The Basics Of Carving Wood That Any Beginner Should Know

Wood carving is a fascinating art, in which wood is carved using various toosl and techniques, resulting in the transformation of a piece of wood into a beautiful sculpture. Depending on what you want to carve in a piece of wood, the project can be a simple one that uses a few basic tools, or a very complex one that will need one to make use of some advanced tools and techniques. Before discussing about the various tools that are needed for carving wood, let us first dwell on the various types of wood carving techniques and the different types of wood that can be used for carving.

Generally speaking, there are four main styles of carving wood. And the important thing to note is, in each style the carving tools are not the same. Therefore, before you begin you need to decide the style of carving wood that you want to opt for and accordingly you will have to choose the tools.

carving wood
Tools needed to obtain before carving wood.

These are the 4 main types of carving wood:

Whittling: This style of carving wood is perhaps one of the oldest and simplest. All you need to get started with this woodcarving style is a good quality carving knife and a piece of wood. In this technique, bits of wood are cut away from a block of wood until the design the carver has in mind, takes shape. Most of the accomplished wood carvers who use this technique, use only the carving knife for both roughing and detailing work. Typically, the design is not smoothened using a sand paper; the knife strokes are noticeably visible and those are what characterizes the final piece.

Carving-in-the-round: This is a more advanced form of woodcarving that can produce sculptures and structures, which are more lifelike with more details and smoother texture. The carving knife alone cannot accomplish the task. Therefore, for this technique of carving wood, the carver needs to make use of tools of various shapes and sizes. Such tools include hand tools like gouges, chisels, etc., and even power tools with various types of blades, burs, abrasive points, etc.

Relief Carving: Relief carved woodwork is three dimensional. It can be described as a form of woodwork that chips away bits of wood from a flat stock, such that the carving appears to be rising out of the wood. Typically, carving knife, chisel and hammer are used in this technique of carving wood. However, many carvers also employ power tools to quicken the process of removing unwanted materials from the wood. Depending on how raised is the carving from the back of the wood, it can be categorized as ‘high relief’ or ‘low relief’.

Chip Carving: In this method of carving wood, selected portions of wood are chipped away to give shape to a particular design. Theoretically speaking, in chip carving there are only two levels on the wood, one is the wood surface and the other is the point where the cut meets. Free form patterns or geometric shapes can be carved through this technique. Even this this style of carving wood, is one of the simplest, but it needs considerable time and patience to master it.

Now that you know the four basic techniques of wood carving, let’s discuss in brief about the different types of wood that can be used for carving purpose. If you are a beginner in this field, it is advisable that you start with the softer variety of wood like basswood and butternut, as they are quite easy to carve. Basswood is typically characterized with fine grain; it is light colored and is ideal for whittling. Butternut, on the other hand features coarse grain. It is light brown in color and has a distinct wood pattern.

Apart from that below are a few more types of wood used in carving:

White Pine: Typically, it is cream in color and is characterized by medium grains. It falls in the sifter variety of woods and is easy to carve.

Mahogany: Reddish in color, it comes with a medium grain. It is somewhat hard and is suitable for those who have developed their carving skills.

Walnut: Dark brown in color, this type of wood is quite hard to carve and hence, is suitable only for carvers with advanced carving skills.

Cherry, Maple and White Oak are some of the very hard variety of wood, which makes it quite difficult to carve and hence, are suitable only for experienced carvers only. However, since they are more durable, they are quite popular for carving purpose. Freshly cut logs of wood should never be used for carving purpose as they might have a great deal of moisture in it, making them more prone to cracking. It is best to use logs that have been air dried for an extended period of time.

Now, it’s time to discuss another important aspect of carving wood and that is the ‘tools’ one must have in order to get started with carving wood.

Chip Carving Knife: This is the very first tool that a wood carving enthusiast must have. It is primarily used for chip carving and whittling. Make sure that the one you buy has a comfortable handle and its blade is around 1 ½” and is made up of high carbon steel for a longer life.

Mallet: The mallet used in carving is made from a dense hardwood and typically, cylindrically shaped. If you like you can also use a rubber mallet. It is not as powerful as the wooden one, but is definitely less noisy.

Gouges: These tools are meant to scoop out large or small areas of wood and for carving, smoothing and shaping wood surfaces. There are a variety of them to choose from like U-gouges, V-gouges, spoon gouges, etc.

Chisels: Typically used with a mallet to chip wood, they are also a must have tool for carving wood.

So, these were the basics of wood carving that any enthusiast in the field should know. Just like any other form of woodworking, another important thing to keep in mind while carving wood is to adhere to the safety norms. That is an absolute must for a safe and enjoyable wood carving experience.

Scroll to Top