Sharp Tools, Great Value

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Sharp Tools, Great Value

Schaaf Tools offers Swiss quality at a third of the price

By Bob Duncan

See the full review in the Summer 2019 issue of Woodcarving Illustrated

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As every carver knows, getting good tools can be a challenge. A set of ready-for-carving Swiss-made gouges will set you back over $400, while inexpensive tools require serious work to shape and sharpen before they are suitable to work with.

That’s precisely the problem that the new California-based company Schaaf Tools set out to solve. “We thought if we could make quality tools and sell them at an affordable price,” said co-founder Eli Pearlman, “there was an opportunity.” The result is this 12-piece set, sourced in China, which comes with a factory bevel for experienced carvers (who can then reshape and sharpen them to meet their preferences) or as a professionally sharpened set for an $80 upcharge so newbies can dig right in. (The set is a nice selection of multi-purpose chisels and gouges—check their website for details.)

No question, the factory sharpened tools need some work. For the carving that I do, the bevels are too short—I prefer a long, shallow one—so I headed to the belt sander to shape them. From there, because I wanted the best possible edge, I went to the Tormek sharpener. (Carving legend Chris Pye calls this fine-tuning process “commissioning the tool.”) Overall I spent several hours getting the bevels into shape. But once they were sharp, they stayed sharp. Regardless of the wood, they kept an edge with only a light buffing every so often.

I sent two of the factory-sharpened tools to Dick Belcher of Belcher Carving Supply in Tipp City, Ohio. An expert sharpener, Dick can tell the quality of the steel based on the sparks produced while grinding. After sharpening them, he estimated that the tools are hardened to 59-60 on the Rockwell Scale (making them ideal for wood carving). He used them to cut across the grain on a piece of basswood for about 20 minutes and the edge continued to hold for him. “I would compare them to Swiss quality,” Dick said. “For the price, they are excellent.”

I, too, am impressed. Once sharpened, the Schaaf tools are a pleasure to work with. While it costs nearly twice as much to order them professionally sharpened, I highly recommend this option, particularly for beginners. Especially when you consider that a comparable set of Swiss-made tools can cost three times as much.

Schaaf recently released a mallet to go with their gouges and has plans to offer a sharpening system in the future, along with two additional sets of gouges. It’s definitely a promising company, off to a great start.

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