What You Need to Know about Carving Gloves

Monday 9 July 2018

We carvers could not really work without our hands, but we probably all take them for granted. If you look at them closely, it starts to become clear just how remarkable these modest-looking digits are. They can do extraordinary things, in particular, the thumb moves differently to the fingers: it rotates in a completely different direction. Most importantly, this feature enables us to move our thumbs to touch and press the other fingers, so we can grip tools. It is reckoned that without the thumb we would lose about 80% of the hand’s functionality, which is why, if the thumb is amputated, surgeons try to skew or move a finger to reintroduce that all-important gripping action.

And it’s not just the thumb that is important – even the fourth, smallest finger is valuable because it can rest on a surface to steady the hand, for example when writing, or using fine tools. Because hands are so important to carvers, we need to take care of them. And although handling our tools correctly will help to minimise risks, from time to time we all chance cutting ourselves.

Marking scheme

Using gloves is the obvious way to provide protection for your hands, but how can you achieve this without compromising a feel for either the tools you are using or for the wood being shaped? And as well as this, we want a good grip at the same time, so how do we know which gloves are best, and then, where do we go to look for them?

A good place to start is to see if the gloves you are considering have any safety markings. Gloves in the ‘simple design’ category (protecting against minor risk such as gardening gloves and the like) may only have packaging marked with the words, “For minimal risks only” or similar. This provides no idea how they will stand up to stabs or cuts. Perhaps serious carvers are best advised to avoid these.

But hope is at hand. There is a marking scheme that is really useful. This is the one used to test gloves against European standard for use industrially, and it will provide a very good idea about a carving glove’s performance against stabs and cuts, as well as abrasion and tear.

Measuring up

So, exactly, how are the gloves tested? Well, like other British and European standards, tests are invented which do their best to mimic what might happen in real life.

Rubbing a standard abrasive head over the specimen and counting how many standard cycles it takes to go right through measures the abrasion resistance. Blade cut resistance is measured using a circular rotating blade with fixed stroke length under standard pressure. The result is the number of strokes to cut through divided by the number needed to cut through a standard material. Tear resistance measures the force to pull the material apart in standard jaws. Puncture resistance measures the force to push a standard, rounded point through the material at a fixed speed. Clever stuff, eh? Table 1 shows the details.

A tested item is given a performance rating of 1 to 4 (1 being the lowest and 4 the highest) for all of these four factors except Blade Cut Resistance where a performance level 5 can also be awarded. Frequently an X will replace one or more of the numbers, which means that this particular test was not performed.

Points to consider

There are a couple of other points worth making. Firstly, you can see from Table 1 that it can be hard to get from one grade to the next. For example the increase in performance to get from Blade Cut index level 4 to index level 5 is eight times that needed to improve from level 1 to level 2. So a glove with a higher rating has really earned its medals.

Secondly, a rating of 1 does not mean no resistance at all; it means the glove has been tested and reached a certain standard, so don’t think of a 1 as a fail. However, an X means no test done, which might imply very poor performance.

Displaying information

If the glove has been tested to Standard EN 388 then somewhere (usually on the glove, but sometimes on a piece of paper with the glove, or on the packaging) will be the CE mark which shows the glove type has been physically tested in a laboratory; and also the hammer and anvil pictogram, which shows that the gloves were tested to EN 388, and the four numbers, which are always in the same order, giving the performance of the glove against the four tests (See Table 2).

In practice, glove manufacturers display this information in different ways, from a typical glove package or on a paper slip packaged with the glove. However, in most cases, the marking is shown on the glove itself but on some gloves the detail is a little harder to see.

Glove performance

So how do we use these figures to help choose gloves? Well, the two most important factors for knife and chip carvers are likely to be blade cut resistance and puncture resistance, so it would seem a good idea when choosing gloves to look out for high numbers here i.e. the second and fourth numbers in the row of four. In Table 2 these numbers are shown in brown. If you are able to find a glove with the highest rating of 5 for cut resistance and the highest rating of 4 for punture resistance, then this is obviously the ideal. However, if you powercarve and want to hold work while using burrs or sanding and so on, then abrasive resistance is important. You will also need a glove which is holding the powercarving unit and this is likely to require some anti-vibration qualities.

A word of caution

We all want to enjoy our carving, and if our hands are protected in a way that doesn’t compromise our dexterity, feel or grip, we will be able to carve for longer and without fear of damage to our bodies.

But please do remember that although safety gloves do offer protection for your hands, they will only safeguard you to a certain extent. If enough pressure is applied to a tool, or if you fall onto a knife or fall with one held in your hand, then don’t be surprised if you do receive some sort of wound, no matter how high the glove may have scored on cut or puncture resistance. That said, the injury acquired will probably be a lot less severe than what might have been the case had you not worn a glove at all. So make sure you do wear gloves when working with knives but don’t expect them to be completely protective in every circumstance.

And finally

And now you now what to look for in a safety glove suitable for carving, you can start looking at what is available on the market. You should be able to get a good pair of carving gloves for around £10-20, or less if you shop around. A good place to get bargains is the internet. You may come away with your head swimming as to the vast array of products out there, but remember the EN 388 and the factors tested, and you should be able to find yourself something you’ll be happy with.

£10 spent on a decent pair of gloves can be less than the cost of a gouge, so isn’t such a small investment worth it to protect one of your most precious assets?