Carving Tool Recommendations

I often get asked from students for recommendations on which tools to buy for woodcut printmaking. These are my personal recommendations, and am not receiving any endorsements for this post. (Maybe I should work on that…) In shopping for tools, this is where the saying “you get what you pay for” really does apply. The quality of tools is almost always reflected in the price. The more you are willing to spend, the better quality of the tools will be. What you are paying for is the quality and composition of the steel, which in turn determines how well it will carve, it’s durability, and the ease of sharpening.That doesn’t mean that there aren’t great inexpensive tools out there. I’m still using student grade sets I bought in college. You could start with an inexpensive set like Niji, learn what you like, or don’t like in a tool and then invest in a better set. Do not buy bargain tools.  The Speedball brand of tools with interchangeable blades are good for linoleum block carving, but will not work well for woodcut.

You can buy tools in sets, or individually. Be careful of buying large sets of tools. You may think they are a good value, but you may find yourself only wanting or using a few out of the set. You’d be better off buying individual pieces and getting exactly what you need and not wasting money on extra tools you’ll never use. Tools are usually measured in millimeters, though each manufacturer may measure them differently. It can get confusing when shopping for tools and trying to decipher what size they are. Get out a metric ruler to see exactly what size they are describing. Standard woodworking suppliers will call them micro tools as they are very small in comparison to standard wood working tools.

The tools you will need in a basic set are:
One knife, an x-acto knife also works well
Two or three sizes of a “u” or “c” shaped gouge – small 3 mm, medium 4.5 mm, and large 7.5 mm or larger
One or two “v” gouge, or veiner – small 3 mm, and possibly a larger one

Some brands of tools: There are many others

Niji sets are acceptable for beginners, but not recommended beyond one or two carvings. They break quickly and are difficult to sharpen since the quality of steel is very low. Don’t spend any less than the cost of Niji sets like Loews Cornell they are terrible tools.
Power Grips from Japan
Flex Cut
Two Cherries, German

A Few Sources: 

Mc Clain’s Buy tools a la cart to make your own set or The Namisei Moku Hanga Sets are a good value

Graphic Chemical Graphic Chemical
There are a few options here…
Flex Cut Tools
Japanese Power Grips
#20191 Japanese Wood Carving 5pc set
#20150 Graphic #16 Linoleum Carving Set-They will carve wood the same as lino


Wood Carvers Supply