Pfeil carving and lino cutting tools: A buyer’s guide

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For woodcarvers and linocut artists, it’s no secret that Pfeil tools are among the best on the market. Marketed as Pfeil “Swiss Made” carving tools, they might be more expensive than other options, but the price is more than worth it for a tool that will last a lifetime.

Unfortunately, the company is notoriously bad at explaining and marketing its own tools. Everything from the naming scheme to where to buy their tools is hard to find online.

To help, I put together this guide to everything you need to know about Pfeil carving tools. First, I’ll explain a bit more about the company itself, then get into the two types: Pfeil wood carving tools and Pfeil lino cutting tools.

If you’re looking for where to buy them, I’ve included links below to the best sets of Pfeil carving and lino cutting tools and a bit of detail about each. Let’s get started!

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Pfeil carving tools: Quick picks

pfeil swiss made wood carving tools set of 12

12-piece set of Pfeil wood carving tools

  • Includes essential tools plus skew and bent sweep options
  • Perfect for avid wood carvers
  • Pricey, but decent value

pfeil lino cutting tools set b

6-piece set of Pfeil lino cutting tools (set B)

  • Perfect set for relief printing in lino or wood
  • Includes all essential tools
  • Rounded palm handles for comfort and control

Pfeil set of 12 linoleum and block cutters

12-piece set of Pfeil lino cutting tools

  • The ultimate set for all types of block printing and small carving work
  • Includes essential tools plus skew and bent sweep options
  • More for collectors than artisans

Pfeil Tools: A brief history

Pfeil Tools headquarters
Photo credit: Pfeil Tools

Pfeil Tools is a Swiss company that makes high-quality carving, linocut, and woodworking tools. Now specialized in cutting and carving tools, the company first started more than a century ago in Langenthal, Switzerland.

Although nowadays its tools are exported all over the world, it remains a family-owned, operated business. The company also takes great pride in its Swissness, often going by the moniker Pfeil “Swiss Made” Tools.

Read also: 100+ creative hobbies to try, and how to get started

This is more than just a marketing ploy, as all of its tools are still carefully crafted in its factory in Langenthal.

Every detail is considered, from special non-standard steel that maintains an edge to sustainable native woods used for the handles. The wood is even treated with solvent-free oils, and all waste wood is used to generate heat.

If you are environmentally conscious (and can afford it), Pfeil Tools is a great alternative to cheaply made tools coming out of Asia.

Are Pfeil carving tools worth it?

Pfeil carving tools aren’t cheap, but they’re well worth the money. Ask any professional who has used one and they’ll tell you they’re among the best tools you can buy.

The great thing about Pfeil tools is that not only are they extremely high-quality, they also come sharpened out of the box. At the end of the day this might be a minor convenience, but it does feel nice to start carving right away.

Another thing to consider is that the company’s entire range of tools is guaranteed for life. Obviously this doesn’t cover mishandling or abuse, but if properly handled they will last a lifetime.

Pfeil tool names explained

Pfeil tools naming system

If you’ve ever looked at Pfeil carving tools online, one of the first things you probably noticed is the confusing naming conventions. To help clear that up, here’s a primer on how Pfeil tool names work.

Each tool name has three parts: a letter, a number, and a second number. For example, L 12/1.

Some, like the standard and heavy-duty Pfeil carving tools, do not have a number at the beginning. Sets and more niche tools also have a different naming scheme, but I won’t get into that here.

Here’s what Pfeil carving tool names mean:

  • The letter (if there is one) refers to the type of tool:
    • No letter: Standard or Heavy Duty carving tools.
    • D: Medium-sized carving tools.
    • L: Palm carving tools (ideal for linocut).
  • The first number refers to the profile or sweep:
    • 1: Straight line.
    • 2-11: Curve/gouge. Higher numbers have deeper curves.
    • 12-14: V cutters.
    • 25: Inverted curve.
    • There may also be a letter: s means the edge is skewed, and a means it’s a spoon bent gouge.
  • The second number refers to the width of the blade:
    • Measurement is from tip to tip.
    • Smaller numbers typically mean more shallow/smaller cutters.

