carving chisels versus firmer gouges.

JamesT

Active member
I have been on a carving tear as of late and I have a dumb question.There are carving chisels/gouges and then there are these gouges that have no numbers.What is the difference between the two.I realize one is finer and the other one seems heaver steel.
 

marymaycarving

Well-known member
Can you explain a little more? Are the ones without numbers antique? Are they labeled with a brand name or stamp? Very few of my older antique English gouges are numbered, but they are absolutely wonderful tools - usually finer and more delicate compared to the bulkiness of some of the newer ones.
 

Tom M

Well-known member
You might be referring to pattern maker's gouges.  These are much bigger than carving gouges. A pattern maker would make the mahogany patterns that sand and resin would be pressed into to make the forms for castings.

I understand there are two types: in-channel / out-channel (I think this is what they are called).  They would have a bevel on one side only (inside / outside).  With the bevel on the inside the pattern maker could carve the outside shape of the gouge (a groove).  With the bevel on the outside a cylinder could be formed.

I don't have any pattern makers gouges, but think a nice pattern maker's gouge would be great for making swing hinges.  I made one for a card table in white oak using a carving gouge, and broke a large chunk of steel off.

 

JamesT

Active member
Hi Mary and Tom, I guess I should have put more info in.They are antique and they have maker stamps but no sweep numbers.I think they must be pattern makers gouges as Tom said but I have used a couple of smaller one's for carving and had no trouble.I have been searching around and there really isn't much out there in terms of defining what different chisels are.Not that it matters much.Just use them when you can.I was just curious is all.I have found the addis with the masonic logo to be my favorites.They really feel good in your hand and as you run your fingers over the steel it just makes me...LOL
 

John Cashman

Well-known member
As Mary wrote, many older tools don't have sweep numbers or anything besides the maker's name stamp. The Addis chisels you mention might. The Masonic logo is actually Ward and Payne, who had bought the S.J. Addis name and made the tools. They were the most recently made tools with the Addis name. There are lots of tools made by many makers, and they have never come up with a common numbering convention. And if someone tells you the numbers between two systems are off just by one digit, it isn't so. It's much more complex than that. For a good comparison of modern tool makers and sweeps, check out http://www.alte-beitel.de/bildhauerwerkzeuge_e.html  For antique tools, forget it.

But to get back to your original question, you may in fact have some patternmaker's gouges, as Tom M pointed out. If they are really long, that's what you have. Other gouges were a bit heavier or longer than carver's tools, and were used by carpenters, joiners, sash makers, etc. You can use them for carving, but they might be a little too beefy for some tasks, but they're great for roughing out. Or they might just be earlier unmarked carving tools.
 

JamesT

Active member
Hey John thanks for that link.Thanks for the addis history as well!Also note that a lot of carving chisels that come out of England are hand made by individuals so they won't have numbers.I have a few of those.Another question would be this what are the marks that the chisel makers make when they make their own tools.ie forge marks?I am not sure how to phrase this but the hand forge mark is what?What do the other marks represent?
 

JamesT

Active member
I also wonder if some of the bigger gouges might be used for architectural type carvings.Big stuff.
 

marymaycarving

Well-known member
I have a question for those antique tool gurus. There are all sorts of antique English tools available on e-bay (I try to stay away from that - dangerous!) or auctions sometimes. Why is it that most new high quality gouges are made from companies in Germany, Switzerland and Austria? Where are all the antique German tools? Do they tend to stay in families and pass them down? Maybe just the accessibility to English tools is easier. Maybe there was just an over-abundance of them. Just wondering... Who's hiding those wonderful antique german gouges! Or Italian???
 

John Cashman

Well-known member
Jim, I just tried the link and it does go to the English page. Some of the menus are in German, and there is a German-only page. The translation on the English page is rough, but his English is better than my German.
 

John Cashman

Well-known member
That's a good question Mary. Besides antique English tools, I've only ever seen a few German and Swiss tools. All of the old German carving tools I've seen have been from around the WWII era, and I suspect they may have been brought home by GIs. Soldiers love souvenirs. But you are right, there should be more. I think there is a German eBay. We could look there.

I also think that the antique English tools are not as old as most people believe. There has been a little bit of research for the bigger names, like SJ and JB Addis, but it's a hazy field. Something tells me that, the older the tool, the more likely it is that it got used up, or broken opening paint cans. I often think that's why the seldom-used (and seldom sharpened) tools like spoon gouges seem to make up an inordinate percentage of antique carving tools on the market.

Here's a wild theory. Did Germany have scrap metal drives during WWII and before, the way we held them here? Because conditions in Germany were so much more dire, and Patriotic fervor so intense, did workmen donate tools to make weapons? It's a reach, to be sure, but it might be interesting. Germany did some strange things. For example, because strategic metals were restricted by the Allies in the 1930s, Germans used pure nickel for all their coins, so that they could be melted down when the time came for alloying steel.

