This is me, shamelessly telling you about the new lettering chisels from Auriou that I designed
I take responsiblity for taking the profile away from the normal, heavy parallel-sided chisel to the pre-industrial 'allongee' shape, in which the blade splays from the shoulder. The allongee form makes these tools lighter to work with and gives you both more visibility at the cut and more knife-like corners. There's a wide range, from 15mm to 45mm.
Forge de Saint Jeury takes responsibility for the forging the resilient, great edge-holding, sexy looking blades.
Give them a go - tell me what you think!
These tools should be available from:
Australia Lie-Nielsen Australia
France Forge de Saint Jeury - Home of Auriou Toolworks
Germany Magma Fine Tools
| 22 April 2023 23:13
A fellow subscriber put me on to a way to reasonably manage script down to 1" letters. He recommended a chip carving knife by Marty Leenhouts (mychipcarving.com). These knifes fit the direction recommended by Chris (thin, light, and sharp). He recommends a "scary sharp" method, which I have found helpful for this knive. If interested, I recommend the lightest knife he has.
| 22 April 2023 08:30
Michael - I think that's a good idea. To me, there's nothing special about the techniques of lettering: you'll find the movements and tools appear in a whole range of carvings, from relief to mouldings. It's the application of those techniques that makes for letter carving - and that's not to diminish lettering; it's one of the most demanding forms of carving to do well. By the time you've worked through some of the projects and gathered a few more tools you'll be in a much better position to carve your script.
And who knows, by then you might have changed your mind!
| 21 April 2023 12:52
Thanks Chris for your response! The wood grain definitely became an issue during my experiments. Not sure I’m ready to buy a lot of tools for this project at this point. I think I’m better off working through the course step by step and gaining skills first.
| 21 April 2023 08:15
Michael - I'm glad you are finding us helpful!
'Script'. This is lettering done by hand; it flows and moves with a pen, say, and right there is your first problem; it's not designed by or for carvers. The curves and shapes are much more complicated than those of the classic Roman.
This means that you need a lot of carving tools to cut script alphabets successfully. A rule of thumb for me regarding any alphabet or font is that if I need a lot of tools to cut it then it's not a happily carveable font and will take a long time.
I've been able to adapt Blackletter (Gothic) into a readily carveable 'font' but never scripts.
Size: So you will need quite a lot of sweeps to cut the various script curves - and certainly narrower tools. All carving tools can cut a range of (ever-tightening) curves but width is a big factor and you are carving quite small letters. I'm not surprised your tools are too wide for what you want to do! As I carve lots of things other than letters, I have a lot of tool shapes and widths to play with.
Add to this that the smaller the letter, the more the grain of the wood comes into play and the less wood you have to sneak up on those final edges, and you've set yourself up with a biggish problem.
The answer will be experimenting with narrower tools. I hope this is helpful and I'm sorry I can't say exactly what you need.
(PS, and not really useful but it's a lot easier to carve script in stone, which is all done with simple chisels and without grain to take into consideration.)
| 18 April 2023 21:24
Just started your course and am learning quite a bit from it. Sharpening my tools following your instructions has made a world of difference!
So my question is this. I need to carve some Script letters for a wedding memory box I’ve been asked to design and build. Main letters would be around 1” tall, and the date information about 3/4” tall. Is it possible to do this with carving tools? I’ve been experimenting but am not having much luck so far. It seems to me that the carving tools I have are too large for doing this. Any recommendations?
| 27 January 2023 08:25
William - Fishtails definitely have a shorter life than regular, parallel-sided gouges which is why they are kept for lighter, detailed work. They do wear out. I've never bought an old fishtail that was anything like its original width. If you are able to give to extend their working life, good for you!
Tools are a means to an end: Your carving. Love them. Look after them - but there's no place for reticence! Make them (nicely) do what you need to do!
| 27 January 2023 01:31
Thank you for your many replies. After 13 years my tools are getting foreshortened, especially the light fishtail tools. On several of these, I ground notches in the tool sides to gain greater access, as you have suggested. But what happens when the tool edge invades the notched sides? The tool gets narrow, I assume. Since I just took delivery on Auriou chisels and gouge, I'm a bit reticent to notch these beauties. Do I dare?
| 23 February 2021 10:46
Jeff - It's one I designed myself, based on Rustic Roman.
