Part Five - Carving Tools

Here is what an 'official' woodblock carving knife looks like:

... but as I promised that you wouldn't have to buy any special tools to make this print, here is a more accessible tool for you:

The professional tool:

Pros ...

  • cuts with extreme precision (if you can!)
  • will sharpen to an incredibly sharp edge (if you know how!)
  • fits easily in the hand

Cons ...

  • brittle steel tip easily breaks
  • rather expensive

The Olfa cutter:

Pros ...

  • doesn't need sharpening
  • blade breakage not a problem ...
  • inexpensive

Cons ...

  • bit clumsy to hold and guide


In addition to the knife for carving the outlines, you will also need some kind of gouge(s) for clearing away the unneeded wood from the block. Quite a few types are used by experienced workers.

A description of the range of tools generally used for woodblock carving can be found in this section of the Encyclopedia (use your 'Back' button to return here after reading it ...)

So what have you got in the basement or garage? What you need for this clearing job is some kind of chisel or gouge that will 'scoop' away the unneeded wood. It is difficult for me to recommend exactly what sort of tool to look for without knowing what sort of design you will be carving. If your design has mostly large open spaces between your carved lines, then you can use a fairly large gouge or chisel. But for a design like our sample print, which has quite a number of small areas to be removed, large tools will be useless.

A good solution for this situation, if you can find it in a hardware store nearby, is a small inexpensive 'kit' of woodcarving tools. Here's one that I picked up in a local shop, for the equivalent of about $7 ...

These tools are designed to be pushed in the hand, not used with a hammer or mallet. It is a bit difficult to see in the photo, but the seven tools have blades in a selection of shapes - 'V', 'U', etc. A hobby kit like this shouldn't cost very much at all, and will serve you well in your first printmaking experiments.

For these first experiments, it makes no sense to spend time and money looking for professional carving tools. If it turns out that you really do love printmaking, and intend to make some more prints, then by all means you should explore 'proper' tools. But for now, the inexpensive ones will do just fine. Start digging in your basement and see what turns up!