Posted by: Michael Keller Woodcarving | January 10, 2011

Ashley Iles, A Recent Discovery

Some of you reading this may well think that I have been living under a rock but here’s my story on discovering the UK’s Ashley Iles woodcarving gouges.

You know from other articles that I have written that the Swiss Made, Pfeil, tools have been my favorite mass produced (meaning, other than hand made – one at a time) woodcarving gouges.  I have a lot of them including a selection of Pfeil’s palm tools.  One major issue for me with Pfeil’s palm tools is their selection… they simply do not offer a very broad selection of sweeps or widths.  Being a bit frustrated with Pfeil’s size and sweep limitations, I began a search for tools that would meet my additional needs.  I bought a few miscellaneous tools from various manufacturers and was disappointed.  Clearly, that is always a relatively expensive exercise.

Then I discovered Ashley Iles.  Ashley Iles is a small British firm that has been making carving tools since 1949.  They began in Sheffield, the famous British cutlery capital, but in 1967, moved to the countryside in Lincolnshire.  Their facilities and location sound pretty idyllic and someday I hope to visit them.   From what I have read, they still make tools the old fashioned way… ensuring a consistent first rate quality.  Today, Ashley Isles is operated by Ashley Iles’ 2 sons who carry on their father’s traditions.

It had occurred to me earlier that some dang fine carvers such as Chris Pye, Peter Benson, Ray Gonzalez, were users of Ashley Isles tools.  I felt like these guys were pretty strong endorsements so I ordered some tools for myself.  Well, I have to tell you, these are excellent tools at an affordable price…. priced slightly less than Pfeil.  Their selection is really quite amazing and their quality is first rate.

I believe the best source for Ashley Iles tools (where I buy mine) is Tools For Working Wood ( www.toolsforworkingwood.com ).  These folks seem to offer tools that even Ashley Isles does not mention on their own web site.  The Tools For Working Wood web site states that they offer a larger selection than anyone else.  I might add that their customer service is impeccable.  Oh, and one more little thing that I really appreciate is this firm’s ordering mechanics.  They have a “check-the-box” system that makes ordering easy.  Everything being ordered is in full view at the same time and an entire order is completed with a couple of clicks.  There is none of this one-at-a-time stuff where you have to order one gouge and then back-up and start over for each additional gouge being ordered.  It is really a nice feature.

Another cool thing about the Ashley Iles product line is their Peter Benson detail tools.  They look so sweet… I will be adding some of these to my own wish list.  Peter Benson came up with these detail tools for his famous Netsuke carving.

Now, keep in mind that tools made in the UK do not have the standard sweep patterns of most of the rest of the world (German Pattern).  UK tool makers use the London pattern which is slightly different.  German pattern sweeps are typically one step shallower then the London Pattern sweep. For example, a number 5 sweep London Pattern gouge will have the same curvature as a number 6 German pattern gouge.  However, some appear to be the same such as the number 3.   Pfeil uses their own sweep nomenclature but many match up with the German pattern.

London Pattern Gouge Sweeps

The chart above appears as a thumbnail (small).  Just click on it for an enlargement.

Please be reminded that I love to pass on nice finds to other carvers.  I like these companies and their tools.  I am not compensated for writing about them.  I simply want to help you find quality service and tools.

Stay Sharp and Happy Carving!

Please visit my web site at www.WhiteEagleStudios.com .


Responses

  1. Thank you for your comments about the Ashley tools I have a set of their palm gouges and like them very much,I find them just right for hand held carvings.Back in the 90’s Ashley did not give factory tours,that has probably changed by now.I too wanted to get a good quality carving knife out for caricature carvers.Sorby gave me a wonderful tour of their plant ,making a bent gouge,going to 10 various operations including the tempering stage a and then presenting to me as a gift,giving me a fine memory of their product
    and British hospitality.Can’t go wrong with tools made by the ”Brits”
    Stan Bowers, woodcarversworkshop.net Howell Mi. USA

  2. Nice review the website seems to be at http://www.ashleyiles.co.uk now


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