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Out With the Old, In With the New...Or Not | Comparing Traditional Hand Carving to Modern Power Carving Tools


Author Josiah Waters

“My interest in carving started while watching a local whittler carve wooden shoes outside of my elementary school. Since then, I have been fascinated by the art, and I spent many hours carving ‘pointy sticks’ with my pocket knife. Over the years, I transitioned to tools dedicated to woodcarving, and my projects slowly began to look like the works of art that I had envisioned."

hand carving tools or modern power carving tools

 

Perhaps it was because I only had access to my trusty pocket knife and a few tools from my local craft store, but when I first started carving, I was as traditional as they come. All power tools constituted cheating, and I wasn’t going to be party to that. So, I carved and carved with my traditional tools, but my projects rarely came to completion. Eventually, my love for carving fizzled out. The tools went into a box in my closet, I brushed off the wood chips from my mom’s kitchen table, and I closed the door on that phase of my life. That all changed in 2018, however, when I saw a video of a man carving a snake using…power tools. He was using rotary tools, grinders, and other implements that I believed no true carver would dare touch, yet the results were some of the most beautiful pieces of artwork I had ever seen. This man’s magnificent creations threw a wrench in my preconceived notions about what true carving is, and it wasn’t long before I was carving once again, although this time, I had a few more tools in my toolbox.

As you can probably tell from my anecdotal introduction, I have come to realize that modern tools may play an important role in woodcarving (depending on the individual). Take bandsaws for example, they allow us to quickly rough out the blanks for our projects, a task that would require the same amount of skill, but much more time, were we to use a hand saw. Similarly, a router can help remove excess wood from those giant relief carvings. Rotary tools and grinders are great for removing large amounts of material and getting into tight spaces, and they also work nicely on wood that tears easily. In short, power tools can help expedite some of the carving processes, leaving you more time to work on the finer details of your project.

Before you invest in a bunch of new tools, I should probably mention that power tools should not replace hand tools and the skills needed to wield them, but rather they should act as a supplement to them. Nothing beats the fine finished edge that only a sharp carving knife can produce, nor can any power tool replicate the brilliant lines carved by a good gouge or chisel. Add in the noise and most power tools’ need for an outlet, and it is easy to see that you should hold on to those hand tools. Finally, few things in life match the satisfaction of carving with the grain, rather than sanding through it with a grinding wheel. 

So, are power tools something that you should consider using, or should you stick to the traditional? I think that it all depends on what you want to get out of your time carving. Are you carving for the process or the finished product? If you love the entire process of carving traditionally, then I would stick with it, but if you are like me and have a short attention span and a tight schedule, I would see about throwing a few power tools into the mix. Who knows? It may just keep you from giving up on carving. It certainly did for me. 

 Josiah Waters turtle carving

About the Author

Josiah is a graduate student studying marine biology out of Charleston SC. The ocean is arguably his greatest source of carving inspiration. When Josiah isn't carving or studying microscopic algae, he enjoys exploring nature, which inevitably leads to more carving inspiration.


4 comments


  • Eli

    Hey Harry, we don’t sell tools individually, but please reach out to info@schaaftools.com for help if you’d like to check out some of our sets. Thanks for reading!


  • Harry Davis

    I have been watching Doug Linker on the Net and as a starter I would
    like to order 1 .carving knife 1 .3/4 detail , and 1. V tool 9 degrees. Can you
    advise me if this is available. I will order basswood from your range on the
    net .Any advice for a rank beginner would be most welcome.
    Yours sincerely,
    Harry Davis.
    Mobile . 07730929997.


  • Ross Macdonald

    I agree with Josiah , I use both types of tools
    I just finished carving a Life Pole( not a totem pole, I have done one also),the Pole Illustrates my life story , hope to have it painted in time for a Spring Planting.
    I used both hand tools and power tools


  • Dan Schumacher

    Nicely written Josiah, great reminder to think about what you want to accomplish before you get GAS! Gear acquisition syndrome. ;-)


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