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How Do I Choose the Best Carving Chisel?

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  • Written By: Lori Kilchermann
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 23 August 2016
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When attempting to purchase the best carving chisel, there are certain factors to consider. The type of steel that the chisel is made of is often the most critical factor. A soft steel will sharpen faster and easier; however, a high-carbon, hard steel will often hold its edge for a longer period. The style or type of carving chisel is the next consideration, with choices such as hand carving or mallet carving chisels. Price is also a deciding factor for many chisel buyers, with the chisel's handle material often being a primary factor in the cost.

The key to quality carving often lies in the ability of the carving chisel to remain sharp. Dull chisels will frequently result in poor cuts and can also damage the work as the craftsman attempts to force the dull chisel through the wood. The higher-quality steel found in top-of-the-line chisels is usually more expensive than the softer steel chisels. Many times, however, the softer steel is ground down excessively in an attempt to maintain a sharp carving chisel. This often makes the more expensive hardened steel chisel a better bargain due to its lack of requiring frequent sharpening and grinding.

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The most common types of carving chisels are the hand- or palm-operated models and the mallet-operated style. The palm or push-type chisel is used by sculptors who simply push the carving chisel through the medium and remove small amounts of material with each cut. The mallet-type chisel is forced through the medium by hitting the handle with a mallet. If you are planning on creating large carvings, the mallet type of chisel may work best for your needs. If, however, you are planning on creating smaller and more intricate carvings, the hand or push model might better serve your needs.

Handle design is commonly wood or plastic, with the latter being the least expensive. Many carvers prefer the wooden handled carving chisel over the plastic due to the ease of shaping a wooden handle to fit the worker's hand. By sanding and profiling the wooden handle, the craftsman is able to fit the carving chisel to his hand and eliminate sore spots. The plastic handle is more durable in a mallet-type chisel and will commonly outlast a similarly-equipped wooden handle carving chisel. Examining the style and size of the work you anticipate carving will aid you in choosing the best chisel for your project.

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stolaf23
Post 3

Like many summer camps, boys at my summer camp as teenager tried their hand at carving every year. However, they used carving knives rather than chisels, and this led to a number of injuries. Based on that I would suggest that with any carving tool you buy, make sure you know how to use it to prevent injuries.

SalmonRiver
Post 2

I have been trying to find a wood carving chisel set with interchangeable handles so I can find out which I like best. So far I have only found kits with interchangeable handles made of different types of wood.

It seems like it is much easier to find one handle that comes with interchangeable chisels. That is a great kit in its own right, but doesn’t do me much good as a novice trying to find the tools I like best.

I even found a sight that does made-to-order wooden handles, but wood is the only handle material they offer.

Charmagne
Post 1

My grandpa passed down an interest in wood carving. He always used a wood carving chisel, and that is probably while I only like to use the wooden handled ones myself. It is a plus to be able to shape the wood handle to fit your hand. I have tried plastic chisels and found them to me too uncomfortable.

If you have a little bit of extra money, buy more than one type and see which you like best. Maybe the store will let you return the ones you don’t like. Wood carving can be such a fun, intricate art. I don’t know many people who have taken it up, so it’s nice to see some new interest.

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