For this article, I reviewed six of the most popular wood carving chisel sets. Schaaf Wood Carving Chisel Set is the best overall option. Keep reading to learn why.
As an avid woodcarver, I have always enjoyed the simplicity and direct interaction with the tool and workpiece when wood carving with chisels. Since I began working with wood, I have come to form my own preferences, and I am happy to share them with you in this article.
I considered factors like price, performance, and ergonomics for choosing the best overall set. Hand tools should be comfortable and long-lasting — these are the two main signs of good quality tools. At the same time, they should not cost the earth, which top-quality chisels do.
In this article, we will be looking at sets that are best for beginners and intermediates. I have deliberately left out the super expensive options.
If you want to know about the best wood carving chisels you can buy then keep reading!
Best Chisels For Wood Carving:
Best Overall: Schaaf Wood Carving Tools, Set of 12
The Schaaf set of wood carving chisels came out as the best of the top 6 sets I selected online. They beat the Winckelsteel set by a hair because they are about $10 cheaper. Schaaf is not the most affordable set, but it is far from being the most expensive. So it strikes the right kind of balance.
These solid steel, full-sized pieces come in a good mix of shapes and sizes for beginners and intermediate carvers. This variety makes the set fairly versatile and an excellent choice for gifting. The canvas carry case is handy. You should always put away your chisels after using them and ensure you protect your blades from rubbing against one another or other tools.
If you are getting serious about wood carving and want a set that will last you for a very long time, this is the set to choose. It is an excellent bridging set to go from beginner to intermediate or to continue towards becoming professional. All chisels need some tuning and honing out of the box. These are no different in that regard but won’t need much work compared to cheaper alternatives.
Best For Beginners: WAYCOM 24PCS Wood Knife Kit Set
Sometimes you need a cheap set that has a lot of different pieces for you to try out. One that you can afford to break the set if mistakes are made. The Waycom set offers a dozen mini-gouges and a dozen full-sized gouges for just a little more than $1 apiece.
This is the set I would recommend to the absolute beginner who hasn’t decided which tools to buy. A set like this will also make a good backup set when you upgrade, which you will have to if you want to continue into serious woodcarving.
You always get what you pay for when it comes to cheap tools. These are soft steel blades meant for use on softwood. Since beginners generally practice on softwood anyway, this is not a problem as such. Just be ready to do a bit of setting up before you get to use them properly.
Best For Detail Carving: VonHaus 16pc Wood Carving Tool Set
If you are getting into woodcarving and need an affordable set that lets you work on small projects with a lot of details, this set will serve you well. It contains a good selection of small palm gouges and regular gouges. Vonhaus is a good economy brand that I have covered before in my wood chisel buying guide.
The steel quality is better than the earlier set, but the price per tool is similar. You are getting 16 pieces for $25, which is an excellent bargain for a set that will easily last you a good few years. The only caveat is that it might not hold up too well against a lot of hardwood. The steel is not hard enough.
Get these as a practice set while you are still doing a lot of beginner work. This set gives you a professional variety at a low price. It will help you decide which pieces you actually want to use and then upgrade to a professional kit accordingly. These won’t last very long if you use them daily.
Best For Wood Sculpting: Flexcut Sculptor’s Set of 4 (MC175)
Flexcut is a brand that is well known in the wood carving world for making excellent wood whittling knives, and it appears on my roundup of the best wood carving knives. So it is no surprise that they will have a good selection of wood carving chisels as well.
The MC175 set is a very specialized set that is different from all the other entries on this list. It comes in options of 4, 6, and 10 pieces and more for sculptors than carvers. These are much larger and help carve large pieces. It comes with curved gouges as well as a V gouge. These are mallet-driven chisels. You will need to make a smaller or purchase one separately for using them.
If you are okay with paying extra for a mallet or already have one, these chisels are a good buy that will last you a very long time. Flexcut is an established US-based company and provides excellent customer service.
Best For Pros: WINCKELSTEEL Wood Carving Tools Set
Winckelsteel has tried its best to provide an alternative to expensive professional sets and has succeeded for the most part. This is a set that has strong potential as your mainstay through the intermediate years. It will need some setting up the first time. Some pieces may have defects because of mass manufacturing, and they have to be ground and honed.
All those caveats aside, their claim of using HRC 59-61 steel seems to hold up. Once set up, they do hold their edge pretty well, which is a must for anyone who wants to spend hours every day carving various kinds of wood. Hard steel can take a beating, especially when carving hardwood.
Get this set If you are working on tabletop-sized projects that are not too large. The sizes go from 4mm to 20mm, and the curves go from #1 to #12. There is an 8mm straight chisel, 8mm skew chisel, a V-Gouge, a veiner, and a 20mm heavy bent gouge (for spoons, bowls, etc.). So you can do a lot with them once they are ground and honed properly.
Best Hobbyist Set: BeaverCraft Wood Carving Chisel Set SC01
Beavercraft is another brand that appears on my list of best wood carving knives. It is a good brand for serious hobbyists, beginners, and even intermediates who are looking for that good quality at a reasonable price. Priced around $50, it is in the middle of the price range of this list and comes with 4 pieces.
It includes a bent gouge and three straight gouges. It might seem paltry after reading through sets of 12 and 16 pieces, but the higher per piece cost is justified by the quality. As another made in USA brand, it is a reliable option with good customer service. The set also comes with a honing strop and compound.
