Chip carvings 1, 2 and 3. Advice?

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Project by BrentKistner posted 05-16-2015 05:05 AM 1398 views 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch

So, my grandfather was an exceptional wood worker, and was fond of the the first design (on walnut) and I had a bit of downtime so I figured that I would have a go at duplicating it. I had a set of cheap carving “knives” that I figured would get the job done… it turns out that they were initially terrible, so I reprofiled a couple of them and got much better results, but still not the super clean, well polished look that I was wanting to achieve. I realize that there is a learning curve to this as well, but I am surprised at how amateur-ish these look. If any of you have suggestions as to better carving tools as far as name brands to look for, sizes and shapes most frequently used etc, please feel free to chime in. I would love to hear from those with more experience than I have.

Either way, this little exercise is a real humbling experience. Lessons learned/reaffirmed on knowing your grain, being steady and patient, and making sure that the tools are shaving sharp…also, the difference between materials is really surprising. So far Cherry is my favorite to carve on. It seems less prone to tear out, even with my very basic/beginner skills. lol

Thanks for looking, ladies and gents.

-- "Out of the darkness back into the darkness- affairs of the cat."

3 comments so far

View thechipcarver's profile


223 posts in 1781 days

#1 posted 05-16-2015 01:27 PM

Pretty good for your 1st, 2nd and 3rd try.

First off, practice and patience is the key to chip carving. By looks of the pictures you have that.

Second, get the right tool. Notice that “tool” is not plural. All the chip carving that I do is with one knife. Over the years I have tried many different brands of chip carving knives. Flexcut, Helvie and even Wayne Barton but I have found, in my opinion, the best chip carving knife is a John Dunkle knife.

John Dunkle makes his knives with a thinner blade. You can see one of his knives in my profile picture. This makes it have more flexibility, so you can make smoother cuts. Also, notice the angle of the blade. A chip carving knife has to have that angle to make clean cuts. Only problem I have found is buying the knives. Very few dealers carry his knives. I buy mine at the carving shows were he sets up.

Hope this helps and remember this is just my two cents. Trial and error is the only way you are going to find knives that fit you.

-- While teaching a class, a gentlemen once asked me: "When chip carving an intricate design, what do you do when you are almost finished and the wood breaks off?" I replied "Cover the kids ears."

View BrentKistner's profile


38 posts in 2138 days

#2 posted 05-16-2015 01:37 PM

Thank you for your reply.

I think that was a large part of the problem that I was running into. The blade thicknesses on the carving knives I have are quite thick, a solid 3/32” and they just seemed “clunky” to me. The one that I had the best luck with was an evenly rounded tip chisel point, basically a flat gouge.. and while it removed material in a fairly controlled way, it required a ton of adjusting for grain, rotating into the cuts etc. I fear that I might have to go on a tool buying spree and grab a few good knives and try it again.

-- "Out of the darkness back into the darkness- affairs of the cat."

View Woodbutcher3's profile


449 posts in 3090 days

#3 posted 05-17-2015 07:23 PM

KNIVES: There are a ton of knives out there. I have at least 10 different styles. Thin blades help but they need strength if you don’t want them to bent. I have some knives that I use because they flex as I do curves. The knives I use most come from Dennis Moore of Chipping Away and Wayne Barton ofB Alpine school of Carving. Dennis makes a smaller knife that is good for detail carving. I like the ones on and there is some great info there, too. He is on LJ as well.
WOOD: Basswood is the King of light woods for chip carving. Wood does not control the blade. No competing grain. Butternut is the Queen. Butternut is dark like walnut and is easier to carve.
FINISH: I use gel stains. Clear on basswood turns to a nice honey color. Gel stains also won’t show the glue for any boo boo corrects with glue.
SUPPLIES & BOOKS: Barton, Moore, McKinzee & Leenhouts

-- Rod ~ There's never enough time to finish a project, but there's always time to start another one.

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