With that out of the way, let’s have a look at some tools!

Pfeil wood carving tools

Pfeil wood carving tools
Photo credit: Pfeil Tools

Pfeil wood carving tools are perfect for both hard and softwood carvings. The larger standard and heavy-duty carving tools are a bit difficult to get your hands on (and expensive), so I’d recommend going for the medium-sized tools for wood carving.

Read also: Best wood for printmaking

These are the ones most often referred to as Pfeil “Swiss Made” carving tools, since they have the words Swiss Made written on the handle. The company claims this signifies reliability and precision.

Make no mistake, these are still full-handled and designed for use with a mallet. They’re perfect for small and medium-sized carvings, and they come razor sharp out of the box.

Note that these are not ideal for linocut work. Continue to scroll down to learn more about the Pfeil linocut tools with a palm-style handle.

The octagonal wood handles on these tools are 115mm (~4.5 inches) long, which is great for people with smaller hands. These aren’t designed for very large carvings, but they’re perfect for beginners or hobbyists.

Rather than picking up individual tools, I’d recommend getting one of two sets listed below, depending on your personal needs. That said, you can also buy individual tools at the link below.

6-piece set of wood carving tools

Pfeil carving tools set of 6

Includes: D 1/6, D 5/12, D 7/10, D 9/10, D 11/3, D 12/6

The 6-piece set is the perfect Pfeil wood carving tool set for beginners. It has all of the essential tools you need to get carving, without any of the fluff.

Read also: Best woodworking classes

You get several wide gouges, medium scoops, and precision V parting tools. It isn’t particularly cheap, but the tools are much higher quality than anything else you’ll find on the market.

Update: This set has been out of stock for a while now. Check availability at the link below, but you’ll have better luck finding the 12-piece set for now.

12-piece set of wood carving tools

pfeil swiss made wood carving tools set of 12

Includes: D 1/8, D 1s/8, D 5/3, D5/8, D 8/7, D 8a/7, D 9/5, D 9/10, D 11/1, D 11/3, D 12/2, D 12/8

If you’re looking for a slightly more complete kit, the 12-piece set is the way to go. There’s also an 18-piece set in some markets, but honestly, this is more than you’ll ever need.

Like before, you get a variety of tools, this time including both skew and bent sweep options. These aren’t strictly necessary for beginners, but they may be useful for avid carvers. Check pricing and availability at the link below.

Pfeil lino cutting tools

Pfeil palm lino cutting tools
Photo credit: Pfeil Tools

While the company’s wood carving tools have some competition, Pfeil lino cutting tools are truly the best there is. Professional linocut artists around the world trust the “palm handle” tools for extremely high-detail artwork.

Unlike Pfeil wood carving tools, these are designed to be used with just the force of your hand — no mallet required. Obviously, this won’t be suited to hardwood carvings, but they’re great for relief work in linoleum or softer woods.

Read also: Block printing: History, techniques, supplies, and more

While they’re certainly more expensive than other lino cutting tools, Pfeil palm carving tools provide incredible control for delicate edges. The rounded handles are also comfortable enough for extended use, even when digging out large waste areas.

Pfeil linocut tools are also available in sets, but you don’t necessarily need a complete set to get started. I’ve outlined two of the best options below, or you can shop the full range at the button below (and get 10% off your first purchase).

6-piece set of lino cutting tools

Pfeil lino cutting tools set b

Includes: L 5/3, L 7/6, L 7/10, L 9/5, L 11/1, L 12/1

There are actually four different sets available, but by far the best one is set b, linked here. You can see the full set of six tools and their profiles above.

