All About Gouges – Beginner Lesson #3

2017-05-23T16:36:06-04:00 June 28th, 2012|

basic tool selection

This video explains how gouges are numbered, the difference between fishtail gouges and straight gouges, different brands of tools, and how to get started with a basic set of gouges.

  • Lesson Contents: single episode, Guide to Beginner Lessons, Guide to Carving Tools, and Recommended Tool Suppliers
  • Skill Level:Β Basic


  1. Murray Potts July 25, 2014 at 11:22 pm - Reply

    I am very impressed with your wood carving lessons I have been working with wood for many years as a hobbyist and I am keen to get into wood carving I have read some books and bought some videos but your videos are the best I have found starting with the basics and then building the skills sets.
    The question I have is what brand of carving chisels do you use / recommend. While live in Australia I do buy a lot of my wood tools from Lee Valley in Canada as they are a very reliable supplier. They have two brands Henry Taylor & Hirsch but the selection dose align with your recommended beginners list. And they only have a couple of fish tale gouges. I am a very tall person (6’6″) with large hands to match so I do not want something with handles that are too small. And I do appreciate quality it tools.

    Murray Potts (Down under)

    • Murray Potts July 26, 2014 at 3:00 am - Reply


      With regards to the above message, I am on to it, I went to your links page and noticed the Woodcraft link. Have gone with the pfeil Swiss made. They have a huge selection; I ordered as per your beginners list and look forward to getting started.

      Regards Murray

      • Mary May July 29, 2014 at 12:10 pm - Reply

        That’s great. Happy carving!

    • Mary May July 29, 2014 at 12:09 pm - Reply

      Hello Murray,
      Thanks so much for your encouraging feedback.

      Tools are very difficult (and often difficult to find those perfect shapes). You may want to try Pfeil brand from Switzerland or Stubai brand from Austria. I’m not sure what their process is or how costly it would be to ship to Australia. Pfeil has almost all of the recommended sizes in fishtail. Hopefully within the next few months there will be fishtails available through Lie-Nielsen and Auriou. Just don’t know how long that will take for them to start production of them.

      Have fun shopping!

      • Murray Potts August 6, 2014 at 8:42 am - Reply

        Hello Mary
        Have purchased the Pefeil gouges from Woodcraft in the USA, delivery to Australia was about a week. The quality of the steel looks and sounds good and they seem to sharpen easy enough. Just have to finish a couple of small projects and I will attempting the donut and flower. I will let you know how it goes.

  2. bob dubasik July 31, 2014 at 2:29 pm - Reply


    I noticed you using the Stubai gouges. How do you like them and due they stay sharp?


    • Mary May July 31, 2014 at 3:32 pm - Reply

      I do like Stubai. They hold a good edge. I think in my collection I mostly have Dastra, Pfeil (Swiss Made) & Stubai. Usually any European made gouges are good quality.

      • bob dubasik July 31, 2014 at 7:11 pm - Reply

        Thanks and I enjoy your classes.


  3. Allen Townsend November 24, 2014 at 10:07 pm - Reply

    I am trying to build my collection of gouges. I have a basic set of 6 gouges which is a good “getting started” set. I have an opportunity to get some #11 veining gouges, 3mm, 7mm, 10mm. I have not done a lot of carving, and I am wondering what type of carving these gouges are best suited for. Do you you use this type of gouge. Any comments or suggestions you have would be appreciated.

    Thank you,
    Allen Townsend

    • Mary May November 24, 2014 at 11:14 pm - Reply

      I think the main place I use veiners (#11 gouges) is when I carve acanthus leaves. I often use the #11, 3mm or 4mm for making the “eyes” and “pipes” (many more of these videos to come in the next year). I don’t have anything larger than a 5mm, so I personally wouldn’t spend the money on the 7mm and 10mm, unless you are planning on carving very large architectural acanthus leaves. Large veiners can also be used for hogging out a lot of wood (where I would probably use a #8). One reason I would stay away from using these for doing a lot of real hefty carving is that they are difficult to sharpen. They are shaped like a “U”, so the movement of sharpening is a little odd. They have a curved base, but also have flat sides. I have a video on sharpening these, so you may want to look at this to see the difference.

