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Hello all, hope everyone is doint alright this evening.


I was searching for information on netsuke's and techniques when I came across this site. I'm completely green to carving, and recently purchased a few blocks of basswood to do miniature carvings since I heard they were easy to carve. I'm sure my tools are a bit dull, but it seems very flaky and soft? Should I have bought something a bit more dense and hard?


Any recommendations would be great, I've looked through some of your previous topics for tools and techniques, and I'm thrilled with the all the expertise here. Perhaps someone could spare a minute from their busy schedule to point me in the right direction.


Thank you!

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Hi there, and welcome!


Basswood is a very much wood that is used for carving, though I do not have experience carving it. A couple of things come to mind right away that might help you: 1) your tools must be well sharpened for work with any kind of wood, to make your cuts safely and to make the cut look clean; and 2) wood grows in such a way that requires you to cut with the grain.


Let me use an illustration that was introduced to me by watching a DVD about sharpening tools (the carver was using basswood). Imagine a good hand-full of drinking straws, firmly held together so they are all parallel and fitting together. If you were to cut diagonally into this group of tubes, from the middle of the front side of the bundle towards the back side ends, you would be cutting with the grain, or across the grain, with no catching of the tubes. If you were to cut from the top side ends diagonally down towards the middle of the back side, you would be cutting "against the grain". The imaginary blade would be catching on each straw causing the straws to separate and chatter.


Basic carving technique education would have you learn about this matter right at the start. Wood has such "tubes" in its structure. You will learn to recognize this and learn to carve "with the grain". Furthermore, sharp tools will cut cleanly with less effort.


>> Always keep your tools sharp, AND >> CUT AWAY FROM YOUR FLESH << Always be aware of which way the blade or cutting edge is going to be moving when the cut is made. Make sure that it is not towards your thumb or fingers or other parts of your hand or body. One wrong move can end your exploration...


Netsuke carvers use harder wood with very fine and tight grain for carving. Basswood allows less detail, though in the hands of the right carvers, can perform beautifully. You might learn some basic technique carving basswood before you move into harder woods.


One very popular wood for netsuke carvers is boxwood. If you use the SEARCH function on this forum, you will find suggestions about where and how to acquire boxwood. Other woods, fruit woods, are also used for carving, not necessarily for netsuke, but might be a good step as you learn to carve. SEARCH for images of work by Vladimir Rusinov, a member of TCP, who carves pear wood marvelously.


If you have netsuke sized tools and are trying to carve basswood, you might not have your tools matched correctly to the wood. That is a judgement that you will need to make.


Welcome to the forum and to the path of carving in the small scale!



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Hello Janel,


Thanks for the great start. I've kinda got the idea of what your saying, and with my limited tools and experience, perhaps I need a harder wood, like boxwood. I'll do a search and see if I can acquire some, perhaps trade the 7 blocks of basswood that I just bought! I've got a sharpening set coming in the mail so I cant wait for it to arrive. Also I was thinking for the smallest details, what is used? I've seen details so small that it seems only a needle could make them, but there is no blade on a needle, only a point. :blush: Perhaps dental tools? Thanks again. I'll be doing more research!!!

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Hi Kevin,


Thanks for the PM, and for this response. Please do use the SEARCH function and use "tools" for the keyword to begin your search. So many topics will pop up for you to read, that you might get a better sense of what others are using. There is unfortunately one single resource for tools. My first purchased set was from Dockyard, and that might be a place for you to start. Many other tools can be made by adapting dental tools, but the regular ends are not necessarily the best for wood carving. There is much one can do with all sorts of things. Read the topics and look through those archives for photos of the tools we all are using.



"I'll give a try to the basswood once again, but somehow even with the sharpest of tools, I'm doubting that I can get the needle point details that I desire. Ivory seems perfect, but wow is it expensive!!"


You are probably right that the needle point details are not to be found with basswood. You might try to find pear wood, or perhaps apple wood if you cannot get some boxwood right away. If you are where antique stores are, you might be able to find the old type blocks for printing, those hunks of wood backing the metal font face might be such a wood. That is just an idea, not a fact of knowledge. That wood had to be durable and reliable. It is not as hard as boxwood, but fruit woods were/are used in Europe for very detailed carvings.