From a learning-to-letter-in-wood point of view, it would be far better for you to print the alphabet out from the download and use tracing paper to go over and over the letterforms. In this way you'll get a hand-mind feeling for them, rather than just mechanically just cutting from a template. It depends on how you want to use them of course; I use templates in the Lettered Post project, but there were some 1200 letters to be arranged 'artistically'...
| 05 February 2021 15:51
Thank you Chris for your prompt reply!
I will start buying some quality, individual chisels to fill my current needs. I’m not concerned about redundancy as I can keep one bevel for harder woods and one for soft, at the ready.
Thank you again for the course and the help!
| 04 February 2021 10:15
Lee - I set the Auriou train in motion but have long since got off; so am not involved at all in the production or distribution. I do know they are a small firm and very reliable on the hand-forging of skilled individual smiths, of which there aren't many around. They may well have had production problems but I really don't know. You could try writing to them directly?
I know that no one likes to buy tools twice but, rather than wait (for who knows how long, and life is short), you might like to consider buying a regular, parallel-sided chisel to practise one or 2 letters? The allongee is a lovely tool but I happily carved letters without them for many years.
Thanks for the kind words and all the best with your carving!
| 02 February 2021 17:56
I have been watching the videos and find them terrific! I’m on the wait list for your letter carving set, but, there is a significant delay from Auriou. Repeated calls to the supplier renders no updates at all and I was wondering if they are taking a break due to the virus or something else.
Do you have any idea as to when Auriou will be producing these fine tools? I can’t be alone here.
| 23 December 2020 13:24
Richard - I make each bevel angle around 15 degrees, so your combined angle (ie the total 'wedge' of metal) is 30.
Very soft woods may need a more acute combined angle and harder woods may need a wider one, but start there.
| 23 December 2020 02:40
Chris, at what angle should the Letter Carving tools be sharpened?
| 26 May 2020 08:26
Thank you for your reply
I will follow your advice, namely to get proficient at carving larger letters first, then just start reducing the size
I will proceed step by step
Thank you very much for your help
| 25 May 2020 20:21
Patrice - Thanks for the kind comments. Glad you are enjoying the site!
1: Well, roughly bigger letters need bigger tools and vice versa. It's basically the same technique except, of course, you can't get a wider chisel into a narrower straight element, though you can do the opposite. If you look at the 'Swallow Table' in the gallery on my own website (www.chrispye-woodcarving.com) you'll see letters sweeping along from 1cm to 10cm. I think that as you get deeper into lettering you'll just see how they work and the sort of tools you'll need.
2. 1.cm is really small for carving and quite tricky to pull off well. You'll find the effect of the wood fibres stronger and there's little or no slack to adjust - each cut really counts! But really, as I say above, the tools aren't different, just smaller. I'd suggest you get proficient at carving larger letters first, then just start reducing the size. Then you want to feel comfortable with the small size before you cut into your walking sticks.
Hope this helps. Well done and... just keep going!
| 23 May 2020 15:41
First, let me thank you for your videos. They are fantastic and so educational. You have done a wonderful job. Having a teacher like you at home is a privilege.
I took the whole beginner's course and did the exercises
Now I'm on the letter engraving course and I bought your new book "Lettercarving in wood" which is exciting.
I have some questions.
1 - Is there a rule to determine according to the size of the letters, the size of the tools.
2 - I engrave letters on walking sticks that I make. These are 1 cm letters. Are there special tools for this dimension?
| 14 February 2019 13:55
Thank you for the reply Chris, I will go and do some more homework.
| 14 February 2019 12:31
Chris - I'm afraid I can't really answer this question directly: The size and shape of the huge number of fonts means there really isn't one size and shape of gouge that fits all. The straights aren't the problem - you can shunt the narrower ones along - nor are the fishtails for the serifs; it's picking the gouges.