      Hope this helps and happy shopping!

  4. Allen Vogel December 29, 2014 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    Hello Mary,
    I have enjoyed your beginner lessons very much. I have been following you on You Tube until I found this site.
    It is my birthday today and i am going to spend some money on Pfeil as I don’t have alot of patients with ordering online, plus there is a Woodcraft store near me.
    So with Pfeil and v-chisels, they seem to categorize them as v-Parting and they are numbered in terms of a sweep. I would like to follow your recommendation with the 60deg, so what sweep would that be or am I looking at the wrong chisels? Would there be another name? Also, if I look at the charts close, some appear to be sharp corner and other sweeps look like there is a radius. I have seen your video on sharpening v-chisels and from that I learned that the radius is a good thing.
    So I guess my question is, what Pfeil v-chisel do you recommend?

    • Mary May December 29, 2014 at 1:38 pm - Reply

      Hello Allen,
      The v-chisels I used from Woodcraft are number 12. Then you just need to specify a 6mm, #12. That should be the 60 degree angle with a slight radius.

      Glad you’re enjoying the videos! Happy Birthday!

  5. Thomas Morehead January 14, 2015 at 12:42 pm - Reply


    Wonderful online school you’ve got here! I was wondering if you’ve ever heard of two cherries brand tools and what your thoughts are about them? The reviews are hit and miss but the price is in line with that of Pfeil so I thought I would try here. This question really goes out to anyone who may have purchased or used this brand.

    • Mary May January 17, 2015 at 8:54 pm - Reply

      Hello Thomas,
      I am familiar with “two cherries” tools, but I do not have many. When I have had a chance to use them (students bring them to class on occasion), they seemed like good quality tools, and have not heard anything negative.

      Hope this helps. Glad you’re enjoying the online school!

  6. Alexandros Stefanidis February 27, 2015 at 11:38 am - Reply

    Hi Mary,

    I am thinking taking up woodcarving. Any European tool supplier that is good?

    • Mary May March 2, 2015 at 8:03 am - Reply

      There are several – Dastra (German), Stubai (Austrian), Pfeil (Swiss Made), Two Cherry (I think German), Hirsch (German).

  7. Alexandros Stefanidis February 27, 2015 at 11:51 am - Reply

    Also doing a bit of research regarding wood, I found out that basswood is good
    for starters and not only.
    Regarding Mahogany (American?) It’s mainly used for interior decoration of ships.
    Cedar is excellent and expensive wood used for woodcarving.
    Walnut is also used for woodcarving.
    Cypress wood is mainly used for chests and temples.

    • Mary May March 2, 2015 at 8:06 am - Reply

      My favorite lately is walnut for furniture carving. Basswood is really best for beginning carving and not for furniture – it is too soft to build anything with. Mahogany can be nice, but the really good mahogany is very difficult to find these days.

  8. Ronnie Kotler March 1, 2015 at 8:25 am - Reply

    HI Mary, my wife who is also named Mary gave me your Yearly menbership for my birthday, a wonderful present and I am very excited. I think this is a scrange questian. Here in the US when you fly on commercial airlines are you required to check your bags that hold your wood gouges? I am guessing you do.

    • Mary May March 2, 2015 at 8:09 am - Reply

      Whenever I travel with my tools, I either mail them in advance or check them through. I’m pretty confident that if I tried putting them on my carry-on they would be considered a “dangerous weapon”. I once forgot that my favorite brass mallet was in my carry-on luggage and they confiscated it as a “blunt object”. Annoying! Don’t risk it. I haven’t had any problem with checking them. Just make sure they are rolled in a tool roll with a note saying “sharp tools”. They will unroll it and I don’t want blood all over my clothing πŸ™‚

  9. Carl Norum March 11, 2015 at 8:52 pm - Reply

    I’m enjoying your videos and am about to purchase a set of beginning tools. Woodcraft has Pfeil tools. They come in either 10″ overall length or intermediate, 8″ overall length. Does this make any difference? I’m a six foot size guy. Thanks.

    • Mary May March 11, 2015 at 10:18 pm - Reply

      Most of my gouges are the full 10″ length. I feel it you get more control over them. When I do use the few 8″ gouges I have, I feel like my hands are sort of cramped. Happy shopping!

