I get asked all the time about what types of carving tools I use to create my fine art printmaking editions. The ones I use depend on what type of lino I am using (soft or hard) and is largely a personal preference, too.
If you are a printmaker who is just curious about which tools are my linocut favorites, this blog shares the two brands I like best.
If you are someone who wants to try printmaking for the first time, this may give you an idea about where to start – and what it may cost to get set up!
Finally, if you’d rather watch a video than read a blog, I have you covered here:
Below I provide a little more detail – and links – for the tools mentioned in the video.
SPEEDBALL LINO CUTTERS
Being frugal, I began with Speedball lino cutters. Although these cutters will work on traditional (harder) linoleum, if you mostly carve the softer linoleum, the Speedball lino cutters work great.
Blades cost a few dollars each and a lino cutting tool set can run you between $10-$20 CDN depending on how many blades and handles it includes.
CANADA: You can often get Speedball lino cutters in local art supply stores and Michaels, but here is a link to two stores in Toronto that have extensive printmaking art supplies: AboveGround Art Supplies and Curry Art Supplies.
USA: Dick Blick’s website and store is a great place in the States for art supplies. Their Speedball carvers can be found here. You can also search the same product on Amazon.com as they have many craft re-sellers that also sell these Speedball cutters.
UK: Although there are likely lots of art stores I am unaware of (being so far across the pond!), one of the places in the UK that carries the Speedball cutters is Amazon.
Although I use many different sizes when I carve, the Speedball tools I would say are my favorite sizes are the 1V, 2V, 3U & 5U. The 2V is great for outlining and creating mid-size bold lines, while the 1V tool creates beautiful, tiny hairline marks. The 3U & 5U gouges are designed to make deeper bold lines with less control over the edges. They are well-suited to removing a lot of block material at a time. You can see below the tools along with the strip of lino they removed.
PALM TOOLS FOR WOOD OR LINO
If you prefer working with traditional (harder) lino, you may want to invest in palm tools (used both for wood carving and lino cutting). They are more expensive than the Speedball cutters because they are more sturdy and will stand up better to hard lino in the long run.
You may need 4-6 different palm tools to get a wide range of marks on the lino. You can buy them individually or as a set. I use the Pfeil brand, but there are also other types of lino/wood cutters available, like Flexcut or Japanese carving tools.
Sets will start around $100 CDN (and up) and some of the cheaper tool sets can be had for $50-$60 CDN, while larger sets can run several hundred dollars. You can also buy the tools individually for between $30-$80 CDN each, depending on the size and style of the tool.
CANADA: Lee Valley carries a many different hand carving tools while Canadian Woodworker carries the Flexcut brands and a few others. I’ve also taken my tools into Canadian Woodworker retail stores to have them sharpened.
USA: Amazon in the States carries the Pfeil tools as I am sure many wood working shops do, as well.
UK: Jackson’s Art carries a variety of lino and printmaking supplies, along with the Pfeil cutters.
WHICH SIZE OF PALM TOOL?
Sometimes, the variety and sizes of the palm tools and lino cutters can be overwhelming. This USA chart provides a good visual reference on what’s available.
A NOTE ABOUT WORKING WITH SHARP TOOLS
Remember that palm tools – although the steel blades are more sturdy – will dull with use.
Speedball lino cutters are designed to be exchanged once they dull (you simply buy another blade and insert it into the hand tool), but palm tools will require special sharpening methods.
You will either have to invest in additional sharpening materials (that’s a whole other subject!) or pay someone to sharpen them for you.
Having sharp tools is VERY important for the quality of the linocuts, but also for your safety! Sharp tools cut clean, and dull ones skip and can result in injury! A cut to your fingers or hands is no joke.
I have a butcher’s chain mail glove purchased at Lee Valley that I use for hard lino cutting and wood carving. If you are going to do lots of it, it’s really worth the investment.
When carving, please keep these things in mind:
- Keep hands and fingers BEHIND the cutting edge at all times
- Always carve AWAY from your hands and body
- Re-position the work as you go to avoid carving dangerously
- Use a protective glove on your non-dominant hand
- Use sharp blades: a sharp tool is safer because it cuts cleanly and without much effort. Speedball blades are disposable and cost a few dollars each, so if they dull, throw them away and buy new ones!
- Use a bench hook if available or make one.