View Full Version : What tools needed to carve letters?

Jay Johnstone
06-24-2008, 6:07 PM
Hi, I'm not interested in carving things in general however I make wood paddles (the kind used for spanking) to sell (or sometimes give away)and I am interested in perhaps carving my initials in some of them along with larger words or simple designs such as 'OUCH' or a heart, e.g. in the paddle faces. Most of my projects are made from hardwoods of varying species.

I have tried those carving bits for my moto-tool however these require a firm steady application to prevent the bit from drifting off the intended path due to variences while moving across the wood grain. No matter how careful I am it is almost impossible to be completely accurate and the end result, while close to my expectations, does not completely saitsfy me.

That said, I seek a bit of advice in terms of the type of hand carving tools that would best suit my needs, as basic as they might be. Obviously, I don't want my work to look sloppy - who does? Also, is there a name for the type of carving I want to do? All the books I've seen seem to cover the fancy stuff but nothing basic such as carving letters and such.

Any help that anyone can offer would be greatly appreciated. Have a great day!

randall rosenthal
06-25-2008, 8:35 AM
theres a few ways you can go. i once had a job to carve a lot of names on strips of wood. i made various angle templates for the straight lines and free handed the curves...i used a router. to free hand letters i use a knife to lightly outline and then carving tools to remove material so a V shaped trench remains.....with a little patience really not that difficult.

Robert Rozaieski
06-25-2008, 9:54 AM
The straight letters are done with regular bench chisels. Curves require gouges. The size of the letter dictates the size of the gouge. The sweep (curve) of the gouge should approximate the curve of the letter so you need several different sizes in several different sweeps. For letter carving, I've heard it said that it is best to err on the side of too big rather than too small. Taunton has a great carving video that has a good segment on letter carving in several different styles (incised letters and relief letters). I bought it for Mack Headley's shell carving segment but Sam Bush's letter carving segment is excellent as well.


Jay Johnstone
06-25-2008, 12:31 PM
OK, thanks a bunch guys *smile* That should help me out some.

Jamie Cowan
06-25-2008, 9:24 PM
Dick Onians' book, Essential Woodcarving Techniques, has a section in the back detailing incised letters, and one alphabet that he details pretty heavily. Lots of books have similar stuff, but I really like the way this book details the technique--it's even in the title. There's only about five pages of instruction, but well worth it, I think. As for tools, I'd sharpen up the bench chisels you probably have, get a good V tool, and maybe a couple veiners.

Jay Johnstone
06-27-2008, 9:04 AM
Ok, Jamie, thanks a bunch. I'll look on amazon for that book. I just sharpened my bench chisels so I'll look into those other tools:)

Phillip Bogle
06-27-2008, 3:08 PM

This site has a bunch of information for free (and patterns for $$$) that you might find interesting.

I just started some carving and I can hardly put it down -- except to go get a band-aide. Investment hint of the day -- buy Johnson & Johnson stocks -- I took up carving :).

Good Luck!

randall rosenthal
06-27-2008, 7:01 PM
phillip....after many years of doing it for a living.....i still nick myself all the time. keep the band aids handy....but a tissue and some masking tape works too.

Dave McGeehan
07-01-2008, 11:16 AM
Jay, I use a combination of knives and gouges (matching the sweep to the letter's curve) depending on the size and the style of the lettering. A tool I found useful is a bench chisel I ground into a thumbnail profile. This chisel enables me to use a slicing motion while using the full length of the cutting edge without catching the two outer corners along the cutting path.