I’ve wanted to get into carving for a while now, but I really didn’t have the time and money necessary to invest in a new hobby. Trying to jump start myself, last year I picked up a cheap $10 set of carving tools and quickly found they weren’t very good, or maybe I just was using the wrong wood, or I was plain doing it wrong.
Stuart set up the opportunity for me to request some tools from Rockler to review, so I asked for a Flexcut carving set. This gave me a good excuse to finally spend some time learning how to carve. Maybe it would be easier with a decent set of tools.
This 5-piece set Flexcut set comes with 4 different interchangeable cutting tools, a handle, a tool roll, a sample project, and an instruction book. These are the 4 cutting tools included:
- No. 3 – 3/8″ gouge
- No. 6 – 3/8″ gouge
- No. 9 – 1.5mm gouge
- 70° 1/4″ V-tool
Each interchangeable tool is shipped razor sharp and ready to carve. They snap into the ABS handle in either direction, but I think the handle is supposed to bend down when you are cutting. Honestly I don’t think it matters as long as you are comfortable. I used the handle both ways, depending on how I was cutting.
Carving the Sample Project
At first the manual discusses the proper use of the tools, honing and sharpening, and learning to carve with the grain. Once you’ve read that far you can start the sample project.
The Craft Carving Set comes with project blank with a print of two leaves on it. I believe the blank is basswood, a very friendly wood for beginning carvers since it is soft and even grained. I experimented with some pine just to get the feel of the tools before I tackled the project and found it very difficult to move across the uneven grain.
You start out by outlining the leaves and the stems with the V-tool, and then start to pair away the background with the 1.5mm and #6 – 3/8″ gouges. As you pair away material you need to go back regularly and use the V-tool to make sure the sides of the object you are carving are still straight.
You are supposed to do this until the background is about 1/3″ the height of the original blank to give you room for shaping and shadowing. Once you are down to depth, then you use the flatter #3 – 3/8″ gouge to remove the tool marks and flatten the background.
The tools are sharp! I was reaching for one of the interchangeable blades in the roll and just touched one of the other blades. It was enough to puncture my skin right in the joint of my finger. It didn’t really bleed, but it stung for a few days.
As I became more comfortable with the tools I started experimenting with how to hold the wood in place. At first I used a quick clamp, but as I had to move the wood so I could cut with the grain, it became tedious clamping and unclamping the wood. So next I tried using some auto adjusting dog clamps. And while they were faster than the quick clamp, it was still a pain to move the wood when I needed to.
Finally I just started carving on top of a Silicone Project Mat Rockler had also sent over for review. As long as it was clean underneath the mat, I didn’t have any problems with the workpiece slipping. I still feel that I’m going catch hell from more experienced carvers for not firmly clamping down the wood, but I actually felt it was more comfortable as I could lay my hand directly on the wood rather than working around the clamp all the time.
I estimate I have about 5 hours of time into the sample project, and I still haven’t finished it, but I think that I have enough experience with these carving tools to recommend them to anybody interested in trying this type of carving.
I really liked how the manual walks you through carving, from picking up a carving tool to stepping through a real project. The Flexcut tools were high quality and have stayed sharp so far. If I want to continue carving, I will probably need to get a honing strop to help keep them that way, and then eventually learn to sharpen each tool when the edges are too rounded-over to hone.
I found carving relaxing, but it was also time consuming, especially clearing out the background. Once I got started on the actual image, it went much quicker and was a lot more fun. I found that the four tools provided were adequate for this project and probably many others. Flexcut offers around 50 different interchangeable tools that’ll fit this handle.
The Flexcut Craft Carving Set will run you around $52. Some other dealers, sell it for almost $60. There are larger sets available, but I feel that this 5pc set is a good match for beginners.
Thank you to Rockler for providing the review sample unconditionally.