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Buying new tools (to start carving with)


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I am new here and would like to start carving. I've been reading a few books on carving from the library but these seem to be based on larger works.


I am more interested in netsuke size works.


I live on an island and normally buy things from the web. I've found some contenders for tools but would like some opinions first before I spend cash on possibly irrelevant tools.


This is what I was planning on buying (all from axminster dot co dot uk):


-- Sloyd 120SB Carving Knife

Overall length 157mm, blade length 49mm. Supplied with sheath.


Henry Taylor Block Cutting Tools

A range of ten tools especially suited to finely detailed woodcarving, wood block cutting or linoleum. Used held in the palm of the hand, a flat on the rear of the bulbous handle prevents the tool rolling off the bench the moment it is put down. Blades 4 1/2" long.

-- 6 sweep straight (1/8" [3mm])

-- 9 sweep straight (1/8" [3mm])

-- No. 39 Vee tool (1/16" [1.5mm])


(I was planning on buying these three and then adding to them when I have earnt more money - there is also a set of Kirschen Palm Carving chisels but I am a bit scared by sets of things as I hear you might not use them.)


-- King japanese waterstone 1000/6000 G combination stone (do you use oil with this after soaking the stone in water ?)


-- Japanese Nagura stone


And a scraper set, some 0000 wire wool, some danish oil and some wax... oh and some or their wood spindles (mostly 2" square by 12" or 3" square by 12").


Quite alot to buy but I am keen to get carving.


If anyone can offer any advice on the practicalities of these tools I would be grateful.



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Hello Edward and welcome.


In general, it looks like you have selected some very useful tools. It is rather hard for someone else to make a judgement as tool use is such a personal issue. I relaize that's not terribly helpful, but it does seem that you have a general idea how to proceed. I would suggest diving into our rather meaty selection of posts in "Tools & Technical", especially one thread called "Sources for Tools" on page 2 of Tools & Technical.


There is a lot of info on carving netsuke size objects if you browse through the posts and use the search function. I would recommend Tom Sterlings excellent tutorial on his Sockeye Salmon netsuke which can be found Here


One decicion you will have to make is whether to use power tools or not. Again this is a personal choice based on inclination and preference. Most of us use a combination of power and hand tools.

There are those that refrain from power tools and those that find them useful.


I would recommend perusing the material in the forum and then not hesitating to ask more specific questions.

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Also, in general, I think the English tools are fine, but if I were starting up fresh I would probably mostly buy the best Japanese tools I could afford. The best ones are made by small, mostly family run smiths. Here are some from Japan Woodworker HERE


I've seen testing in Fine Woodworkin magazine on chisels and plane blades and the Japanese tools consistently come out ahead. This is of course a generalization.

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Many thanks for replying - yes, I admit I was looking for a 'silver bullet' ... a sort of desert island tools... if you were stuck on an island with only three tools which would they be :)


Anyway, I know it is pretty personal and I will get reading and then try to find the tools that I think that I might need.


As for the waterstone with oil, I too assumed that you just use water but then noticed an article by Zoe Gertner in 'Woodcarving' magazine that states that you should soak your waterstone in water and then use liberal amounts of 'lubrication'. I've used oilstones before but not waterstones. Anyway I'll read some more about that too.


In the meantime does anyone have any opinions of the follwoing ?


Kirschen Micro tools


(I think these look like good tools - made in Germany - and maybe the steel is better than the HT English ones ? But again I am dazzled by the choice - once again I would have to narrow it down to three.)


Kirschen Palm tools


(These look ok and come in a set for a reasonable amount of money. I am no sure how useful some of the tools in the set are though.)


Henry Taylor Super Sharp Set


(These are cheaper than anything else but I feel it would be a false economy and am not keen on them - but maybe they would give me a cheap way of starting and I could learn what I like and upgrade later to Japanese tools. Kind of wish I had started earlier... I lived in Hokkaido for two years and there were some excellent small shops selling tools - I did get a good sushi bocho though:))


Henry Taylor Block Cutting tools


(The ones I initially thought to buy - well I'll get reading now... thanks for any input.)


Thanks for your help.


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I keep my water stones in water. When in use, I place them on a folded facial tissue (like puffs or kleenex) to catch the drips, or a non skid web product. The nagura stone gets dipped into a jar of water which I keep on the bench, and the little bit of water assists making a slight slurry on the stone. The slurry assists the sharpening process by keeping the metal that is removed from sticking to the whet stone.


Does anyone know if the nagura stone is just plaster? (That is my theory, not acquired knowledge.)


I think the water stone indicates use with water only. The stones in general are WHET stones. I am not sure if stones for use with oil are called oil stones, but when purchased, there must be an indication if it is to be used with either water or oil. Some oil stones come impregnated with oil already and benefit by fresh oil applications when in use. The already oiled stone reduces the amount of preparation needed using a new stone. Do not mix the stones up with the wetting agents. I do not think that they are interchangeable.