  10. Peter Dimaline March 18, 2015 at 3:42 am - Reply

    Hi Mary,
    I am new to your school and am enjoying your videos. I have not started carving yet. I worked as carpenter on houses for many years. I have some old swiss made chisels but no fishtails. I wonder if you have an opinion on Henry Taylor chisels? I see he has a line of fishtail gouges at They appear to be good quality from what I read.
    Regards, Pete

    • Mary May March 18, 2015 at 8:27 am - Reply

      Hello Peter,
      Your old Swiss Made should be very good.

      Henry Taylor had about 15 years (between about 1990 and 2005) where their quality dropped. Something happened to the metal where it was difficult to hold an edge and there were often grooves down the length of the gouge. I have not purchased Henry Taylor since then, but have heard they have come back again to very good quality tools. So my suggestions would be to try a few out, see how sharp you can get them, and see if the edge stays sharp.

      Obviously if you have never carved before, “testing” tools can be difficult – if you’re not sure what you are looking for. I would suggest starting with your Swiss Made tools and get them nice and sharp. Work with them for a while so you can know what to expect as tools get dull, etc. Then purchase 1 or 2 of the Henry Taylor and see how they work. I would be interested in seeing how they work.

      • Peter Dimaline March 18, 2015 at 10:59 am - Reply

        Thank you for telling me about Henry Taylor it makes me wary of them now. Maybe I’ll try one after I get some experience like you said. Stubai sounds like the better option.

        Auriou chisels look good at Lie Nielsen. I know they sell great tools there, I have had one of their planes for many years. They have one fishtail gouge there, a 4/10. I guess it is the only fishtail Auriou makes.

        • Mary May March 19, 2015 at 9:17 pm - Reply

          The Auriou are great tools – and yes – they are very limited with fishtails. I am actually working with them (and Lie-Nielsen) to get a set of my favorite fishtails produced, but it may take a while. We shall see…

          • Peter Dimaline March 21, 2015 at 9:29 pm

            That’s great! I hope you can have your Auriou fishtails made. Please let me know if that happens, I would like to buy some.

            The sharpening practice is getting better and I’m actually enjoying it now.


  11. Ann F Margolies May 16, 2015 at 6:18 am - Reply

    Just found your site and am beginning to explore all that it has to offer. I’m an amateur carver with some good experience under my belt but I desire to improve my techniques! I notice that you rarely indicate that many of your gouges are fishtailed, which seems to me to be a good distinction to make. Any thing to add to this observation?

    • Mary May May 16, 2015 at 8:43 am - Reply

      Hello Ann,
      Welcome and I hope you enjoy the lessons!

      I did mention on the “All about Gouges” video that fishtails are my preferred gouges, and the reasons why. I don’t necessarily “require” them because they can get quite expensive and don’t want this to be a deterrent to learning to carve if you are on a budget. As you will see through the videos, most of the time I do use fishtails in the lessons, but not always. Either straight or fishtail gouges will work with all projects.

  12. Ann F Margolies May 16, 2015 at 2:19 pm - Reply

    I am enjoying getting to know your site, lessons and work. I, too, like fishtails. Could wish that Stubai were easier to find – strangely you see them all listed but can only find the small compact ones over here in Europe to buy on line. A question about V-tools: maybe I’ve gotten myself into a “carver’s block”, but I have only one small v-tool that lets me cut smoothly across the grain, the others (all good ones, mostly 60 degrees) are crunching across the grain and moving well only along it. What should I be looking at to work better?

    • Mary May May 18, 2015 at 10:25 pm - Reply

      Hello Ann,
      My guess is that your other 60 degree v-chisels has a “sharpness” issue. Watch my sharpening a v-chisel lesson to make sure that the corner is sharpened correctly. They are very tricky to sharpen. The crunching that you are describing is definitely an issue with sharpness – unless the tools themselves are just low quality. But you mention Stubai, and they should have good quality metal.

  13. Jim Scheltens May 19, 2015 at 1:48 pm - Reply

    I ordered two number 1 fishtail pfeil gouges from Woodcraft and when they arrived I was surprised to find that they were double bevel, not single bevel as I expected. The description did not mention that they were double bevel. What is your opinion on double bevel number 1 gouges for a beginner carver? Should I send them back or keep them?

