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4 Jul 2014
Workshop life

Letter carving tools -13 tools you should never be without

My list of the most important tools needed for letter carving in stone- a good starting point if you are beginning.

A letter carver does not need much, but there are a few vital letter carving tools which cannot be overlooked:

stone carving chisels

1. Pencil

The fundamental starting point of art and craft. Water-soluble white pencil for slate and 6h lead for limestones and marble.

2. Knife for sharpening the pencil

The sharper the pencil the easier it is to see what you're drawing. Take time and care to create a long point. Don't rush this; enjoy the process. It is a moment to calm yourself and get into the 'slow and careful zone'. 3.120 grade wet and dry paper. Once the pencil is carved to a good point, you will then need to sand it to sharpen the end. Sharp tools are crucial.

4. Ruler

Not critical in some cases. The ruler is used for drawing the top and base lines that contain the inscription. Should never be used for measuring, instead your eye should be trained to measure. If you rely on the ruler then you are always limiting yourself to set measurements.

5. Rubber

There are no two ways about it, when drawing out the inscription, you will be doing a good deal of rubbing out. The stone needs to be kept clean and free of unwanted pencil marks... they will only become smudges later. The rubber also needs to be smudge free. Choose a very good quality rubber.

6. Time

If you can't get a good block of time to draw orcarve, it is worth abandoning the idea until you're sure of no interruptions and the mobile phone is turned off. It takes time to get into a carving; You relax into the right frame of mind as a result of the work; your hands unstiffen and your eyes focus in. Remember to have a break after a couple of hours.

7. Diamond whetstone

Unless the point of the chisel is kept very sharp, it'll be very hard to carve a letter precisely. The whetstone should always be used with water, never oil.

8. Chisel

Your best friend. If you treat your chisel with care it'll become a precious extension of your hand. There are a variety of different makes on the market, the best in my view being made by Al-Or. Letter carving chisels are tipped with tungsten which is a hard but brittle metal, which if dropped can shatter.

9. Bench grinder

Useful if you have chipped the corner of the chisel. Take your time with sharpening on machinery. The chisel will get hot quickly and there is always a risk of the tungsten coming away from the steel shaft of the chisel, especially if it is then cooled quickly in water.

10. Workshop cat

Indispensible unless there is a general distaste for the beasts. A cat will demand nothing from your focused mind. Instead it will calm the atmosphere and provide gentle amusement should you require a short break.

11. Mallet

We use a metal 'dummy'. Mallets tend to be nylon or wood which creates are courser impact. The dummy needs to weigh approximately 1.5lbs.

dummies letter carving

12. Safety specs

No glasses means looking into the mirror all day pulling chunks of stone out of your eyes with bits of tissue. It's always worth wearing eye protection.

13. Peace

Not technically a tool but by not to be underestimated. Definitely essential for a beginner at least, however as the letter carving absorbs your attention and you become lost in a world of entisis, serifs and nice lines, you will surprise yourself by your natural ability to block out the outside world. This is useful when working on scaffolding in central London.

Fergus W
Written by

Fergus Wessel

Designer and letter-carver

Fergus created Stoneletters Studio in 2003, after training at the Kindersley Workshop. He is a member of the prestigious Master Carver's Association.