By far the most important equipment for carving is sharp, high quality carving tools. As with all other woodworking equipment, buy the best you can afford. It really is very difficult to do high quality work with poor tools.
Being able to resharpen your tools is critical. Sharpening high-carbon carving tools is quite different from sharpening High-speed steel turning tools. High-speed steel is far more forgiving of grinding heat than high-carbon steel. It is very easy to overheat and ruin your high-carbon carving tools. Sharpen at low speed and with water to keep the tools cool. Your carving tools must be razor sharp at all times to work. A hard felt buffing wheel (rotating away from the tool edge), charged with buffing compound, is very useful for putting a razor sharp edge on your carving tools.
As with all woodworking, it is very easy to injure yourself if you are not careful. Always carve away from yourself. Know where the tool will go when it leaves the wood. No matter that your plan is to control the tool-tools do slip! You do not want to slice or puncture yourself to find out how sharp your tools are. What- ever you do, do not put your opposite hand in front of the blade. Some people are able to work with a chain mail glove. I use a leather glove with open fingers and a 3/8-inch-thick neoprene mat to help grip the work safely in my lap. Knowing how I dive head-first into projects.
Make practice cuts on scrap wood to learn how the tools work. This will save you a lot of wasted effort and frustration. Many of us want to jump right into a project and start carving immediately.
You will learn much more quickly and make fewer mistakes on your first carving if you take the time to practice on a 2x4. Try all the different tools that you have to see how each cuts. Vary the angle of the tools as you work. You will see different cutting effects that you may want to take advantage of in different situations.
Don't just carve randomly, practice carving to a drawing including straight lines at different angles to the grain, S-curves, and circles. Notice how the grain dictates the direction of cut. Practice relief carving by outlining your design first with a gouge. Then come back with your chisel or knife to make a clean vertical cut.
Note how referencing the bevel or face of the tool along an already carved surface can help you continue creating a smooth surface-just like turning, only slower. Now lower the back-ground with regular gouge strokes. Finally, smooth the background with a chisel. In some situations a bent chisel will be beneficial.
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