    • Mary May May 20, 2015 at 2:10 pm - Reply

      I prefer the single bevel because then it can be used as 2 different chisels – sometimes bevel up and sometimes bevel down. However, it has been very difficult to find a single bevel flat fishtail carving chisel (that’s a mouth-full). Lie Nielsen has them, but they are not necessarily a “carving chisel”, but are still very nice (as all their tools are). I am still on the search for a good supplier of a single bevel flat chisel, and so far I have not had much luck. Double bevel flat chisel fishtails work fine, and might just have to do for now. I will announce when I can find a good supplier of single bevel fishtail.

      • Jim Scheltens May 27, 2015 at 10:28 pm - Reply

        Hi Mary,
        I kept the double bevel flat fishtail gouges. I found they were OK to use for some smoothing of the donut beginning lesson, but I found the different bevel angle troublesome when I was doing the lettering lessons. I have some single bevel non-fishtail gouges and switching from single bevel to double bevel made it more difficult for this beginner carver to hit the right angle when making letters.

        • Mary May May 27, 2015 at 10:47 pm - Reply

          Hi Jim. That makes sense. The double bevel can be awkward in getting it positioned correctly. I’m still searching for a supplier of single bevel fishtail flat carving chisel. Anybody out there want to make one??

          • Bill4042 June 3, 2015 at 2:10 am

            Hi Jim and Mary. I would love to make one, but I am in need of a new anvil and furnace. (I may need a new shoulder too, given I haven’t forged my own tools since I was in high school. πŸ™‚ )

            Anyway, I have been searching single bevel carving chisels and found that Woodcraft carries the Pfeil straight flat and straight skew chisels in single bevel (Ex. 1/8e, or 1S/8e), but there was no listing for the fishtail variety. Searching further, I found a brand called Lamp at Wood Carvers Supply, in addition to the Mastercarver brand they carry. The Lamp brand does include single bevel fishtail flat carving chisels in 6 sizes from 6mm to 25mm. However, I have no idea about the quality of this brand.

          • Mary May June 3, 2015 at 7:09 am

            Thanks! I think the Lamp brand are German, but I am not very familiar with them. From what I understand they are similar to Two Cherry – in shape and appearance. As most German tools are high quality, my guess is that you can trust that these are good tools. Maybe I’ll go shopping!

  14. Jerry May 30, 2015 at 4:00 pm - Reply

    Mary, question, if you could only have 7 carving chisel which ones would you choose?

    • Mary May May 31, 2015 at 7:57 pm - Reply

      I would start with the basic set of six – 6mm v-chisel, #3-6mm, #3-14mm, #5-14mm, #7-6mm and #7-14mm.
      Then the next one to choose would really depend on what direction the carving was going. If you are wanting to work on smaller, more details carvings, I would get a #3-3mm to get into tight areas. You could also go in the direction of a more curved gouge like a #8, 10mm if you are working on deeper carvings.

  15. Joyce June 14, 2015 at 9:14 am - Reply

    To respond to Bill’s question about Lamp tools: I began with about 7 Lamp tools, and ended up re-selling them to another person who likes them. I found the steel too thick and difficult to maneuver. I then bought Pfeil, and for me, there was a distinct difference in the way the tool worked in the wood. I sharpened both the same way, so I don’t think it was a difference in sharpening. The Pfeil tools are the only ones I happen to own now, but they seem much more delicate than the Lamp tools did, and much easier to control. I don’t want to discredit the Lamp brand, just offer my experience, for what it is worth!

    • Mary May June 17, 2015 at 10:19 pm - Reply

      Thanks Joyce! It’s good to hear people’s direct experience with tools.

  16. Yas Badami June 18, 2015 at 5:01 am - Reply

    Hello Mary

    I am enjoying getting to know your site, lessons and work. I ordered a 12 PC wood carving chisel set from Clarke. I noticed that there is no number written on them. can you tell me your opinion about it please.

