Sam Understands V-tools


As I was watching my buddy, Sam, poke his head into the kitchen through the cat door as he often does, I got to thinking about v-tools.  Sam’s problem is also the problem of many v-tools: his bottom is too wide.  In Sam’s case, too wide to follow his head through the cat door; in the case of a v-tool, too wide to follow the cutting edge deep into the groove.


From the workshop, the problem is clear.

Unless we get a bigger door, Sam is stuck.  But not so with the v-tool; that we can fix.  But what use is a v-tool anyway?


A v-tool certainly isn’t the first tool that comes to mind for bowl carving, but once the adze and axe are put away a v-tool can come in very handy, just as it does with various forms of relief or in-the-round carving.  Above is just one example.  I’m just about done now with this second exploration of the hen bowl design.  In the photo, I was using the v-tool to remove the material in the sharp angle between the tail feathers.



And for the large letters on this just-finished maple bowl handle above, a v-tool works well to remove just the bulk of the central material before moving in with a knife.  With harder woods, that initial excavation makes room for other tools and provides a release area for the chips.  I use a similar approach for removing the bulk of the material in large triangular recesses like those of the necklaces I carve around some bowl rims (left).

The photos and captions below show the difference between a v-tool as it usually arrives new and how it can be ground and honed in a way that will make it much more responsive.  Making that wide keel into a more sleek shape makes a lot of difference.  Sam is envious.


This is how a v-tool often comes new.  The angle of attack is very steep, meaning the tool must be held at a high angle to cut.  And the wide bottom of the tool meets the bevels in an abrupt obtuse wedge that resists following into the groove cut by the edge.


The edge could be touched up a bit, but this v-tool has been relatively easy to maintain since the initial grinding and shaping were done.  The angle from edge to keel is much shallower and the wedge at the keel has been ground back to offer much less resistance following the cutting edge.


This isn’t anything close to a full tutorial on sharpening a v-tool; I’ll try to do more along those lines in the future.  I’ve got some carving to get back to now.  Meanwhile, a great source on sharpening wood carving tools (and more) is Woodcarving Tools, Materials, and Equipment by Chris Pye.  Chris Pye is the man, and I learned a lot from that book.



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14 Responses to Sam Understands V-tools

  1. Amy says:

    I love him. And I love that this particular tendency of his has made it to your blog and for the world’s enjoyment.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. francedozois says:

    will you paint this one?


  3. Richard Motz says:

    How About Mary May Wood Carving Lessons ?


    • Paul Anderson says:

      I have a little experience with Mary May’s on-line lessons. What I have seen of her lessons so far are top notch. In her video lessons she explains things very well. Highly recommended in my option. My last thought would be, if you are not following her as a carver you should be. I’m also looking forward to her new book, last I heard end of September.


    • Dave Fisher says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Paul.


  4. Dave Fisher says:

    Richard, I’m not sure if I’m clear about what you’re asking, but I was referring to Chris’s books that helped me many years ago. I haven’t met Mary May, but I have seen her on the Woodwright’s Shop and she does an amazing job. Really looking forward to reading her book that should be coming out soon. Again, sorry if I haven’t answered your question. If you want to clarify, I’ll try again.


  5. John Schuster says:

    I looked up the book by Chris Pye and the cheapest version is over $40, some sources are well over $100 for a used version. Any ideas about how to purchase a copy at a reasonable cost?


  6. nrhiller says:

    This is just wonderful: funny and instructive, while also inspiring. And you can never go wrong with a dog.


  7. Paul Anderson says:

    Great intro to the V-tool Dave. Thanks again for sharing. I was told by an old time woodcarver John Sailor, “You are not really a wood carver until you used a v-tool.” I do use my v-tools a bit, still learning all the things one can us it for. It is great to hog out during the roughing stage as you mentioned. These tooling skills you mentioned are a great asset that apply to many different carving situations.


  8. Marco Woodcrafts says:

    Dave, some brands offer both straight and long-bent V-gouges, do you think that the bend helps to counter the problem you described here? I have no experience with either but am considering getting the first v-gouge and wonder about the pros and cons of both types.
    Thanks for your thoughts.


    • Dave Fisher says:

      Unless you are carving into a deep hollow or some similar situation, you’ll want the straight v-tool. The tool will come with the same geometry of the cutting edge in both cases, but for just about all of the work most folks will do, the straight-shanked v-tool will be much easier to control and guide.


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