November 2, 2021

Carving Maple Wood | Bet You Didn’t Know This

The web is filled with tutorials on carving different kinds of wood, but few explore carving maple wood. This is partly because maple is such a common wood, and it is the most common wood used for homemade instruments such as violins and guitars. There are various ways to go about it, but the basic process is cutting the wood into various shapes and then putting them together to get that perfect piece of art. The tools you use are essential because even the slightest mistake can end up ruining the whole piece.

Tools to use for carving maple wood

Carving Chisel

The carving chisel is 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 varies degrees of blade curvature that produces all 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. A gouge and a mallet carve better than a knife.

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.

What to carve out of maple wood

Maple makes beautiful carvings due to its light, creamy color, and smooth grain pattern. What makes users choose it over other wood is durability, and it carves furniture, cabinets, sports equipment, and kitchen accessories. 

The smooth grain and strength make maple a popular choice on multiple items. In its natural state, it still makes incredible carvings. When stained, it suits any preferred style. There are numerous species of maple trees around the globe that you choose from depending on the item you are working on.

Carving shapes of the maple


  1. Leaf shape
  2. Trace out your leaf design on the wood. Carve the background lower and start with the stop cut using a fishtail gouge. 
  3. Make the stop cut deeper using a V-tool. Choose between a V-tool and a chisel. 
  4. Cut the background until you get the desired depth. 
  5. Make stop cuts at the top and all-around following the basic outline, not the pencil line. 
  6. Follow the outside, hitting the high points. 
  7. Clean out the removed wood. 
  8. Try to reproduce the leaf by cutting down the center of the veins following the lines. 
  9. Make the veins deeper. 
  10. Do not go deeper on the tip of the leaf. 
  11. Clean up the carving using the V-tool. 
  12. Undercut the tool and smoothen with the chisel. 
  13. Put a finish on it.

Carving maple to make it smooth

During the process, use the random orbit sander to smoothen maple. Use the 220 grit and the hand scraper. Eventually, you see the pop lacking and Gently scrap the wood until the depth and figure of the wood come out. Run your hand over it so that you feel the level of roughness. Sometimes the scraper creates mini tears in the wood grain, and getting rid of them takes time.

Is maple wood suitable for carving?

Maple is a hard, carving wood that comes with its challenges.  The grain patterns are not as straight as in some other woods, which is a challenge with hard maple. It creates a tendency to blotch when finished that shows up as varying density when carving the wood. 

To get rid of this problem,  carefully plan the cuts. Maple has endless grain names, and these include birdseye, curly, fiddleback, and tiger. These create special effects in your carving. The wilder the grain, the harder the carving. However, It holds detail well and finishes to a high shine.

Is maple easy to hand carve?

Although maple is one of the best woods for carving, you should not carve using hand tools. It is hard and dense, and that takes a lot of effort and time.  Sugar maples are better since it comes with straight grain, the potential for waviness, even and a fine texture. 

Maple comes in two varieties: hard and soft. Both are harder than other woods. However, hard maple is so hard that you can easily give up carving, and soft maple is a bit easy to work with. Maple is a hardwood to hand carve, and it is more suitable for a mallet or power carving. 

Hand carving maple also depends on how old your maple is used, curing, and cutting method. Differences in hardness make the ease different as well, and Maple is more carvable with sharp tools. You can also carve it green, although that might not give you your expected results on large carvings, and it might split on you. 

Hard maples such as black maple or sugar maple easily frustrate the user when carving them with a knife or hand gouges. It also depends on the hand carving tool, and carving with a knife is more difficult than a gouge and mallet. 

Carving maple to make it appear aged

When the maple wood is glued upon the end grain, add oil so that the board starts darkening. Eventually, it looks much older. If you use it quickly, it also ages. Although it does not take many knife scars, they are self-healing on the end grain.  

For an older look, add a depression, reflecting how much of the board has been cut and scraped away over the years. Impair the function of the board and maple ages to be more amber.  You are allowed to dye edge grain and cover with a coat or two of wiping varnish. Mineral oil on the end grain on the top makes it an incredible carving. 

Understanding the grain on a block of wood

Woodgrain represents lines that naturally appear in lumber. They are a byproduct of the sawing pattern used when the mill first cut the boards of a piece of wood. That is concerning the angle of the existing growth rings, and that is why flat sawed lumber is for internal construction.

Using a mallet

A mallet is for striking the carving tool, sharpening stones for honing the tool blades, whereas carving knives are for finishing and detailing work. It makes carving convenient. A practical set of tools for carving includes a mallet, sharpening stone, rasp, and individual tools.

David D. Hughes
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