I am interested in trying carving, specifically sign and letter carving. What chisels should I start with? I do not want to spend $250.00+ for set and find I am not interested. Nor do I want to buy an ultra cheap “starter” set and be frustrated by poor quality. Should I buy 2-3 individual tools? If so which ones? [email protected]
Mary May, one of the top contemporary carvers, has a great site for carving info. There is a wealth of both free and subscription based info and lessons. You should check it out. She does cover tools to begin with. https://www.marymaycarving.com/carvingschool/
FWW #187 (Nov/Dec 2006) has an article by T.J. Mc Dermott that has a truly minimal lettering kit - a single bevel edge 3/4" chisel and #7-14mm gouge. There are also a few other articles in FWW that should give some guidance. You might also add a carving knife, bearing in mind that this comes from a carving knife junkie. Also check out other sites as jdstreet suggested. David Fisher does beautiful lettering on his bowls using a relatively small kit, as far as I can tell.
Keep 'em sharp.
Go cheap to start, you can find a good set on ebay for not much. I looked,there are plenty available. You might have to pay a bit for some collectibles like Addis but there are other good sets. Or build a set one by one.. I bought a set of Marples many years ago and have added since then with whatever came up. Some of my favorite chisels and gouges are Buck Brothers for example. Really at today's prices ,new, for $250 for good ones ,you would be lucky to get more than 4 or 5 chisels. I couldn't help myself and found a set of 12 palm chisels at the harbor freight for about a dollar a chisel so I bought them. They're junk but, you know, I use them. I can get a decent edge on them and if the need were to come up I would have no problem grinding them to something else. I've spent time in Asia and have watched wood carvers there. These guys knocking out really complicated stuff at lightning speed using tools made from old files or pieces of used auto parts. I recently picked up a pile of lathe stuff rusting in a bucket,faceplates and such and with it were a couple of lathe chisels maybe ground for bowl chisels made from old files. I cleaned them up and sharpened them. I doubt that I use them much but they did work! I made a complete set of carving knives out of old planer blades. I bought one good one and copied the design. You can get this done without it costing an arm and a leg.
I have WAY too many carving tools from most of the "high-end" tool manufacturers and have (mostly out of curiosity) played with some of the low-priced tools as well. If cost is an issue, I always recommend a twelve -piece set of the Schaaf tools as a good place to start. The profiles are all very useful to the average carver, the tools tend to be very good and a bargain for the money. Be prepared to do a little more work on these initially than what you would expect on the expensive brands but the effort is a one-time bit of work and results in heirloom quality tools. Alternately, get some of their professionally sharpened sets and carve "straight-out-of-the-box" for what is still a bargain price. Their customer service is first rate if you do have any issues.
I started years ago with a pretty cheap set. Over the years, I have replaced them, one at a time, as needed for the next project, with higher quality tools, mostly Pfeil. Over this whole period, I have been able to enjoy the carving while gradually improving my skills; the frustration came not from the quality of the tool, but with not knowing how to sharpen them properly. If starting as a beginner, I would get 2 or 3 mid range (eg Schaff, as mentioned above) chisels, and start sharpening and carving, and sharpening and carving. In addition to advice on which tools to start with, Mary May, mentioned above, also has some excellent free online videos on sharpening. It's a lot of fun. Enjoy.