The Best Wood Carving Tools – 2019 Buyer’s Guide

The Best Wood Carving Tools – 2019 Buyer’s Guide

Looking for a new hobby that doesn’t require a screen or battery? Wood carving is a relaxing and rewarding choice, with endless possibilities for creativity. All you need to get started are a quality set of hand-carving tools, a nice piece of wood, and an idea that inspires you to create! In this buyer’s guide, I’ll be helping you with the first part.

There are many ways to carve wood, and which tools you choose to work with are a matter of personal preference. You can carve with something as simple as a pocket knife, as sophisticated as a handheld rotary tool (like a Dremel), or you could stick to more traditional implements like chisels and gouges. The possibilities are endless, and different methods will produce different results. I recommend starting with the more traditional route first, and moving on to more unique methods only once you have mastered the use of classical wood carving tools. The most common of these classical tools include chip knives, gouges, chisels, pinpoint and parting tools, and the wooden mallet.

The easiest way to build your carving tool collection from scratch is to purchase a quality starter set, which will usually include a good mix of chisels, gouges, and knives. This should provide you with more than enough options to start carving and find your favorite style. As you begin to discover what works for you and what doesn’t, you’ll start to see gaps in your tool collection that you’d like to fill. To help you along every step of the way, I reviewed a wide variety of starter sets, chisels, gouges, knives, mallets, and even wood carving gloves. These are the best wood carving tools from each category available now.

Best Wood Carving Tools – Comparison

PictureNameNumber of toolsPrimary MaterialPrice
PFEIL"Swiss Made" Intermediate Set of 7 Tools Pfeil 7-Piece Intermediate Carving7Alloy chrome-vanadium steelCheck Latest Price
Schaaf 12-Piece Wood Carving12Alloy chromium vanadium steelCheck Latest Price
Puli Craft Wood Carving Tools Set - Heavy Duty Woodworking Kit with Carry Case - Precision Cutting & Shaping for Personal & Professional Use Puli-Craft Complete14Solid steelCheck Latest Price
Matsumura Japanese Blue Steel Bench Chisel - 6mm - 1/4" Matsumura Japanese Blue1SteelCheck Latest Price
pfeil 12mm (1/2") Beveled Edge Chisel Pfeil Beveled-Edge1Swiss alloy tool steelCheck Latest Price
Narex Czech Steel Premium Woodworking Cabinetmakers Chisel with European Hornbeam Handle Sizes from 6 mm to 50 mm 811303-811350 (16 mm - 5/8") Narex Premium Cabinetmaker’s Chisel1SteelCheck Latest Price
Two Cherries Double-EdgedTwo Cherries Double-Edged1German steelCheck Latest Price
UJ Ramelson BenchUJ Ramelson Bench1High-carbon steelCheck Latest Price
Flexcut Cutting Knife, High Carbon Steel Blade, Ash Handle, 1-1/4 inch Blade Bevel Length (KN12) Flexcut KN12 Ash-Handle1High Carbon SteelCheck Latest Price
Crown Tools 2236 / Big Horn 22360 3/8 Inch 10 Mm Spoon Bit Gouge Crown Tools 2236 Spoon1High Carbon SteelCheck Latest Price
Narex Czech Steel Set of 4 Premier Firmer Gouges 8 mm (5/16") 10 mm (3/8") 16 mm (11/16") 26 mm (1 1/6") 863700F Narex Premium Firmer4Chrome-manganese steelCheck Latest Price
Flexcut Carving Tools, Wide-Format Palm Gouges, Ash Hardwood Handles and Carbon Steel Blades, Set of 4 (FR404) Flexcut Wide-Format4Carbon SteelCheck Latest Price

 

The Top 3 Wood Carving Starter Sets Available Now

After reviewing more than 10 wood carving toolsets, I selected these 3 products as the best overall, best mid-range, and best budget pick.

1. Best Overall – Pfeil 7-Piece Intermediate Carving

For new wood carvers who aren’t willing to start with anything less than the best, this premium starter set is an excellent choice. Admittedly, I had a difficult time picking a winner between this Swiss-made Pfeil set, and a similar set from the German toolmaker, Two Cherries. To make up my mind, I ended up using both brands side-by-side on the same project. While I found the products from both makers to be superb, the Pfeil tools were consistent personal favorites.

