Stone carving has been practiced since ancient times and is existent to date. The earliest known stones were carved as a result of hitting softer stones with harder ones.
With the development of iron, we came up with stone carving tools such as chisels, saws, and drills which makes carving more accurate and defined with less effort.
The process begins with the selection of the right kind of stone for carving. Stone selection plays an important role and so does the selection of the right tools.
The tools required for carving are simple and were initially made by blacksmiths. Today these tools are machine-made and readily available in the market.
Many beginners are confused about which tools to buy and how to start carving.That is why I have prepared a complete list of the best stone carving tools and you can undoubtedly go for them.
This article is going to be very informative and interesting. You are going to get a lot. So don’t skip any.
Best Stone Carving Tools
In order to carve out a stone, you will need different types of tools for different purposes, The tools used to carve stones can be divided into two distinct categories. They are percussion tools and abrasives
These tools are used for delivering a blow to the stone. They are necessary to break, extract blocks, cut, and shape the stone by hitting it.
Percussion tools are important as they help get the stone to the required shape and size in order to start stone carving as per plan.
Mallets are one of the simplest tools used since prehistoric times to create fractures on other rocks.
They usually have a rounded head made from different materials such as steel or white beech which is hardened to give it more power. Wooden mallets are also used for softer stones.
It is given a round shape that makes it easier to handle the tool and strike the solid surface effortlessly.
Their handles are shorter than any other tool and are used for striking sculpting tools such as chisels. They come in different sizes and weights. Make sure you are selecting the correct size for you.
Hammers are essential tools for working with stone, as they provide the necessary force to strike it with a strong impact.
We have many different types of hammers designed for breaking stones.
- Round Hand Hammers
- Hand Bush Hammers
- Lump Hammers
- Splitting Hammers
- Toothed stone axes
- Trimming Hammers
- Carving picks
- Crandall Hammers
Stone carving is just like peeling an onion layer by layer. They are used for removing material quickly from the stone and giving shape to the sculpture.
Chisels are made up of hardened steel for maintaining durability. But for harder stones like granite, carbide-tipped chisels are required. –
Chisels can be categorized into three types.
- Point chisel
A point chisel is a handheld tool with a sharp and pointed tip as the name suggests. The length of the tip varies depending upon its use and the type of rock.
It is the basic chisel used for carving and removes a large amount of unwanted stones
- Tooth Chisel
It is a metal handheld tool with a number of teeth on the tip which varies from three to five. It is hit with a mallet or a metal hammer to work on stone.
A toothed chisel is used after the use of a point chisel or before the use of a flat chisel to clear away the rough marks left by the point chisel and prepare the surface for finer work using a flat chisel.
The tooth chisel is hit upon the stone at an angle that leaves behind parallel lines on the stone. It is halfway between a point chisel and a flat chisel.
The tooth chisel is not very old. It has only been used recently by stone carvers. Bu the point chisel and flat chisels have been in use since ancient times.
Tooth chisels are used for carving all types of rocks. However, it is not advisable to use it on hard rocks like granite. otherwise, their teeth would break.
- Flat chisel
A flat chisel is used after the point chisel and the tooth chisel for smoothening the surface.
Abrasives are tools that are used after using percussion tools. These tools are important to die a final defined look to your carings.
1. Rasps And Rifflers
Rasps and rifflers are reduction and shaping tools used to quickly remove the stone, leaving a smoother surface ready for additional carving and/or finishing.
Rasps are straight ones and rifflers are curved ones. They are very effective because they can convert a messy sculpture into a smooth one.
It has a wide range of shapes which is generally rubbed against the stone for smoothness after the use of a flat chisel.
This flexibility of the tool helps it to move across and around complex forms. It is also used for fine-shaping details in the sculpture.
The marks left by the rasp consist of fine scratches crisscrossing the surface of the stone and often overlapping.
These marks are smoothed and cleared away using a scraper.
