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Hand Tool Recommendations for Stone Carving

At one point I was asked by one of my students for recommendations on hand tools to purchase. This is a finicky area, since every carver has their own particular likes and dislikes. Never-the-less, I have included here my favorite hand tools and some comments about why and what I look for. I hope these help someone out there. If you don't like something here, please remember that everyone likes something different, so your mileage may vary, and I am not responsible for money you spend based on what you read here.

Note: you can find most of the tools listed below at either of these suppliers, and probably many others:

I am reviewing old copies of their catalogs as I write this page, and I will include part numbers from what I have where appropriate. Part numbers are listed like this:

SSC: 222
TCS: 12345

That's part number 222 from Stone Sculptors Supplies and part 12345 from The Compleat Sculptor.

I also regularly buy from Renaissance Stone in Oakland, CA, but he doesn't do mail order work, so you need to be in the area to buy from him. He carries many of these items, but not the Italian chisels.

REMEMBER: part numbers change, availability changes, I make typos in everything I write, and your preferences may well be different from mine. Buy anything you see mentioned here at your own risk. Please cross check what I've written, and contact me if you find any errors

Hammers:

Hammers are a purely personal item. I happen to like 1.5 pound soft iron hammers, but the balance of two apparently identical hammers -- same manufacturer, model, weight, etc. -- can be (and usually is) just different enough to make one person happy with one and unhappy with the other. Handle lengths vary by manufacturer, as does the polish on the handle. Simple stuff like that can make a big difference. I know people who love round hammers, which would drive me to distraction.

In all, hammers are probably the most personal hand carving tool you can buy. If you can, go to the store to find the one that's right for you. If not, you'll get used to most anything so long as you've tried something like it before and have a basic clue about what you're getting.

SSC: 700
TCS: 37654

Chisels:

I strongly prefer Italian carving chisels to just about anything else I have seen. These chisels have longer teeth than others I've seen, and seem to bite into the stone better. They also have thicker shafts, making them heavier, but easier to hold securely when needed.

My preferences are as follows:

Those are my "daily use" chisels. There are a few others that are for less common work. Specifically:

All the chisels in this second group should probably be bought on an as-needed basis. Their use is less common than the others I have mentioned. Again, I feel the need to point out that others may well disagree with me, though. There are certainly sculptors who live with narrow tooth chisels, for example, and wouldn't want the larger teeth I like. As with all advice, your mileage may (and will) vary.

Rifflers (files):

Here you can go broke -- easily -- and not be sorry about it.

Far and away, the two best kinds of rifflers are:

There are all kinds of cheaper versions out there -- mostly made in China, and not worth much. They will get you through a project or two in soft stones, but then they need replacing. I have 4 year old Italian rifflers that have been used extensively and are still in excellent condition, but they cost a LOT more than the Chinese version.

Here are my all time favorite Italian rifflers:

The truth is, I actually own all of these rifflers in 8, 10, 12, and 14 inch sizes. Which one I use depends on what I am doing. These three shapes have done a world of good for me. You can see these online in the SSC catalog, and in the TCS catalog too, I believe.

Next, I love these custom made carbide coated rasps from SSC: CR-502, CR-503, CR-504. These are the same shapes as the Italian rifflers, but carbide coated, which makes them cut in both directions, and good for harder stones. Expensive, but worth it.

The Italians also make a bunch of 6" rifflers. Much like those listed above, these are wonderful tools, and they come in more shapes. See the SSC and TCS catalogs for their various available options. I own several, and find them useful for doing detail work on some pieces.

Plain structured carbide rasps are wonderful. SSC has CR1 and CR2 -- both highly useful and worth the money. TCS has a larger selection in various shapes. I bought mine at Renaissance Stone and I'm sure he uses a different supplier. Note that structured carbide comes in different grits. (And guess what, different people like different grits for the same sorts of tasks!) Low numbers are coarser, usually removing more stone in a single pass. High numbers leave a smoother surface.

Now we head into the more obscure rasps...

There are many other rasps and rifflers available. As a carver, you'll experiment and buy things to see what they do, if they work, etc. Plan on spending time wandering hardware stores just to see what's new, what you've never tried, etc. It's fun, in a strange sort of way.

Miscellaneous:

A few simple things go with all these goodies:

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