August 12, 2019

The Ultimate Wood Carving Guide | How to Carve Wood on a Hobby Level

Wood carving has been around for centuries, but it has never been as popular as it is now. It seems like everyone, from professionals to beginners, is carving something. Wood carving is not just a hobby, it’s an art. But what makes it such a popular form of expression? It’s mostly because wood carving is creative, fun, and challenging. But where to start? Let’s dive into this wood carving guide.

Wood carving art

Highly carved details reflect the centuries-old traditions of carving and the rich history of formation and development, which allow us to know the true value of magnificence. At all times, carving in the interiors was considered a great luxury.

Furniture with carved elements is at the top of popularity among connoisseurs of exquisite and sophisticated interiors. People of high standing could only afford handmade furniture with carved elements. To this day, woodcarving remains the most popular type of manual wood processing.

This article is the ultimate wood carving guide for everyone interested in carving.

How to get started?

The work of the carver always begins with the preparation of blanks. The first thing you need to get is a basic set of tools for processing wood. Since artistic carving requires sufficiently high accuracy and processing quality, the tools will always look to be expanded.

There should be several hacksaws at the disposal for longitudinal and transverse cuts. As well as a fitting and with small cloves for metal. Cut marks are eliminated with rasps, round and flat, preferably of different grain sizes. Finer processing is carried out with different types of sandpaper.

You should keep two wooden bars: one round and one rectangular profile, which are convenient to use as a basis for sandpaper.

For preliminary processing of blanks, planers are used. It is convenient to select large wood fragments with the help of a sharpened woodwork hatchet and chisels of different widths and edge profiles.

And yet, a properly designed and convenient workbench is of the most significant importance to a novice cutter. It should be equipped per the standards for the organization of carpentry work, taking into account individual requirements, such as height or length of hands.

The table must be equipped with a quick mechanism to fasten and detach the workpiece. This includes joinery vice and clamps and adjustable thrust blocks of various shapes.

Start with small crafts.

A complete list of essentials causes a slight flush. But it always makes sense first to try a little work to assess the level of enthusiasm and understand the true meaning of buying an expensive and high-quality instrument in the future.

You can make small crafts, even if you have only two or three base cutters, a table, and a set of sandpaper of different grain sizes. In the first works, it is recommended to cut kitchen boards or decorative figures up to 200×200 mm in size: animals, plants, miniature houses, and similar small things.


The main types of wood carvings are relief and sculptural carvings.

Relief carving

Relief carving suggests that the view on it opens only on one side, and therefore it is almost always performed on a flat board or a relatively thin workpiece. The thickness of the wood and how the background is selected determine the high-relief and flat-relief carvings.

The relief technique is one of the most expressive techniques. Realistic wooden bas-reliefs, with neat detailing, a spectacular play of shadows, and a correctly constructed composition, can truly bewitch. The relief technique can be considered a transitional step to sculptural carving, rightfully considered the crown of carved art.

Relief technique is distinguished from flat-relief, contour, geometric and other types of non-voluminous carving by its emphasized three-dimensional character. The main composition here comes to the fore due to the cropped background so that the image becomes more expressive, with a characteristic abundance of chiaroscuro.

If the main drawing of the composition rises only slightly, not more than half the thickness of the entire product, then such a technique is called bas-relief (and the product itself is bas-relief). With a higher and protruding relief, the thread is called high relief.

Sculpture carving

This technique is used to decorate furniture and wall panels and create “non-functional” works of art. The sculptural carving is wholly three-dimensional and intended to view from all sides. It allows full self-expression and, perhaps, experiences a carver’s skill since it requires a well-developed or intuitive sense of form.

Sculptural carving is a three-dimensional easel or decorative sculpture from a single piece of wood. The sculpture is processed so that you can view it from all sides. Therefore, it is also called “round.”

At the same time, the sculpture on its surface can have articulations made with high and not very high, and sometimes with very low or even flat relief. In such a technique, both a small children’s toy and a large decorative sculpture are performed – sometimes, a decorative sculpture is much higher than human height.

After mastering all the geometric, contour, and relief carving techniques, you begin to carry out sculptural compositions, even the most uncomplicated ones.

The sculptural carvings are much more complicated than all types of “non-round” carvings. Besides, processing the entire surface inherent in sculpture requires careful, good, thoughtful detailing and, accordingly, various techniques.

The master sculptor must consider the size of the sculptural image, correlated with the possibility of its practical use, the location between objects of the surrounding space, determine its exact location, and, most importantly, measure the wooden blank.

The sculpture should fit as far as possible on the blank scale. Therefore, you should start work only when the whole plan is clear to the smallest detail, including the shape, size, and processing technique.