3. Stone Abrasives
The last process in stone carving is polishing which brings out the color of the stone and adds a shine to your sculpture.
In most cases, sandpaper is used as abrasives but stones are also used when we want a better and more detailed finishing.
Types Of Stones Used For Carving
The earliest known form of art is stone carvings. Prehistoric sculptures were usually human forms, animals, and animal-human abstracts carved into stones.
The process begins with the selection of stones for carving. Many different types of stones have been used over the years in sculptures.
1. Alabaster Stone
Alabaster is a snow-white and translucent stone. It has a fine-grained structure that has been used for centuries for carvings.
Hence it is mostly used for carving out ornaments, vases, and other decorative artifacts. The stone itself is so beautiful that viewers will admire it.
Alabaster is mined and then sold in blocks. Beginners can start carving this stone as it is easy to carve and is extremely beautiful.
Limestone is used globally in a variety of ways. One of the most popular uses is building architecture. Because limestone is a soft and durable stone, it is good for carving.
Limestone is easy to carve and you can add a wide variety of textures to the stone and create a stunning piece of work.
This stone has a definite bed and breaks fairly well along bed lines. So make sure to follow natural directions as going against them creates stress.
3. Marble Stones
It is the most preferred stone for carving and has been prized for its use in sculptures since ancient times.
Many sculptures preferred marble for carving for the lifelike lustre it has. It is moderately hard to work and resists breakage, which is a perfect stone both for fine art and decorative sculpture.
It is available in a wide variety of colors, from white to pink, red to grey and black depending on the minerals present in it but the white ones are the most costly ones.
Marbles are widely used for buildings and statues. It is not a preferred stone for beginners tough.
Sandstone contains silica content which is harmful to your body. So, you must wear a respirator when working with sandstones.
Carving sandstone is equivalent to using sandpaper on your tools.
5. Granite Stone
Granite is a coarse-grained igneous rock formed from magma. Granite is massive, hard, and tough. Hence it is used widespreadly throughout human history.
It is a very hard stone and requires a high level of skill to carve by hand. Hence computer-controlled modern bits are used for carving granite
How To Carve Stone
The first thing you need to keep in mind while working with stones is your personal safety. The chips generated while carving stones are often sharp and can enter your eyes, nose, and ears.
So make sure you prepare yourself well before you even start your work.
- Always wear safety glasses to protect your eyes from dust and sharp materials.
- Wear a dust mask because stones like alabaster, soapstone, or granite contain silica which is very dangerous for your respiratory system.
- Use earplugs to protect your ears from the noise.
- Use anti-vibration gloves to protect your hands from constant vibration during work.
Step 1: Planning
Have a very clear idea of the sculpture you want to carve out. Be sure of the dimensions of your work.
First of all, you can use paper and a pencil to prepare a rough sketch of the result you want out of your stone.
Next, you can use modeling clay to work out your idea. Using modeling clay is advantageous because you can try out different forms of combinations till you get satisfactory results without having to damage a stone.
Step 2: Choose The Type Of Stone
There are a variety of stones with different color combinations used for carving. The selection of stone purely depends on the type of work you want to perform and your expertise level.
Go for Alabaster or sandstone if you are a beginner as these stones are easy to work with.
Granite and marbles are very hard stones requiring specialized tools like electric grinders and electric hammers.
Carving is a subtractive process and therefore select a stone that is much larger than your design. Also, inspect the stone for any cracks or damages.
Step 3: Prepare A Layout
Before you start carving you must prepare a layout of your design on your stone. Otherwise, you will end up damaging your stone.
Next, wet your stone so that you can find out the direction of the grains easily. Finding out the direction is important as you cannot carve against the direction of the bed.
You must ensure the direction of the grains as carving along these lines maintain structural integrity. Otherwise, cracks could open and break your stone while carving if you go against the direction of the bed.
Now start drawing your design on all the sides of the stones along the grains with equal height and width.
