The extensive range of carving tools available can make the task of selecting a suitable collection for the beginner daunting. To simplify matters, I have chosen eight tools, each with a straight shank, as a good foundation set. The term shank is used here to describe the entire length of steel blade between the handle and the cutting edge.
All of the projects in this series of education can be carved using this set of numbered tools. As and when a particular tool is required, the number reference will be given in the text. You may find it useful to label your own handles clearly with the appropriate numbers for easy reference.
Most manufacturers produce carving tools to the same specifications. The type of tool is determined by a combination of 3 main factors: The width of the blade; the shape of the blade in cross section; and the shape of the blade along its length (described here as shank). There is a standard numerical referencing system, known as the Sheffield list, which describes each one in terms of the blade in cross section and the shape of its shank. The width of the blade is given separately in both imperial and metric. When you buy good quality tools you should find these details stamped on the metal shank or sometimes, at the base of the handle.
Gouges or parting tools (also known as V tools), for example, are available in a range of sizes but, obviously, while the former can also vary in circumference, the latter vary in angle. Whilst the Sheffield list was the industry standard throughout Britain, it has been adapted slightly by individual carving tool manufacturers to their own systems and areas. It would, therefore, be true to say that there is not a universal referencing system available.
We have worked with seven of the worlds leading carving tool manufacturers and provided their product codes for our recommended foundation set of eight tools.