The octagonal ash handles are very sturdy and comfortable with almost any style of grip, and a slight bulge in the center makes each tool feel rock-solid in the palm of your hand. The chrome-vanadium steel is hardened to between 59 and 61 HRC (Hardness Rockwell C), so while sharpening will take a bit longer in comparison to mid-level or entry-level tools, a properly honed edge will stay sharp for much longer.

A few other things I really like about this Pfeil carving set are the included hardwood storage-stand, the sharpness of the blades upon arrival, the fact that each tool’s wooden handle is made from responsibly sourced forests, and a lifetime warranty on all Pfeil products.

What we liked:

  • Rockwell C hardness rating of 59-61
  • Square tang for ultimate durability
  • Engraved tool number for easy ID
  • Octagonal handles for better grip

What we didn’t like:

  • Expensive
  • No chip knife included in the set

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2. Best Mid-Range – Schaaf 12-Piece Wood Carving

Best Mid-Range – Schaaf 12-Piece Wood Carving Tool Set

As you may notice from the pictures here, this is essentially a set of Pfeil lookalikes with a few small differences. For the most part, only professionals will notice these differences, so novice-to-intermediate carvers should find wood carving bliss here. Like the Pfeil set, each tool features an octagonal ash handle, square tang, and hardened chrome-vanadium steel.

The Schaaf 12-piece wood carving set is a prime example of what a mid-range product should be. They are modeled after a very successful competitor design, with only subtle changes being made to lower the price and appeal to hobbyists. If you want to start somewhere in the middle, this is the set for you.

What we liked:

  • Rockwell C hardness rating of 60
  • Engraved tool number for easy ID
  • Octagonal handles for better grip
  • Carrying pouch included
  • Wide range of tools in the set
  • Satisfaction guarantee

What we didn’t like:

  • Blades required sharpening upon arrival
  • No chip knife included in the set

3. Best Budget Pick – Puli-Craft Complete

If you’re a collector of hobbies, you probably know that sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself (and your wallet) is to start small. With this complete wood carving set from Puli-Craft, you can start with a small budget, but carve with a large selection of tools and techniques to explore.

The blades arrived fairly sharp, with even bevels and sturdy ferrules I was able to get to work right out of the box. That’s more than can be said even for some high-end carving tools. Beginners will appreciate the mallet and wet sharpening stone included in the set, which should both be used in some capacity if you want to experience the full potential of this set. The steel is softer than you’ll find on a premium chisel or gouge, so frequent sharpening should be a part of your carving routine. Overall, this is a great product for anyone looking to just see what carving is all about, or to use for one-time or infrequent projects.

What we liked:

  • Arrived sharp
  • Octagonal handles for better grip
  • Wide range of tools in the set
  • Kit includes a mallet, sharpening stone, & carrying pouch

What we didn’t like:

  • Steel not suitable for carving hardwoods
  • Requires frequent sharpening

Check Latest Price

Also Read: Best Wood Splitting Axe – Top 10 Models Analyzed and Reviewed

Once you’ve found a quality set with all the basic tools you need to start crafting, you’ll probably want to expand your collection. Buying tools individually is a great way to do this, and a less expensive way to sample other brands. When you’re ready to branch out, we’ve got you covered in the next section of this buyer’s guide.

The Top 3 Wood Carving Chisels Available Now

If you’re serious about wood carving, over time you’ll want to build a collection of chisels that you enjoy using and can rely on. The 3 chisels below are some of the best options for professional wood carvers and hobbyists alike.

1. Best Overall – Matsumura Japanese Blue

Japanese chisels carry an air of prestige in the world of wood carving, which stems from the hand-forging process and high-grade steel that goes into the production of most Japanese woodworking tools. They are often sold for more than double the price of “western” chisels of comparable quality, but I personally have found the unique style and craftsmanship to be worth the expense— at least for adding a few to my regular chisel collection. This Matsumura chisel is a fine example of traditional Japanese toolmaking and interesting addition to any wood carving tool collection.

One of the reasons that I like the Matsumura chisel so much is the hardness of the blue steel blade, which is greater than even the finest “western” chisel blades. With a Rockwell C hardness rating of 64, you’ll find that a sharp edge on this Matsumura can sometimes withstand months of abuse without requiring any blade work. Not only does the hardness help maintain a razor-sharp edge, but it also makes carving hardwoods like teak much easier. Just keep in mind that this also means sharpening takes longer than other carving tools you may be used to. Other benefits I’ve enjoyed while using this chisel are the Japanese-style loop (steel ring around the end of the handle), which makes it possible to use a metal mallet for heavy material removal without damaging the tool, and relatively short blade for excellent maneuverability.