There must be web sites available that will illustrate the differences.


The Kirschen tools, the micro carving tools are interesting to me. I wish that the images were larger. They do look expensive from this side of pond, if one tool is £14-15 each. Isn't the US dollar amount about double of the £? I would have to see the tools to make my selections.


The palm tools, I have purchased sets, and do have some I do not use, though there are some that after a few years of storage, some not earlier selected for use have found their way onto my bench. My hands are smaller than the men's hands these tools are likely geared for, so I have split off the palm bulges to make a narrower grip. It works for me, but if the tool were very expensive, I might have left the handle intact.


Making choices. Hmmm. My bench has a choice of tool types from about 3/8" to 1mm in width. Even smaller with the needle-oval scraper/gouges I've made. Basic shapes are flat chisel, skew chisel, gouges in various degrees of shallow to deep, left and right orineted scrapers, small v-tools, and a variety of self-made tools which you can see in a photo on my web site. My bench carries a load of tools most used and the rest are standing in containers at the back of the bench top.


I think that no one can make the final choices for you. From the beginning, you will be making choices and adding to your inventory as you need more tools. Learning how to make the tools is a great asset. There is some discussion here on TCP about that, but it is an area that could become active again when folks want to contribute there.


Thanks for the links to the tool sites. It is good to see more offerings.

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Those are both well respected brands. I used a Kirschen(Two Cherries) chisel for years(lost in fire)

and found it quite adequate. If you're thinking of three different shapes I would recommend a

flat-skew(if you bevel it on both sides it can be both left and right), a rather shallow sweep gouge,

and a v-tool or veiner.

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as I am on the road right now, this will be a quick reply.

I do NOT recommend using oil with Japanese stones.

Only water. Oil will tend to clog the stone.


The combination king stone is a very good starting stone and will work for many years as long as it's taken care of properly and kept flat.

For the money you can't beat it. If budget allows there are better stones, but it's a good one to work with in the beginning.


I will go through the thread in the next couple of days and see if I can suggest a few more things on sharpening. Maybe a guide on Japanese waterstones if it's of interest.




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Here is a link to the Japanese long handled carving tools I was trying to find to recommend. The palm tools are fine, but if your work is very firmly held, you can hold these tools with two hands and really carve away. The laminated steel in these is really excellent and apparently they are used by professional wood-block print carvers in Japan.


They are expensive, but you'll remember the quality long after the extra 5 bucks is forgotten.


Japan Wdwrkr

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Thanks - Toscano I read an interesting article over at woodblock.com on waterstones and their care which clarified things. I'll go ahead and get the King composite stone.


I was hoping to buy everything from the one shop to keep postage costs down and so on. Still a toss up between the Kirschen Palm tools, the Kirschen Micro tools, and the Henry Taylor block cutting tools.


Jim I like the look of the Japanese ones that you mention (Michi carving tools) but am not sure of the implications of ordering them from the California shop (I have sent them an email asking for potential shipping costs and preferred payment).





Here is the link:



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I can vouch for the quality of the Michi carving chisels. I've purchased a left-handed skew and a V tool from Japan Woodworker. Both hold their edge a very long time relative to other knives and chisels I have. The length and narrowness of the handle takes a little while getting used to, but not much of a deal really. I wrapped some leather around one to bulk it out.

Even in tight spaces where you're sure you abused the blade and chipped it :) , it has strength and resiliency and withstands accidental punishment.

Very much worth the money. I'll be ordering a right handed skew soon too.


Also, Hida Tools in California carries the same line, plus one that seems to be an even better quality of steel.

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Hi Doug - thanks for the information. Do you meen the Hasekatsu tools ?




The sets of five look quite good (either Michi or Hase) or maybe even an investment in the set of ten... again I wonder if I would use all of them... but if you have them then you could try to use them :)


Japan Woodworker will ship to me in Europe and accept standard Visa and other cards (for info in case there are any other euro carvers out there considering tools.)


Time to search for some Japanese tools in the UK and also find out if Hida tools will ship to me here...




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Also found these :


Kaneharu carving tools



(They seem to have a good range from 1.5mm / 3mm / 4.5mm / 6mm etc)



What is a good size range to go for ? 1.5mm and 3mm ?


(I know I am asking alot of questions but I have been reading too :) And in a while maybe I will be able to answer some questions in return ...)



Dieter Schmid - Fine Tools



(Good selection of tools in general)


Maybe these...

Micro carving tools at the bottom (http://www.fine-tools.com/bildhau9.htm)



Baren Mall



(Range of Japanese wood block tools)

Maybe the Shimizu student set ?

