November 2, 2021

Carving Kauri Wood | The Foolproof Guide

The Kauri is the largest and most majestic of New Zealand’s native trees. The best-known stands of old-growth kauri are in the Waitakere Ranges. Carving Kauri Wood is an ancient woodworking skill. It works well on large trees, but you can use it on smaller trees as well. Start by chiseling out the shape of your stock, then carve it with hand tools. When you are ready to carve, take an adze and then use it to shape the metal. When the wood is all shaped, you need to do brad, chisel and rasp your stock. Then you need to do the final carving of the stock.

What is kauri wood

Andy king50, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Kauri Wood is a product of the Kauri tree, a native of the northern regions of New Zealand’s North Island. It is the largest species by volume but not the tallest species of tree in New Zealand, and it stands up to 50 m tall. 

The tree comes with smooth bark and small narrow leaves. Kauri forests are among the oldest in New Zealand, and Kauri trees trace back to the Jurassic period, and that is between 190 and 135 million years ago.  

Lately, it has developed a unique niche in the forest. It comes with a  regeneration pattern that evolves and grows faster. It is not the most available species, although there are higher species in the South.

It has pale, yellowish-white to golden-brown heartwood, and the sapwood has the same color as heartwood. The tree has a large size that stays clear and knot-less, with minimal wastage. Some parts of the kauri wood show a shimmering grain figure known as whitebait. The name comes after the appearance of schools of whitebait fish seen in the waters of New Zealand.

It comes with a straight grain and a fine, even texture. What makes it more durable is the decay resistance feature that is not susceptible to powder post beetle attack. Kauri wood has a moderate density, straight and consistent grain that gives it good workability. Machining and shaping operations come with a minimum of trouble, and it also glues and finishes well.

It is comfortable to work with since it does not produce any order. No health reactions are associated with kauri wood. When it comes to availability, the harvesting of standing kauri trees in New Zealand is controlled. 

Fallen trees are preserved in New Zealand swamps and bogs. The wood is difficult to extract from the large logs, so it is not affordable. It is for boatbuilding, furniture, cabinetry, veneer, musical instruments, and turned objects.

Tools you will need

Carving Chisel

The carving chisel is, specifically, a flat-bladed carving tool. Carving chisels differ from ordinary woodworking chisels in that they are beveled on both sides of the blade instead of having a bevel and a flat back. 

The standard chisels have a cutting edge that is square to the sides, but chisels are also available with a skewed edge, which is particularly useful when cleaning out tight corners with little clearance. 

Carving Gouges

The carving gouge has varying blade curvature degrees that produce all types of concave and convex shapes and surfaces. The curvature is in number, and the higher the number, the tighter the curve. A #2 sweep is flat, whereas a #9 is semicircular. Higher numbered gouges are good at cutting channels and deeper details.

Long Bent Gouges

The long bent gouges have curved blades, and that shape allows them to hollow out and make deeper cuts that a straight gouge cannot make. It is available with a range of sweeps and as a V-tool, making it ideal for relief carving.

Spoon Bent Gouges

An alternative name for a spoon-bent gouge is a short bent gouge. The name derives from having a blade that is straight along its length and curves at the end. It looks like a spoon, and it is for hollowing and deep cutting. Due to the unique blade shape, these gouges excel at cutting in hard-to-reach areas. 

Fishtail Gouges

The name comes from the blade that starts thin at the handle and flares out towards the end for its widest point at the cutting edge. It comes in either chisel or gouge form. The standard shape of the blade gives the tool access to areas where full-width blades have difficulties in fitting. 

Carving Knives

The versatile tool is for whittling, chip carving, letter carving, and detailing. It is available in different blade shapes, and each blade is for a specific purpose. That is why you have to choose a blade shape that matches your needs. 


V-tools are named after the V profile of the blade as they make a V-shaped cut with a crisp angled bottom. V tools are ideal for detailing and adding decoration. Standard V parting tools, V-tools are available in 30 and 45 degrees. 


The veiner has a tight U-shaped profile that adds fine details such as veins and stems on leaves. It also cuts deeper grooves. Veining tools are represented by sweep #11. 

Steps for carving kauri wood

  1. Look for the best carving technique for your project.
  2. Gather your tools and materials. Make sure the kauri wood is of high quality and purchased from a trusted supplier. 
  3. Wear protective clothing.
  4. Make sure you have the right carving knife. It should be sharp, easy to handle, rigid, and comfortable. Avoid retractable blades because they are unsafe. They easily collapse under pressure. Chip carving knives can be the best option, and a utility knife is ideal for beginners. Get several gouges for scooping wood.  Make use of chisels as well.
  5. Practice with scrap wood to master your cuts and shapes.
  6. Hold the knife correctly by keeping your hands behind the sharp cutting edge since it can slip while working. These tools can slip as you work, and if your fingers are in front of the blade, it’ll result in an injury.
  7. Carve along the grain rather than across the grain. Examine the wood to find parallel lines.
  8. Practice some basic cuts since there are numerous cuts you need to learn.
  9. When you have mastered the cuts, you are food to go.
  10. Clamp the wood onto the table or vise.
  11. Remove as much wood as you can.
  12. Use u-gouges to remove excess material.
  13. Switch to smaller groups for detailed carving.
  14. Apply wood finish

Tips for carving kauri wood

  • Keep your tools sharp to make carving easier and quick. That reduces feathering.
  • Look for kauri soon without hard spots for smooth carving.
  • If you hog the material, it will rip and tear out.
  • Use a lighter touch with six passes instead of 4 so that it cuts easily. 
  • Use 600 to 1200 grit paper to bring the grain out.

Which knife to use

Using a pocket knife is not the noble thing to do since it does not carve well. A carving knife is an ideal tool for removing material. Hold it carefully to prevent it from slipping off. Each knife is entitled to specific projects. A utility knife is easy and more affordable to use, and that makes it ideal for beginners. 

When to use a chisel

Use a chisel to cut mortises, shave rough surfaces, chop out corners and scrap off the glue. That is done when you are starting your project since it also works on the coarsest work.

David D. Hughes
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