Woodcarving chisels are held in different ways depending on what kind of chisel you are using, or what kind of cut you are making. Read the guide below to learn how to hold a woodcarving chisel correctly.
Most woodcarving tools are gouges (chisels with a curved cutting edge). To use a gouge correctly you should hold it like you might hold a dagger, though somewhat lower down so that your non-dominant hand covers about half of the blade.
Your dominant hand will be providing the force behind the chisel and should be placed over the top of your handle so that the butt of the handle can be driven by the palm of your hand.
As you begin pushing the gouge into your workpiece, the cutting edge will start removing a sliver of wood. Let your dominant hand provide the force while your non-dominant hand provides the control. Raise and lower your dominant hand to vary the depth of your cut.
Struck with a mallet
One of the most common mistakes is to grip and hold your gouge fully by the handle. If you hold the gouge like this then you lessen the control you have over the blade and cutting edge and increase the risk of slippage, inaccurate cutting and injury.
To hold a gouge correctly, hold it as you would brandish a dagger, though much lower down so that your hand covers about half of the gouge’s blade and the heel of your hand can rest upon the workpiece. Holding the gouge in this fashion will give you much greater control.
How to hold mallet
Woodcarving chisels are often used in conjunction with a mallet. There are specially designed mallets used for carving which are cylindrical in shape. This shape allows for greater control and movement especially when cutting curved or irregular shapes. Woodcarving mallets are available in a wide range of materials, weights and sizes.
Often, woodcarvers are put off from using a mallet because they can seem unwieldy if you are using one incorrectly. The first thing you should know is that there are different types of mallets for different applications.
The most common mistake made when using a woodcarver’s mallet is to hold it too tightly. Prolonged squeezing of the handle and a grip that is too firm will cause unnecessary fatigue. Hold you mallet securely but not too tightly.
Larger mallets are chiefly used for bulk wood removal. To hold a large woodcarver’s mallet correctly, the user should grasp the handle lightly between thumb and forefinger around the mallet’s slightly narrow neck.
When striking with the mallet you can simply give a small flick of the wrist and maximise the force of the mallet strike while minimising the effort required. Once you are comfortable with this technique you can carve effortlessly for long periods.
Smaller woodcarver’s mallets are mostly used for intricate detailing. These mallets are typically much smaller than those used for roughing-out tasks and, as such, their heads are often made from a heavier material (usually brass) to give them sufficient striking force.
Detailing mallets are usually “tapped” as opposed to “hit” or “struck”. To hold a detailing mallet so that you have greater control over its force and accuracy, hold the handle in the palm of your hand with your finger and thumb on the head of the mallet.