June 24, 2019

Spoon-carving tools - buying advice!

Spoon carving requires three basic tools: an axe; a straight knife; and a curved “hook”, “crook” or “spoon” knife. These tools are useful in lots of other projects, and are a great asset for anyone getting started working with green wood. Availability of carving tools in New Zealand isn’t great, but there are options to buy locally without having to resort to ordering from overseas. It’s also true to say that you don’t need to buy the most expensive tools to start carving spoons, but as with all tools you’ll seldom regret buying good quality. Below, we’ll outline the basics of what makes a functional tool for carving, and where you can procure them.

    Having your own tools isn’t necessary before coming to one of Rekindle’s classes, but our students often find that it’s useful to be able to practice and cement the skills they’ve learned during class at home afterwards. Our beginner spoons class uses only the hook and straight knives, while our advanced carving classes include the axe as well.
        Carving axe/hatchet

          The carving axe is used for roughing out shapes. It removes as much wood as possible before knives are employed. It has a wide bevel of around 8-10mm that enables it to slice the surface of the wood like a knife. As such carving axes are kept very sharp like a knife - unlike axes for splitting kindling).

          Two carving axe patterns, showing cut-out behind blade – desirable but not a necessity.

          Your first carving hatchet needn’t be expensive (mine cost $3 from a market), if you’re prepared to buy an old hatchet, take the time to file the wide bevel and sharpen it yourself. This method is discussed in greater detail in Rekindle’s sharpening class). A cheap hardware store hatchet like Bahco will also work, but some of the cheap ones may not hold a good edge. We stock a carving axe too. The best hatchet shape for carving has a long blade for slicing, and a cut-out behind the blade that allows the user to bring their fingers up behind the head of the axe and control it accurately during fine work. For most people the ideal weight is 500-700g. 

          Sources in NZ:




          (Garage sales, markets or hardware stores for an axe that you can re-bevel and sharpen yourself.)

            Straight knife

              The straight knife is the woodcarving workhorse. It is used for a myriad of different jobs from roughing to fine detail work. It also has a wide, slicing bevel referred to as a “Scandinavian grind”. Most pocket knives don’t have this type of bevel and that makes them a poor substitute. Recommending a straight knife is easy - The Mora 106 is an excellent balance of value for money with a good quality knife, and it’s used extensively throughout the world by woodcarvers. We stock the Mora 106 in our online store.

              Mora 106 straight knife

              Sources in NZ:




                Hook / crook / spoon knife

                  The hook knife is used to hollow the concave areas of carving - especially the bowls of spoons. A good hook knife has a compound curve - a shallower radius toward the handle, becoming a tighter hook toward the knife tip. Hook knives come in left and right-handed versions, and although experienced carvers use both, most beginners will be happy enough with a single knife for their dominant hand. Ideally, a hook knife blade should be thick enough not to “chatter” - flexing and vibrating in the cut as it slices through the wood. Hook knives in which the back of the blade is highly polished and rounded will tend to cut much more smoothly and naturally.

                  Various hook knives showing the range of curves and shapes available.

                   There are many options for buying a hook knife. There is also a correlation between price and functionality. Knives that have been cheaply mass-produced will seldom be as pleasant to use as a more expensive one produced by a small, artisan toolmaker. As such, Rekindle doesn’t recommend a particular hook knife but we suggest you do some reading and make a choice depending on your means and your level of interest. In Rekindle classes we use Hans Karlsson and Ben Orford knives (from Sweden and the UK respectively) which are closer to the artisan end of the spectrum.

                  As for what is available, Mora produce a cheap and readily available hook knife: the Mora 164. The previous model had well-known flaws, but the new, redesigned version of 2019 corrects some of these. These are the ones we stock. Robin Wood makes spoon knives that are at the midpoint of the market in terms of their balance of functionality and price. Other knives from a range of smaller makers are available online in specialist stores or from the makers themselves, and ordering from the latter will sometimes involve waiting times or waitlists.

                  Before choosing a hook knife it’s worth reading this blogpost by Robin Wood that examines a number of different hook knives and how they work: http://www.robin-wood.co.uk/wood-craft-blog/2013/01/29/best-spoon-carving-knife-hook-knife/ (note that this was written in 2013 so there are now many more knives to choose from). There is also an up-to-date list of hook knife makers available in the Files section of the Spoon-Carving and Green Woodworking group on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/GreenWoodWork/, along with lots of advice and many differing opinions on which tools to buy.

                  Sources in NZ:



                  Sources outside NZ (international shipping costs apply!):





                  And many more...

                  Finally, it should be said that great tools don’t make a skilled carver. Time spent using your tools and learning how to sharpen them correctly will make the biggest difference to the quality of your work. We give advice on sharpening during our carving classes and look at these three tools specifically in our Sharpening class.