If you want to develop your skills in wood carving you need to know how to hold wood carving tools. And also you need some practical techniques we will share about with you in this blog.
How to hold wood carving tools?
Even though the grips are substantially different, there are fundamentals, or “golden rules” that pertain to both:
Both hands are on the tool: one will grip the handle (the “handle hand”); the other will be gripping the blade in some fashion (the “blade hand”).
Both hands work together: if you find yourself using and focusing on one hand, you are only partly in control.
Part of the blade hand rests on your wood (or perhaps the bench): this greatly increases your ability to control the tool.
While I’ll cover the basic techniques, all of our hands and muscle controls are individual. You will need to play around with what you’ve got, and of course, practice until handling the tools this way becomes second nature. Use a clean, flat board of wood that is easily carved for practicing. To begin with, work across the grain; you’ll find the wood shavings simply fall off.
Low Angle Grip
Because you will carve from left to right and right to left, it is extremely helpful to develop a degree of ambidexterity and be able to swap the tool between hands. Since the grip probably feels awkward to begin with, begin practicing in both directions from the start. Keep your elbows in and
use your body.
2. Increase the control this hand has over the tool by extending your thumb along the handle.
3. The heel of your blade hand now rests on the wood. Sometimes I will rest the whole of my forearm on the wood as well.
4. With the other hand, grip the handle in whatever way feels comfortable. This hand will do the pushing.
5. Here’s the secret of control: while pushing the tool with one hand, you must resist the forward movement with the other.
Thus there is a tension between your hands while you are moving the tool forward; a balance between the two forces: pushing and resisting. The difference allows the tool to advance and cut in a controlled manner, starting and stopping at will.
2. Run a simple, shallow, straight groove away from you. When you get to the far end, lower the handle and exit the groove. Control the start and stop point while maintaining a constant depth.
3. Run another groove a little to one side, trying to copy the first exactly. Being able to copy the line is a demonstration of tool control, which is your aim of course.
4. Repeat this a few times. Remember to push and resist at the same time—but relax your shoulders and only use the minimum effort you need to make the cut.
6. With your right hand on the blade, run a line from left to right. Copy a few times.
7. Without changing hands, run a line from right to left. You’ll see this is very awkward without yoga-like contortions, turning the wood around, or moving
8. Now swap hands (so the left hand is on the blade), and run that line from right to left again.
We hope you can clearly see the advantages of being able to swap hands when you are using your carving tool at a low angle like this, even if the grip still feels strange at this point. It is the same advantage no matter what tool you are using.
12. Without changing the grip, try to run a curving cut counter-clockwise. You’ll find it less smooth, because you are going against the natural pivoting action of the blade hand. You will need to swap hands to make similarly easy cuts in the opposite direction.
13. Swap hands, and try that counter-clockwise cut again. Now you’ll find you can use the smooth natural pivot of the blade hand to your advantage. Again, the case for ambidexterity when carving at low angles. Essentially you are making the best, most efficient use of the natural way your hands work. Being able to swap hands like this will make carving so much easier and significantly increase the quality of your results. You don’t have to be truly ambidextrousbut you should work towards feeling competent carving in your weaker direction.
14. Experiment with these curving lines and swapping hands. To produce a deeper cut, you need to lift the elbow of the handle hand quite high. You’ll find the low level grip now feels awkward, loses power, and puts a lot of unnecessary strain on the elbow joint. To produce deeper cuts, you’ll want to transition to the “high angle” grip which I sometimes refer to as “pen & dagger.” Knowing when to use which grip comes with practice and developing a degree of confidence using both types of grips.
High Angle Grip
This high angle grip can feel a little alien to begin with; you’ll be glad to hear that there is no need to swap hands with this grip!
2. Place the tip of the middle finger of your dominant hand onto the wood and tucked tight up behind the bevel of the tool, thus bridging tool and wood. Bring up the ring and little finger behind the middle finger to support it, and bring the heel of your hand down onto the wood surface.
3. You should have a finger and thumb of your dominant hand remaining. Use these to grip the blade. By resting between the wood and bevel, the middle fingertip acts in the same way as the heel of your hand did in the low angle grip, maximizing control. This basic hold adapts as we start using the tool.
2. Ease back on one (leading) corner of the blade, advance the cutting edge a little along the cut, and stab it in vertically again. You must lift the leading corner of the cutting edge clear of the groove in order to not plow up the wood.
3. If you keep doing this, you will shift the cutting edge of the blade around in a complete circle, and you will need to adjust your fingers to cope! At one point you will need to flip the blade hand smoothly around so that instead of the blade being supported by the tip of the middle finger, it now nestles on the back of the finger in the groove between the nail and first joint. Both hands work together with the handle, helping to rotate the tool. Keep gripping and controlling the blade by pinching it between finger and thumb. If you were to do this same exercise with a small, deep gouge (#9 x 1/8″), the wedge effect of the bevel would pop off the little bit of wood in the middle. This is a traditional carving technique, and the resulting hole is called an “eye.” You would most likely use this technique in carved mouldings and acanthus leaves for example.
To get the most from this way of carving takes time as you will need to develop the gripping muscle between your index finger and thumb. You can always tell the hands of a traditional carver, because they have a well-developed gripping muscle in this area.