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Antique Carving Tools

Mary, have you ever done a comparison of old antique carving tools and new tools. Which hold a an edge better, sharpen better, cut better, better steel,........? Which do you prefer?

Thanks

Hello Bob,

I know your question was for Mary but I hope you don't mind me weighing in on the subject. I have antiques, new tools, as well as tools that, even though they are not yet antiques, have quite a few years on them. My experience is that you are taking more of a risk with older tools due to the uncertain past of the tools and the fact that older tools were manufactured under less consistent conditions. It was not unusual for older tools to have been hardened at the tool tip so that as the tool wears you start getting into softer material. The is also more variety in the profiles and the handles, even within the same manufacturer, due to there having been more hand work and changes in design over time.

Having said that, there is a special feeling to taking a tool that has been lovingly used by past craftsmen and putting them back to work but they usually require more skill to restore them than to commission a new tool. Just be prepared to do any preparation and maintenance with either new tools or the older ones and you can have some enjoyable time with either. You must be prepared to occasionally end up with an older tool that is just too far gone to be put back into service and these unfortunately have to be retired. I recommend that beginners start with brand name new tools and then consider picking up older tools as their experience improves. The other option is to join a carving club and look to the experienced carvers for guidance and help with tool purchases and preparation. Have fun.

Hi Bob,

Great question. And Michael, I agree with all you said. I don't really have a lot to add to this. The main thing I appreciate about the antique tools is that they often have unique shapes that are difficult to find in new tools. The very delicate spoon bent or back bent tools are difficult to find new. I haven't had issues with keeping the antique tools sharp, but as Michael mentioned, there is a limit to how much of the metal has been tempered. If a tool is broken or ground too short, it is very possible that it has gone past that hardened steel. All you need then is to find someone who understands metal and re-harden the metal.

I agree with Michael's advice that it's best to start with a set of new tools, and then as you learn more about carving, you'll know more of what you are looking for.

Funny thing - my main carving tools that I use are all new (30 years or younger). I use the antique tools for when I need some unique specialty gouges and use them only occasionally. I'm not sure why of this, but maybe simply because I get accustomed to certain tools. Also, and I never really thought too much about this, but when I teach I like to be able to refer to an exact number for students. The antique tools are often not numbered, so it is difficult to teach a guided lesson with them and refer to a specific tool size.