One of the first things a newcomer to carving will come across is the notation used to describe tools which will typically look something like this: #6 10mm. To a beginner this can be quite daunting, it doesn’t seem to be enough information to specify the tool. Fortunately with a little knowledge of the Sheffield List it’s easy enough to decipher what is meant.

The Sheffield List

As a general rule carving tools are numbered using the Sheffield List but it’s not a hard and fast rule and different manufacturers can and do have different numbering systems. Normally those alternative numbering systems are based on the Sheffield List but with minor modifications.

The table below shows the most commonly available numbers. Where a number is missing that indicates that no tool traditionally existed. So for example if you see #3 being used it is a very flat gouge.

Straight Bent Spoon Back-Bent Description
1 21 Straight chisel
2 22 Skew chisel
3 12 24 33 Flattest gouge
4 13 25 34 Gouge
5 14 26 35 Gouge
6 15 27 36  Gouge
7 16 28 37 Gouge
8 17 29 38 Gouge
9 18 30 Semi-circular gouge
10 19 31 U-gouge
11 20 32 Tall u-gouge
39 40 43 60 Degree v-gouge
41 42 44 45 Degree v-gouge
45 46 90 Degree v-gouge

Notice that the description doesn’t give any radius or curvature for the gouges, this is deliberate as it varies from one manufacturer to the next. What should hold true though is as you go up the numbers from 3 to 8 the gouges get more curved with 9 being semi-circular.

Most manufacturers will also have other shapes of tools which they will give other numbers to but this varies more with manufacturer. For example Henry Taylor uses numbers in the sixty range for what they call long pod tools and numbers in the ninety range for allongee tools (widening along the whole length). Additionally manufacturers may also prefix the shape numbers to distinguish sets of tools. Using Henry Taylor as an example again they prefix amateur tools with 24 and professional with 37.

A notable exception to following the Sheffield List the manufacturer Pfeil. For straight tools they start their flattest gouge at 2 with 9 still being the semi-circular gouge. The skew is taken to be a variation on the straight chisel and given a number 1S. After that the numbing doesn’t really follow the Sheffield List, for example v-gouges range from 12 to 16.