Wax Carvers for Beginners

Hi Everyone,

I recently started carving pieces in wax at school and would like to
purchase my own set of carvers for my home studio. I have looked
around at various tools and prices and was hoping to get some
feedback on what might be a good start. One artist recommended that
I buy the Kate Wolf set of wax carvers - does anyone have strong
feelings one way or another on this set of tools? They are a bit
expensive but I want to have good tools. Or, should I just go ahead
and buy a few carvers to start with and build my collection from

Any thoughts would be helpful. Thanks so much.

I do have a strong opinion about Kate’s tools, they are fantastic, I
love my set. I am going to Kate’s Rio Grande seminar this weekend as
well because the education to use the tools to their best advantage
is also very valuable.

Sam Patania, Tucson

Hello Sara

I have been carving wax for 25 years and just treated myself to
Kate’s wax tools. They are great but did I need them, no. I used
X-Acto, scalpels, burs and files to do most of my carving. Also a
set of watchmakers screwdrivers sharpened work great for channels. If
you have a limited budget spend your money on an electronic wax pen
first, at least thats my opinion.

Happy Carving
Bill Wismar

Hi Sara

Kate Wolf’s wax tools are superb. I didn’t buy mine but attended an
excellent class where Kate taught us how to make our own (her) tools
and how to use them. The class was a week long and cost significantly
more than a set of tools. I had to travel to attend and stay in a
hotel. Was it worth it? Yes, every penny but I’m not all that inclined
to make a lot of my own tools even when I can. It’s not how I like to
spend my limited studio time so when the tools I made there are ground
to a nub I’ll buy a new set. Did I carve wax before I took Kate’s
class? Yes, rarely and I did it supremely badly with a cobbled
together set of pretty ineffective stuff because I was never taught
the process beyond sheet wax and an alcohol lamp, no carving in sight.
I know there are a lot of people out there who carve/construct
beautiful waxes with pretty rudimentary tools and little or no
formal training but I wasn’t one of them. My post casting cleanup
took forever. I had developed a real aversion to wax working even
though I kept designing things that were crying to be carved. Kate’s
tools and approach really opened my eyes and made me aware of a lot
of the reasons I was a good fabricator and a lousy wax modeler. The
irony of the whole experience is that while I really don’t want to
take the time to make my own tools I made 5 abbreviated sets for my
students. The tools had made such a difference in the way I did things
I wanted the kids to have a good wax working experience and couldn’t,
with a high school teaching budget, justify buying a couple sets. (I
was just pinching budget pennies to buy a few of the tools I didn’t
make when my budget was frozen because of fuel prices this season. I
had gotten to the time/money conflict again.) So anyway, if you can
afford to buy them and learn how to do things well the first time (the
booklet that comes with the full set really does wonderful things for
your learning curve) it will save you time which is really money in
the long run. I think with any tool purchase the real question is one
of time vs. money. Can you afford to spend more time because your
tools make a process more laborious or would you rather speed up the
process with an initial investment in both equipment and knowledge?
This is very strange for me to write, but, I now carve the occasional
wax for fun. The tools are that much of a pleasure to use and made
that much of a difference in the way I feel about wax. I think I have
just convinced myself to buy the tools we didn’t make in class! Oh,
and Bill Wismar is right. An electronic wax pen is a great thing to

As a tie-in to another thread that is currently getting a lot of
response here, Kate is one of the most remarkable people it has been
my privilege to have as a teacher. She shares her knowledge freely
which is a gift beyond price. Her boundless enthusiasm is the icing on
the cake. I may have mentioned something of this nature before but
positive things in life bear repeating.

Linda M

One artist recommended that I buy the Kate Wolf set of wax carvers
- does anyone have strong feelings one way or another on this set
of tools? They are a bit expensive but I want to have good tools.
Or, should I just go ahead and buy a few carvers to start with and
build my collection from there?

I’ve been drooling over the Kate Wolf wax tools, but it’s the price
that’s keeping me from buying them. That and the fact that I have
about 2 dozen misc wax tools and I seem to only use 3! I’ve got my
favorites and I kinda stick with them. But Kate’s tools look really
nice and the techs at Rio sing their praises!

If you get them, let us know what you think!

They are a bit expensive but I want to have good tools. Or, should I
just go ahead and buy a few carvers to start with and build my
collection from there? 

I am carving wax since last 20 years now. I use a dental lecron
carver of a very good quality, surgical blades no: 15 and no: 11,
hand files, needle files, escapment files,different shapes of burs,
cylindrical, round,conical,etc and of course drill size ranging
from.3mm onwards couple of pin vise to hold different tools i make by
grinding old burs and old worn out needle files I have attached an
electronic light dimmer to my mini electronic iron ( which has a
bulit in transformer) to control the temperature very precisely from
room temparature onward. I have prepared different shapes of tips
from sterling silver wire (different diameres from.5mm, 1mm and
2mm),to fit on the tip of my mini electronic soldereing iron, for
addition,repair and spruning. I sprue all my wax pattern carvings my
self. I keep in mind to use my wax carving tools only and only for
wax carving and not for any other work, so it stays sharp for long
long time.

I think that one can prepare all kinds of excelent quality carving
tools from worn our needle files or from high speed 3mm,4mm,6mm,round
rods available from a hardware store, of course one needs a small
bench grinder and waterproof sandpapers starting from
220, 320, 400, 600, 800, 1000, 2000, 3000 mesh which gives the highest
mirror polish on the carving tools.

