Carving tools are expensive!
No they’re not!
Okay, ‘expensive’ is relative. However, if you compare woodcarving to other areas of woodworking, I truly believe that woodcarving is down at the cheaper end.
Consider other major woodworking crafts:
Woodturning: You need a lathe. How much is that? Then there are accessories, chucks and faceplates etc. And don’t forget the actual turning tools…
Cabinet/Furniture Making: Start adding up your planes, chisels, saws and marking tools etc and you’ve spent a lot. Not to mention planers, thicknessers or table saws...
And don't forget, carvers can make a little piece of wood - a free offcut, even - go a long way...
Consider this too:
We have a Beginners Course on Woodcarving Workshops that uses just 3 carving tools. It’s true that as your carving gets more complicated you do start needing a wider variety of tools but there are a large number of projects on the site that still use just a few.
I wrote a book, Relief Carving in Wood, that used 9 carving tools for a low and high relief exercise. I know of students who worked through that course and still, 20 years later, have been happily carving with only a few more.
Although you may end up with drawers full of carving tools, the rule is: you should only buy carving tools on the basis of need.
Thus, carvers would usually build up their working tool collection of tools over (many) years, one or two at a time as projects call for them. So the expense is spread out over a lifetime's work. There is no 'set' of tools; what you have depends on what you want to do and what you eventually get into. Small fine work? Egg & Dart Moulding? Large Sculpture? Lettering?
While we're at it:
I have carving tools over 120 years old, still going strong! Your carving gouges will sharpen (and thus shorten) right down to an inch or so from the shoulder (where the sweep disappears) and, up to that point, are still fully usable. My most useful gouge is about an inch shorter than when I bought it and started carving 45 years ago. Would that I could see it to it’s end!
Yes, you need sharpening equipment (and the best stones aren’t 'cheap') but, again, they are very long lasting. I’m still using the Arkansas benchstone with which I began…
Carving tools are an investment.
You buy and love them for life as the extensions of your hands and mind.
You don’t need many but you do need some. And you do need to sharpen and look after them. You’ll also need some sort of bench to carve on and a way of holding the piece of wood. And possibly a mallet.
And that’s about it. For years and years of pleasure and pain.