Top 10 Carving Tools
for Beginner Carvers
Top 10 Carving Tools
for Beginner Carvers
One of the most popular questions that we get asked is “What tools are needed to start stone Carving?”
There is no straightforward answer to this question because it depends on what kind of project you want to make. Are going to primarily be working with soft limestone, marble, or granite? Are you going to make small sculptures or large ones? Do you want to carve letters, ornaments architectural stone masonry, sculptures in the full round, or maybe all the above?
So in this article, we will touch on all these points and show you which tools are better for what type of project. You’re going to read you about hammers, chisels, rasps, files, squares, measuring tools, cutting tools, basically all the tools that you need to know about.
At the end of this article you will find a list for the bare minimum starter package to get you set up and start making sculptures.
So let’s jump right in and see what basic tools are needed to start stone carving!
1. Club Hammer
There is the standard club hammer, of which the stone carving version is characterized by a slightly bent head on its sides that facilitates the carving movement. This hammer is basically used for general sculpture and is available in different sizes and weights: They can start at 400 grams and can go up to 2,5 Kg, but the general standard one is of about 750 gr.
2. Round Steel Mallet
Then you have the round steel mallet, this is mandatory if you’re planning to carve letters or small details like ornaments. 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.
1. Stonemasonry Mallet
And then you have the larger rubber mallet, this is the modern version of the more traditional wooden mallet, and this hammer is used mainly for stone masonry purposes. Stonemasonry hammers are available in a few shapes and sizes and can start at 350 gr up to 2 Kg.
A club hammer is the hammer that you need the most when beginning to carve stone. But again, if you are planning to carve letters and smaller details you need a small round steel mallet.
There are basically four main types of stone carving chisels.
2. Tooth Chisels
Toothed chisels are the most variegated chisels out there: they can range from having a cutting edge of just a couple of millimiters with two teeth up to bigger chisels with a cutting edge of two or two and a half centimetre with 12 or even 15 teeth. Also the shape of the teeth can vary, they can be either flat or pointed.
All these chisels come at different sizes, and you should pick one according to the size of the work you are carving. They are also fashioned in two type of metals: hardened steel or carbide. The hardened steel chisels are mostly used for softer limestones and softer marbles. If you want to carve on harder types of marbles or even harder stones such as granite or basalt you definitely need carbide tipped chisels.
For a more extensive discussion of each type of these chisels check out our other videos that discuss each one of them at length (links below).
3. Sharpening Stones
But chisels alone are not enough, you need to maintain and sharpen them too, and you can do this either mechanically, on a bench grinder, or you can sharpen them manually on sharpening stones. These are basically just 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 and knives and wood carving chisels, but you can also use them to sharpen your stone carving chisels.
4. Rasps and Files
Rasps and Files Rasps and files are used to finish off your sculpture and to remove all the chisel marks. As usual, they all come in different sizes and shapes and materials. There are very aggressive and coarse rasps that are embedded with hard metals, and they scrape off a lot of stone. Then there are more delicate ones like diamond files. Then there are rasps made of hardened steel, these are very good for removing chisel marks and giving a nice texture on the stone. And then you have smaller diamond files, which are usually used for the final touches. Given their finishing purpose, rasps and files differ a lot from each other in term of material, size and shape. And the diamond ones can get very expensive. It can get very frustrating choosing only one or two rasps to begin with. The good news is that you don’t really need them when you’re starting out. But if you’re curious and you want to try them, we would recommend starting with the smaller ones. They’re also cheaper so the investment is not that big, and you can get a good feeling of what they do and then decide if you want the larger ones. Both for the metal rasps and the files, we would recommend you going for the Italian handmade ones. They’re beautiful, and everyone we know strongly recommends them as well.
