The Sculpture Channel

Tools for Letter Carving

Basic Tools for Letter Carving

We often get asked what tools are needed to start out with letter carving.

Luckily, letter carving is not as complex as ornamental or figurative sculpture, so the tools you’ll need are not too many. At least to start out, there’s always time to expand your beginners set in a later stage.

Read below what tools we recommend you invest in when beginning with the art of letter carving.

1. Hammer

The round steel mallet is the ideal hammer for carving letters.  The standard one is fitted with a steel head but there are other versions fitted with copper or brass heads instead of steel. These metals are softer than steel and will thus result in a softer and more delicate touch. Letter carving hammers like these start at 300 gr and go up to 1kg, but the general standard one is about 450 gr.

2. Flat Chisels

As most chisels, also flat chisels come in either with a hardened steel cutting edge or a carbide tipped one. The choice for opting for one or the other will be dictated by the type of stone you are carving one. For soft stones, you can use hardened steel chisels. Whereas for hard stones it is advisable to go with the carbide tipped ones. To start out just two or three sizes will suffice. For example one with a cutting edge of 5 mm wide and another of 8 or 10 mm. As a general rule, the width of the cutting edge, should be slightly wider than the width of the stem of the letters you are carving.  

3. Sharpening Stone

Having perfectly sharp chisels is essential when letter carving. The best way to maintain your chisels sharp is by regularly sharpen them onto a sharpening stone. You can do this also mechanically, on a bench grinder, but this power tool will not give you the same fine control over the edge of the chisel as the sharpening stone.  Sharpening stone are basically flat stones onto which a diamond sanding paper has been attached. They come in different sizes and the grit of the sanding paper changes as well. There are also other types of sharpening tools such as metal plates with diamond powder embedded into them, and they also come at different grits. Lastly, there are the more traditional sharpening natural stones which are more commonly used for sharpening scissors, knives and wood carving chisels, but you can also use them to sharpen your stone carving chisels. 

4. Safety

Of course, don’t forget safety. When carving with stone you need to protect yourself from many hazards. For example, when carving, sharp chips of stone might fly off the main block and injure you. Also small pieces of metal might chip off the tools, especially if you’re using power tools. A good pair of protective goggles are indispensable. You also have dark shades, which are very useful, when carving outdoors so that the reflection of the sun on the white stone will not bother you. The general dust masks that you find in the stores are not suited for the fine particles of dust that usually comes of stones, so we strongly recommend using dust masks with interchangeable filters and preferably of the type PFF3. You also need some ear protective gear to spare your ears from the high frequency sounds generated by the hammer hitting the chisels or by the other power tools. And don’t forget safety shoes with a steel tip, they are indispensable for protecting your toes from anything falling on your feet.

5. Easel

For letter carving, you need some strong sturdy easels. A strong painter’s easel is great for the job. Alternatively, you can build your own. The drawings below provide some design options that you can easily make or have someone make them for you. It is important that the horizontal support onto which the stone will be place is adjustable in height so that you can work both standing or sitting. The height at which you should place the stone will be dictated by the size of the stone. The “A” type easel, is very easy to make and suited for small to medium sized stones. Whereas if you are planning to carve heavier stones, it is advisable to go with a stronger easel such as the rectangular one or a strong painter’s easel. Check these templates for inspiration. Just don’t forget that it’s important to have an easel with adjustable heights. 

6. Pencil

This is used to draw out the letters onto the stone. We recommend a pencil of medium hardness such as HB/#2.

7. Carbon Paper

Depending on the type of stone that you are using, you might need either white or black carbon paper. This is necessary to transfer the letters onto the stone. The template for the letters is provided in the downloadable PDF’s found inside the letter carving course

If you wish to purchase any of the tools and equipment mentioned here above, you can do this by clicking on the button below. It will redirect you to our partner De Beeldhouwwinkel.

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How to Sharpen Flat Chisels.

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What is Carbide actually?

A brief introduction into carbide and its use in stonecarving.

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