You can’t carve without removing wood. And removing wood can be as delicate a process as lightly slipping the gouge through the wood or propelling it forcefully. Apply too much force in the wrong situation, and you have lovely kindling. On the other hand, be too bashful in pushing the tool through the wood, and you won’t remove the right amount.
The carver controls the movement of the tool through wood by holding and guiding with one hand and propelling with the other. With both hands on the gouge or chisel, your arms and the force of your body provides the energy. Need a bit more oomph? Use the meaty part of your palm to hit the end of the gouge. Here is the tricky part. It takes practice to learn to gauge just how much force is enough. Your body is continually giving you feedback on how effective your cutting is. With a bit of practice, you’ll learn to judge the force needed.
This sounds a bit metaphysical to the beginner, but it’s not – sensation is a free tool you need to learn to use if you’d be a carver.
When you need more force than a hand can provide, you bring in heavier tools. A carver’s tool to malleate, hit, or pound wood is a mallet; the words share a common root. Carver’s mallets come in many shapes and weights. But they are not the blocky square shape used by a carpenter or joiner. Instead, the carver’s mallet is rounded. The picture below shows some of the mallets I use regularly. Of course, the wood needs to be hard and dense to take the punishment the tool receives.
Why do I have so many? Depending on the force needed, I’ll select my mallet. The largest one I use when “wasting” or removing large amounts of wood – as I might while hollowing the wings of a carved eagle. The smaller ones, like the little palm mallet, are for when I want more delicate control. I can often get finer control using this mallet than I can with both hands on the tool. Once again, it’s experience and paying attention to the feedback sensation from the tool and the wood.
Some of the mallets are shop-made, and some are purchased. My favorite palm mallet I shaped from a knot of elm. It was a hunk of firewood.
Whatever carving project you work upon, a star-spangled banner, or a delicate spray of acanthus leaves, You’ll make choices of tools. Like gouges and chisels, Mallets are not all alike. Don’t use the largest mallet if you don’t need it, and consider making some of your own. They are another helpful tool that you will need to master.