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Essential hand tools for the traditional wandmaker

While it's entirely possible to carve a beautiful wand with only a utility knife and some sandpaper, the journeyman wandmaker should invest in specialized tools to make the job a lot easier, faster, and more enjoyable. Power tools like lathes can be expensive and unforgiving (and not very "magical," in my opinion), so on this page of the wandmaker's notebook, we'll look at a list of the essential hand tools every traditional wandmaker should own.

Level: Apprentice | JOURNEYMAN | Master - You've grasped the basics, and are now looking to take your wandmaking to the next level.


Along with the list itself, I've included some links where you can buy the tools if you're interested in doing so. 



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Carving knives

A wandmaker's bread and butter (along with sandpaper)! Once the roughing work is done, you'll need knives to do the majority of your carving. I recommend keeping at least two knives - a larger one for general shaping, and a smaller detail knife for when the big one is too big.

Look for: 
  • Blade length of about 1-2" (about 2.5-5 cm). Compared to other woodworking projects, wands are not very wide, so you don't need a long blade. If the tip is closer to your hand, you have more control. 
  • Blade width of about 1/2" (1.5 cm) that gradually tapers to the tip, ending in a point. Blades that are too wide are unwieldy in narrow or concave areas, and will get in your way. 
  • Edged on one side, parallel with the handle. When you need more cutting control, you can push on the back of the blade.
  • A thin bevel to hold an edge well. 
  • Razor sharp out-of-the-box, otherwise you'll need to spend time sharpening it yourself before you can start using it.
Avoid: 
  • Rounded or secondary bevels. While they may be useful for other tasks, they have no place in wand carving! It's difficult to carve off long thin shavings with these bevel shapes. Look for a knife with a flat primary bevel.
  • Hilt or hand guard. These just get in the way.
  • Metal handles, which can cause blisters or be otherwise uncomfortable to hold for a long period of time. 
Recommended knives:
  • Flexcut Cutting Knife (KN-12
  • Flexcut Detail Knife (KN-13 - I use this one!) and Mini Detail Knife (KN-27 - ...and this one!)
  • Flexcut Roughing Knife (KN-14
  • Morakniv Woodcarving 120 Knife
  • If you prefer folding knives, try the Flexcut Carvin' Jack (JKN91 and JKNL91) or the Flexcut Whittlin' Jack (JKN88). I haven't personally used either of these, but if the quality is anything like their other knives, then your money is well-spent.






Gouges

Gouges are curved blades, shaped like a U or V, used for cutting grooves in wood. They are especially useful for cutting grooves along the grain, parallel to the length of the wand. If you do any relief carving or high-detail work on your wands, these are indispensable.

Look for: 
  • At least four different profiles: sweep (a shallow U-shape), U (a tighter U-shape), V (commonly found with 45, 60, or 90 degree angles), and chisel or skew.
  • For small details, look for micro gouges that are about 1 mm wide or mini gouges that are 1-3 mm wide. For larger details, larger gouges (3- 10 mm) are good.
  • Razor-sharp out-of-the-box
  • Short handles and shafts, and the handle is comfortable to hold. The closer your hands are to the wood you are carving, the more control you will have.
Avoid: 
  • Too wide: gouges that are wider than 10 mm may be useful for other woodworking tasks, but won't be helpful for wandmaking.
  • Long handles or long shafts. These gouges are intended for use with both hands (or with a mallet) on large pieces of wood that either stand alone or are secured to the bench.
Recommended gouge sets:





Planing tools: Spokeshaves and Hand Planes

Planing tools are very helpful for quickly removing excess wood, especially for the shaft area of straight wands. Spokeshaves are faster but require two hands, so you'll need some way to secure the wand blank to your work station. Otherwise, you can use a plane with one hand, while gripping the blank with the other. NOTE: Even if the tool itself is good quality, if you don't set it up correctly, it can be unusable. If you're having difficulty with planes, check out the "simple solutions to common problems" section in this article.

Look for: 
  • Flat bottom, or flat with a concave groove**. The latter is really handy for when you've removed most of the excess wood, but aren't yet ready to do the fine finish carving with a knife.
  • Blade is sharp and made with high quality steel that holds an edge well.
Avoid: 
  • Big or two-handed planes - most general woodworking bench planes are too big for wandmaking purposes.
  • Curvature in the sole (the flat bottom part), if it's supposed to be a flat bottom plane
  • Convex bottom spokeshaves and planes
Recommended spokeshaves and planes:
  • Kunz 151 Flat Bottom Spokeshave - It's definitely sharp and usable out of the package, but for best results you will need to spend a bit of time tuning it up (making sure the sole is flat, setting the right blade distance, etc.)
  • Stanley 12-951 Flat Bottom Spokeshave - same comments as above.
  • Stanley Small Trimming Plane
  • **Kakuri Mini Ebony Plane no. 3 "Inside Round" - The only place I have seen a plane like this is in Japan. I couldn't find a North American source for it, so if you're interested, it's available on Amazon.co.jp, or via Australia from japanesetools.com.au.
  • The Kunz Half Round Spokeshave may be a good alternative for the Kakuri plane above.





Files and Rasps

Files and rasps are good for shaping when your knife isn't the best tool for the job, such as in grooves, hollows, and pierced areas. Use after carving and before sanding. Like sandpaper, they come in various grades of roughness. Larger rasps are also useful for the initial roughing process.