The best thing is to draw out your letters onto paper then head over to the Letter Carving videos (on this site) and you'll see one called 'Picking Gouges for Curves'. Use this with a sheffield or other list of sweeps to find those curves you need for the letters. Then you will need to do a little practice to make sure you are right.
So there is a bit of preparation to do here, which I would have to do myself for a font I wasn't used to. Of course, if you use the same size and font again, you'll be able to get straight into it.
| 13 February 2019 19:35
Hello Chris, firstly what fantastic, inspiring webpage you have. I was hoping you could advise on what chisels, fishtails and gouges I will need for times roman font.
I have already purchased your fishtail gouge 10mm a 22mm gouge and a 45mm chisel based on a font size of 45mm, I'm printing out my words and tracing them on to the wood. I have since realised that I need to make my font larger as the 45mm chisel doesn't allow room for serifs, could you advise on correct size font as well please.
| 25 November 2018 12:33
Sienna - The handles shouldn't come loose on a new tool but sometimes they do, no doubt to do with the wood shrinking. If this happens - the tang seems loose in the hole - I pack the hole with fine sawdust and then refit the handle. You need to grip the blade vertically in a vice with the shoulder resting on the vice jaws. Line up the handle and tap it back home with a mallet - you can see me do this in the videos about handles.
(I do the same thing if the blade is offset, not in a straight line with the handle: knock the handle off, pack hole and refit. It's really quite a quick remedy; you certainly don't need a new handle!
This effort you've made, acquiring the skills to sharpen your tools properly - I can't tell you how important that will be to you as a carver. It's bedrock not just for the carving itself but for for your own satisfaction and enjoyment of the craft. Well done. Keep going!
| 21 November 2018 05:17
I swear last comment for a long time!!! Haha
I took your advice and went to work with commissioning my new auriou set. Drumroll..... I was FINALLY able to get a perfect 15 degree on both sides of the 2 chisels I started working on. I was much more careful, sat and stared at the tools for a good while just planning how to find that perfect angle on the grinder. I want to throw a party I am so thrilled I am now back on the road to actually carving again after my sharpening blues.
Thank you so much for your videos and advice on sharpening!
My last question is about the handles. I have not used my tools yet with a mallet or anything and the handle came loose from the tang. I saw your video on repairing the tang, and was wondering if that sort of step was too drastic for a new tool, or if there is a more typical way to “handle” the situation when it is new out of shipping box. The others are perfect, I’m thinking this one didn’t sit right in the pilot hole or something.
| 12 November 2018 19:18
Thank you Chris!
I will try with a hard Arkansas that is a bit more course than the black one I have.
For the angle, I was referring to the lettering angle. It’s been the thing I enjoy carving the most. I spent a lot of time last night working in the shop with the tools, after watching the pye-Cosman videos again several times, I got the straights down much better, and am going to really study the cuts for rounds. I do enjoy the angle of the gouges, but will try to Commision the 6/14mm as suggested, I won’t know how amazing the tool can really be until I customize it! I am going to definitely go a lot slower this time and maybe use the soft Arkansas to make adjustments instead of the crazy excited grinding I did on my old Pfeil tools. Wish I could show a picture of my Pfeil 3/14 fishtail. My husband and I looked at it last night and were in tears laughing so hard. Lessons with sharpening have stung, but I’m glad we had a good laugh at the epic fail that was my first grinder attempt ????
With carving I feel like I learned the shortcut ways and unpredictable techniques that did create some really nice stuff, but very inconsistent depths and shapes of letters. So I need to slow down and go back to learn the basics the right way, I know it will pay off in the long run. Thank you so much for your quick and very useful response!!!
| 12 November 2018 10:19
Sienna - First of all, relax! It's just a piece of metal.
2. Sharpening carving tools is a skill to learn but has precise results. So be clear about what you are aiming for when you commission a tool - write it out! - and break it down into steps, as I hope I do on this site. Carving tools are not at all like single bevel carpentry tools, the y feel and work differently, much more fluidly.
3. Remember that any gouge is tempered right back to near the shoulder - you see short old tools that still have years of life in them. So you can remove metal as you get on top of your sharpening skills without in anyway damaging the tool itself.