Sorry for the wild tangent.
 

albreed

Well-known member
Mary- I bought over a hundred carving tools from the master that I worked for in 1974. He was Italian and trained in Italy before coming to the US. None of his tools were Italian, almost all English. Maybe the English made the best tools.....? I don't know. Most of them have no sweep no's on them, but that's typical, as you said-Al
 

klkirkman

Well-known member
I was trained essentiually as a pattern maker in the U.S.  circa 1950s.

The most highly valued chisels and gouges in that trade at that time were mabe in the U.S. by Buck Brothers. As I recall now, they had a stamped enblem that was the head of a buck, or something similar.

By the 1960s, the quality of their new tools had sharply declined and the old timers would no longer purchase them. 

The thing I recall most about using the vintage versus newer tools was that the Buck Brothers stuff seemed to hold an edge many times longer than the competitors.

Karl
 

Antiquity

Well-known member
Karl,

I too was trained as a wood patternmaker.  I bought several sets of Buck Bros. chisels and gouges from retired patternmakers as well as inheriting my Dad's sets.  There is a stamp on each chisel and gouge.  These old sets hold the edge very well as you stated.  Years later I bought a new set of carving tools from BB but the steel was poor.

The chisels and gouges come in both bent shank and straight shank.  They also made a set of gouges with a removable handle (I have this set) so it would take up less space in your tool box.

If you find an old set of BB chisels and gouges at a flee market or antique store/show buy them.  Most dealers don't know the quality of these old pieces.

Dennis Bork
Antiquity Period Designs, Ltd.
 

dkeller_nc

Well-known member
Mary - the reason that so many antique chisels and carving tools are english is because of Sheffield. Sheffield was one of the first "integrated" steel making cities on an industrial scale, where high-quality coal, limestone and iron ore were found in one place. 

Sheffield became "the" place to get steel and the cutler's wares made from it in the 18th century because the "arts and mysteries" of correctly judging the carbon content of steel to yield high-quality tools was well-known there (and not so much anywhere else).  The manufacturers of Sheffield continued their reputation into the 19th century - so much so that anywhere else had a hard time competing with them.

For example, large-scale steel making for tools was pretty much unknown in the US before Henry Disston started doing it in the 1850's - 1860's.  Even then, steel was very, very expensive and highly prized.  It took Dale Carnegie's gamble to scale up the Bessemer process in the 1870's before steel became cheap, readily available, and of high quality.
 

marymaycarving

Well-known member
That makes a lot of sense. So, the tools that are stamped "Sheffield", (which I have a few of and are very good quality) can go as far back as 18th century? That's interesting. I wonder then whether the "sheffield" are older than the "addis" or around the same time? My guess is that "addis" is newer. I need to go through my tools and study them a little more.

So then the Sheffield tools were probably exported to the woodworkers in the rest of Europe. The only other thing I can think of is that many of the other woodcarvers in the mainland of Europe hand-forged their own, and with no stamps or identifying marks, they do not become "collectable", and therefore get lost in great-grandpa's tool chest as "those old rusty screw-driver looking things". What I wouldn't give to go wandering around some of those old European attics!

And remember - it IS possible to have too many carving gouges (so, Al - want to sell some of those English tools???) hee hee
 
I remembered that Addis worked in London, and searched on the web, and found the toolie-people had run down much of the Addis story; seems that Sheffield lured one of them away from London & up to Sheffield. here;s a link to what I saw:  http://www.oldtools.org/archive/archive_get.phtml?message_id=48156&submit_thread=1

I'm not in the shop right now, but I have a couple of nice German carving tools that are oldies, I'll look at them next week. But like most of us reading these carving threads, the bulk of my old carving tools are English. There's even new English carving tools, Joel Moskowitz sells them. They are nice but a little bulky.

My assumption is that blacksmiths, not carvers, would make carving tools before this sort of thing was industrialized...

Peter Follansbee

http://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/
 

chamfer

Well-known member
James et al,

This thread has generated a number of interesting responses and has gone on some interesting tangents, but I'm not sure your basic initial question has been answered. And, I'm not sure I can answer it to your satisfaction, either, but have finally decided to give it a try. In part, because I find such basic definitional questions to be useful/interesting, but mostly because this thread has intersected a number of my interests.

As I think you already surmise, sweep numbers on gouges indicate carving tools. However, as others have noted, not all carving tools are so numbered. So, how to tell the difference between firmer gouges and straight carving gouges if no sweep numbers are present? (I'm mostly referring to 19th and early 20th century English/American gouges, consistent, I believe, with your initial question.)

In larger sizes, firmer gouges can be distinguished from carving gouges by the presence of distinct shoulders which narrow down to a shank which continues back to the bolster. Also, the inside of the gouge has a fairly uniform depth and is recognizable as a portion of a cylinder. This can be seen in the lower gouge in the first photograph below.

