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Reciprocating Carving Tools

by Bill Aker


When I started carving I believed, from associating with carvers who produced small hand held items and worked with small bladed knives, that it was not real carving unless done strictly by hand. Some pieces required that I use gouges and chisels but more often, if I started with the knife, that's the way I finished!

Gradually through demonstrations and exhibits at shows and more exposure to varied artists in the trade, I became familiar with the concept of power carving. At least enough of an interest arose to begin exploring the popular books on the subject. I had occasionally used my Dremel tool for cleanup and fine definition. But, I found the grinding technique to be irritating by the production of dust, the sound, and especially with the Dremel tool, the heat and vibration! Foredom, with its hand piece was a little more comfortable but still, I found power to be not as desirable or as satisfying as actually cutting with a knife or gouge.

Along came a Christmas season and I found myself oversold on a Santa ornament. Facing more orders than I could possibly turn out by hand, I had no choice but to consider the use of power. About this time I was carving with Dwight Moore on a\ warm autumn afternoon, when he introduced me to the Ryobi reciprocating carver.

I was amazed by the fact that when I put pressure on the blade against the wood it acted as I would with a single stroke to clear a chip from the piece. Dwight had an entire collection of Flexcut tools, designed for Foredom, that fit the Ryobi without an adapter. The Flexcut set was necessary because the five blade set provided with the tool proved to be inadequate.

He wasn't planning to inventory the tool, but he promised to get me one. It was only available at hardware stores in the Bluefield area by order. Dwight found one at Home Depot in Charlottesville and after a brief period of adjustment I poured myself into completing the mass of orders. Between the judicial use of power and my unbending urge to use my knife, I managed to deliver Santa on time.

Since that day, the Ryobi has played an important part in my carving experience. However, the more you work with any tool, the more you experience the shortfalls, there from the first, but becoming more apparent with each new and unique piece that you carve. This probably wouldn't be a problem if you only carved one particular thing. I was, and am still attempting new styles and varied themes, so I found myself straying further from the use of power because of several limitations inherent to the Ryobi.

Recently, while purchasing the new Flexcut mini gouge set, Dwight mentioned that Flexcut was planning to come out with a power system using the Skil Model 1910 Scraper/Carver with a 20 blade assortment plus an adapter. I bought one just as soon as he got one in. Some major differences were immediately apparent.

First was the weight and size. With the exception of a rounded cleft on the bottom rear, the Ryobi is shaped like a small torpedo weighing in at 1.6 pounds. The Skil is a whopping 2.5 pounds and is shaped like the head end of a power drill without the shaft and battery box. Where the curvature and weight of the Ryobi is to the rear of the machine, it is just the opposite in the Skil making that machine a little more stable in the cut and balanced better for its weight. However, where the Ryobi can be managed easily with one hand (holding a small carving with the other, for example), the weight and shape of the Skil necessitates the use of both hands to maneuver the tool successfully. This observation is from a person who has relatively small hands compared to most people. A larger person with a big hand could probably handle the Skil on a hand held small piece without too much difficulty.

For its weight and size one would expect a more powerful motor, but this is not necessarily so. The Ryobi has two speeds, producing from 20 watts on low 10,400 reps. On high at 40 watts, it produces 12,500 reps. The Skil's total power draw is 1.5 amps producing for three speeds, 6,800 for low, 7,500 for medium and 8,500 for high. The higher speeds in the smaller Ryobi works for a slight disadvantage as it runs from warm to hot and vibrates at an uncomfortable level when used for extended periods. The casing is thin, providing no insulation for the heat off the motor. In contrast, the Skil runs cooler at all three speeds, with little or no vibration. Using both hands also helps to control the tiredness which comes from prolonged use.

The weight of the Skil comes in part from the internal fan which aids in making the machine the cooler of the two. Another weight factor is probably the thicker case, which I thought would have made it the quieter machine. Both machines are in the decibel range of an electric razor and fall short of the noise created by either Dremel or Foredom.

The placement of the speed switch on the Skil is up forward which might not be to the best advantage. If your grasp is towards the front because your control tends to demand a closer proximity to the blade, you will come in contact with the switch and find yourself in a higher speed than you perhaps wanted to be. The switch on the Ryobi is to the rear and out of accidental contact range. However, changing the speed means lifting the tool completely off the work to manipulate the switch.

The Ryobi has a collect nut to contend with in attaching and changing blades. This of course means that you have a wrench to constantly keep up with. The only aid the company has provided is a storage slot in the plastic carrying case, but nothing is provided to keep the wrench on board the tool.

The Skil has a quick connect system which allows the user to simply pull out one blade and slip in another. In using the Flexcut adapter in this system I sometimes found it difficult to get the blade in the adapter while it was attached to the machine. It helped to release the adapter from the machine, attach the tool to the adapter and then the adapter to the machine. It is possible that with use the system will become more flexible.

The Ryobi collect system also makes it difficult to get into close areas on small pieces. Since the blade fits right up to the end of the collect, the nut itself prevents entry into some spots.

The extended tool length provided by the Flexcut adapter and tool shaft when attached to the Skil means less problems with fitting into tight places.

The literature provided with the Skil indicates use of two hands for the safest operational method. I agree with that and even go one step farther by clamping the piece down to a table or equivalent. However, the Skil only has an 8 foot cord, meaning an extension cord may be necessary. The Ryobi which can be more easily used with a hand held carving has a 10 foot cord. Go figure that one out!

On occasion you may bind a blade in a deep cut. Pulling back on the Skil is not the solution as the blade will pull straight out of the adapter. One has to remember to wiggle the blade side to side in order to release it from the bind. The tighter collect nut on the Ryobi makes it more difficult to leave a blade in the wood.

Price wise the Ryobi DC500K Detail Carver Kit can be attained for around $65-$75 from authorized Ryobi dealers. The Flexcut blade assortment of your choice is available from any authorized dealer.

The Flexcut/Skil Model 1910 Carving System with the SK 104 21 piece boxed set with adapter retails for $357.90.

The Model 1910 comes in a plastic case with a set of tools including a 2 3/8" and a 1 9/16" knife which fit the Skil without the Flexcut adapter. I have found these to be useful in clearing large amounts of wood from big pieces. The scrapers and gouges included also come in good for handyman projects around the house. The Flexcut tool set is excellent, providing profiles and sizes for most tasks and comes in the traditional wooden box.

For more information and a list of dealer links go to:


This article is the result of my opinion formed through the use of both machines and offered for the purpose of helping those considering the use of handheld reciprocating machines. The choice is up to the individual. As for me, I may keep both machines!

Happy Carving:

Bill Aker

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