    • Mary May June 18, 2015 at 7:08 am - Reply

      Hello Yas,
      I am not familiar with “Clarke”, so I looked them up on the computer. They are a very good price. Not having them in my hand is difficult to see the quality, but they do look a little bulky and because of that they may have to be re-ground to make the bevel longer. I have seen others similar, and they usually have to be reground, as it causes the positioning of the tool to be higher off the wood. Some of these types of gouges have very good quality metal. The best way to tell is if they sharpen quickly, they will dull quickly. They will be a good starter set, but I think you will find if you get one or two tools from the more professional tool brands I list on my website, you will see a big different in tool handling, position of cutting, amount of detail you can carve, etc. But for the price, it is a good way to start. Good luck!

  17. Ron Brown July 3, 2015 at 2:21 pm - Reply


    I am new to carving so not much help with tools. I started with some flex cut tools for carving in the round and a couple of knives.

    I am spending the summer in Germany and wanted to expand to some relief carving. I ordered several gouges from Two Cherries ( I have used their chisels for years and have been satisfied). I am pleased with the full size gouges but disappointed in the smaller tools. I wanted to order some Pheil tools also, but the store was closed for a week. I hope to fill in some tools from Pheil in the near future.

    I did notice that Two Cherries has a fishtail straight gouge if you need one.

    Looking forward to seeing you, Mary, in Munich.

    • Mary May July 4, 2015 at 5:57 pm - Reply

      Hi Ron,
      Thanks for that information. I also prefer the long handled gouges rather than the palm gouges – much safer and easier to control with both hands. I wonder if the Two Cherries fishtail straight is a single bevel or double bevel? I’m looking for a good supplier of a single bevel. Please spread the word about the class in Germany, as I need to get more students!

  18. Ryan September 15, 2015 at 2:00 am - Reply

    Mary, Pfeil makes single bevel #1’s. They have an “E” at the end. Example, The 1-12 is a double bevel number one. The 1/12e is a single bevel. I think Stubai has them also, but don’t get their regular number one, it’s a 73 or some such number. Chris Whillock could set you straight on the number. Single bevel is what Konstantinos recommends as well for the #1.

    I’m wanting to find a single bevel skew that is bent. I dislike the double bevel skews because they never give me enough clearance when cleaning a corner on a relief. The single bevel would give a little more clearance, but a bent would be even better. Of course with single bevel you’d need a left and a right.

    For what it’s worth gouge wise, I own several Henry Taylor tools and find they hold their edge well. I have newer ones though and not from the bad years. I have one Ashley Iles that seems good too, though in the bigger sizes they are a bit thick. As I’m trying to get mostly fishtail, I like a tool that is a bit thicker because some brand’s have such lightweight fishtails you’d want a straight in the same size if you needed to work it hard. Henry Taylor and Ashley Iles have more fishtail than Pfeil or Stubai. But the German brands have a pretty full lineup.

    Another brand not mentioned is Hirsch, they are produced by Kirschen of German. Kirschen’s other brand is Two Cherries. Same steel, different sticker on the handle and the Kirchen’s aren’t as polished as the Two Cherries which I consider a plus. It’s believed that the Lamp brand is also made by Kirschen.

    Highland Wood Working and Lee Valley both do special orders from Taylor or Hirsch, so if you want a fishtail they don’t stock, it can be special ordered.

    • Bob Easton September 17, 2015 at 6:57 am - Reply

      Ryan has many good comments about tools and offers a few tips about where to find some of them.

      For yet more information about where to buy tools, step onto the actual video page for this lesson and find the link to our “Where to Buy Tools” membership bonus.

      It includes sources and part numbers for Mary’s preferred tools from Ashley Iles, Auriou, Dastra, Henry Taylor, Hirsch, Mastercarver, Pfiel Swiss Made, Two Cherries and Stubai.

    • Mary May September 17, 2015 at 4:20 pm - Reply

      Hello Ryan. Thanks for that additional info. I have not had a chance to try out Hirsch, but have also heard they are simikar to Two Cherries.

      Good luck on the bent skew. I wouldn’t know where to look for that one.

      Happy tool shopping!