What we liked:

  • Blue steel blade
  • Rockwell C hardness rating of 64
  • Metal loop for protection from heavy mallet strikes
  • Handmade
  • Natural Japanese red oak handle

What we didn’t like:

  • Expensive
  • Must be oiled to prevent rust at neck and edges
  • No warranty/guarantee information

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2. Best Mid-Range – Pfeil Beveled-Edge

Typically, a Pfeil tool wouldn’t belong in the “mid-range” category of any wood carving tool list, but Japanese chisels and gouges can often cost more than 4x as much as similar European or “western” varieties— causing somewhat of a shift in the price scale. With that shift, premium Pfeil tools like this fall somewhere in the middle. The reason for this is that Japanese wood carving tools are typically handmade, and therefore more expensive to produce, while western tools are most often made on a production line.

With that covered, let’s talk about why Pfeil carpenter’s chisels are the best of the west. First, they are shaped so carefully that – aside from the very tip of the blade itself – I have yet to find an imperfection in a single Pfeil tool, ever. Second, the Rockwell C hardness of 59-60 gives the blade a perfect balance between durability and workability. It’s just soft enough that sharpening doesn’t take all day long, yet hard enough to make sharpening an occasional task, instead of a constant. Lastly, they are absolutely beautiful tools to hold and to look at. The oval-shaped and oil-lacquered elm handle is simple, elegant, comfortable, and extremely durable. A smart warranty on defects and excellent customer service is just icing on the cake. Used correctly and taken care of, you’re unlikely to ever be disappointed in a Pfeil carpenter’s chisel.

What we liked:

  • Rockwell C hardness rating of 60
  • Beautiful European elm handle
  • Brass ferrule
  • Low sides of the blade for easy corner-cutting
  • Octagonal handles for better grip

What we didn’t like:

  • Expensive
  • Tool ID on the blade may wear

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3. Best Budget Pick – Narex Premium Cabinetmaker’s Chisel

Narex is a Czech tool manufacturer with an extensive product catalog, including a wide range of excellent chrome-manganese woodworking chisels. I first became interested in them after seeing a few of the Premium Narex chisels in my local woodworking shop, mostly because they were just truly beautiful. Upon investigating further, I was shocked to see the prices ranged anywhere from 30-75% less than similar chisels in the shop. After heading home and doing a little reading on Narex and the chrome-manganese steel used in their chisels, I decided I had to try a set. They are now some of the most well-loved tools in my shop.

Chisels in the Narex Premium line are fitted with a waxed hornbeam handle, solid brass ferrule, and a hardened steel blade with an extra slim cross-section for precision work. At any price-point, these are very good chisels, at this price-point they are unbelievably valuable. I would recommend these chisels to professionals and hobbyists alike.

What we liked:

  • Chrome-Manganese (Cr-Mn) steel sharpens easily but retains the edge
  • Rockwell C hardness rating of 59
  • Brass ferrule
  • Waxed hornbeam handle
  • Low sides of the blade for easy corner-cutting
  • Wide and comfortable handle shape

What we didn’t like:

  • Must be oiled to prevent rust
  • Must be sharpened 1-3 times before full benefit of Cr-Mn blade
  • Printed tool ID may wear with time

Check Latest Price

The Top 3 Wood Carving Knives Available Now

Many small carving projects can be completed using nothing more than a quality chip-carving knife. One of the more relaxing and intimate carving tools, you’ll find hours of enjoyment whittling away with any of these 3 top chip knives.

1. Best Overall – Two Cherries Double-Edged

Best Overall – Two Cherries Double-Edged Carving Knife

I came very close to selecting a Two Cherries set over the Pfeil product I selected for the “Best Overall” carving tool starter set, almost entirely because of a love I have for their chip-carving knives. I’ll admit I greatly prefer the handle-style of Pfeil gouges and chisels, but when it comes to precision carving knives, Two Cherries is doing everything right. These tools are a treasure to behold and to carve with.

