Wood carving is a fun, accessible, and creative craft that doesn’t require a fancy studio, or equipment. All you need is a piece of wood and something sharp to carve it with. Of course, what kind of wood and what kind of carving tools you pick will affect the difficulty, safety, and result of your wood carving endeavors. In this wood carving for beginners guide, we’ll go over some of the most important information a new craftsman or craftswoman needs to know to get started. Are you looking for information and tips for wood working? Check out this introductory wood working course for more info. Otherwise, get ready to learn the basics of wood carving, and unleash your creativity!
Types of Wood Carving
While it might sound like a straightforward discipline, there are actually different types of wood carving techniques. Below is four of the main wood carving styles. It’s good to determine which style best fits your abilities, and your desired product, before purchasing materials and supplies. If you’re planning on teaching a young child how to wood carve, you might want to opt for something a little safer until they’re old enough to handle sharp objects on their own. Learning how to work with clay, or carving a piece of soap with a spoon are good, safe alternatives.
Whittling One of the oldest forms of wood carving, whittling is distinct for its sharp, textured cuts that leave knife “strokes.” The sculptures made with whittling are often very angular. Whittling is done using a whittling or a carving knife.
Relief Carving Unlike carving full sculptures out of wood, relief carving is the process of carving figures into wood. You start out with a flat panel of wood, and carve figures into it, leaving the back flat.
Carving in the Round This is like the clay sculpturing of wood cutting. Objects are smooth, angles are rounded – hence the name – and all sides are carved, unlike relief carvings.
Chip Carving Chip carving involves using a knife, chisel, and a hammer. The process is exactly as the name suggests: chipping away at a piece of wood. This can be used to create intricate patterns in wooden plates and boards.
Types of Wood
Once you’ve decided on your wood carving style, it’s time to select the type of wood you want to work with. Butternut and basswood are softer types of wood that are easier for beginners to carve. Butternut offers a nice looking grain if you’re planning to leave your sculpture unpainted. Whatever you choose, make sure you purchase the wood from an art and crafts store or wood supplier. Don’t pick up any piece of wood from your lumber pile or garage, especially if you aren’t familiar with the different kinds yet. It will only end in frustration. Below is a rundown of some of the different types of wood you can carve with, based on this chart from The Sculpture Studio.
Basswood: Easy to carve, with a fine grain. Light and cream colored. Best for whittling.
Butternut: Easy to carve, with a coarse grain. Light brown colored with a distinct wood pattern.
White Pine:Easy to carve, with a medium grain. Soft and cream colored.
Mahogany: Intermediate difficulty to carve, with a medium grain. Distinct reddish color.
Black Walnut: Hard to carve, with a medium grain. Very dark brown.
Cherry: Very hard to carve, with a fine grain. Pinkish brown with a wavy pattern.
Sugar Maple: Very hard to carve, with a fine grain. Very light cream color.
White Oak: Very hard to carve, with a medium to coarse grain. Very light, yellowish color.
Types of Wood Carving Tools
You can’t carve wood without tools! Make sure you have the proper one to fit the technique you want to use.
Chip Carving Knife: The most basic wood carving tool. Chip carving knives consist of a blade that is about an inch and a half long, with a long handle designed for comfort, so it doesn’t hurt your hand. You can find chip carving knives for around $20. Good, high-quality ones sell for around $50. If you’re serious about your craft, it’s a valuable investment. A quality chip carving knife will be made of high carbon steel and will not wear out as quickly as a cheap one.
Gouges: Gouges are curved carving tools that can scoop out large or small areas of wood, depending on how wide their sweep is. U-gouges, V-gouges, and spoon gouges… there are plenty of different types that can be used for carving, shaping, and smoothing surfaces.
Chisels: Chisels are sharp tools used with mallets for wood chipping techniques. Wood chippers can a rubber mallet on their chisel, instead of a wooden one, to reduce noise and prevent too much wear and tear on their chisel’s handle.
Wood Carving Tips
#1 – Learn how to handle a wood carving knife. Whether you’re using an x-acto knife from the garage, or you went out and purchased a fancy wood carving knife from the supply store, you need to know how to properly handle the tool before starting to dig into a piece of wood. Remember, these are sharp objects you’re working with, so you need to be careful. If you’re clumsy or unsure of yourself starting out, it’s a good idea to wear a carving glove. Wear the glove on the hand you’re holding the piece of wood with, not the hand that you’re using the knife with. Most importantly, make sure to use your wrist, and not your elbow, to control the knife. This will allow for more control over precise carvings. Also keep your knife sharp, not dull, to make carving easier.
#2 – Cut along the grain. Before you start carving, you want to determine which direction the grain of the wood is running. You can do this by carving a piece of wood out of a corner, curving out to finish the cut so the wood doesn’t rip at the end. Take note of the long, dark streaks running through the wood
#3 – Sketch out your wood cuts. Don’t rush your wood carvings. Any mistake you make is potentially permanent. You’ll have to change up your plan to integrate the mistake into the finished product, and that could sacrifice your original vision. To avoid this, it helps to lightly sketch out your cuts and carvings with a pencil. Draw out lines to cut along, and shapes to carve out. It will help you be more precise, and prevent un-fixable mistakes.