels and gouges. Its catalogue does, or at least did, show pictures of a wide range of different types of wood with their individual characteristics, at least from a woodturning perspective. Needless to say they stock woodturning blanks.

Ockenden Timber of Broadway Hall, Church Stoke, Powys SY15 6EB 01588 620884 e mail info@ockenden-timber  stocks an extensive range of carving blanks in both native and exotic timbers. They also stock an excellent range of lime.

For a local supplier consider Timbermill Ltd, The Woodyard, Spearywell Road, Mottisfont, Nr Romsey 01794 341552.

It should be noted that it is possible to buy chisels and gouges direct from somel of the major British manufacturers.

For second hand tools there are again many possible suppliers in the area. One is the Tool Shop in Colyton, Devon (near Axminster).This is well worth a visit particularly for the more experienced carver as the tools stocked are often outside the patterns available from new tool suppliers. Savings can be made if buying second-hand, providing that one exercises caution.

 There is a great temptation for beginners to do one of two things. The first is to buy a set of chisels and gouges. Never do this. It is often false economy. Often the tools are of such inferior quality as to make them useless, and no matter how much time is spent on them to make them useable, they are not. Even when the set includes quality tools the range is not appropriate for most needs. Only buy what you need. The second is to buy second hand tools. There is nothing wrong with second hand tools and some are truly excellent but they have to be selected with great care and very often they require experienced attention to make them useable. Most modern tool profiles are slimmer and easier to use than many older pattern tools. Perhaps most importantly, often old chisels and gouges are often pitted with rust. If that is the case and the pitting is on the cutting edge it renders the tool useless without at least re-grinding the tool. Buying second hand tools is something that can best be done when experience has been acquired.

With present prices three modern, quality tools cost the same as five second hand, probably poor and sometimes useless tools. The choice is yours.



1   Physical objects in your possession or control
Ornaments that you may own are a good starting point. Car boot sales and charity shops are places where these things can be found at a reasonable cost.

2   Other physical objects
Memorials of one type or another can often be inspirational. They are generally works of great artistic merit. Museums and art galleries are places well worth visiting for ideas.

3   Magazines
Anyone starting woodcarving should have regular access to the “Woodcarving” magazine as it is an amazing source of information on the topic and has many projects showing on a stage by stage basis how to create the object shown. Often there are specific beginners’ projects. In addition to photographs it has scale drawings from all four elevations (sometimes more) which will enable the carver to transfer the shape to wood.

4   Books
There are numerous specialist books on the subject and the better ones have ample photographs and drawings. Most cater for a range of abilities but some are introductory.  It is important to remember that many of the greatest carvings were originally carved in stone so the work of people such as Michelangelo and Rodin, to name. These should not be overlooked when researching.  Guide books to places of historical interest  as they can be a good source of inspiration. For carvers with an interest in animals, wildlife books are invaluable.

5   Libraries
It is easy to overlook libraries as sources of inspiration and information. Quite often they are able to provide you with the additional photographic information that you need to gather around you before you start. Most carvers, beginners or otherwise, discover that they have too little visual information for their needs when well into their projects. The topics to look for are many and diverse but include woodcarving, sculpture, churches (and cathedrals), history, wildlife, regions and towns etc.

6   Internet
Most people realise just how useful the internet is as a research tool. A search under “woodcarving” will reveal a multitude of sites relating to the topic but wider searches will often be necessary.

7   Clubs and teaching institutions etc
All clubs are different but most, if not all, will have a collection of old issues of the “Woodcarving” magazine and books on the topic. Some individual members will have much relevant material. Most professional teachers will have a portfolio of their work and some will have photographs of their student’s work. They will often have web sites of their own. Clubs will often hold exhibitions of members’ work and so too some teaching institutions and many will have web sites, often with “Galleries”.

8   The wood
From time to time a piece of wood by its shape and character will inspire the carver to create a particular shape. To do this successfully will require a fair degree of artistic ability as well as carving experience.



Let’s give beginners some clear-cut advice about sharpening equipment.  Remember, Grinling Gibbons did wonderful carving without expensive electrical equipment.

First, a brutal message: anyone taking up woodcarving also takes on a second hobby at the same time, sharpening. This is not once a week, month or year but about every twenty minutes.  Blunt tools lead to disappointment, frustration, accidents and people giving up.

The basic minimum of equipment needed does not have to be expensive. 

For most needs and anything short of radical re-grinding of tools all that is needed is the following:-

A fine textured oil stone of the kind that can be found in many tool and hardware shops (often as a two sided combination stone).

A small slipstone (also fine and obtainable from some tool shops).

A small can of general purpose oil such as “3 in 1”.

An off-cut of stout leather of about 8 inches by 2 ½” (obtainable from an old style shoe shop, or an old belt).

A metal polishing paste of the type that can be bought from motor accessory shops. 

The leather should be glued to the wood, rough side up and the polish applied.

For advice as to how to use these items see any book on woodcarving or get hold of Henry Taylor’s excellent leaflet on sharpening that does, or did, come free with their products. 