Step 4: Carve Out Roughly
First, use a sandbag to keep the stone intact while you hit it. You won’t be able to carve properly if the stone keeps on moving
Then use a pitching tool to remove stones from the block and give shape and form as per your sketch.
After removing as much material as possible, use a pointed chisel to give a proper definition to the shape.
Use this technique to work all the areas of the sculpture so that the entire carving is always at the same completion stage so that your idea comes out accurately.
Step 5: Redefine The Sculpture
Once you have roughly carved out the definition of your drawing, use a toothed chisel and start redefining the sculpture.
There are many tooth chisels with varying lengths and numbers of teeth. When you are sculpting, you need to have a set of all sizes so that you can reach all areas of your work.
Pitching tools like point chisels usually leave rough marks on the stone. A toothed chisel helps clear away the rough marks left and prepare the surface for finer work.
Step 6: Finishing
Finishing your carving is important to give your sculpture a properly defined look. If you are working on a soft rock you can use rasps and rifflers to give a finishing look to your sculpture.
But it will be very difficult to finish using rasps and rifflers will on harder stones. So, on harder stones, use a flat chisel.
Step 7: Polishing
You don’t want your sculpture to look dull and uneven, so you need to polish your craft which brings out the beautiful color and pattern of your stone.
To achieve a smooth surface and clean lines on a stone we need abrasives. For soft rocks, you can use sandpaper or a carborundum polishing block.
Initially start with a coarser grit. Find the blemishes and uneven lines and start sanding those areas. You can use your fingers to feel the unevenness.
Once you are done, move to a finer grit. This takes out the scratches left by the coarse grit and so on, going finer and finer.
On harder stones, use mechanized stone polishers.
Step 8: Oil Finishing
Your sculpture is ready now. But you still want your workpiece to shine with vibrant colors. But before you start oiling make sure your sculpture is completely dry.
Pour a small amount of your oil into your hand and rub the oil all over the carving. You want to make sure you are rubbing enough so that the heat of your hands will transfer to the rock.
Once you have oiled the entire piece of carving, let it rest for a while and allow the oil to absorb into the stone.
Again oil it for the 2nd time and let it rest again. Repeat this until the stone absorbs all the oil and you get the desired look.
We have discussed all the tools you will be needing and how to start carving out. However, if you are a beginner, you must be having doubts if you could do it or not.
It’s not rocket science and not at all difficult. If you think you don’t have enough experience or don’t feel confident with the process, browse some tutorials on YouTube and get an idea with visuals.
In the beginning, you might not be able to do things accurately, but practice makes everything perfect. You just need to give it a start.
However, never hesitate to reach out to a professional if you still think you need one. It’s better to look for help than make blunders.
FAQ: Best Stone Carving Tools
Knowing what tools to use and how to use those tools is difficult especially if you are a beginner. That’s why many people just like you have lots of questions. Hence, I have added some of them in this article to provide appropriate answers.
Q1. Is Stone Easy To Carve?
Ans: Stones like alabaster and soapstone with Mohr’s hardness on the lower side are soft stones and easy to carve when compared to marble and granite which are very difficult to carve.
But, the easiness to carve doesn’t always depend on the type of stone you are working with. Your expertise level and the quality of the tools you are using also play a major role in the carving.
Q2. Which Is The Softest Stone To Carve?
Ans: Soapstone is the softest of all stones and is commonly used by beginning students of stone carving. Soapstone is followed by Alabaster.
Q3. What Tools Do I Need To Carve Granite?
Ans: Granite is a very hard tool. It is rated 7 on Mohr’s hardness scale. You cannot break granite using a hammer and chisel. You must use carbide-tipped tools, diamond saws, and grinders to work with granite. When working with harder stones, greater care should be taken to ensure safety.
Q4. Why Do Sculptors Use Marble For Statues?
Ans: Marbles come in different shades and patterns and are beautiful to look at when carved in statues. Also, marbles are relatively soft and easy to work with. But with time and age, it becomes hard and dense with is important for longevity.