What is V-tool?
When sharpening a V-tool, it helps to think of it as three separate tools – a pair of flat chisels on the sides and little gouge at the bottom. Keeping this idea in mind can help simplify a process that can otherwise seem very complicated.
Some carvers say that the V-tool is just two chisels joined to form a V. That makes sense because the tool can perform as a chisel if held so only one cutting edge is doing the work. But the primary function of this tool is to separate areas when outlining, adding detail, texturing, or undercutting. It is also called a parting tool.
Since nearly all V-tools have two straight edges, measurements are based on the angles of the V. Angles are usually 30, 45, 60 and 90 degrees. Occasionally a toolmaker produces a smaller angle such as 24°, which results in a very fine line.
Typically, the tighter or narrower the V angle, the harder the tool works through the wood. This is because the tool’s cutting edge has an inside dimension that is smaller than the outside dimension. In effect, the cutting edges make a channel smaller than the width of the tool. This is not particularly noticeable with a 90-degree V-tool because the cutting edges can easily ride up in the channel to accommodate the change. You feel more resistance with a 30-degree V-tool because the sides are more perpendicular and can’t ride up as easily through the wood. Narrow V-tools are best for making cuts that are both shallow and narrow or for cleaning out corners where the cutting edges are free to move.
An exception to the straight-edge V is the winged V-tool, meaning that both side profiles have curvature. The winged V softens work by rounding the top of the carved edge. Expect to find this specialized tool in the kit of an ornamental carver.
At one time handles were sold separately. Today you will find every chisel, gouge, or V-tool fitted with an ash, beech, hornbeam, or perhaps a rosewood handle. The handle shapes are usually round or octagonal with straight sides or a slight bulge. Octagonal or asymmetrical handles are easier to grip securely and give a reference point as to where the tool is in your hand. You can also feel the handle rotate if your grip begins to slip. And there’s the added benefit of the tool not easily rolling off the workbench.