Ivory is also something that I consider out of reach, so I won't carve it, though it is tremendously appealing. I have mammoth tusk ivory, which is now harder to find, but remains legal to own, use and sell.


Needles are made into tiny chisels and knives too! You will see images of my range of tools in your searching, and perhaps one or two others who have used them in that way.


Have fun,



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Hi CheekCarver

Welcome to the forum.

I would like to add one thing to Janel's instruction. Apart from carving away from yourself be very aware of where the tool may go during a mishap :D

As a suggestion, carve larger than netsuke size to get practice in carving before going small. Also trawl through this forum to see what and how and with what minature carvings are done.

Most of all carve safely and enjoy your carving :blush:


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Thanks Toothy! Great to get some responses here, I'll definitely take your advice, and try something a bit larger to start with. As soon as my sharpening kit arrives, I'll be able to cut into the basswood I have been eying. It is tough getting started, I don't have a work bench as I only rent the place I am staying at, so I'll be carving sitting at my chair or on the floor. Who knows, maybe one day I'll have a small workshop! (and of course give you guys a lot of credit!)

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Hi CheekCarver

I feel quite helpless sitting so faaar from where you are. You definitely need a bench of sorts to work at, sitting on the floor or at a table. Get/make a false top for a table (needn't be big), have somewhere to store your tools and sharpening kit close at hand, ensure you have GOOD light and some sort of support for your work. Look under tools, techniques etc for pictures of what other carvers use and improvise. There is just soooo much expertise and knowledge here that you will find what you need to get going. Wish I could help more!


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Thought it might be a good idea to add to this one...Ive carved a little Bass wood when I was over in the states a couple of years ago...Most of the caricature carvers use it.....They get superb detail as well...Maybe not quite as fine as some of the Netsuke carvers but you can do amazing carvings from it......Search on google images for some pics.....


One thing is for sure, most of the carvers use tools which are VERY sharp....this is the key to carving Bass...

I know you always need a good edge but even more so for the softer materials........

As soon as the edge is dulled the fibers will start to tear.....time to hone your tool again......sharpening your chisels just on a stone won't do the job so if you decide to have a go with the Bass wood they need to be like a razor.......


I think this is a great wood to start with, as I've said VERY a sharp tool is the key but not only that because it is so soft you can carve it quite quickly, at the same time getting to grips with technique....how to hold and use your tools....etc


I could go on more but will close for now....


have some FUN FUN FUN with the Bass before throwing you self at the Boxwood (which by the way is superb to carve)............remember very sharp tools.......and be careful.....


Must go now,, got to cut some Hippo with Yoda...... :blush: ....good luck......

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Hey, thanks for the additional advice guys. My sharpening stone kits came yesterday, and I began trying to carve the basswood again (going with the grain!) and it was actually carving pretty well, although quite slowly. My hands and arms got tired quickly from carving, as well as trying to keep the 6x6x8" block stable. My tools were sharpened pretty well, but I just couldn't seem to get that razor's edge, I'll have to work at that some more, thanks Russ.


At any rate, it was a good experience, and something I'll have to chip away at, no pun intended. I'll keep you guys up to date, and see if I can't load some pictures after I get going a little. I've really got a good start!


Oh by the way Toothy, I think a backboard would be a great idea, some kind of desk with a back-stop to keep the piece stable while I push on it. I'm rolling around on the floor trying to hold it with my feet and thighs - maybe its a new kind of exercise. :blush:

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Would like to help more on the sharpening side of things...A friend once said to me ...


I want to carve all day not Sharpen......I think it's good advice but you need to now how to do it right so you can get back to the carving


there are very simple and quick ways of getting the finest edge on you tools if you know how....


Could you tell me what tools you have at all...are they a brand name or one's you made your self...etc......


Pics would be good too....


Just to give you an example on the time it takes me to sharpen my chisels......ABOUT TEN SECONDS and then your ready to go again...This may take longer if you damage the end of your tool or alter the shape... can usually happen over long periods of use.........


