Travel Kit for Woodcarvers

Monday 9 July 2018

As summer approaches, vacation season beckons. Carving when away from your home workshop can be a delicious experience. What could be better than slicing away at some piece of local wood while sitting in the shade of a palm tree, or in the bucolic garden of a holiday cottage? One never knows when a carving opportunity or inspiration will arise, so it is a good idea to be prepared and have a convenient travel carving kit ready, that can be thrown into the suitcase without taking up much room.

There are some ready-made options on the market, however, it is a lot more fun and a nice challenge to design your own. Airline luggage allowances nowadays are quite tight so for my kit, I decided to emphasise compactness and lightness – hence I include no full-sized tools.

Pocket knives

Probably the most useful carving tool is a pocket knife with several blades. It is important to have one of good quality, which means that it should have a strong spring and the blades should be of high-grade steel.

I personally like at least one of the blades to be sharpened to a straight cutting edge, with a sharp point for folk-style flat-plane carving, which is well-suited to work held in the hand.

The knife should not be too small because you need to get a good grip on it for hand-held work. The one I chose is a relatively inexpensive Camillus brand Stockman, which has a nice, gnarly, imitation-horn handle grip. A locking blade is desirable for stabbing and drilling, but the Stockman does not have such a blade. However, there are many good alternatives out there.


A ruler is a must! A cheap, bendy plastic one is as good as anything, and can bend around the surface of a piece to mark off dimensions. However, I am very fond of my folding 12in (305mm) ruler, which collapses down to only 3in (75mm).


A few gouges come in handy. For me, the ones that best combine small size, convenient grip and high-quality steel are from a Japanese-made palm-gouge from Lee Valley Tools, and Axminster. From these, I chose three:

1. V-gouge for defining shapes on a carving – mine is a 60° version.

2. Semicircular gouge for hollowing concave curves, such as with spoon bowls.

3. Flat chisel which is generally useful


For roughing out a piece of wood in preparation for carving, a saw

is useful. It also comes in handy for cutting off waste wood,

and cutting tree branches into convenient segments. There are many good small Japanese folding saws for sale but to keep size way down, I made my own from a Bosch jigsaw blade and homemade handle. To do this, I split a piece of fruitwood, carved a little socket inside for the blade's hilt, and then epoxyed the parts together.

The blade length is only 3in (75mm), so there is a limit to the size of carving this little gem will handle, but within its size limitations, it does cut very well.

Choose a blade that has teeth at right angles to the long axis – the ones with sloped teeth tend to jam when used by hand. I made a simple cardboard cover to protect the blade in the box.


The whole lot fits nicely into an antique Gold Flake 50-cigarette tin – a flat plastic box would also work but lacks the cachet

of an old tin. The total weight is 9 ounces (260 grams). Include a piece of carpet underlay to place in the container on top of your kit as this stops everything rattling around. Remember, when traveling by plane, make sure to put the kit into your checked luggage – don't even think about trying to get it onboard in your carry-on!


The most minimalistic sharpening facility I have come up with is a small slab of Perspex, acting as a flat surface to support small sheets of abrasive paper. I use a sheet of 1000 grit followed by 2000, and this gives a fairly good edge. Using paper allows you to get at the inside edge of the gouges to get rid of burrs. You can strop a tool on the inside surface of your belt if you feel this is necessary.