November 4, 2021

Carving Bears Out of Wood | The Skills, Tools and Tips

How to whittle a bear

Carving bears out of wood is one of the more difficult tasks an aspiring woodworker can undertake. It can also be genuinely satisfying, both in the process of creation and in the result. Let us look at some tricks and tips to get you started on the right foot.

Types of Wood to use

Western Red Cedar

Western Red Cedar is for bear carvings. Its rich color, weather, and insect-resistant qualities make it an excellent wood. It has a relief line down the back of the carving that allows the wood to expand and contract in this area. 

Applying spar varnish on finished pieces further protects them from the elements. Western Red Cedar and Redwood hold up well to weather and are naturally decay-resistant. Consider treating the exterior wood with stains, varnishes, and lacquers for long-lasting protection outdoors or indoors.

Whenever a chainsaw is involved, be sure that you are using the right kind of wood. The hardness of the wood determines how well the project will end up. That either makes or breaks the outcome of your bear project if you use the wrong tools and wood.

Hardwood vs Softwood Cuttings

As much as hardwood makes durable carvings, softwood makes better carvings. It cuts better and is less likely to break off large pieces. The hardness lies in the type of tree used. Consider running the Brinell Hardness Test first.  

It is easy for an experienced woodcarver to know what wood is best for them and their particular style of bear art. It uses a steel ball about half an inch, pushed into the wood. The amount of pressure required determines the hardness of the wood.

Softwood Carvings

Softwood makes impressive finished products. Softwoods work best with chainsaws and bear carvings because of the little kickback. However,  their knots are tricky to maneuver at times. Some of the woods that you can use are Pine, Cottonwood, Redwood, and Ponderosa. 

The cottonwood tree grows abundantly, and that makes it available.  It gives a good thick base and a bark that is also good for decorating and carving a bear. Hardwoods for the bear include Cherry and Maple oak. Although they are challenging to get, try using them when available and specially requested.

Tools you can use

  • Chainsaw.
  • Angle grinder.
  • Die grinder.
  • Sander.

How do you make a bear wood carving?

  1. Safety wear

Start by preparing your safety gear as you protect yourself from the tools and dust. Gather your safety equipment, such as a helmet, face guard, safety goggles, ear protection, gloves, chaps, and safety footwear. 

A helmet and face guard protect your head and face from any kickback. The safety goggles protect your eyes from sawdust. Chainsaws produce noise pollution that causes ear problems. To protect your ears from noise, use disposable earplugs or noise-canceling earphones.

 Gloves protect your hands from the vibration of your chainsaw, and your hand from injury while working with wood. Steel-toe boots give better protection. Kevlar pants or chaps protect your leg from kickback, and safety footwear is for your foot.

  1. Select your Chainsaw

Select the right chainsaw for carving the bear. You can have a big one for making the bear and a smaller one for more detailing. But for a first-timer, you can use a chainsaw with which you are comfortable working. You may need tools and equipment to make the bear accurate and attractive, like an angle grinder, die grinder, and sander. Consider a lightweight and affordable chainsaw.

  1. Get your Wood

Choose any size of wood to work with. A 3-foot is ideal for beginners. You can buy your carving wood or collect it from the forest if you live near one or a local store.

  1. Sketch the Bear 

Sketch the bear as you draw the lines on the log before you start carving. It guides you and reminds you of the details during the process. It helps you avoid mistakes that can cost you wood. It helps you plan how you will start carving. After completing the sketch, draw the major lines on the wood to make your carving process easy.

Step-by-step bear carving guide

  1. After doing your preparation, start carving your bear. Start by shaping the back of the head and making the neckline of the bear.
  2. Cut the top and shape the ears of the bear.
  3. Create the top of the bear’s snout and cut the sides of it to define it well.
  4. Define the head of the bear.
  5. Draw the arms of the bear.
  6. After cutting the arms, start shaping the backside of the bear.
  7. Get ready to shape the legs after defining the back and bum of the bear. Do not forget that the bear has small legs. Separate both legs by cutting through the log.
  8. As you cut the front of the foot, shape the belly under the drawn arms.
  9. Shape the head of the bear.
  10. After shaping the parts of the bear, go for the detailing. These are the inside of the ear, eyes, nose, mouth, shoulder, arms, and claws on the hand and feet.
  11. Finish the carving by painting or staining.

How do you care for a wood-carved bear?

After making your carving, coat the carving in one week, and repeat the process monthly or yearly as needed. Get 3-4 coats on within the first six weeks and two coats each year for a carving that lasts longer. 

Do not forget to coat the base but not underneath the base of the carving.  As much as the bear is ideal for outdoor use, avoid direct sunlight and dry places such as the heater since they affect the wooden sculpture. Keep your carving under a shade. 

Keep your sculpture at least one-half inch off of any ground or floor. Use bricks, rocks, coasters, and many more solid items.

Wood cracking is wood’s natural tendency due to changes in weather, temperature, humidity, and other conditions. Once you cut it, it begins to check. That happens because of moisture coming and going as the log breathes. The mentioned tips reduce the chances of large cracks, although not 100%. 

Keeping the wood sculpture in a stable environment and treating it with urethane reduces the chances of cracking, although it does not get rid of it completely. Since logs are a natural element, there is no guarantee to their properties once sold.

When your carving cracks, you have numerous ways to deal with it. Keep the natural element and leave the cracks, take preventive measures or deal with it. As you prepare to repair the cracks, take note of the different treatments for painted or unpainted carvings. 

If your carving has a solid color, use indoor or outdoor caulking to fill the check and paint over it to match the existing color paint. Amongst the spray paint options used, choose from white, brown, or black caulking. 

Choose a brand that works better, or seek advice from the wood manufacturer. Wood Putty or Epoxy is ideal for refinishing with Stain or Spar Urethane if your carving is natural wood color. 

The urethane has to be water-based. For a quick fix, reapply stain, paint, or Spar Urethane in the crack. You can also use Wood Shims, paint sticks, or shavings in the check, sand smooth, and refinish with Stain/paint or Spar Urethane. It blends in with the rest of the sculpture.

How do you cut a bear out of a tree stump?

  1. Use the lumber crayon to design the bear’s shape on the stump.
  2. Use an 18inch regular bar for bigger cuts.
  3. Use the quarter tip bar to slice your parts and angle all sides.
  4. Start cutting the top dome as you remove the wood away.
  5. Use the bar to shape it around.
  6. Work on the circles that make the nose and eyes.
  7. Make fur on the bear’s face and the iris in the eyes.
  8. Cut a leaf cut in the back.
  9. Add a finishing of your choice.

Video Tutorials


In summary, the wood carving of bears is a rewarding hobby for people who like to create beautiful things. Almost anyone can learn the art of wood carving, but there are some basic skills that you must learn first.

David D. Hughes

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