      • Rick Raley September 20, 2015 at 7:50 pm - Reply

        FYI – For all those in the States in the market for Pfeil tools – I’d like to point out that the Canadian dollar is currently $.76 compared to $1.00 US – the lowest it’s been in a long time. A great Canadian dealer with whom I’ve had great service & prices is Rick Wiebe at . Highly Recommend Rick – He’s a fellow carver and carries the full line of Pfeil at the best prices.
        Comparing the price on a #3F 12mm fishtail:
        Woodcraft $51.99 US (wow!)
        Chipping Away (Canada) $38.97 US, $43.43 CA – they list in both currencies.
        Rick Wiebe (Canada) $35.25 CA = $26.79 US! – lists only in CA$ and converts to current US$ upon payment.

        Happy shopping!

        • Mary May September 30, 2015 at 3:39 pm - Reply

          Thanks! There are several Canadian sellers of Pfeil, and usually it ends up being less expensive – even with the shipping and exchange rates.

        • Archer Yates December 15, 2015 at 2:47 pm - Reply

          I am a customer of Rick Wiebe and
          His wife makes great tool rolls with neat handles for 30.00 ca.
          My last order was 585.00 ca which was about 426.00 us funds.
          I ordered a lot of tools because I sold all my previous tools when I had a shop sale to move from North Carolina to Colorado.

          • Mary May December 16, 2015 at 5:49 pm

            Thanks for that information Archer. I think at this time buying in Canada, even with delivery, can be less expensive. I’ll check the site out.

  19. John Danielson September 23, 2015 at 4:02 pm - Reply

    Have you ever used any Japanese carving tools? I have several of their cabinet chisels used for dovetails, mortising etc, They are excellent, hold a good a edge and sharpen well. I am tempted to try some gouges and wondered if anyone has had experience them.

    • Mary May September 30, 2015 at 3:46 pm - Reply

      I do have Japanese carving gouges – one a v-chisel, and one a #5, 12mm. They are excellent tools, but are quite expensive. They are always on my “Christmas list”, as the cost is a bit much. They tend to be smaller (more like 7 or 8 inches vs. the 9 to 11 inches for European gouges) and the handle is round, which I don’t like. They have held a great edge for several years (probably because I rarely use them). They are those gouges that I put into my “special” category – sort of like museum pieces πŸ™‚

  20. Geoff Raike February 7, 2016 at 4:53 pm - Reply

    Hi Mary
    Just started to view your inspiring videos this weekend. A few years ago I took a basic carving class at my local Community College, but it was a little overwhelming since the teacher covered everything from Chip Carving, a Shell, Linen Fold and Ball & Claw. After watching some of your Youtube videos, you have inspired me to try again. The only problem I have is the fear of spending so much on (6) Pfeil chisels at this time. The good news is that I own several antique gouges that belonged to mt Great Great Grandfather. The various made gouges are stamped W. Butcher Cast Steel, Sorby Witherby, D.R. Barton and S.J. Addis. Do you know if any of these tools are well made or will I be spending most of my time sharpening?

    • Mary May February 10, 2016 at 3:53 pm - Reply

      The only brand I am familiar with is the Addis. They are very good. My guess is that the others are of similar quality. Quite often these older gouges have very good metal. It just depends on how they have been treated and sharpened over the years. It sounds like you may have a very good set. Look through my sharpening videos to get these in good shape. Have fun!

  21. Shubha March 4, 2016 at 7:37 am - Reply

    Hi wood carving friends!

    I was all set to buy carving tools with my birthday money, but I have up to $300. I thought that would be enough to get me tons of great quality tools but I see now I can either get a few good quality tools or more cheaper tools. Any recommendations?

    Also I’ve read all the comments, and seen the video, and am I right that the suggestion is JUST to get v-tools? I would’ve thought a couple of v-tools and a couple of fishhead or straight would make more sense.

    • Mary May March 4, 2016 at 8:05 am - Reply

      Hello Shubha,
      I would suggest starting with a basic set of 6 or 7 tools (costing between $35 and $45 each). And I’m not sure where you got the information on only getting v-chisels, but would only suggest starting out with one 6mm v-chisel in the set. When you decide to purchase more to add to your set, get a smaller 3mm or 4mm v-chisel.

      Have fun shopping!