(Bottom of page http://www.barenforum.org/mall/products/other_knives.php) This seems like a good shop and I would imagine it might be easy to find something that could not otherwise be found.


The rest of the Shimizu tools look good (Shimizu but maybe in the future when I have more cash and know what I would like to buy.



By the way I notice that alot of the tools are for block carving/printing.

What would a traditional netsuke carver have used ? Surely there must be some specific tools like any other craft ? Just curious...


Can anyone compare the Shimizu ones to the Michi and the Hase ones ?


It looks like a 20 note will get you a good tool....


Thanks for any opinions - Ed

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Get in touch with David Bull- he's the guy who has posted woodblock.com, and organizes quite a bit of the Baren Mall. He's bound to have an email address on that site somewhere.

He's a printmaker in the Japanese tradition- cuts, and prints his work. I subscribed to his prints the past year and they're of very high quality.


Although he does not carve 3-D, I would imagine he'll have an opinion about the various Japanese tool brands Michi, Kaneharu and others.


p.s. I use both a 3mm and a 1.5 mm double bevel chisel almost constantly (Dockyard brand). I haven't felt a need to go higher- my general carving knife takes care of things on that scale. Other may feel differently, of course :)

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Thanks Doug - I just mailed David to get an idea - also a very kind woman from the Baren Mall said that they post anywhere and absorb the postage costs if it goes over... not too often do you meet altruistic people.


Looks like I may choose from the Baren Mall selection .. very keen to get started and need to make something for next week (a very basic idea...)


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After reading about the tools that some use and checking the web . I went to a tool supplier that I have used in the past. I ordered a set of knives that are on the monthly special and a set of 2mm carving set.

Dockyard Handcrafted Micro Carving Knives Fish Tail Knife, Undercut Knife, and Skew Knife

The 2mm Dockyard Standard Micro Carving Tool Set includes 5 tools, a deep plough, paring tool, v-parting tool, u gouge, and skew. I think I did ok with the Price and selection. This is the link MHC any comments will be welcomed. :)

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Bit the bullet and ordered :


Shimizu tools


3mm hangitoh (skew)

3mm komasuki (gouge)

3mm sankakutoh (vee)



And thought I'd try a shallower smaller gouge too...


Shinkichi tools


Marutoh no2 1.5mm (very shallow gouge)



To be honest it is hard to make a choice but I think I have made a sound one by buying a few decent tools.


The sizes were hard to pick but I figured on buying 3mm tools and as my work gets better maybe buying some 2mm or 1.5mm tools.


Not sure why but I didn't buy the bull-nose chisel (hiratoh)...


Ed (sourcing some nice offcuts from a mate who has a wood shop :blink: )


(Thanks for all your help and information.)

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When much younger, I owned a litho press - weighed a ton (literally) - that I used to do copper engravings with. I had a set of palm tools for engraving similar to the wood carving tools you mentioned. I hated the tools because I found the apparently ergonomic palm-shaped handles weren't that at all. I eventually went away to college and the press was sold when my mother closed her house there, but I'll never forget how inconvenient I found those rounded handles were to use.


Just one man's opinion.



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  • 2 weeks later...


You indicated that you might buy the set of ten chisels from Hida.

I bought that same set a year or so ago and can give you more info if you want (including more detailed pics).

General comments on the tools are:

Good steel. Take a little time to sharpen but keeps an edge.

Some of the tools (especially the v chisels) needed to have the shape redefined. The two faces weren't symmetrical enough. That didn't please me a lot as tweaking v-shaped tools just isn't my forte :D

The handles were comfortable for my hands, if a little light in weight.

As with most sets, there'll be tools you use less often that others.


I'd also check Don Fogg's tutorial for making micro-chisels out of music wire.

Might be a good and much cheaper solution.


If you do decide to buy the Hida set I can go and pick them up/ship them myself (I live down the road) so I can take a better look at the set to make sure they're properly ground....


-t :lol:

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Thanks for the tips about the 10-pc set sold by Hida. I'm just about decided on how to spend some of my ill-gotten gains from a recent show. I'll get in touch if I decide to go with those.

The tools would be for larger scale, relief carvings and other work around the "shop" aka the third bedroom :lol: . Micro-size not needed.

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Edward, I think you did well to order the Japanese tools. They are excellent tools even if a bit pricey. Always buy the best tools you can afford and you will never regret it. I have a fairly extensive set of pfeil (Swiss Made) tools and they are extremely good for my carving. Just for snix and grins, go to www.capeforge.com and look at their mini-set. Good for travel (not air travel!). English tools are also very good but the English tend not to properly sharpen the tool they sell you. They all need a good honing and stropping to be used. One thing that you absolutely learn to do is to sharpen your tools. Do a google search for "scarey sharp" and read this page! A water stone is the first step but you will need a strop to finish polishing the edges.

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