This set includes the most important tools for linocut work: a wide gouge, U cutting tools (veiners), and a small V cutting tool. These will be your absolute workhorses, and if properly taken care of, they’ll last a lifetime.

Read also: Best linocut tools

If you can spend a bit more it may be worth getting the full set of 12 tools, which costs well over $300. At that point it’s more of a display piece though, as many of them won’t see much use.

Check pricing and availability for the 6-piece set below, and get 10% off your first purchase!

Note: Set b is frequently sold out due to high demand. If you can’t wait for a restock, set c is a great alternative that won’t break the bank.

Just the basics: Three key tools

Pfeil lino cutting tools essentials

If you want to spend as little money as possible, you can definitely get away with just three individual Pfeil lino cutting tools.

As mentioned above, what you really need are a wide gouge to remove large waste areas, a medium-sized veiner, and a smaller V cutter. These three tools can cover nearly any task, saving you more than $50 over the set above.

To that end, I recommend the L 5/8, the L 11/3, and the L 12/1. Check out all three (and save 10% on your first purchase) at the links below.

Other Pfeil tools

Pfeil chisels
Photo credit: Pfeil Tools

Pfeil wood carving and lino cutting tools are the most popular products the company makes, but they’re far from being the only ones.

Using the same attention to detail and high-quality materials, the Swiss company makes chip carving knives, spoon knives, draw shaves, hatchets, mallets, and more.

While most of these are fairly niche, Pfeil chisels are another great purchase for woodworkers. That said, there are far more options for woodworking tools than there are for carving tools, many of which are much cheaper.

Read also: Essential woodworking tools for beginners

Most of Pfeil’s other tools are also difficult to find, making them harder to recommend over alternatives. If you can find them, however, you can expect the same top quality across its entire catalog.

How to care for Pfeil carving tools

Pfeil carving tools in box
Photo credit: Pfeil Tools

If you’re going to spend the money on a nice set of Pfeil tools, you should know how to take care of them.

Sometimes tool purchases will be shipped with a short tool care manual, but individual tools may be shipped without one. If you don’t have one or just lost yours, here’s a quick primer on how to care for Pfeil carving tools, no matter the shape.

General care

The first thing you need to consider is storage, which isn’t too much of an issue if you buy a set that includes a rolling slip. Others come with a wooden display or box, which keeps them safe.

No matter what, you should avoid dropping them on the ground or other hard surfaces. This can cause irreparable damage to the cutting edges, or at best, require hours of sharpening to fix.

Rust is also a minor concern, especially for those who live or work in humid places. Applying a thin coat of light oil to the steel can prevent any surface rust.

How to sharpen Pfeil carving tools

Although all Pfeil tools come sharpened to a razor edge, you should regularly sharpen them for best results.

For Pfeil chisels and other larger cutting tools, I’d recommend picking up a set of diamond plates, which are a bit pricey but last a lifetime. Whetstones like these are also a good option if you want to save some money.

Learning how to sharpen Pfeil carving tools is a bit more complicated. The different profiles of each tool mean flat stones can’t sharpen the inside of most tools, especially curved ones.

To that end, I’d recommend getting the Flexcut Slipstrop, which comes with a honing compound and a pre-shaped strop that covers virtually all tool shapes. You can also make your own slipstrop from wood or other soft materials, or buy a slipstone, which is a thin stone with one pointed edge and one rounded edge.

To sharpen the tools, pull the inside of the tool down the slipstrop (not into the cutting edge) until you feel a burr (a small buildup of thin metal) on the outside of the tool.

Then, pull the outside of the tool down a flat strop (again, not into the cutting edge) until the burr is gone. You may need to repeat the process a few times to get a truly sharp edge if you haven’t sharpened in a while.

For rounded carving tools, you can either run the tool down the strop at one angle, then twist and repeat, or twist the tool as you run it down the strop. Both will work, although the second method takes a bit of practice!

