Port Townsend School of Woodworking
Preserving the Tradition

NW Carving: Toolmaking and Techniques - Nathan Gilles

Forge the blades of the hand tools typical of Northwest Coast woodwork. Mount the adze blades in natural crooks and the knife blades in straight handles. 5 day class with Nathan Gilles.


NW Carving: ToolmakinG



Tool making is an art that goes hand in hand with creating things in wood. The many diverse carving and sculpture traditions of the world are reflected in the kinds of tools that are used to produce them.

NW Coast-style carving tools, developed by the tribes and peoples of the First Nations in the NW, are adapted to the kinds of sculptural shapes that are characteristic of the woodwork from this area.

Many objects are composed of rounded hollows and graceful curves, both convex and concave. The tools employed to create these forms, adzes and curved (bent or crooked) knives, need to be shaped so that they work with these sculptural forms, not against them.

We offer this course as an exploration of techniques to create the tools you'll need to carve in the NW Coast style. The course is a comprehensive way to understand the techniques and tooling you'd need to make these traditional carving tools. Our goal is for you to have a minimum of two adze and three carving knives completed.

In the class we will build a very simple gas forge for our work. You will gather information on how to replicate a simple forge at home for under $100.  The goal is to teach you the skills to continue making woodcarving tool at home with minimal and simple equipment.

Experienced carvers can take this course to learn more about the history of their tools and how to make and maintain their tools.

Class Description

Tools by Eric Root - November 2014

Tools by Eric Root - November 2014

In this class we will use the techniques of the blacksmith: Forging, grinding, bending, hardening, tempering, and sharpening  to create comfortable hand tools that can be used to carve a large variety of sculptural forms, some typical of Northwest Coast woodwork, or others that range from free-form sculpture to boatbuilding. These tools are widely adaptable, and their ease of handling and effective cutting power can be applied to many different kinds of woodwork.

Carving adzes are the foundation of this kind of work, and we will begin by making blades for two sizes of ‘elbow’ adze, one for larger wood removal jobs and one for smaller more detailed shaping. These same tools are also used to produce the characteristic marks known as ‘finish adzing’, a traditional tool-made pattern of chip-marks arranged in rows on the surface of a carved form.

The handles of these adzes will be made from tree branches, or elbows, either of alder or maple, both of which are excellent woods for this application. The blades are fastened to the handles with strong seine twine, in a modern version of the simple but highly effective aboriginal technique.

You'll also will be making and sharpening straight and curved (crooked) carving knife blades, using material from commercial mill-type bandsaw blades. The blades will be ground, then heated and bent to shape. Finally you'll  harden and temper to give them a hard cutting edge that is not too difficult to sharpen.

During this class we set up a small metalworking shop - complete with forge, anvils, grinders. 

You will leave the class with several finished tools to use in their wood sculpting but also student will have gained the knowledge to continue making tools at home with minimal equipment.

Throughout the class Nathan will share his knowledge of NW Tools and Carving. 


  • Personal protection.
    Ear and eye protection. Shop apron/overalls. Heavy shoes or boots, not sneakers.  Plus work gloves if desired.  

  • Adze Handle Blanks (Optional but recommended): 
    Alder, maple, or (cherry, any fruitwood, yew, locust, etc.) tree branches with close to a 45-degree angle between a handle-sized arm (at least 15 inches long x 1 inch diameter) and the blade-side arm (at least 8 inches long x 1.5 inch diameter), if you can get them. Both arms need to be straight and ‘in line’ with one another. Usable examples will be provided for those without access to handle stock.

  • Knife Handle blank material (Optional): 
    Basic handle blanks will be provided. Bring your own material for this if you have some appropriate pieces on hand! [Handle blanks should be about 1” x 1 ½” x 8” (or more) in length.

  • Bring your favorite small block plane for shaping and smoothing the handles.


Note: You do not need prior metalworking experience to take this course.

Class Information and Registration

Class starts at 9:00am on the first day.
This class takes place in Building 304 at Fort Worden - not the School Building. Map
Please read our What to Expect page for general information about the School.
Please also read our Registration Policy.

Class size: 10
Cost: $775
Materials Charge: $135

When you click on the Register link you will be able to register for the class or, if the class is full, sign up for the wait list.