These things would cost around £25, or less.  If you have £100 - £200, or more, don’t want the effort and don’t mind a few problems, you can buy an electrical system from a carver’s supplier. 

They are often based on bench grinders/polishers and must have the wheel turning away from you at the top.  They should have a “rubber diamond impregnated wheel” one end and either a compressed paper, leather, felt or stitched rag wheel at the other.

This system is good for keeping your tools sharp once the correct edge and bevel has been obtained using a standard bench grinder.

The diamond wheel will refine that shape but only removes very small amounts of metal, the cloth buffing wheel is used with abrasive soap and finely hones the edge, similar to tha barber honing his razor on a leather strop but quicker. Once the tool has the correct edge the honing wheel is usually all that's required to keep a keen edge, as long as it's done regularly, perhaps every 30 minutes or so depending on usage.



Best quality source of data first, with others in descending order.

1   Fully illustrated project with all drawings.

The “Woodcarving” magazine (and good books) now commission top carvers to produce articles that explain on a step by step basis how to carve featured items. The steps are not only excellently photographed but there are scaled drawings from all relevant elevations that can be easily transferred to wood.

2   A physical object

With a physical object you can view it from all angles, measure it, photograph it and make drawings etc from the photographs. It is useful to have it available to refer to at all stages of the carving process.
This does not apply only to inanimate objects but can be a person who can be posed for photographs and therefore for tracings from those photographs.

3   Photograph
This is not as useful a source of information as the physical object referred to above because it is two dimensional rather than three and therefore does not yield information as to depth as the object does. It gives less detailed information about the sides and little or nothing about the back, unless there are also photographs of these other elevations. Often photographs are not taken head on to the subject but are “three quarter” views. Generally you will need a head on view and sometimes (often) a three quarter view as well Three quarter views alone, particularly of people, often lead to unflattering and distorted carvings.

If you are faced with the task of carving an object simply from one photograph you should strongly consider the feasibility of re-photographing the subject for the purpose of additional tracings or drawings. Sometimes there are other photographs of the subject in books etc which could help.

If all else fails you should consider making a model from clay before carving.

Black and white photographs are said to yield the most information due to the greater contrast.

4   Paintings, drawings (artists) and pictures of these.

These all suffer from the same problems as photographs mentioned above but they often have additional drawbacks as far as the carver is concerned. They often lack the sharpness, definition and clarity of photographs and therefore will not yield as much information as is needed. Additionally, from time to time artists make mistakes with perspective etc (greetings cards to name but one), making it even more difficult for you.

Again here a clay model helps to sort out the problem before it finds its way onto the wood.

5   An idea, but no object or picture

 First, research the subject to find useable images. Next, a model may have to be made.



Arranged in order of the quickest and most effective way first, in descending order.

  1. Short, two or more day introductory course given by one of a number of professional carver/teachers, including the following: Andrew Thomas (Wareham); Ian Edwards (at Axminster Power Tool, Axminster); Zoe Gertner (Thornbury, Devon);Chris Pye (Herefordshire); Michael Painter (Austrey, Warwickshire). Typically, full two day courses are highly intensive, include guidance on sharpening tools and are designed to get you started. They cost something like £250.
  2. Chris Pye has created a video web-site where people can learn to carve. We are not aware of how it works. If interested the web site is www.woodcarving
  3. Next and at least as effective are short courses (often about one week) in places such as Austria (Geisler-Moroder). The problem here is expense and perhaps time.
  4. Local education authority run evening classes. There are a number of problems with these. First, they are not provided by all authorities. Second, they vary enormously in quality with some giving very little tuition for the £80 or so fees for each term. They often try and cater for too many people at a time. They sometimes provide little more and sometimes less by way of help than carving clubs. Some classes are no doubt good.
  5. Local woodcarving clubs. There are no BWA clubs in the area but there are a number of independent clubs. These include: Mudeford Woodcarvers (Mudeford); Purbeck Group Woodcarvers (Harman’s Cross);Ringwood Woodcarvers (St.Ives, Dorset); South Dorset Woodcarving  Club (Upwey). These groups do not provide formal tuition but do increasingly cater for the needs of beginners by providing basic guidance. Therefore, learning by attendance at their meetings alone is considerably slower than the first two, if not four routes set out above. Typically, the cost works out to be about £3.00 per meeting.
  6. Self teaching. This is extremely slow, not very satisfying or efficient even if combined with regular reading of the “Woodcarving” magazine (necessary in any event), all the appropriate books and watching the excellent teaching videos and dvds that are available. This is easily the slowest way to learn woodcarving.

Probably the ideal way for beginners to get started is attend a two or more day introductory course given by a carving professional and to immediately following this join a local wood carving club. By starting this way people learn very quickly the very basics and at the same time discover whether carving is for them before they commit themselves to any great expense. Actually, the very first thing they should do before even starting the introductory course is to buy a copy of the “Woodcarving” magazine from WH Smiths.