4. I suggest you just take one tool - just one - the 6 x 14mm is usually a good one to start with and get that right, even if it does end up a little shorter, then move on to another. Take notes; see yourself as building up a body of knowledge...
On to your other comments:
1 You cannot assume the bevel angle of a tool you by is what you want. I can almost guarantee it wasn't put there by a woodcarver! Hence the commissioning: taking possession of the tool, making it work just as you want it to and at it's most efficient. But you only need to commission a tool once; the rest is maintenance. One CAN use tools out of the box, but I can't. All the tools in the picture above ned their bevels lengthening. This is what the factory gives you.
2 The Black Arkansas is so fine a stone that it's like sharpening on a strop; I never use it - I don't even have one. The stone I prefer is the translucent Arkansa, which has much more of a bite. Have a look at the video to check what I'm using.
3. Just checking: That 60 deg angle is for lettering? Not the cutting angle, which should be more like 25-30 deg. I would suspect that if the tool is slipping off the wood and not biting into it, then you have a rounded bevel, especially towards the cutting edge. Make sure the bevel is flat from heel to edge.
Hope this helps!
Just keep going. Keep exploring and learning.
| 11 November 2018 19:55
I just received my 14 piece set of lettering tools in the mail. I have been thinking about them non stop for 4 months or so and my husband surprised me with one of two sets left sold that he found in US. I am in love with them as much as I thought I would be, the tools are such great quality. I did have two questions though I was hoping you could shed some light on.
1- after totally messing up previously with trying to Commision my Pfeil tools, I am scarred on the experience of reshaping, especially since these are so hard to find and was a big decision financially for us. They are seemingly very sharp, if I am going to keep the angle as is, should I then just strop them a bit or maybe do a little black Arkansas stone before strop?
2 - I have only ever used single bevel chisels and am noticing it is a very different sensation with the double bevel, I read that you wrote to keep the 60 degree regardless of bevel angle. But it feels like the tool is buttery haha like slipping when I go to make a cut with the mallet. Is that normal for someone just starting with double bevels? ( considering I have only used 14mm and smaller tools I figured that the larger tools was going to take time to adjust to as well with finding even pressure)
| 19 February 2017 11:34
Jeffrey - The #1 slipstones will fit the gouges in the lettering set. The chisels of course only need benchstones to sharpen them.
Sorry, but I have very little knowledge of diamond stones, but here's what I think:
You only really need 2 benchstones: 'coarse' for the shaping (and even that is hardly needed if you use a belt grinder) and 'fine' (or very fine) for finishing off. So this set of 4 will see some redundancy for a start and I'm not convinced diamonds is the best option anyway...
Diamond stones WILL wear out, because they are only as good as what binds the diamond dust to the steel plate, once the grit has fallen off, it's gone. Carborundum stones on the other hand can be flattened and will last a lifetime. If you can't find an translucent Arkansas benchstone, a very hard white should substitute.
Many people find the Veritas honing guide helps get a consistency in the chisel bevels that they find difficult to achieve by eye and hand, so thumbs up for that. You need to make sure the stone on which you are working is flat and big enough to get the best result with the jig. It's here that the diamond sharpening plates score because they are always flat and can be quite wide.
I'm not sure how much all this helps you make a decision!
| 12 January 2016 09:51
Chris, any idea if the Auriou tools are available in Canada specifically in Quebec?
Thanks - Claude
| 12 January 2016 09:48
Claude: Sorry, I'm not really involved in the distribution. The best people to ask about other countries would be Classic Hand Tools - link above. Mike Hancock, who is the director of Classic Hand Tools, was directly involved the their development and will know everything about where they can be bought from.
| 30 July 2015 08:27
Thank you very much!