That's not an exaggeration, it really is that quick.....then depending on what type of material your using because some woods dull your tools quicker than others around every 15 to 20 minutes or so you may need to touch your tool up again....


Anyway this is how long it takes me....some of the other members may do things different ....If you can let me know what you have to work with I'll try to give you some pointers.....


Once again good luck..and keep them sharp, ish.



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Your method of holding the block of wood sounds horribly dangerous !!! Do you realize how many veins and arteries are right where you would be catching that "only once" slip of the tool? Is there a tourniquet nearby while you are carving?


I really hope that you figure out a better way to do this, soon!


Now I am worried~



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Hi once agin..

........................found this link on Youtube...this is simular to the method I use...might be worth a look...it shows a product I had not seen before which has different shapes to suit different tools....this is not a sales plug more to give you the general idea...notice the wheel moving away form the person....


..you can also use the wheel on it's side which will work just as well.....



I use a normal grinder with the guards turned round so the wheel is running away from me...also I have changed the grinding wheels for a hard felt buff, putting a small amount of abrasive paste on it.....It's the same process as in the link but used a slightly different approch..........Remember though you're not doing any shaping with this process, just honing the end of you tool so you end up with a superb cutting edge.....this is what I meant by a razor finish....

This can of course be done by hand if you so wish but again may take slightly longer....


Hope Im not hitting you with too much information, good luck and have some fun................Russ


Janel advice sounds good....buy yourself a small vice to place your material in for now....or let a friend hold it for you ;) ...dont get me started on vices I need some sleep..


..link below.....




Talk soon .................zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz's

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Here is a picture of some of the tools I'm using and the used sharpening kit I bought. It seems to work well, but when scraping it along my finger it doesnt scratch my skin, so I'm sure it is sharp, but not razor sharp. I hope this link works.




I got these tools thinking they would be good for tiny details, but now that I have them, it seems they fit the basswood for the amount of detial they will bring. They are made in japan, and were some vintage tools. (the big chisel was .99 at the dollar store this week) I'm looking at purchasing a set of flexcut micro for about $50. They say they are for netsuke size details, does anyone think that is a waste of money?




Janel! Please do not worry. I'm very careful, and only carve away from myself or at angles that I would have to be really mad at myself to manage to get poked. My strokes are controlled and only medium pressure is used. My tools are so dull you really have nothing to worry about! ;) As long as I stay aware of how tired I am getting, I'll stop before I have an accident.


Sorry for getting back to you guys so late, I get off work late this week.

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I have a couple of those tools, and they are really for palm holding. They are not a tool that I would use all of the time, my choice. I have one V shaped veiner and one U shaped veiner, and have wrapped tape around the broad part of the blade metal, so that I can hold the tool closer to the work. I also reduced the size of the palm fitting handle. I have smaller hands I guess. I like fine control for my little pieces.


Here is a link to Dockyard tools at Woodcraft.com They are only some of the tools that I use, but my first set helped me to get started years ago, and some of the tools are still used with each carving.


You might want to purchase a really heavy or thick piece of leather to protect your legs. Hmmm, we recently saw a table top with thick leather surface with the rough side up for traction, and then a stepped, taped, block placed on it to use as a brace for the small works. The leather may serve to protect a table top as well as your legs and feet.



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I hone my tools by using a basic power type set up so this means some out lay...If you want me to place a post showing how I do things no problem....


Maybe try this idea first..........


Before committing you self this is a very easy and cheap way of getting an a decent edge on all

the different shaped tools you have...I've tried to search the forum but it wont let me use the letters MDF so Im not

sure if this idea has already been posted..........sorry if that's the case...


This method will get you an edge, but may be not quite as good as the power set up...When I've honed on the power system you can shave the hairs on you arms.

..maybe other places too but that's not for me to say...


materials you will need..................


Small piece of MDF....you can use a larger piece and add the tool impressions as you acquire more.....


Chrome cleaner or fine abrasive paste...the car body industry has many different products available

some much finer than others...I'm using basic Autosol......




