carving gouges

I’ve got a number of questions lately about carving tools. Which ones do I use, what do I recommend, etc.

 Here is some of the answer. The carving tools I use are a mixture of new & old. They all generally work, some better than others. I have some English, German, Swiss, American.

 I mostly lean towards the older tools; but I have many new (in the last 25 years) tools. Most of those are the Swiss-made tools, (Pfiel is the name of the company that makes them, I think). These days I have found some of their tools a little lightweight, which I don’t like.  

I imagine the “antique” tools I use are not all that old, maybe early-twentieth century. I have never really studied gouge-history, but I bet someone has and there must be a rundown of various gouge-making firms, like Butcher, Addis, Buck Bros, Henry Taylor. I have tools from all these & mostly like them.

 First, as for sizes. This picture is what I generally send people who ask what size tools do I use the most. A set of gouges like this will go a long ways in carving 17th-century style patterns.

carving tools' profiles


I’ve collected my tools here & there over the years; and some have come from Alexander’s collection as well. (as always, thanks JA) As for manufacturers, I guess most of my old ones are British. There’s no magic in the British ones, but they are generally nice.

The museum where I work once bought some tools, and in a money-saving mood, we chose the smaller versions of some Austrian tools, and I find them hard to use. I hit these things pretty hard, and the smaller tools feel like they can’t take it. I haven’t had a problem with them, I just don’t like the way they feel. I prefer a larger, full-size tool. Pfiel (sold through Woodcraft & elsewhere) make some carving tools in two sizes as well, so I recommend the bigger versions if you go that route. I bought some Ashley Iles last year from and for new tools they seem well-made. They are large, and strong.

gouges old & new


This picture shows a bunch of tools I use a lot. From the top, two Henry Taylor gouges, one old one new. A W Butcher gouge, one of my favorites. Then a new Ashley Iles gouge, and a very nice, although small, Sheffield-made gouge.

Here is a comparison between the two Henry Taylor gouges. I don’t think the “old” one is all that old, (I’d guess 25 years or so?)  but there’s a noticeable difference between the two. see the detail of the bolsters, the new one doesn’t quite fit the ferrule that well, and the handle’s a little cockeyed too. Not a terrible big deal, but it makes the old one more appealing to me.

Henry Taylor gouges


detail, Henry Taylor gouges


This is one of my favorite gouges. Again, I doubt it’s all that old. But nice & stout where it needs to be, and well made.

W Butcher gouge


NOW, the V-tool is the real killer. It’s a hard tool to find one that’s the right shape. I have a Pfiel one that I bought 20+ years ago, and have changed its shape through sharpening over time, and I do most of my V-tool work with it. I have since bought new ones, same size, same maker. Different shape. Some of those failed (chipped cutting edge!) – I also have an old German one that I use a good bit. It’s a very nice example. This photo shows, from right to left, Pfiel, Ashley Iles, one from Hamburg (no name) and a Stubai from Austria. Look at the detail of their V-shapes, that’s the thing to look for. The closer it comes to an absolute point at the junction of both “wings” the better it is. That’s where the Stubai in this group loses out, the Pfiel and the German ones have the best shape. Ashley Iles is pretty good, probably better than the newer Pfiels I have bought in recent years.



Here they run just as above, from the left, Stubai, German no-name, Ashely Iles, and Pfiel (Swiss-made). the German & Swiss are the best, cleanest cuts, sharpest lines. the other tw0, being a little rounded at the bottom, bump along a bit, leaving ridges inside the lines.

V-tool shapes & lines


To learn more about V-tool shapes, have a look at Chris Pye’s website. He has an e-book dedicted to just this one tool. I skimmed it, and there’s good stuff there about the proper shape for this tool. (one of the proper shapes, anyway)

Hope some of this helps with questions about carving tools. it’s a start anyway. I”ll be doing some more carving this summer, and will try to add some blog content here on the subject.

Here’s a recent, nearly-done  panel I have been practicing, just so we have a carved panel after all this talk about the tools:

practice panel