August 12, 2019

Ultimate Wood Carving Guide

Wood carving art

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

wood carving figure

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

This article is an 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 quality of processing the set of 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 at hand 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 fragments of wood with the help of a sharpened woodwork hatchet, as well as chisels of different widths and edge profiles.

And yet, a properly designed and convenient workbench is of the greatest importance to a novice cutter. It should be equipped in accordance with 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 mechanism to quickly fasten and detach the workpiece. This includes joinery vice and clamps as well as adjustable thrust blocks of various shapes.

Start with small crafts.

A complete list of essentials causes a slight flush. But it always makes sense to first 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. As the first works, it is recommended to choose cutting 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 the 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 on a relatively thin workpiece. The thickness of the wood and how the background is selected determines the high-relief and flat-relief carvings.

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, are capable of truly bewitching. Relief technique can be considered as 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, first of all, 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, as well as to create “non-functional” works of art. The sculptural carving is completely three-dimensional and is intended for viewing from all sides. It gives the opportunity for full self-expression and, perhaps, most of all experiences the skill of a carver, 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 in such a way that it can be viewed from all sides, therefore, in contrast to the relief, it is also called “round”.

At the same time, the sculpture itself 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.

Only after mastering all the techniques of geometric, contour, relief carving techniques, you should 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, and besides, the processing of the entire surface inherent in sculpture requires careful, good thoughtful detailing and, accordingly, the use of a variety of techniques.

The master sculptor must take into account the size of the sculptural image, correlated with the possibility of its utilitarian 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 scale of the blank. Therefore, you should start work only when the whole plan, including the shape, size, processing technique, is clear to the smallest detail.


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

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

Chip carving

A chip or flat carving, as you can see by its name, 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 millimetres) and glued on a thicker plank. By removing all the convex parts of the picture, you will get exactly what is the basis of chip wood carving.

First of all, 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 in a chaotic manner, and the path of each individual strip can be tracked 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, which is why the tree loses its strength.

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

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 in two ways: purchase a medium quality set of 8-12 items or buy one or two high-quality tools that are missing for the development of a certain technique or carving pattern.

Also, a good carpenter is distinguished by a correctly selected marking tool: rulers, squares, surface gages, protractors, callipers, 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 individual product.

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

To speed up the process and improve the accuracy of processing, it is possible to use electric engravers, chisels and renovators. 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 simplest 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. Until now, local temples are built from wood materials 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 own style of carving chisels.

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

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

Using drawing accessories, the picture is redrawn on graph paper or tracing-paper with scale marking.

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 there, and then simply print it on paper at the required scale.

Next, paper patterns are fixed on the basis of 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 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, the first thing you need to do is start holes in each element. This is usually done with an electric drill. After the saw is inserted into the holes, and 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. Deep relief is done with a chisel with a curved blade. Upon completion, all edges are machined to eliminate roughness and chips.

You should start by seeking interesting patterns on the Internet and trying to carve them. Maybe it will not good look from the start, but for sure after a few attempts, you will get a really good one. And then just improve your skills and one day you will be an author of the real masterpiece.

David D. Hughes

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