Getting Started with Wood Carving by Hand

Carving Wood Artisan Hand Drawing
Carving wood by hand is an incredibly rewarding process. It requires very little to get started, and with a little creativity, you can make just about anything you can imagine. Here’s a quick guide on how to get started. It’s probably easier than you thought!
Decide on a Style
There are a few distinct styles of woodcarving, some more advanced than others. Whittling and line carving are the best to start with, as they require few tools and can be very simple. Relief carving and carving in the round are best to try once you have a little experience and feel comfortable handling the wood and your tools. The techniques you develop with each style will be applicable to the others, although the tools among styles can vary.
  • Whittling: Whittling is arguably the oldest kind of wood carving. When whittling, you most often hold the wood piece in your hand and shape it by cutting out small slices at a time. Whittled pieces are 3-dimensional in shape and the finished wood shows the strokes of the knife. Whittling only requires a carving knife, so it’s a great carving style to start with.
  • Line carving: Line carving is carving by inscribing lines onto a flat piece of wood. Finished pieces can be very simple or incredibly detailed.
  • Relief Carving: Relief carving more difficult than line carving, where you sculpt a raised design on the surface of a flat piece of wood.
  • Carving in the round: An advanced form of 3D carving, carving in the round is more detailed than whittling and uses more tools to get fine details.
Pick Your Wood
You can carve soft wood or hard wood, but soft woods are best for beginners. Basswood, balsa, and pine are good options since they have a fine grain and are easily available at craft or hardware stores. Butternut is also pretty soft, but it has a more distinctive grain that looks nice but is more likely to chip. Aspen is another good option that is on the harder side but still relatively soft.

Choose the Right Tools
The right tools are essential to successful woodcarving, and fortunately, you can get started pretty inexpensively. Different styles need different tools, and some projects will need their own specific tools. It can be a good idea to start with a basic set and add to it as you progress. Most sets will contain variations on these basic tools:
  • Carving knives: You can use a pocket knife, but if you’re serious about carving, you want carving knives. These knives usually come in various shapes and have a fixed blade and sturdy handle. A dull blade is more likely to slip and cut you than a sharp one, so don’t forget a sharpening stone to keep your knives in top shape.
  • Chisels: Chisels scrape wood away when you push or hammer on them. They come in many different sizes and you can use them with or without a mallet.
  • Gouges: A gouge is like a chisel, but the cutting edge is bent into a curve.
  • V-tool: This tool is like two chisels joined to make a V.
  • Carving glove: A glove can protect you from small nicks and cuts, especially when you’re working with the piece in your hand.
  • Clamps: Clamps to hold down large flat pieces for line or relief carving will keep your piece from slipping and give you greater control over pressure and angle.

Find Somewhere to Learn
You can get books and read blogs about wood carving, but this is really a skill that’s easiest to learn in person or from videos. Here are some YouTube videos and playlists that can be a great starting point for you to learn wood carving techniques.
  • Ruben Llano has a channel dedicated to carving of all kinds. His wood carving playlist has a great selection of techniques.
  • Doug Linker shares lots of projects you can follow along with as you carve.
  • BeaverCraft is another channel with follow-along videos. Many of these are on the more advanced side, but his videos are very easy to follow.
There you have it! Getting started with wood carving is inexpensive and pretty simple. Give it a try when you’re stuck indoors this winter and discover how rewarding it can be to turn a block of wood into something incredible with just a knife and your hands.

We’d love to hear from you! Have you tried wood carving? What are the best projects you’d recommend for beginners? Let us know in the comments!

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