If you are looking for a serious hobbyist set, this is it. While their larger sets are best for intermediates and professionals, this set is a great investment for those who want a small set that will last decades. You can always rely on their steel quality and consistently high-quality manufacturing.
Now that I have covered the kits that I like the most, let’s dive deeper into the world of woodcarving chisels. Here are some points to consider before making a purchase.
Chisels should be straight from the tip of the blade to the end of the handle. Slight bents might not make much of a difference to your carving, but anything more can quickly become difficult to handle. So when it comes to choosing your set, it is all about being on the straight and narrow!
The blade’s hardness makes a large difference in woodcarving chisels. It is measured in Rockwell C Scale expressed as HRC (Hardness Rockwell C). For wood carving, an HRC rating of 58 to 61 is desirable. To put it in perspective, 64 on the HRC scale is the hardest commonly used steel. That’s how hard your blade should be, and most wood carving chisels meet these criteria.
Just remember that the harder the chisel, the more difficult it is to sharpen. It also means it will need sharpening less frequently. Hard steel holds its edge for longer. If you’re doing a lot of hardwood carvings, you are better off with a good set of hard steel blades that have been tempered to about HRC 60-61.
Faceted handles like octagonal ones do not roll when kept on the table. This varies from brand to brand. Rounded tools have the advantage of being more comfortable to hold for all-day-long carving. It will, of course, roll when placed on a flat surface, especially if the surface is not leveled correctly. To prevent rolling, you can place a mat on the workbench or table and put your tools on that.
Almost all chisel handles are wooden. As a traditional tool, that part hasn’t changed much. After all, if you are working with a lot of wood, the chances are that you would like the look and feel of a wood handle.
Hardwoods like Hickory, Ash, and Oak are popular choices for handles. Maple is another common wood in commercially produced chisels.
Numbers May Vary
If you already have a size and want to find a size larger or smaller, you should look at the same brand. Size numbers can vary a great deal between brands and also between new, old and vintage chisels.
There are two numbers that we are concerned with, the first one denotes the curvature, and the second denotes the width. Most European makes will mark the width in millimeters, and some English and American ones will mark them in inches.
For example, you can have a #3, 6mm gouge. It tells you how wide the blade is, and the #3 tells you how curved it is. The latter number is the one that doesn’t always match up between brands — especially the #2 — which can sometimes be a skew chisel instead of a curved gouge.
If you need more curvature but the same width, you will then have to switch to something like a #7, 6mm.
So the higher the curvature number is, the more curved the tool is and vice versa. #1 is flat, and #11 is almost a U-shaped edge. You will find that you develop a preference for specific numbers from your set, and you will use these more than others.
The width goes from 1mm to 50mm and is even wider in some cases. Not all brands have all sizes. Some brands may have a 5mm and then a 7mm, skipping 6mm altogether.
If you want to try out different brands to compare to the ones you already have, borrow them from friends or get a feel for them at a shop.
Wood Carving Chisel Types
A straight gouge is where the blade is uniform and straight down the handle. A fishtail gouge is one where the edge is wider at the tip, giving it a characteristic fishtail shape.
The decision to use one over the other is simply a matter of personal choice and availability. In some cases, though, the fishtail gouge might be more ergonomic. It is often easier to reach tight corners where a straight gouge of the same size wouldn’t reach.
Fishtail gouges are also easier to use when using twisting motions to make cuts. It is more convenient to hold the blade in place with your other hand because of the narrow body.
The most common concern for a fishtail is that the edge will start to narrow down as it shortens while sharpening. The truth here is that unless you are grinding the blade, regular sharpening barely shortens the blade. Even after decades of use, you will hardly notice the difference.
The only point I will hold against fishtail gouges is their slightly higher price when compared to straight gouges. Also, the shape doesn’t matter in smaller widths like 1mm and 2mm, or higher curvatures like #10 or #11. Most brands will only offer fishtail gouges up to a particular curvature number and no more.
Related: Best Chisels for Woodworking
4 To 6 pieces are Enough to Get Started With
You will often see dozens upon dozens of chisels in a professional woodcarver’s workshop. That does not mean that you need so many to make professional work. Most beginners will need no more than 4 to 6 pieces for the first one to two years. Most professionals will be using no more than 12 to 15 different chisels for even the most elaborate projects.
So when starting out, your money is better spent on getting a small number of good quality pieces instead of a large kit that you will not fully utilize.
Here’s a video that goes in-depth and explains everything there is to know about wood carving chisels.
The best wood carving chisel set is the Schaaf 12 Wood Carving Chisel Set. It is the one to buy if you are getting into wood carving seriously and want a set that will keep up. It uses good steel and has a good variety that will support you through the most complex of projects.
If you are just a hobbyist and want a good set that will last long, choose Beavercraft. The 4 piece set is not suitable for serious carvers but it is ideal for a hobbyist. It will last a long time and it also comes with a leather strop and compound for sharpening.
I hope this list has helped you understand wood carving chisels and given you some good options to choose from.
If you want to buy any of the products in this article, please consider using the links given above. As Amazon affiliates, we receive a small commission from your purchase at no extra cost to you.
Further Reading: Best Wood Carving Tools for Beginners