What Is A Wood Carving Kit?
For the purposes of this article I am speaking of a wood carving kit as a set of tools used for the purpose of fine wood carving in art, lines, relief carving or “sculpting”.
With some products found online, stencils, wood pieces, or other arrangements of items can be packaged with the tools.
Yet a question begs to be answered. Are these kits worth your time and money?
If you are tired of cheap kits and wasting money this will be worth your read. I will get into brand recommendations later in this article, first let’s look at the logic of how we spend our money.
When You Should Purchase A Cheap Wood Carving Kit?
Before I break into these cheap prepackaged kits, allow me to explain when someone should purchase one. If you are a beginner exploring wood carving then they are a great way to start, and in fact the best way.
A beginner has not yet learned the nuances behind carving. It is going to take time and experience to discover what fits you best.
There are more options to select from than you will know what to do with. In this case the cheap wood carving kit will let see what you like or dislike.
For experienced woodworkers I would suggest buying a kit for the purpose of exploring a new brand or product. A kit will allow you to try out multiple tools from said brand.
In doing this you can get a feel for their tools and discover if you like them or not. This is far better than investing in the myriad of sizes for different tools which can be offered by that company.
The point behind both of these reasons is exploring the brand to learn what works for you. The goal is to explore the brand with as little expense out of pocket as possible.
If you discover that you like what they offer then it is time to dial down to the different tools which you will need.
When You Should Not Buy A Wood Carving Kit
I would never buy a wood carving kit to “build” a complete set of tools. In other words, purchasing different kits so that you have a “set” of tools is not a good idea.
Wood carving tools is not like buying a set of craftsman wrenches or a set of screwdrivers. If this is your thinking then understand that you are about to enter a whole other world of tool selection.
If your intent is to build a complete set of tools for your needs, this will take time. Do not waste your money.
Before I give you a better way to go about acquiring your carving tools, I wish to explore the problems found with many of these kits. In turn you will gain an understanding of why I say to wait.
Problems With The Average Wood Carving Kit
There are many problems with kits, yet one of the big ones are found in the assortment of tools. What do I mean by this?
If you have ever purchased any kind of kit to later discover you needed additional tools, then it is not a complete kit.
Some marketers package starter kits with hopes that you will return to purchase more of their products.
Another issue I take with these wood carving kits is the specialty of tools that are placed within them. In order to complete one task you would need a broader variety of tools than offered by specialty.
Allow me to explain both of these issues with just one example.
If you wished to do engraving, not all tools you will need are to be found in one kit. Search online to find one kit which includes a wood riffler and a veiner together.
It cannot be found. You can find each grouped with others of their own kind. This problem only compounds as you see the many tools you would need in carving.
The moment you begin buying different assortments of tools then what is the purpose of a wood carving kit? It soon becomes pointless.
The issue is that by the time you add together different carving kits you have dumped too much money into it. In turn you may use just a handful of the actual tools that you now have.
A Prepackaged Wood Carving Kit Cannot Be Customized
With the different categorizations of wood carving come different kits for different purposes. Each is supposedly tailored to the kind of carving you seek to do such as Chip Carving.
The problem is further compounded by the fact that each of these tools can be found in different sizes. Yet within a kit you are given one size of each tool without an ability to select the size you may need.
Let’s take the Pfeil #7 Sweep Gouge as an example. You can get a 2mm cutting edge all the way up to a 40mm. There are 15 different variations of the same gouge each differing by size.
No single wood carving kit will give you all that you need.
No Single Brand Rules All Carving
Most woodworkers will find a brand that they just like. If they have long experience you will find many use different brands among different tools. Why?
There are times when the selection of a tool has nothing to do with the quality of the steel in the cutting blade. Rather the wood carver may like the ergonomics of the tool instead.
When you are hand carving there are a lot of small nuances which one person may like that another woodworker may dislike. This can change from tool to tool, and style of cut to another style of cut.
Earlier I mentioned how purchasing a wood carving kit is beneficial in exploring what a brand has to offer. This is the advantage of these kits.
Yet once you know what you like, it is time to dial down into tailoring your toolbox with the tools you actually need or prefer.
Western Versions Of Wood Carving Kits
With the Western versions of wood carving kits you will discover brands like BeaverCraft, Flexcut, and Morakniv. They make great whittling knives.
I have nothing against these brands. Each do offer different flavors in feel by the hand and the steel in their carving knife.