Out of a current collection of 11 chip-carving knives available from Two Cherries, I selected the double-edged knife for “Best Overall” because I have found it to be the most versatile blade-style. If you’re not ready to swing for a full set of all 11 knives, I highly recommend this as your first chip-carving knife. The large hornbeam handle is comfortable to hold for long periods of time and looks very handsome with a solid brass rive securing the blade. Razor sharp right out of the box, this is a knife that will help you enjoy carving from the start.

What we liked:

  • Double-edged blade
  • Brass pin/rivet
  • Concaved blade base for easier sharpening
  • Thick & comfortable hornbeam handle

What we didn’t like:

2. Best Mid-Range – UJ Ramelson Bench

UJ Ramelson Bench

This UJ Ramelson chip carving knife is a simple, beautiful tool, with a sharp 1095 high-carbon blade. The swept shape of the handle fits very comfortably in the palm of your hand and makes it easy to apply as much pressure as you need for any chip-carving task. This is a great tool for beginners, as the medium-length straight-edge blade can be used to accomplish a wide variety of cuts and chips.

According to the company website, this specific knife is imported from an unspecified location, which initially raised some concerns for me about quality. After using the knife I can say with confidence that it matches the quality of other UJ Ramelson tools I have used. The only cautionary advice I would offer is that there doesn’t seem to be a larger collection of chip carving knives to match this one, so if you end up loving the style but wanting a different blade, you may be out of luck finding a companion.

What we liked:

  • 2 brass pins & long tang for stability
  • Strong 1095 high-carbon steel
  • Stained oak handle

What we didn’t like:

  • Needed honing upon arrival
  • No companion knives available

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Also Read: Best Woodworking Tools You Should Have [Must Have Tools]

3. Best Budget Pick – Flexcut KN12 Ash-Handle

I began my carving journey years ago with a set of Flexcut tools. Even now, they are some of my favorite carving tools for use on small intricate projects. The ash handle is beautifully shaped, melting into your hand to make palm-carving work effortless and enjoyable.

Like the UJ Ramelson knife above, the simple blade on the KN12 is perfect for use across a wide variety of carving applications, so it’s a great knife to start carving with. Unlike the UJ Ramelson knife, however; there are more than 15 Flexcut knives with alternate blades available with this handle style. So, if you decide this knife feels better than any other brand you’ve tried but you want a different blade style, you can easily find the exact same tool that you’re used to with the new blade you want.

What we liked:

  • Comfortable ash hardwood handle
  • Arrived sharp
  • More than 15 blade options with this handle

What we didn’t like:

  • No pins/rivets to secure blade

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The Top 3 Wood Carving Gouges Available Now

Gouges can be used to carve almost anything you can dream up, as long as you have the right ones for the job. Start expanding your collection with any of these top-3 gouges available now.

1. Best Overall – Crown Tools 2236 Spoon

This gouge is an excellent introduction to the high-quality English toolmaker, Crown Tools. Premium in all the right ways, this is a simple product born from high-quality materials and diligent craftsmanship. The stained rosewood handle is comfortable and uniquely beautiful, with a large circular cross-section that fills the palm for a solid grip. A brass ferrule secures the fine carbon steel blade and stands out nicely against the dark grains.

The gouge I received was razor-sharp right out of the box, and with a Rockwell C hardness rating of 57-60, it has maintained its edge very well after repeated use on hardwoods. If you’re looking for a gouge that looks as good in a display case as the artwork you create with it, this is the tool for you.

What we liked:

  • Rockwell C hardness rating of 57-60
  • Beautiful rosewood handle
  • Brass ferrule
  • Arrived sharp
  • Satisfaction guarantee (replacement)

What we didn’t like:

  • No tool ID
  • No grip improvements to handle

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2. Best Mid-Range – Narex Premium Firmer

This is the second product from Narex’s Premium line to make this list. After using the cabinetmaker’s chisel I was curious to see how well the gouges perform and was once again blown away by the value. The gouges in this set are “firmer” gouges, meant to be used with or without a mallet, and they perform beautifully either way. Again, one of my favorite aspects of these tools are the chrome-magnesium steel blades, which sharpen easier than the more common chrome-vanadium blades found on most other premium chisels. You won’t notice the slightly softer metal while carving, however; as I had no trouble cutting through a block of teak like butter.