By contrast, the carving gouge lacks such shoulders and simply tapers inward to meet the bolster, as evidenced by the upper gouge in the first photograph. Also, note that the inner wall of the carving gouge gets shallower as it approaches the handle. This allows for the carving gouge to be relatively delicate at the cutting edge, yet be heavy enough toward the handle to be driven with a mallet. This is why shortened carving gouges, which have been ground/honed back over the years, look so stubby and chunky.

I've included the second photograph primarily to show that both gouges are, indeed, fairly heavy near the handles.

In smaller sizes, firmer gouges sometimes have shoulders and sometimes do not. In the latter case, it can be a little trickier telling whether it is a firmer gouge or a carving gouge (if no sweep number is present). In the third photograph (in the next post) one of the gouges is a firmer and the other is a carving gouge. Pretty difficult to tell from the top view. However, as shown in the fourth photograph (also in the next post), the firmer gouge has flat "shoulders" at the edges of the gouge, which continue the full length of the blade. By contrast, the carving gouge begins with a flat shoulder at the bolster, but this transforms into a rounded area which nearly terminates in an arris at the intersection of the inner surface. This allows the carving tool to be more "delicate" at the cutting edge and work in close to other details without fouling them.

Firmer gouges can be used in carving, but can be somewhat of a handicap because they lack the finesse at the cutting edge. However, they can be useful for roughing work, both for carving and general work in the shop. Regarding the latter, it can be useful to think of them as somewhat analogical to a "roughing" plane in situation where access for saws may be limited.

As to the sweep numbering system(s), yes it seems very confusing. The origins of the London Pattern/Sheffield List system aren't entirely clear. But, there is some circumstantial evidence that it arose in London, possibly associated with S. J. Addis, and introduced into Sheffield (sometime between 1870 and 1880) by Ward & Payne (who bought the rights to the S. J. Addis marks after his death) and J. B. Addis.  London was the pre-eminent center for carving activity in England, and the Sheffield makers worked hard to overcome a prejudice against non-London-made carving tools. To the point that Ward & Payne actually had a London stamp made up to use in conjunction with their S. J. Addis mark.

However, I believe some of the confusion about the sweep number regime is due to a lack of understanding of the system. It is often assumed that every gouge of a given sweep number is supposed to have an arc determined by the same radius. Not the case. Instead, the width and depth of each sized gouge in any sweep are proportional. For those who might be interested, I've written a short article outlining my surmise as to how this system might have been developed:

http://www.planemaker.com/articles_gouges.html

The continental sweep number systems are built along very similar lines, but differ from the London Pattern in a more complex way than simply being different by one number (as already noted by John). I have no idea which system is the earliest.

As has been noted, Sheffield did emerge as one of the pre-eminent centers for producing steel and edge tools during the 19th century. This emergence was built on a very long tradition of iron and steel working there (and in Birmingham), which had resulted in a good sized highly skilled work force. However, according to David Hey ("The Development of the English Toolmaking Industry during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries"), Sheffield's rise to dominance in the 19th century was mostly due to this skilled work force, locally available sandstone suitable for grinding, and a plentiful supply of water power. The local iron ore was unsuitable for high quality steel, so most of the raw materials for blister/cementation and crucible/cast steel production was imported from Sweden in the form of wrought iron bars.

I have a number of older carving tools, and have to say that they seem to have been pretty consistently made of very high quality cast steel which was properly heat treated. Additionally, as Mary has noted, they have a delicacy, yet toughness, that makes many of the currently produced tools (especially from England) seem very clunky and clumsy by comparison.

(Incidentally, the emergence of the Bessemer Process had little, if any bearing, on high quality edge tool manufacture. That process resulted in a lower quality, inexpensive, steel suitable for railroad rolling stock, rails, boiler plates, etc. At least as late as 1910, most edge tools were still being made from crucible/cast steel. After this, tool quality steel was later produced by one of the electric furnace processes.)

Hope this has been of some interest/use.

Don McConnell
Eureka Springs, AR
 

Attachments

  • gouges1.jpg
    gouges1.jpg
    71.1 KB · Views: 34
  • gouges2.jpg
    gouges2.jpg
    87 KB · Views: 34

chamfer

Well-known member
Hi again,

Here are photographs # 3 and 4.

Don McConnell
Eureka Springs, AR
 

Attachments

  • gouges3.jpg
    gouges3.jpg
    69.1 KB · Views: 30
  • gouges4.jpg
    gouges4.jpg
    46 KB · Views: 32

John Cashman

Well-known member
Thanks Don, that was very helpful. Thanks also for the reminder about Hey's article. I've unburied my copy of Gaynor's book to read it again.

I think some of us get too wrapped up on the various sweeps and trying to figure them out. It's very interesting from a historical perspective, and I enjoy that aspect of it very much. But it doesn't help with the actual carving.
 
Top