How to Use a Pointing Machine in Wood Carving or Sculpting

If you’re fairly new to sculpting or wood-carving then one of the biggest challenges that you’re facing is probably getting the measurements right. Both of these crafts requires pinpoint accuracy and one small deviation can ruin hours of work.

To learn and improve on your wood carving/sculpting accuracy you need to master using a pointing machine. This useful tool helps you measure dimensions accurately and will stay a staple in your tool kit.

A pointing machine is a hand-held tool but not a simple one to figure out if you don’t have the right instructions or the right person to teach you. To help you out, the basics of a pointing machine and how to use it in wood-carving and sculpting will be the focus of today’s article

What is a Pointing Machine Used for

While this nifty tool has ‘machine’ in the last half of its name, it’s technically not one. Invented by French-British duo Nicolas-Marie Gatteux and John Bacon, the pointing machine is essentially a pointing needle that can be set and fixed in any position of wood-carving and sculpture pieces.

It’s made up of multiple rods and joints, usually brass or steel, which allows it to be positioned flexibly. Other variations of pointing machines have been used by artisans of ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian civilizations, but were very different from its modern iteration.

A pointing machine is used to help sculptors and wood-carvers create exact one-to-one replicas of other existing woodworks or sculptures. Creating larger or smaller versions of existing pieces requires a different set of tools i.e. calipers and pantographs.

Pointing machines cannot be position directly on the sculpture or woodwork you’re trying to copy- instead, a plaster cast has to be made from the original piece on which a pointing machine can be used on.

The main advantages of using a pointing machine are:

  • The carver or sculptor has more control over the final results.
  • Greatly decreases the chance of errors
  • Allows for easy adjustment and changes if desired.

This makes it a perfect tool for beginner sculptors and wood-carvers not experienced enough to visually discern accurate estimates. Experts at wood-carving or sculpting seldom use pointing machines when working on their pieces. The reason for this is that when using pointing machines, a key aspect of sculpting or carving is lost- originality.

Using this tool prevents an artisan from creating expressions in their work. One of the key achievements of a top-notch sculptor or carver is creating art that is life-like. When a pointing machine is used it prevents this effect, essentially nullifying the individuality of the work-piece. If they absolutely have to use it, they use it to calculate measurements for original works instead of copying.

How to Use a Pointing Machine

There are multiple ways to use a pointing machine in sculpting and wood carving. For beginners, it’s most useful for copying while for more advanced sculptors and carvers it’s a measuring device that helps in maintaining the consistency of their own unique pieces of work.

When using a pointing machine to copy, the first rule that you need to learn is the three-point rule. What is the three-point rule you ask? It is a technique that allows you to determine the accurate distance that needs to be carved/sculpted by using three individual points on the target model.

The rule of thumb is that you place the needle of the pointing machine on the first point you have ascertained which than allows you to set up the second and third points of the tool. By folding the rods of the tool from the first point you can determine the second and third points on the model.

The arms of the pointing machine will have to collapse for this purpose and the tool will take a three-dimensional form when all three points are ascertained. The pointing machine also allows you to determine the carving depth as well by adjusting the height of the needle from the first point.

Then all you have to do is to pick up the tool in the folded state on the stone or piece of wood you’ll be working on and you have the measurements you need to start carving. But before you start, you need to drill a couple of points on a long block of wood separate from the one you’ll be working on. Once you’ve finished drilling, you need to mount metal rivets at the drilled points. You’ll be using these drilled points to hook up T-shaped wooden supports. This support is commonly termed as a ‘cross’.

The cross is where the pointing device is attached to for use as a reference point as you sculpt or carve on the wooden or stone surface of your choice. For example, if you’re working on a bust, and the nose of the bust is the first reference point. In this case, the pointing machine needs to be attached to the cross and positioned in such a way that the needle of the pointing machine touches the nose of the bust. Then the needle is then positioned in a right angle on the cross and the stop clamps are tightened.

This is now the framework for whatever use you have in mind for it. If you’re copying an already existing work then all you have to do is carry the cross and place it against the block of wood/stone that you’ll be working on. When place against the flat sides of the work surface, you’ll notice that the needle is not touching the stop- the idea is that as you keep carving, the needle will hit the stop at the right depth. This is how a pointing device accurately measures the depth of the sculpture/wood carving without involving complex math.

One thing that you have to understand is that using a pointing machine will not automatically make you a good sculptor or wood-carver. Rather, it provides you with an accurate basis of measurements to work on by eliminating guesswork from the equation. When you gain enough experience, you can feel the adjustments you need to make for something totally new.

Where to Buy a Pointing Machine

Pointing machines are fairly common tools that can be found both online and offline. Almost all major eCommerce websites such as Amazon, AliExpress, and Zalando have a good collection of sculpting and carving tools in their listings. On average the price of a pointing machine can start from $250 and go up to $400 or more depending on the manufacturer and intricacy of the tool- some pointing machines have a simple design while others are more complex.

If you want to ensure the quality of the purchase you’re about to make, you can also opt for online stores that specialize in sculpting and carving tools like or These stores sell their stock from the best manufacturers.

Start Using a Pointing Machine to Improve Your Skills

If you’re having trouble with measurements in your carving/sculpting endeavors, then getting a pointing machine is definitely a good decision. Now that you know how to use a pointing machine, why don’t you get one and give it a try. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll realize that you can work a lot faster and more efficiently than before.      

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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