1.....Make a long cut in a straight line down the length of you MDF...around 12 inches....

you may have to make 3 or 4 cuts to the required depth of your tool...try to keep that line nice and straight...


2.... Then place some autosol/paste in the channel...remove any excess...


Place your tool at the far end and at the required angle and pull towards you keeping the pressure on..

ALWAYS PULL >>ALWAYS PULL...keeping the tool level....


3.....Repeat this process as many times as you like until your happy with the edge......


resting your hand or finger on the MDF will help keep the chisel level, try not to lift off at the end to

early and roll the chisel as this tends to round the end off...


you can use all the different shapes in your tool bag, including the dreaded V tool.......using a larger

piece of MDF you can have all the shapes lined up next to each other ready for use...this is also portable so

can be used on the move..........


This is very basic but will give you a chance of a decent edge..


Flex cut actually sell something similar to this ....


If you can find a piece of leather thick enough the same idea can be used......


good luck with this ...let us know if you give it a go...



Good picture you posted...here's my advice...


The sharpening kit I'm not farmiliar with but I found this link on you tube...


It may be more for sharpening knives rather than the chisels you have.

I'm not 100% sure but some of the other members could help on this one.

You might be able to adapt the stones for the tools you have

and use them by hand once you gain confidence. ...Not too sure


Now onto your tools...The larger chisel from the .99 store I'd leave for

doing the locks on doors for now...may be a bit too big of Netsuke....


The other 4 you have are a good start...These can be used for the first stages where

You are removing larger pieces of material before moving on to the really fine shaping

and detail. they could be honed using the MDF idea...


The flexcut tools are ok...again I use this type but have placed the blade in

my own type of handle, you can buy the blades on their own....then cut the end off

and glue this into a piece of dowel..for me it makes a muck better tool...There

are other tools on the market, Janel mentioned ....DOCKYARD...they produce some small

sets of carving tools which again are good and you might find these a little finer

than the flexcut, be careful though as the steel is thinner on the dockyard tools and can

easily chip when using them on the harder woods.....the dockyard tools are what I've

used on the MDF.....


....Search the forum and the net to find the best prices...

There have been some posts recently on buying new tools....also some good links

for tool suppliers were added.....


Choosing tools is very personal, one carver will use something different to the next

and so on....


Once again if you want me to post how I hone my tools let me know.....


link to youtube demo on your sharpening kit below...plus pics of MDF




Bye for now. Russ..............


the pictures are not in the right order...sorry...i can never work this one out...byeeeee....


JUST REMEMBERED.....the inside of your tool may require touching up so again shape the MDF to suit and a couple of goes over the inside should remove any burr you may have created......










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Great ideas!


Safety is also very important to me, I guess I was a bit anxious to get started! I'll be searching for some type of protective cover for a work area and myself!


I checked out the website, free ground shipping! I think I'm sold on the 1.5mm micro set. Now, I just need some wood hard enough to handle the details. Thanks for all the advice, those tools look a lot better than what the flexcut set offers. Merci beaucoup.


Looks like you posted right before I was able to get mine in, Russ.


Hey, that is a lot of great info. The MDF is a neat way to sharpen without using a power tool. The pictures are really great as well. Thanks so much for all the help, I really think you guys are a big help around here. It can be frustrating being new to something, and having to learn the hard way each step you take.


This thread is really a good one for getting started. Hopefully, there wasn't one just recently posted and I am having you guys repeat yourselves. ;) The basic information here covers, wood material, work area, tools, and sharpening...(lets not forget safety) - a really great start.

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You will not go wrong buying either type mentioned...the only thing that I could add is what I touched on before, the flexcut are a little more robust, slightly thicker on the end .....a friend was using the dockyard recently and she chipped 2 of them....a little more difficult to do this with the felxcut.......as you can see it's the usual compromise...


When making any type of cut on wood remember to follow through with the chisel right tull the end, dont stop half way and try to prise the wood out....this will elliminate the chance of chipping the end of your tool...


Look forward to seeing you work..



just found the flexcut...honing kit...around $12....I think its a little to short.......better with the extra length if you use your own...no pun intended...


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