| 29 July 2015 11:24
Alice - You'll need 2 benchstones: coarse (Carborundum) and fine (Translucent Arkansas). Slipstones: for the lettering gouges, the thickest set ('sculpture' set) and the next thinnest (sorry, can't remember the name of this set offhand) for the inside bevels. Do watch all the lessons on this site carefully (especially 'No Fear Sharpening') to really understand what the tools should look like you are aiming for when you sharpen the tools. Also look through the Rob Cosman lettering DVD lessons - there are some basic exercises to work on before you attempt the letter. Mallet: I'd suggest a weight between 14-20oz (4-500g) - and a wooden one with a large head, rather than a small metal one. I hope you enjoy lettering. It takes a lot of practice to do it well, you have to learn about layout too. But it's very satisfying in the end. So, just keep at it. Step by step!
| 29 July 2015 07:07
Hi Criss I am about buying your set of 14 tools for letter carving but I am very confused about bench stones and slip stones. I have seen your signature series and l was wondering if you could advice me which are the essentials considering the set of tools I am buying. And wich mallet would you use for it , considering l have got very small hands and l am a beginner.Thank you very much. Alice
| 25 October 2014 10:28
Hi Chris --Thank you for the info, much appreciated :)
| 21 October 2014 16:21
Richard - As a rule, you want to check over ANY carving tool that you buy (or simply acquire) for cutting angle, inner bevel etc and see what you need to do. With these chisels, you only need to check the cutting angle. Even though I've helped bring forth these tools, I don't have control over the individual smiths that make them. Make sure it's low, around 15deg on each side. The blades are thin so they aren't likely to take much 'tuning'. I hope you enjoy using them - I'm very pleased with how they've turned out!
| 21 October 2014 11:00
Hi Chris, just got the full set of letter carving chisels. Just a quick question, do I need to "Commision" these as shown in your sharping/commissioning video in the same way as the normal carving chiels? Many thanks in advanced
| 11 September 2014 17:17
Enzo - Auriou uses the Sheffield list (S), Pfeil (P) use the term 'cut' for their sweeps (#). A Comparison would be roughly this: P-cut#2 = S-sweep#3; P#3 = slightly quicker S#3; P#5 = S#5; P#7= S#6; P#8 = slightly flatter S#8; P#9 (though often not a true semicircle = S#9; P#11 = S#11. Pfeil seem to miss out cuts #4 and #6. If you table this out, it'll be less confusing. Actually, the best thing to do is get hold of a Pfeil catalogue and the Sheffield list (there's a download here) and photocopy the charts. Then overlay one on the other against a window or other light source and you'll get a direct comparison.
| 03 September 2014 00:36
Most of my tools are from Pfeil. I only can get Pfeil tools for lettering for now. Is it possible to have a comparative guide between Auriou and Pfeil, at least roughly? Thank you.
| 27 March 2014 15:44
Joe - PS... Great to hear the word 'practising' - music to my ears! Persistance is a great quality, one of the best for a carver to have. So, really well done for getting into a regular habit!
| 27 March 2014 12:29
Joe - The 60 deg. is the angle of the trench and has nothing to do with the sharpening of the chisels. Put a bevel of about 15-20deg. equally on both sides of the chisel - straight from the factory they will certainly need some tuning. When you come to carve the trenches, don't think about the bevels etc, look straight to the wood and what sort of trench you want to achieve - let your mind lead the way.
| 27 March 2014 11:33
Chris - with a 60 degree angle for cutting letters, is the bevel then made longer and sharpening the double bevel different?. By the way, in your book, you are spot on about practicing with the non-dominant hand. I am finding that after about a month of some practicing, I have much, much more control. Thanks.
| 04 June 2013 23:47
Chris, and Todd,
Great news! Got an email today from Thomas at Lie-Nielsen (Not sure if that was Mr. Lie-Nielsen himself) but he says, "The lettering chisels arrived yesterday. The sizes are from 15mm to 45mm and are priced from $40 to $58. We should have them on the web site by tomorrow, but if you want to place an order, please call 800-327-2520."
So we can get them here in the states now!
Thanks so much, Chris, for telling us about them, can't wait to get my own!
| 24 April 2013 18:48
Todd - Sorry, I think I was a little pre-emptive here. I' find out and update the note above as soon as I can.
| 23 April 2013 02:33
I checked the Lie Nielsen site but no allongee chisels. Just allongee gouges. Any news on this?