If you’re a true Pfeil-ophile, the brand does sell its own 4-piece set of Arkansas stones with profiles that match its linocut tools. The full set comes with a nice box, although you can also purchase them individually.

When used with a honing oil, they are roughly equivalent to 8000 grit synthetic stones. Personally, I prefer the slipstrop because the oil can be messy, but the results with both methods can be excellent.

Other FAQ

What does Pfeil mean?

Pfeil means “arrow” in German. The company logo is also an arrow.

Where can I buy Pfeil tools in (country)?

You can find a full list of dealers worldwide here, but I’d recommend buying from Jackson’s Art if you can. They ship worldwide, and you can take advantage of a 10% discount on your first purchase to take the sting off of higher prices. Plus you get the warm fuzzy feeling of supporting a small business!

Do Pfeil tools come with a guarantee?

Yes! All tools come with a limited lifetime guarantee that covers everything except user-caused damage. Basically if you mishandle your tool and break it, it won’t be covered.

What are some alternatives to Pfeil carving tools?

If you don’t want to spend as much money, Flexcut makes several great lino cutting sets. The Flexcut printmaking set is an excellent value, and the slightly more premium 4-piece Mini Palm set is also a great alternative.

Can Pfeil linocut tools cut wood?

Pfeil lino cutting tools (with the rounded palm handles) are every bit as sharp as their larger counterparts, and can cut most types of wood. However, particularly hardwoods might be challenging to carve using just the force from your hand. As long as you’re working with softwoods you should be fine. DO NOT use a mallet with these tools.

Can I use Pfeil wood carving tools on linoleum?

While wood carving tools (with the long mallet handle) are more than capable of cutting linoleum, you will likely struggle to get accurate cuts. It can definitely work in a pinch, but you would be better off getting the palm handle sets, or even a cheap set from Speedball.

Can I replace the handles of Pfeil tools?

Pfeil Tools does sell replacement handles for its full range of products, but it may be difficult to source originals. The steel pieces have a standard tang, so you might have better luck making your own or working with a local woodturner for replacements.

That’s it for this comprehensive buyer’s guide for Pfeil wood carving and lino cutting tools! If you have any other questions feel free to drop them in the comments below and I’ll address them as soon as possible.

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7 responses to “Pfeil carving and lino cutting tools: A buyer’s guide”

  1. Lou Carreras Avatar

    Thanks for a great and comprehensive look at the Pfeil line up. I agree that they are the best new tools you can buy, and make up about two thirds of my active tools. But a number of years ago I met a pre-WWII trained retired trade carver ( apprenticed in France). He advised the I take a look at Addis and Prize Medal tools. These are not made anymore, but are available on the used market. when the prices are reasonable ( not collector prices) I have purchased these. with a little restoration I got some very fine tools for a reasonable price. My friend indicated that Addis manufactured a series of sweeps not manufactured by today’s tool makers.

    1. Nick Rowan Avatar

      This is great advice! I’ll see what I can dig up. Do you have any posts about them? I’d love to have a look!

  2. Woody Woodrell Avatar
    Woody Woodrell

    Great guide for super hard yo find information

  3. Nick Darpino Avatar
    Nick Darpino

    I have 12 Swiss Made palm handle V tools & gouges that I inherited from a friend. On the shaft near the handle is just an arrow and one number. How do I convert that number to a size as I am new to carving and most patterns from magazines list the tool needed either in inches or milimeters?

    1. Steve Avatar

      The stamped number is the profile or curve of the blade not the size.

  4. Zahra Avatar

    Thanks so much for putting this guide together, it’s super helpful!! Really appreciate your work here 🙂

  5. Andrew Avatar

    Nice article. I have a similar question related to Steve’s above. I have just acquired a gorgeous set of old Pfeil carving chisels without the sweep/size printed on the handle, just the sweep stamped into the blade. To gauge how old they might be, do you know when Pfeil started printing the sweep/size on the handle?
    They truly are a joy to use.

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