How to Start Wood Carving — Beginner’s Guide

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Are you itching to unleash your creativity and craft stunning pieces from wood? Embarking on a wood carving adventure is indeed fulfilling, although it might seem a bit daunting for beginners.

Fret not—I’m here to guide you through the initial steps of wood carving, shedding light on the indispensable tools, techniques, and safety precautions you need to be aware of.

With this guide, you’ll be well-equipped to start your wood carving journey confidently, transforming your artistic visions into tangible reality, all while ensuring safety and precision in every cut and carve.

What is Wood Carving and Why is it a Good Hobby to Start?

It is a craft that uses carving tools to shape and create art on wood surfaces. It has been around for centuries and has remained popular due to its versatility and the fact that it allows for creativity and self-expression.

There are many types of wood to choose from when it comes to wood carving projects, but some are better suited for carving figures.

Whether you are a seasoned wood carver or a beginner, it can be a great hobby because it allows individuals to express their creativity while working with hand tools and natural materials.

wood carving tip

How Do You Get Started With Wood Carving: Starter Guide

#1: Use the Right Tools

One of the most important aspects when getting started is the tools used. Having dull tools for the job ensures poor results. Thus, sharpening equipment before you carve wood is crucial.

Some essential woodcarving tools that every woodcarver should have include wood carving tools and knives, a chip carving knife, and a knife for whittling.

Curved tools with curved cutting edges are essential for concave and convex surfaces, such as spoon carving. Other tools that may come in handy include power tools, but these are only for experienced wood carvers.

#2: Embracing the Commitment and Learning the Terminologies

Wood carving is an art form that demands patience, practice, and unwavering dedication from enthusiasts and artisans alike. It involves the meticulous removal of wood material to create intricate designs and sculptures. 

Learning the terminologies associated with wood carving methods, the best wood carving tool for your wood carving project, and closely following wood carving tips can help you better understand the craft and improve your skills like a pro.

#3: Start With a Reasonable Project

Speaking from my own journey in wood carving, I can’t emphasize enough how crucial it is for beginners to kick off their adventure with a simple and attainable project. 

This approach ensures that you set a strong foundation, gradually building your skills and confidence without overwhelming yourself right from the start. Trust me, starting small and realistic is the key to a rewarding and successful carving experience.

carving spoon from Ash wood

Starting with a complex project containing various shapes may be overwhelming and discouraging, so consider starting with a basic shape requiring fewer knife strokes and gradually moving to more complicated designs.

#4: Protect Yourself from Injuries

Since you should always keep your wood carving tools sharp, safety should always be a top priority. Always wear protective gear like gloves and safety glasses to protect yourself from injuries.

#5: Use the Right Type of Wood

Choosing the right wood species for your project is essential for achieving the desired results.

Softwoods are great for beginners who want to carve geometric shapes, as they are easy to carve and have a fine grain. Hardwoods are better suited for more experienced carvers due to their hardness and density.

Other woodcarvers prefer green wood because it’s easier to carve than dry wood. To give you a better understanding of the best wood types for carving, check out these posts next: 

choosing wood pines for carving

#6: Keeping the Tools Sharp

Sharp tools are essential for wood carving techniques. Dull carving tools can cause injuries and lead to unaesthetic wood carvings. Consider investing in sharpening stones or equipment to keep your devices in top condition.

#7: Go With the Plan + Sketch the Design Before Starting

Before starting to learn wood carving, it is essential to have a plan in place. Sketch the design on paper to understand better what the finished product should look like. This will help you avoid mistakes and ensure the final product meets your expectations.

#8: Sanding Is Necessary

Sanding is an essential part of the process. It helps to smooth out rough spots and gives the wood a smooth finish. Consider investing in sandpaper or a sanding block to help with this process.

Applying paste wax to the finished product can also help protect the surface and give it a smooth, polished look.

#9: Set Up a Workbench for Wood Carving

For those looking to delve deeper and take their wood carving pursuits to a more serious level, establishing a dedicated workspace is an invaluable step towards skill enhancement. 

I personally recommend setting up a workbench that aligns with your comfort, complemented by ample lighting to ensure precision in every cut and carve.

Additionally, it’s worth considering an investment in a quality bench vise. This tool is indispensable for securely holding your wood in place, providing stability, and allowing you to work with greater confidence and control. 

Trust me, creating a space that’s tailored to your carving needs will make a significant difference in refining your craft and taking your skills to new heights.

workbenches in a woodworking shop

#10: Hold the Wood Firmly + Carve Along the Grain

Holding the wood firmly is crucial to prevent slipping and accidents. Additionally, always carve along the wood grain to avoid splitting and ensure a smooth finish.

Types of Wood Carving

Whittling

Whittling involves removing small pieces of wood from a block using a carving knife, which looks like a kitchen or a pocket knife.

It is one of the most straightforward and accessible types of wood carving for beginners. In case, you want to whittle a stick, you only need a sharp whittling knife and a piece of wood to get started.


Carving in the Round

Carving in the round involves creating a three-dimensional figure from a wood block. This requires more skill and patience than whittling, but the results are more impressive.

To wood carve a figure, a carver must consider the wood’s surface and grain and use various tools, including gouges, chisels, and knives.

round carving

Relief Carving

Relief carving involves making designs into a flat piece of wood, creating a raised image that stands out from the smooth surface. Relief carving is often used for decorative purposes on furniture or architectural elements.

To create relief carvings, a carver must carefully plan the design and work with various tools, including chisels, gouges, and knives.

Chip Carving

Chip carving involves removing small pieces of wood from a flat surface to create intricate geometric patterns. It is often used for decorative purposes on furniture or small household items like boxes or picture frames.

All you need for a chip-carved wood is sharp wood carving knives and a flat wood surface.

Pyrography

Pyrography involves burning designs into wood using a heated metal tool. It allows for more detailed and intricate designs than traditional wood carving types.

With pyrography, you will need a wood-burning tool and a wood piece to practice on.

burning wood egdes

Flat-Plane Carving

This involves creating simple figures using flat planes and straight lines. It is often used for decorative purposes on small household items like figurines or Christmas ornaments [1].

To start with this carving technique, you will need a wood carving knife, a flat wooden panel, and a basic understanding of carving techniques.

Chainsaw Carving

Delving into the realm of chainsaw carving, we find ourselves in a more advanced territory, where large, awe-inspiring sculptures are created from single blocks of wood using nothing but a chainsaw. 

It goes without saying that this form of artistry demands a substantial level of skill and experience. From my years of expertise in this field, only those carvers who have a wealth of experience and a strong grasp on their craft should venture into chainsaw carving. 

It’s a thrilling yet demanding practice, requiring precision, control, and a deep understanding of both the tool and the medium. For those ready to take on the challenge, the rewards are immensely satisfying, unveiling possibilities of creation on a grand scale.

This method can be dangerous, so taking all the necessary safety precautions is essential.

chainsaw carving

Conclusion

Armed with the tips and techniques, you’re now well-prepared to dive into the world of wood carving and confidently bring your unique ideas to life. Always prioritize your safety to prevent injuries, and remember that regular practice is key to honing your skills.

Embrace this journey with dedication and patience, and you’ll find yourself blossoming into a skilled wood carver, ready to reap the numerous rewards that this captivating hobby has in store. Happy carving, and may your creative endeavors be fruitful and fulfilling!

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You've probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.
Robert Johnson

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