November 4, 2021

Carving on Wood or Stone

Carving on Stone or Wood is a hobby used to make beautiful works of art for centuries. It is a traditional skill that requires a lot of dedication and skill. Carving on stone requires using a chisel, while carving on wood requires a sharp knife. Several different techniques can be used to carve on either stone or wood.

What is carving on wood or stone?

Carving on wood or stone is called sculpturing. Stone carving is a process where the controlled removal of stone shapes pieces of rough, natural stone. Wood carving is a woodworking process that involves a cutting tool (knife) in one hand or a chisel and a mallet. That results in a wooden figure or sculptural ornamentation of a wooden object. 

The process of carving is the same for wood or stone. However, the physical structure of wood demands tools of a different type. Early stages of wood carving require the use of saws and axes. A wide range of wood-carvers gouges cut easily through the bundles of fiber. 

Use them properly to avoid splitting the wood. Flat chisels are for carving sharp details. Wood-carving tools have hardwood handles for easy handling and work with round, wooden mallets. 

Carving on wood

The process looks difficult when working on intricate details of wood carving pieces. However, wood carving requires simple tools, like a knife or a chisel. With dedication, you can make it a hobby. Understand what it takes to make perfect carvings. There are multiple types of wood carvings. These are listed below. 


Whittling is the oldest form of wood carving. You only need a knife to start. Make sure it stays sharp for accuracy. You are allowed to use a foldable pocket knife or a carving knife with a fixed handle. There are three standard strokes for whittling:

Straightaway rough-cutting 

It works by pushing the blade away from yourself. Make a long cut on the wood. Use it at the beginning of the project for a standard shape.

Pull stroke makes use of the blade by pulling it towards you. The stroke has to be short and controlled.

Push stroke allows you to use the blade by pushing it with your left thumb, and your right thumb guides the cutting blade.

Relief Carving

Relief carving is a bit of a complex form of carving that requires more advanced carving skills. It involves carving figures into a flat wooden panel. The end product is three-dimensional, but the back remains flat. This carving type is popular in making busts and ornamental figurines.

Carving In The Round

Carving in the round produces three-dimensional (3D) sculptures and pieces. Use tools such as chisels, gouges, and more hand tools. These create smooth surfaces and natural lines for the finished work.

Chip Carving

Chip carving evolves around chipping away wood slowly to create three-dimensional figures and patterns on a wood board. The back of the piece stays flat.

Basswood is the ideal wood type for beginners. It is softwood with a fine grain and soft texture. That makes it easy to work on.  It also holds carving details and stains well. Handle your knife, and it has to be comfortable to hold and match your project. 

A comfortable grip reduces the chances of fatigue. Make use of carving gloves to protect your hands from sharp tools. Follow the grain as you start. That way, the carving is made easier. You are allowed to draw your wood design to the woodblock for precision.


  1. Decide what you want to carve.
  2. Make a scale drawing or plan on how you want your material carved.
  3. Decide on the perfect size and material of the wood that suits the carving. 
  4. Transfer your drawing to the piece of wood.
  5. Roughing out.
  6. Modeling.
  7. Detailing.
  8. Finishing.

What is stone carving?

Stone carving is a process in which the stone forms pieces of raw natural stone. Stone sculpting is a woodworking process used by artists to create a sculpture. The stone blocks are used in architecture, construction or civil engineering.

Stones are easier to find than metal ores and can be dug from the surface and carved with hand tools. Regardless of the type, they are more durable than wood, and carvings in stone last much longer than wooden ones. 

Since it comes in wide varieties, you have multiple choices in color, quality, and a relative hardness. Stone comes in variations, and that is the soft and hard stones. Soft stones such as chalk, soapstone, pumice, and Tufa are easy to carve. Limestones and marbles use abrasives and simple iron tools. 

Granite, basalt, and some metamorphic stone are hard to carve and require tungsten carbide-tipped tools. However, abrasives still work well. Advanced technologies were introduced using abrasives attached to machine tools to cut the stone.

Precious and semi-precious gemstones make delicate shapes for jewelry. Some stones produce dust which is hazardous to your lungs. Grab a respirator for safety and protection.

What stones are for carving?

Granite is a hard stone, and that makes it difficult to carve. In this case, you do not carve the stone but break off-chip crystals. These areas are sharp as glass hence the need for protective measures. Use carbide-tipped tools since they stand up to the wear and tear of working granite. Avoid finely detailed carving and leave it for other types of stone.

Diamond saws and cup grinders cut better and speed up the carving and finishing. Granite comes in multiple colors, and the crystal size can vary from large and coarse to fine and dense. It is ideal for outdoor use.

Limestone comes from the seafloor from sediment and the bodies of sea creatures. Do not be surprised when you find small fossilized creatures like crinoids and brachiopods in the stone. It also comes with mineral calcite or calcium carbonate.

It is easy to carve and accommodates small detail work. It remains strong enough to support undercutting. It has a limited choice of coolers but a wide variety of textures. It comes with a definite grain. As much as it receives polish well, the polish does not survive long outdoors. Limestone is tolerant to harsh weather such as rain.

Sandstone is a product of sand held together by silica or calcium carbonate. It has a unique bed direction, and large chips break when going with the bed. Sandstone wears out your tools quickly. Since it contains silica, a respirator has to be worn.

Marble is not very hard to work on. It holds a very fine aerial and comes in multiple colors. It has a crystalline structure that sparkles when brought to a high polish. It gets affected by acidic rain. That is why it does not hold up well outdoors.

Alabaster is a very soft stone that tends to flake and split along hidden cracks in the stone. It takes a high polish, and that is how it brings beautiful colors and patterns. The stone is so beautiful that you cannot resist laying your hands on it. Wear a respirator to protect yourself from the dust produced.

Soapstone is a soft stone that you can carve with a knife. It is made of talc and has a slippery, soapy feel. It takes on a polish well and holds fine texture detail.

Stone carving techniques

  • Hand Carving
  • Letter Cutting
  • Sand Blasting
  • Diamond Cutting
  • Stone Polishing
  • Flaming
  • Water Jet Cutting
  • CNC Machining

Stone shaping and tools

Carving knife

It pares, cuts, and smooths wood.

The gouge

It is a carving tool with a curved cutting edge for different forms and sizes for carving hollows, rounds, and sweeping curves.

The coping saw

It is a small saw for cutting off chunks of wood at once.

The chisel

 It comes in both large and small variations. It has a straight cutting edge for lines and cleaning up flat surfaces.

The V-tool

It works for projects involving flat work to emphasize lines.

The U-Gauge

It specializes in deep gouges with a U-shaped cutting edge.

Courses you can take

There are multiple craft courses that you can pursue in stone carving. The Art of Stone Carving (Source) is a course offered in the UK that you can pursue. Carving in wood or stone is a course offered by CITYLIT (Source). 

Consider the duration, timetable, description, course, fees, and requirements before you start. Match the requirements of each course with your expectations so that you take what meets your needs and plans. 

During the course, you should be exploring the art of stone carving. That is from concepts, designing, and technique application to the creation of carvings. Those with no sculptural experience should be taught through the process stage by stage, and those with more experience will be expanding on their ideas, working on their improvements as they experiment more. 

By the end of the course, you should understand the characteristics of wood and stone as materials and carving techniques. Above all, stay safe, practice more, and maintain your tools.

David D. Hughes

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