Whittling is a wood processing technique usually used to create small wooden sculptures from raw wood. Small whittling knives or even pocket knives of good quality are used in this technique. For professional sculpting artistic works, it is better to use specialized one-blade whittling knives.

Whittling is often considered the same technique as carving, but it is not true. Whittling artists use only a few knives to create their masterpieces, while carving requires chisels and gouges.

Chip carving

As you can see by its name, a chip or flat carving is nothing more than a pattern executed with the help of special tools, but only the pattern is slightly convex.

To get a better idea of chip wood carving, you can figuratively imagine a picture made of thin plywood (no thicker than one or two millimeters) and glued on a thicker plank. By removing all the convex parts of the picture, you will get the basis of chip wood carving.

First, it is necessary to choose suitable patterns for chip carving. There is no need to choose too complicated motives – each detail separately should be distinguished by clarity and a beautiful contour.

For example, if you plan to make a pattern of the stripes, you need to draw a pattern so that the stripes do not interlace chaotically, and you can track the path of each strip separately.

For chip carving, we need a material that will not flake: satinwood, alder, chestnut, linden, etc. Linden, satin, and chestnut are preferable, and rotten specks are often found in alder, so the tree loses its strength.

Poplar is too soft, and spruce and pine are not suitable for carving since it is difficult to cut across. If you consider the harder species, then oak and mahogany are excellent for carving. Maple and pear are incredibly dense, and working with them will require strength and tension. If possible, then it is recommended to use a satin tree for starters.

Must have tools

Having everything you need to prepare for carving, you must individually assemble a set of tools for fine work. The basis of this set is a set of high-quality finishing chisels and cutters of various shapes and sizes. You can go two ways: purchase a medium-quality set of 8-12 items or buy one or two high-quality tools that are missing to develop a certain technique or carving pattern.

Also, a good carpenter is distinguished by a correctly selected marking tool: rulers, squares, surface gages, protractors, calipers, and pencils of different densities. Woodcarving is always carried out according to a pre-thought out scheme, according to which a template is made for each product.

To work out small parts, knives of different sizes, one or two shavings, a circular knife, and punches of different shapes and sizes should be available.

It is possible to use electric engravers, chisels, and renovators to speed up the process and improve processing accuracy. Up to a dozen, trigger clamps will find their application, especially when assembling composite products on an adhesive joint.

Finally, in the set of every good cutter, there should be a good network drill and at least the most straightforward vibration grinder with replaceable soles. As for the jigsaw, it should belong at least to the semi-professional class. Otherwise, you will have to make large allowances for processing, and the quality of the work will inevitably suffer. If you are thoroughly keen on working with wood, do not forget to think over a dust and chip removal system.

Japanese style chisels

In Japan, the centuries-old tradition of woodcarving has been preserved to this day. The secrets of mastery were passed down from generation to generation. Local temples have been built from wood and decorated with carved elements and ornaments.

Many world-famous masters of carving were born in Japan, and that’s why this art was developed there. Japanese carving masters established their style of carving chisels.

Japanese chisels have a shorter and square blade shape than any other ones. Also, these chisels are known for the quality of their steel, and they use only the best steel in their blades.

Japanese masters add a system between the handle and blade in the chisel construction. The sharpening process of Japanese-style chisels will require a big effort as they are made of tough steel.

Easy beginner projects Sketch creation

When designing a sketch, you must use the following sequence of steps:
The workpiece is selected for work.

The sketch indicates the main elements and places where the carving will be applied.

The picture is redrawn on graph paper or tracing paper with scale marking using drawing accessories.

If any elements are repeated, then creating a single stencil is enough. With the skills of working in the simplest graphic editors (for example, Paint), you can create a sketch and then print it on paper at the required scale.

Next, paper patterns are fixed based on wood and copied in any way possible.

The stencil is fixed by the milling cutter directly on the base. Cutting is carried out directly along its contour; The contours of the stencils are transferred to the wooden base with a pencil.

You can transfer the sketch from the paper to the board by putting tracing paper under it.

Work stages

When the sketch is transferred to the base, the most interesting process begins – the direct processing of the tree.

If you work in the through technique, you first need to start holes in each element. This is usually done with an electric drill. After the saw is inserted into the holes, part of the tree is cut. Then the edges are aligned, and the decoration begins.

In the beginning, the contours of future patterns are made with a knife. Next, the cutter cuts through the deepest central part. From it, all other deepening are formed. Small parts are carried out using a chisel, and deep relief is done with a curved blade. Upon completion, all edges are machined to eliminate roughness and chips.

Have you are our post about How to paint a cardinal woodcarving? It would be helpful to search the Internet for exciting patterns and try to carve them. Maybe it will not look good immediately, but you will surely get a perfect pattern after a few tries. And then, improve your skills, and one day you will create a real masterpiece.

David D. Hughes

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