5. Measuring Tools
Measuring tools In order to work precisely, perhaps when you’re making an exact copy of a sculpture, or when you’re working on some stone masonry commission, you definitely need some measuring tools. What you’ll need are a couple of squares, preferably of the type with a horizontal plate at their bottom, so that they stand by themselves. That makes working with them much more comfortable. Furthermore you’ll need some callipers. They also come in different shapes and sizes. There are callipers with rounded arms which are great for measuring outside measurements such as the width of a head, the distance between eyes, etc. The problem with rounded callipers is that they take a lot of space, and if the shape that you want to measure is embedded deep into a larger shape, the calliper might not reach that point. That’s when callipers with straight arms come in handy. These are great for measuring shapes that are embedded within a narrow space. Another type of callipers has straight arms but their end are slightly bent. These are great for measuring things in narrow spaces as the straight callipers, but if you keep pushing their two arms passed each other, they become ideal for measuring negative spaces.
6. Power Tools
Power Tools What we have discussed so far were the most traditional tools for carving stone by hand, but if you want to upgrade and feel that you are ready to tackle larger projects, then you will need to invest in some power tools and one of the most essential power tools for stone carvers is an angle grinder. It usually comes is two different sizes. The larger one, with cutting discs with a diameter of 230 mm, and the smaller one, with cutting discs with a diameter of 150mm. They are great for cutting stone and they really speed up the process of removing material. But if you change the cutting discs with other types, you can also use them to shape the stone, sand it down, and even polish it.
7. Pneumatic Tools
Pneumatic Tools The next upgrade that you might want to make to speed up your process is investing in power tools such as pneumatic hammers. But in order to operate these ones you will also need to invest in a compressor. It can get quite expensive very quickly, so we would suggest you delay the decision to invest in such tools until you are sure that you want to engage with stone carving in a more professional way. But let’s talk briefly about it. Pneumatic hammers come in many sizes depending on the purpose that you use them for. For letter carving, small ornaments, or precise details, you can use small pneumatic hammers. While for large sculptures you will need to use bigger ones. They are between 250 or 400 Euro a piece, so they are quite expensive, but on the other hand, they can last a lifetime and save you a lot of time.
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.
Furniture For carving stone, you need some strong sturdy tables. There are professional metal tables that you can find in stores, and they are wonderful as they are on wheels and their height in adjustable. But if you want to save some money, you can start by purchasing a sturdy workbench made from wood, or perhaps make one yourself. We suggest you carve standing up and not sitting down, this will allow you to move around the sculpture very easily when carving. If you want to begin with letter carving, painters’ easels are great for placing your stone but here again, there are many options for making your own carving easel. Check these templates for inspiration. Just don’t forget that it’s important to have an easel with adjustable heights.
The information above is a lot and we understand that purchasing all these tools would amount to a serious investment. So, if you’re just starting out, allow us to reduce all this information to the bare minimum starting package to get you set up and start making sculptures without a too big of an initial commitment. If you are curious about stone carving and you want to see how it feels to carve stone without a too big of a financial commitment all you need are the tools here below. Let’s go over them very quickly:
Regarding the chisels, since you are probably beginner and are not going to work directly on marble but on softer limestones we would suggest would go with hardened steel chisels, they are also cheaper than the carbide versions. All you need is one point chisel (12/14 mm). A four-teeth tooth chisel with a cutting edge of about 14 to 16 millimetres. Go for the flat teeth instead of the pointed teeth. First of all, because it’s nicer to work with those and the texture that they leave behind on the stone is beautiful to look. One simple round chisel with a cutting edge somewhere between 8 and 12 millimetres And the same goes for a flat chisel.
Last but not least, you will need a sharpening stone. You don’t need to go for the large, a small one is enough, with a grid of 200 or 400.
All this set with either one of these hammers would cost you somewhere around 100 Euros, so that’s not too expensive. Of course you need to add the expenses of the stone. Such a set will allow you to start out with stone carving and see if it’s something for you. From there on, you can start building up your collection of tools. Getting into stone carving can be confusing and intimidating but we hope that the information above has cleared some things up for you. Don’t forget to check out our on-and offline courses that we especially designed for beginner stone carvers
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