Look for: 
  • Needle files - these are perfect for opening and deepening grooves, spirals, and other pierced areas. They come in a variety of profiles so you can choose the right one for the job.
  • Double cut, coarse, bastard, or second cut files - cuts and removes wood faster than single-cut or smooth files
Avoid: 
  • Very fine files - these are better suited for metalworking.
  • Diamond files - similar to very fine files, these don't remove wood very quickly, and feel more like a fine sandpaper.
Recommended files and rasps:
  • Hozan needle files (K-215) - Double cut, comes with 10 profiles. Roughness is more on the fine side, but still removes material at a decent rate when a knife won't do. 
  • Hozan needle files (K-155L) - A little bigger and rougher than the K-215
  • Neiko 00109A Heavy Duty File and Rasp Set
  • Shinto Saw Rasp - This thing is a beast. It removes wood very quickly and is good for the roughing process. It has rough teeth on one side, and fine teeth on the other. NOT for small areas!






Mini Hand Drills

When a power drill is too big or too powerful for making small holes (you might split or burn the wood) a hand drill is the right tool for the job. You can make holes as small as 0.6 mm up to 3 mm with the pin vise type (or larger, if the drill takes standard bits), or even as large as 10 mm with the crank type. For best results, securely clamp down the wandwood before drilling into it.

Recommended hand drills:
  • These things are all pretty similar, so read reviews and choose one whose performance and cost meets your needs.
  • Note that the Fiskars drill below doesn't come with drill bits.






Saws: Rip, Crosscut, and Coping

For ripping large pieces of wood down into wand-sized pieces, the fastest way would be to use a table saw. If that (or other power tools) isn't an option, then we gotta do it the ol' fashioned way. Rip saws are used for sawing along the grain, crosscut saws for sawing across the grain, and coping saws for cutting out curves.

Look for: 
  • Japanese "ryoba" saws are double-sided - rip on one side, and crosscut on the other! Great all-in-one tool. Japanese saws cut on the pull stroke, which has a variety of advantages compared to western saws (which cut on the push stroke).
  • "Back saw" (aka tenon saw) for crossgrain cutting: these saws have a strip of metal reinforcing the back of the saw blade, giving you better control. Use in combination with a miter box to cut long wand blanks to the right length. Some folks really like Japanese "dozuki" saws for crossgrain cutting, as they cut on the pull stroke and leave a thinner groove (kerf).
  • For rip saws, get one that doesn't have the reinforcing strip, so you can cut a long piece of wood all the way down its length. 
  • Medium number of teeth per inch (around 7-10) - for wandmaking purposes, sawing out a wand blank should be a fast job, so it's ok if the cut surface is rough.
  • For very hard woods like ebony, a saw with an even higher number of teeth per inch will cut better.
  • For more information on saws, check out this article: An Introduction to Hand Saws
Avoid: 
  • Low number of teeth per inch (fewer than 10). Sure they cut fast, but the teeth can easily catch on the wood, making for difficult cutting.
  • Hacksaws - these are intended for cutting metal.
Recommended saws:
  • Don't buy saws online if you can help it. In-store purchases are best because you should inspect the teeth, size, and other factors in person.
  • There are also too many brands with quality products to recommend any in particular. Ask the store associates for help choosing the right saw.


Sharpening Equipment

If you want to treat your edged tool well, you should strop them every several hours of use to maintain their sharpness with a leather strop and some compound. If you let them get dull, more involved sharpening can be done without a stone - glue some sandpaper in increasingly finer grits to a flat board (start from 320 and work up to 2000), and use them with water like you would a stone. Don't forget to strop at the very end! For more information on stropping, see this article: Wicked Sharp

Look for: 
  • Flat strops with leather on both sides (smooth on one side, suede on the other) for spokeshave, plane, and carving knife blades
  • Curved or shaped strops for gouges and other curved blades
  • Green or white sharpening compound in wax bar form (looks like an oversized crayon), or Flexcut Gold which gives similarly good results.
Avoid: 
  • Non-waterproof sandpaper 
  • Strops that are too small - you can't sharpen longer blades, or move the blades in long strokes that are essential to a good finished edge. 
  • Black compound (too coarse on its own, but good if used before green or white)
  • Red compound (intended for softer metals, so is ineffective for the hard steel woodcarving blades)
Recommended strops and compound:
  • Flexcut Gold Compound (PW-11)
  • Flexcut SlipStrop (PW-12) - profiles might not fit the very smallest gouges, though it'll do a fine job for the larger ones.
  • ManYee strop - a low-cost strop that gets the job done, and comes with some green compound too.
  • 2-pack leather strops by Upon Leather - not mounted, but this is nice because you can find a flat board and mount them yourself with the provided adhesive to ensure your stropping surface is as flat as can be.







You can make any kind of wand if you use the right tool for the job. Use the spokeshave or plane to get that ramrod straight and symmetrical look without a lathe. Cut out a wavy shaped wand with a coping saw. Use the hand drill to start a hole for pierced wand design, then use needle files to smooth the inside. Carve details with knives and gouges. The possibilities are endless.

As you progress in your wandmaking, you may eventually want some specialized tools for your particular style. In the meantime, this list is a good place to start building your tool arsenal.

See you on the next page!
Maranda

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