Author Chris Pye, writing in Woodcarving Tools, Materials & Equipment, reports that the Sheffield List was a numerical description of the carving tools being made in the 1880s. It soon became a recognized, standard system of nomenclature across Britain. It is still trade practice to use such a catalogue, either as a whole or with small variations. To some extent a similar system, or version of it, is followed in other countries.
The numbering system, which will be described here, will enable you to recognize quite easily 'what is what' within the diverse range of carving tools available. Although this is particularly true of the tools made in Britain, the Sheffield listing is generally only accepted as a guide - individual tools made by different manufacturers may vary, especially in some of the more specialized shapes. A firm may also add another number to specify an additional attribute of the tool such as the overall length of blade - whether larger or smaller. For example, a firm may list a longer 'workman's' or 'professional' size of tool next to an 'amateur's' size.
Continental systems arrange tool shapes in clusters, one residing within another; essentially this is the same as the system where the shapes are spread across the page. Many people find the spread-out chart easier to follow.
When you pick up a carving tool, look for a number, normally stamped on the shank just beyond the handle. Associated with this number will be the manufacturer's name and/or the logo, and sometimes the place of manufacture as well. All specialist woodcarving-tool manufacturers in Britain put such details on, as do those of repute abroad. In fact this is a good first check on the quality of a tool: if the tool has no stamp on it then either it is individually hand made or the maker did not think it worth acknowledging. The number will also appear in the manufacturer's catalogue and it is worth having a few of these on file to compare shapes and sizes.
The Sheffield List
Editor's Note: The Swiss Numbering System is different from The Sheffield List System.
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