  22. Joyce March 5, 2016 at 11:32 am - Reply

    I decided to review sharpening gouges because it is taking way too long to carve some reeds on 4 table legs. I’d forgotten so much; I am going back to re-sharpen the tools I am using and see if it makes it easier to carve. I read Shubha’s note above and remember when I had sticker shock looking at the prices of “good” tools. Instead, I bought 10 cheaper tools, and I regretted it. I tried for a few years to use these tools, and finally my Greek teacher (Dimitrios Klitsas- I drove 5 hours each way on Saturdays to learn from him until we moved away) insisted I “throw those away and get good tools”. I sold the tools, for about half what I paid for them, and bought a small kit – Mary has a list here- of Pfeil tools. Yes, they are expensive, but worth it. You do get what you pay for. Now, I will resharpen my Pfeil tools again and see if they “sing” like they used to do! I began with Dimitrios but did not have enough time with him to get much further along, so I am enjoying this school. So, my advice for Subha is, if you really want to carve, follow Mary’s list and get a few good tools rather than a lot of cheap ones.

    • Mary May March 7, 2016 at 2:59 pm - Reply

      Hi Joyce,
      Thanks for your input! It always helps to get feedback and confirmation fro students.

  23. Joyce March 10, 2016 at 8:33 am - Reply

    An update: I could not believe what a difference properly sharpened tools makes! What I had neglected was to create the wire edge. I then had problems carving reeds in cherry, and to my delight, there was a video on exactly that! In the video, Mary mentioned how difficult this wood was to carve, so I knew it was the wood, not me, and I mentally budgeted more time for the project. I also picked up a few tricks as I watched. I’m not done, but I am plodding away with sharper tools and a better focus, thanks to these videos. I love that I can come back to them long after I watched them initially. Joyce

    • Mary May March 12, 2016 at 6:34 am - Reply

      Thanks for that, Joyce! The sharp tools make such a difference.

  24. Kevin Berry September 8, 2016 at 3:08 pm - Reply

    Hi Mary,

    I expect you already know this but for those who do not, Chipping Away has your beginning tool set at $167 plus shipping. Shipping to me in Texas is $20.

    I’ve just started with your school and I really like what I’ve seen so far.


    • Mary May September 9, 2016 at 9:14 am - Reply

      Hi Kevin,
      Thanks for that report! They are very good to work with and yes, with the exchange rate being on our side, happy shopping!

  25. JOHN REVARD September 13, 2016 at 2:02 am - Reply

    When I started looking for tools to buy I was at a loss as to which brand to buy. Living in a small town in north west Washington none were available for me compare to so I decided to buy one from several different companies. I bought a #3-6 from Henry Taylor, #3-12 from Ashley Iles, #5-12 Pheil, #6-14 Auriou, #7-14 Dastra, #7-6 from Master carver and V from Two Cherries. When I received them Pheil, Auriou and the Ashley Iles came very sharp and were a pleasure to use. The Dastra , Henry Taylor and the Master Carver were not square across the blade, the Dastra was more then a 1/16 ” off from one corner to the other. Thanks to Mary’s videos on sharpening I have been able to straighten them out. The Master carvers steel is good but the poor quality of the manufacturing is quite noticeable when sitting next to the other chisels but it is about half the price of the other chisels. I have since a bought another Auriou, Ashley Iles and Two Cherries. I bought the Two Cherries because they were out of the Ashley Iles size I wanted. I got the Dastra squared and I like it a lot. Sometimes companies don’t make the size I want so I buy from a different company. This is just my observation of what I did when I bought my first chisels. I use them all now equally but I do like the Auriou and Ashley Iles

    • Mary May September 13, 2016 at 1:49 pm - Reply

      Thanks for the report John. You definitely have a well-rounded collection. A great way to test the brands out. I do know that Dastra does not sharpen their tools. That was one of the reasons I stopped selling them. But once they are sharp, they’re great! I just hated to sell unsharpened tools to beginner carvers. It can be a frustrating way to start. I agree about the Master Carvers. They do hold a good edge, but they’re not so pretty. Have fun!

  26. John Binnington-Pearce September 27, 2016 at 11:52 am - Reply

    Hi Mary,

    With those of us on a very limited budget, which 3 out of the initial 6 tools would you say is the priority on ordering.

