The only tool I've ever used to carve with is a scalpel. Not an exacto knife but a real surgical scalpel. I just love that sharp rounded edge that cuts like butter through any (hard)wood. But like any other marriage... it could you feel you're missing something? It was time to find out!
After searching the internet I bought myself a basic set of carvers the other week. A set of six by Ramelson that were not too expensive. They were around 50 Euro's which I think is very reasonable, but i didn't expect them to be high-end. You van get better quality ones (like Pfeil) but for instance Dockyard has some too that are equally prized. I choose the Ramelson cos of the handle and the fact i never used such tools. If they pleased me I could always invest in a better brand. If not there's no man overboard.
They came blunt out of the box so they needed to be honed before use. After that I tried the different cuts they gave on a piece of scrap but really wanted to see where they could go. What better way then to test on a discarded design I had laying around; a rococo mirror.
I used a jewelers saw to cut out the frame, and routed the back recess for the mirror. While I was at it did a little edge on the front as well.
Then it was on to these new tools. I love the way they fit into my hand and how it makes possible for good control. I just started but already found them very useful to get into spaces where a scalpel would do more harm then help. Especially the gouges (U- and V-shaped). The only setback is they need to be sharpened quit quick, but that was to be expected.
Could a harder steel carver replace or substitute a scalpel? Don't think so; how small they might seem to be (5/64 inch wide) they are way to big for detailing; nothing beats a razor-sharp point to get into all the littlest corners and crevasses.