Some brands are more disposable than others. Yet this is often the case which is found in Western versions of kits. Just be sure to use the better branded side of “disposable” so that you are safe without injury.
With some tools I prefer disposable. A key to wood carving is keeping a sharp edge. If the shape of the blade is difficult to maintain, then this tool may be best purchased with the intent of being thrown away.
A twenty to thirty dollar blade is nothing when compared to more expensive options. Some can easily reach over a hundred dollars.
Cheap Wood Carving Kits Vs Nicer Carving Blades
A BeaverCraft spoon carving kit, which includes a hook knife, can be had for near $70 dollars.
One Morakniv hook knife can run you $70 dollars by itself with no other tools.
The care I would give each of these would different from one to the next.
Which Western wood carving kits are better than others? As I am writing this article I searched Google. The top blog included a link to Amazon Basics wood chisels.
Hurray to marketers peddling their garbage. Please do not go this route. This goes back to the safety issue with the idea of “disposable”.
If you want quality without breaking the bank stick to places like Lee Valley and Woodcraft which offer some wood carving kits. Additionally they offer companion tools in different varieties.
These brands will range from WoodRiver to the Swiss made Pfeil. They are great for carving and inexpensive enough to not cause worry in replacing.
If you want nicer tools you can check out Lee Valley and brands like Henry Talyor. They will have wood carving kits that are on the higher end.
These tools are really focused on wood art, relief carving, and more serious wood carving.
Japanese Versions Of Wood Carving Kits
When it comes to Japanese chisels know that I prefer these over Western versions. Yet my preference really stops here depending on the wood carving that I am doing.
Note that most “Japanese Wood Carving Kits” are not genuinely made by Japanese smiths. The kits you see offered are mass produced.
I will include a short snippet on this matter at the end of this section.
Another place where Japanese tools excel over the Western version is found within the hand saw.
Ergonomics and blade profile is what I prefer and the blades are disposable. It is a double win in my book and they stay sharp.
When it comes to fine wood carving tools the Japanese variation such as a Shinwa or a Shinto can be give or take. I still prefer Japanese steel over Western steel when I have that option.
Nevertheless ergonomics plays a major role in selection. If you prefer the ball grip of the Pfeil over the handle or knife style grip of the Shinwa, then your answer is clear.
In some cases I like having the same blade profile but from different brands simply based upon the different grips. The wood carving I am doing can dictate which blade I select based upon the handle of the blade.
Here comes the defining moment of genuine fine Japanese wood carving tools. If you were to purchase genuine carving blades made by Japanese smiths they often will sell you only the blade.
In many cases they do not have handles. Why? This allows you to install a handle of your choosing based upon your carving style.
Know that these blades are not made for kits. They also are tailored for experienced wood carvers. This merely shows how it is difficult for anyone to say one version is better over the next.
It really all comes down to your need, how you wish to spend your money, and the kind of work you are doing.
How To Build Your Own “Wood Carving Kit”
Personally I would not purchase a pre-made wood carving kit. Rather I would make a selection of tools based upon the wood carving that I am doing.
Additionally I would also select different sizes of the different needed tools. That selection would be three of the same tool in different sizes. I would want a small, medium, and a larger cutting profile as my “starter kit”.
After this I would also consider alternative tools based upon ergonomics in handle profile. If I was uncertain about this matter then I would wait until the need for a different handle presented itself.
Once I have an understanding of which tools become my go to carving tool, I would invest in better versions of that said tool. There is nothing wrong with starting out with cheaper blades, as long as it is not Amazon Basic or similar.
You will eventually find that the same blade profile best suits you from different brands based upon ergonomic factors. Thus you could have the same cutting profile in a Pfeil, then a Henry Taylor, or a Japanese variation.
The trick is to find what works for you. The next trick is to do so as inexpensively as possible. Save the money for the best tools on what you truly need the best for.
What About The Best And Most Expensive Carving Tools?
If you are looking at brands like Lie-Nielsen then you are not a beginner. Reserve brands like this for when you are ready for them.
At this range of price you have a few options in both Western and Japanese versions. The cost here can run near 100 dollars per individual tool.
I will say that the quality of the tool matters in the finish of the cut, and I know many people want the “best”. Just wait until you are ready for producing that kind of work by knowing what tools you need for it.
When you are ready I do strongly suggest looking into Japanese versions. If you do not desire to put the amount of care into the blades that they require, then Lie-Nielsen is a good option or others like them.