There are hundred of wax carvers around the world using very basic
and inexpensive tools since years to carve the most intricate designs

I wish you best of luck with your wax carving.

May god bless us all with total health ( Physical -Mental -
spiritual and Social)

Let us strive to be happy.



I've been drooling over the Kate Wolf wax tools, but it's the
price that's keeping me from buying them. That and the fact that I
have about 2 dozen misc wax tools and I seem to only use 3! I've
got my favorites and I kinda stick with them. But Kate's tools look
really nice and the techs at Rio sing their praises! 

I have been carving wax for about 30 years and have accumulated
and/or made quite a few tools, including my dentist’s cast offs. I
watched Kate demonstrating her tools a couple of years ago at the
MJSA show in New York and immediately ordered a set. I couldn’t be
happier with them. I still use my some of my old carving tools but
find myself using Kate’s tools more and more. I have made some minor
alterations to some of them.

I think that especially if you are starting out, that Kate’s tools
are a great investment and will pay for themselves many times over.

Joel Schwalb

I make all my wax tools of high-carbon water-hardening steel. It is
available in 3 foot rods at many hardware stores. It is sometimes
called “piano wire” and comes in a variety of diameters. It is tough
stuff when tempered,but when it is heated to cherry red and quenched
it becomes so brittle it can be easily broken. I use 1/16" to 1/8"
diameter stock set in a 3/8" dowel for my carving tools.

My hot tools are more like dental tools. They are necked down
between blade and shaft to slow down heat traveling up the shaft.
They are not nearly so easy to control as a wax pen, but they
transfer a lot more wax and can make for very free flowing lines. I
use the same material, but in 1/8" to 5/32" diameters. In each case,
the width of the blade to be forged determines the diameter of the
stock to use.

So custom wax tools are inexpensive if you discount your labor. They
are easy to make. You can amass quite a collection over the years by
making a new one for each application!

Jon Abbott

Dear Umesh,

I am touched by your candid revelations about your hard won
techniques and contrivances. I have seen what native artisans can
achieve in some of the remotest areas of the world and I always
marvel at the ingenuity of these craftsmen. I sometimes wonder if
those of us who are dependent on commercial hardware might not have
lost a significant amount of our potential creativity to the
convenience of buying a ready made solution. It suggests that a
mindset of doing things that can only be done using commercially
available media, techniques and tools may be one that is constricted
and under-challenged.

Ron Mills, Mills Gem Co., Los Osos, Ca.

Try using street sweeper blades, you can find them anywhere a street
sweeper has been, I pick them up all the time. Then file or grind
them to shape and mount in a pin vise. Inexpensive and an endless

James McMurray

I have been carving wax off and on for 35 years. The last 5 years or
so have been intensively devoted to wax work. Some of my orchid
series have been available on ganoksin and those of you that were in
Tucson have probably seen the new ganoksin logo pin. I carve in the
hardest wax, exclusively. I use a wax pen with a shape that I have
cut down from the standard shapes. I have switched to the Foredom wax
carver because it is portable and I carve where-ever I go. It has
good temperature control, but I wish that the tips were smaller
allowing for more precision. I also use the Max Wax pen extensively
for the very fine tip, however, I have many quibbles with it’s design
starting with it’s ergonomics and temperature control.

Now to the carving tools. I have taken Kate’s wonderful wax carving
class and love her and her teaching, all in all a fine human being.
I was lucky enough to win a set of her tools 2 years ago at the
raffle in Tucson. Her instructions are to the point and she does
wonderful waxes using her tools and techniques. Unfortunately, (you
knew this was coming, didn’t you?) I am set in my ways and set in my
own tools. I find her tools to be too big for what I use. I have
collected (and modified) pen knives, dental tools (though I find that
I use them less and less), odds and ends from junk shops and made my
own tools. To show just how truly weird I am, my most used tools are
made from a hand forged leather awl, tiny high speed drills and
common pins that are shaped and put into pin vices.

I am sure that very few carve in the same manner as I do. I will
spend a month working intensively on a single wax. Kate’s technique
is more likely to suite more of you and especially beginners. I write
this to show that this skill is highly idiosyncratic. A thousand
monks, a thousand religions. I look forward to seeing Kate’s
miniature tool set (hint, hint).

To see some examples of my wax work go to www.sumnersilverman.com


Dear Amery,

I have done well for years using a few dental tools, a straight
pick, a knife, some gravers, wax files, a drill and saw blades, and a
wax pen. At first I used an alcohol lamp, but I recommend a wax pen
now. The little battery one is okay, works well, but really burns up
the AA batteries, so I eventually got a plug-in type from Rio Grande.
My dental tools are 2 Cleoid-Discoids in different sizes and one
narrow scraper that I don’t know the name of.

I like pulling the tools towards me and when I bought Kate’s tools I
didn’t think I liked the way they are straight on the handle, but I
have adapted to them. The booklet sent with them helped me learn to
use various tools to make a couple of basket settings that I had
orders for, and it worked very well. I am going to keep using the
Kate tools with my others, but if you want to save some money, you
can get on very well with other things, at least until you have more
money. The dental tools that I got cost about $25 each, but I only
needed 3 of them. Do not heat them; use homemade wire tools for
that, if you use an alcohol lamp instead of a wax pen.

M’lou Brubaker