Just like the chisel companions to these tools, the handle is made from a beautiful stained hornbeam handle that fits perfectly in your palm, while still providing enough surface area at the butt for mallet strikes. The brass ferrule keeps the blades locked securely in the handle, and the black coating on the blades themselves transforms each gouge into a rust-free work of art. Highly recommended.

What we liked:

  • Chrome-Manganese (Cr-Mn) steel sharpens easily but retains the edge
  • Rockwell C hardness rating of 59
  • Black blade coatings prevent rust
  • Brass ferrule
  • Waxed hornbeam handle
  • Great for hand carving or mallet carving

What we didn’t like:

  • Must be sharpened 1-3 times before full benefit of Cr-Mn blade

Check Latest Price

3. Best Budget Pick – Flexcut Wide-Format

Flexcut tools are difficult to place in a budget category because the quality I’ve experienced with them doesn’t exactly scream “budget tool”. They may be inexpensive compared to similar tools from premium brands, but don’t let that fool you— they are excellent carving tools for any skill-level, and always made from quality materials.

This Flexcut palm gouge set includes four wide-format gouges, with ash hardwood handles and black high-carbon blades. The handles are incredibly well-shaped and very comfortable to work with for extended periods of time, even while applying lots of pressure. This is a great set for novice, intermediate, and even expert carvers to use for small but time-consuming carving projects.

What we liked:

  • Wide ash handles for excellent palm grip
  • Black blade coatings prevent rust
  • Arrived sharp
  • Wooden box included with the set
  • Very maneuverable

What we didn’t like:

  • Not suitable for use with mallet

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3 More Wood Carving Tools and Accessories to Consider

There are many ways to carve and many tools to use for carving. Here are a few more excellent products you may want to try as you learn what carving style suits you.

1. The Best Sloyd (Whittling) Knife – Morakniv Sloyd Knife with Finger Guard

The sloyd knife is used for one of the oldest wood carving techniques— whittling! Closely resembling a small hunting knife, it’s an extremely versatile carving tool and a lot of fun to use. This Morakniv sloyd knife is an excellent choice for beginners, thanks to the hefty finger guard that protects you from sliding your hand up the blade as you work. The blade is thin and made of high carbon steel, with a razor-sharp edge straight from the factory. An oiled Birchwood handle makes for a simple and comfortable grip, while the included sheath makes it easy to take your hobby with you wherever you go.

2. The Best Wood Carving Mallet – Schaaf 12oz Wood Carving Mallet

Full-size carving tools, like firmer gouges, are designed to be used with or without a mallet. When it’s time to break out the mallet, you’ll want to be sure that you won’t damage your carving tools, so it’s important to get the right one. Wood carving mallets are designed to soften the impact of each blow by utilizing a soft material for the head, like Birchwood or urethane. This Schaaf mallet is one of the most affordable urethane-head varieties, and after using their other carving tools I was confident this would be a quality budget-priced tool as well. I wasn’t wrong! An excellent tool at an excellent price, you can’t go wrong here.

3. The Best Wood Carving Gloves – NoCry Level 5 Cut Resistant Gloves with Grip Dots

Cut resistant gloves are the carving students’ best friend, protecting your fingers and palms from those inevitable slips while you’re getting the hang of things. There are many to choose from, and most will do the job they’re meant to. But if you want to be sure you’re getting exactly what you pay for the first time around, try these grippy gloves by NoCry. Made from a durable, yet the breathable blend of stainless steel and polyethylene, the level 5 cut-resistance rating ensures that even the biggest mistakes won’t exact a toll on your hands. Silicon dots on the palm and fingers of the gloves are a welcome benefit and will help you keep a firm hold on even the most intricate of carvings.

Final Verdict – Choosing the Best Wood Carving Tools

There are good carving tools, bad carving tools, and everything in between. In this buyer’s guide, I made it a point to show you a wide range of good tools only, both in terms of brand, and type of tool. With so many options to choose from, however; think of this as your starting point, not an exhaustive list of the “best tools”. These are all great brands and great products, certainly some of the best, but wood carving is a creative endeavor every step of the way— that includes the process of choosing your carving equipment. My advice for tool shopping as a beginner is to start small, start with quality tools like the ones in this guide, and branch out in the direction of you find most compelling. In the end, the best tools are the ones you enjoy using.

Related Resources:

Sean J. Stone
 

Sean has been a woodworking enthusiast for 8 years, and in that time has written huge resources on woodworking and tools.

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