    My budget isn’t huge and if I have to factor in waterstones/slip stones etc as well.


    • Mary May October 13, 2016 at 10:13 pm - Reply

      Sorry for the delay in responding. I would suggest a v-chisel, #3, 6mm and #5, 14mm. You may want to consider the Master Carver set that aren’t so pretty, but the most reasonable prices. Check out the link here.

  27. nicholas yearwood October 1, 2016 at 4:07 pm - Reply


  28. Mike Duncan February 13, 2017 at 2:18 am - Reply

    Mary and your viewers,

    I would like to add a note on Pfeil chisels, I’ve used their palm chisels for years doing gun stock carving and love them. How ever their full size tools the handles feel rough. I sand them with 220 gr and sanding block to keep the edges sharp, then round the end and tang end slightly, follow with 320 gr. and 400 gr. then use 600 gr. folded over and wrap around the handles and smooth over the sharp edges. this is followed with walnut oil, about three coats. and after each carving session. Their feel is sooooo sweet you woun’t want to put them down. It is a little work at first but makes a big diferance in their feel.

    A quick note on Hirsch, they have very solid tangs and ferrals, and can hold up to a beating, their only down side is the heavy lacquer on the handles, lacquer and varnished tool handles will give blisters after prolong use, walnut or linseed oil is the best finnish,

    notes from an old bear

    Mary, love your classes, I,m almost finished with all the free projects, working on the camelia flower now, each takes 6 to 8 hrs. but coming out nice.
    will be signing up soon to continue on.

    thanks so much for being here

    • Mary May February 13, 2017 at 8:50 am - Reply

      Thanks for that information Mike! You have a lot more patience than I do. I just want to dive into the carving πŸ™‚

  29. Colin Dalton January 23, 2018 at 3:33 pm - Reply

    Does holding your chisels and gouges on a magnetic strip magnetise them? If so, does this cause problems when sharpening i.e. attracting particles of metal onto the tool?

    • MaryMay January 26, 2018 at 10:32 pm - Reply

      Hi Colin,
      I have found that it slightly magnetizes it, but have not found any negative affects from it.

  30. Gary Qualley October 1, 2018 at 4:53 pm - Reply

    I enjoyed the comments on tools. I started carving in the 1970s and took classes from Chris Effrem in Minneapolis. I bought tools sold in his shop. I have over ninety woodcarving tools, including some under Chris’s brand which have a lamp or Wood Carvers Supply logo, many Marples, and Henry Taylor. Most of these were purchased in the 70’s. For me they all work well. Maybe if I had some of the Swiss, German or French tools, I would like them or even prefer them. I am not a fan of sharpening which is one reason I have so many tools and they are all about the same in dulling frequency. I think that the choice of wood is more important for me. Walnut and Mahogany, are the easiest to work with in my opinion but any straight grain, medium hard wood may be good. Soft woods need very sharp tools so I avoid them.

    • MaryMay October 3, 2018 at 10:41 pm - Reply

      Hi Gary,
      I remember Chris Effrem. I purchased my first carving tool from him when he had his shop in Minneapolis. Any of those tools you mentioned are excellent quality tools, but are not as readily available these days.

  31. BaoN January 5, 2019 at 4:19 am - Reply

    Dear Mary,

    Thank you for the great lesson!

    For the last year I have been using locally made tools in my country (Vietnam) which costs $7 for a set of 30!!! tools. They are made from truck springs, came without handles, unsharpened and the profiles are all over the places. I made a few reliefs with them but it took a lot of work, so now I am thinking of graduating to better tools that would last a life time. I have a two cherries chip carving knife, so I am aware of the vast difference between premium and cheap tools.

    However, my budget is limited and right now I can only afford 5 tools instead of 6. I am thinking of purchasing the following gouges:
    – #3 6mm fishtail
    – #3 12mm straight gouge
    – #5 8mm fishtail
    – #7 14mm straight gouge
    – #12 6mm V-tool

    What do you think about this list? Will it do for me for the next few years? Thank you very much.


    • MaryMay January 10, 2019 at 9:35 am - Reply

      Hi Bao,
      That set would be a great set to start with. The truck springs sound very interesting. I bet they hold a good edge.

      Good luck and happy carving!

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