This section is from the book "Spons' Mechanics' Own Book: A Manual For Handicraftsmen And Amateurs", by Edward Spon. Also available from Amazon: Spons' Mechanics' Own Book.
The work of the carver rarely needs a special bench, any short deal table answering every practical purpose. This should be of a convenient height to suit the operator, and be placed under a north window for the benefit of the light. The workman should stand rather than sit at his work, and will find a revolving music-stool the least inconvenient seat. The work-table should admit of holes being made in it for the reception of a screw for holding down the work. The cutting tools used are of special forms, representative examples of which are illustrated herewith. Fig. 700 is a straight carving chisel; Fig. 701, a skew carving chisel; Fig. 702, a flat carving gouge; Fig. 703, a medium carving gouge; Fig. 704, a carving gouge for scribing; Fig. 705, a deep carving gouge; Fig. 706, a straight fluting gouge; Fig. 707, a front-bent fluting gouge Fig. 708, a straight parting tool; Fig. 709, a bent parting tool; Fig. 710, a spoonbit parting tool; Fig. 711, a spoonbit chisel; Fig. 712, a skew spoonbit chisel; Fig. 713, a medium front-bent carving gouge; Fig. 714, a spoonbit gouge for scribing; Fig. 715, a deep spoonbit gouge; Fig. 716, a back-bent spoonbit gouge; Fig. 717, a veining tool; Fig. 718, an unshouldered print-cutters' chisel; Fig. 719, a bolt chisel; Fig. 720, a dog-leg chisel; Fig. 721, an improved print-cutters' gouge.
Of each kind of cutting tool there are some half-dozen forms, varying in the acuteness of the angle or sharpness of the curve of the cutting edge, so as to be more readily adapted to the sweep or corner of the line being cut. ln bent chisels, there is one for the right corner and one for the left. Tools of unusual form can be readily extemporized from old knitting-needles or small files, by heating to whiteness, hammering to shape, and tempering in oil or sealing-wax. Usually the palm of the hand suffices for giving a blow to the cutting tool, but a small round mallet is handy for heavy work. The ordinary marking and gouging tools, and a small brush for removing chips, are necessary adjuncts.
Some order should be observed in arranging the tools on the bench, both for facility in selecting any particular one required and for preserving their cutting edges. A good plan is to lay them with the handles towards the back of the bench, and along the back margin, taking care to drop the handle first in putting them down. As regards quality, the tools should be of the best. A few words may suffice to indicate the points to be considered in selecting good tools. First, as regards substance, for general use, especially if likely to be used much with the mallet, care must be taken that they are not so thin as to make them liable to break in half when in use. The stoutest to be obtained now are hardly likely to be too stout. Especially should they be stout near the handle. Attention must be given also to what may be termed the "lines" of a tool. They should be easy and true. There is an uncertainty about the shape or lines of some tools which give the impression that the maker could scarcely have known what sort of thing he wished to produce. About many that are in the market, there s something more than uncertainty, for their deficiency in this respect is of the most glaring kind.
It is not that this is merely a matter of taste or fancy, which has no real effect upon the practical value of a tool. If, for example, a tool is only slightly "twisted" or slightly bent, it is very likely to break when malleted, and can never be used with pleasure. It will be useful to the learner to study, if he has opportunity, the "make" of good old tools or new ones of acknowledged merit, in order that he may be able to make a mental comparison when making purchases. One other point of importance to consider is the "temper." The proof of the "temper" is in the using. It is true that an experienced eye is not likely to be deceived in this matter; it is also true that the temper of a tool may in a measure be tested by a file, but the file must be in the hands of an experienced person. In any case, the final test is in the using. If the tool is so "soft" that the edge turns when brought into contact with hard wood - not the hardest - and that end way of the grain; or if, on the other hand, it is so "hard" or brittle that used in the same way the edge breaks, it had better be discarded.
The "parting tool" is of all tools the most easily broken, and the difficulty and trouble of sharpening it makes this mishap anything but a trivial affair. But it is a most useful and, moreover, a necessary tool, and a carver might well possess a variety - say 6 or 8 - of them. Any one having the smallest acquaintance with carvers' tools will have noticed that the sides or blades of some parting tools spread considerably more than others. The carver must make choice of one or more for rough work, and there can be no question that - other things being equal - those with the most spread are the strongest, and therefore the safest for rough work. Small parting tools, with their sides brought nearer together, i.e. having little spread, are invaluable for incised work; and may, in the hands of a skilful workman, be made to do work which could only be accomplished by the help of other tools with far greater difficulty and labour, and even, at times, with a less satisfactory result. Parting tools, which are intended for such light work, must be suitably sharpened and kept for that purpose alone. If they are fit for light work, they are as certainly unfit for heavy work, as a broken tool would soon remind the incautious workman.
As already stated, for heavy work, substance, as a quality in a tool, is very important. But this is especially the case with the tool under notice. There must be substance in the blades, and especially where they meet, towards which they should become somewhat stouter. In purchasing, see that the inside is truthfully cut out - i. e. that the "lines" are good - and beware of flaws.