An Illustrated Guide to Carving

  1. 1

    In this exercise, you will learn to distinguish between four distinct styles of wood carving. Chip carving, whittling, relief carving, and carving in the round are the four most common techniques for working with wood. Pick one you like and read up on it some more. [1]

    • Traditionally, a whittling knife with a stiff handle was used in the ancient art of whittling. In this technique, the knife leaves behind angular marks, and the final products are typically miniature sculptures.
    • Relief carving is the art of carving figures into a flat wooden panel From one perspective, the image is rendered in three dimensions, while when viewed from behind, it is flat. Many different types of hand tools are required for a relief carving.
    • Round-about carving is the most realistic method. This type of carved sculpture requires a wide array of implements and results in a three-dimensional object with looser, more organic lines.
    • Cutting tools, chisels, and hammers are the mainstays of chip carving. Careful chipping away at a wood board will reveal three-dimensional designs from the front, while the back stays flat.
  2. 2

    Take care when selecting your wood. The wood you use should generally be on the softer side. Instead of grabbing lumber from a random pile, invest in branded, high-quality wood from a hobby shop or wood supplier.

    • It's recommended that beginners start with easier-to-work woods like basswood, butternut, or white pine. Basswood has a fine grain, butternut has a coarse grain, and white pine has a medium grain, all while being soft woods that are easy to carve. Although basswood is ideal for whittling, butternut and white pine can be used for almost any other type of carving.
    • Although mahogany and black walnut are both relatively easy to work with, their medium grains and relative hardness make carving them a challenge.
    • The extreme hardness of cherry, sugar maple, and white oak makes them challenging to carve. White oak's grain is medium to coarse, whereas that of cherry and sugar maple is fine. Excellent finished pieces can be carved from any of the three woods.


  3. 3

    Invest in a good knife for carving. Your chosen knife should be one that is both rigid and easy to hold. Standard pocket knives may not be effective because of their retractable blades, which can collapse under stress. [2]

    • Knives with a chipped blade are ideal for this task. Blade length is about 1 Inches: 5 (Inches: 3) The blade is 1. 5 inches (4. 5 cm) in length, and the handle is just the right length to rest in your palm. Pick one made of high carbon steel if you want it to keep its edge and not break easily.
    • Use a utility or craft knife if you're just getting started and don't want to commit to a more expensive tool just yet. Simply maintain a sharp and well-tuned blade. Also, the grip needs to be comfortable enough to be held for extended periods of time.
  4. 4

    Get your hands on a few gouges. A gouge is a curved tool used to "scoop" rather than cut wood. Gouges will be used for shaping and smoothing surfaces.

    • U-gouges are characterized by their curved shafts and cutting edges. The cutting edges of u-gouges can be anywhere from 1/16 inch (2 mm) to 2-3/8 inch (60 mm) wide, and the shafts can be straight, bent, back-bent, or spoon-shaped.
    • V-gouges are characterized by their angular, "V"-shaped point. Widths from 1/16 inch (2 mm) to 1-2/5 inch (30 mm) are possible for the cutting edge. It is also possible for the sides to converge at an angle of 60 degrees or 90 degrees.
    • Wood carvers can access hard-to-reach areas with the help of bent and spoon gouges. They're not required for casual use but will help you out greatly if you ever decide to take this hobby seriously.
  5. 5

    Put in the effort with chisels Sharp, flat chisels are used with rubber mallets. Chisels are essential for chipping wood. [3]

    • Chisels used by the average carpenter have sharp, flat edges designed to dig into wood.
    • Skewed chisels are also flat on one side, but they have a 45-degree back tilt, allowing for slightly more precise cuts.
    • Rubber mallets are preferable to the traditional wooden mallets because they are quieter and less likely to damage the chisel handle from repeated strikes.


  1. 1

    Rehearse with discarded wood. Cut some scrap wood to size and practice some basic cuts before tackling a major project. By doing so, you can learn how to use the equipment. Also, if you want to avoid having to go to the hospital because your knife slipped, you should always cut away from your body.

    • Even if you're just playing around, you should always use sharp tools. In the case of properly sharpened tools, slicing through wood should result in a smooth, shiny cut that shows no signs of nicks or streaks.
  2. 2

    Make sure the knife is held the right way. Keep your hands behind the blade when driving a knife, gouge, or chisel into wood. When using these tools, it is important to keep your fingers away from the blade at all times.

    • Hold the wood with your non-dominant hand when working with knives. Keep your hand behind the blade, but use your thumb to gently press the tool's blunt side against your control hand for added leverage. Cutting with your dominant hand requires rotating your wrist while your non-dominant hand holds the material steady.
    • Gouges are held by resting the handle in the palm of your dominant hand, while the shaft is held steady by pinching it between the thumb and index finger. You want the blade to be flush with the wood.
    • Keep in mind that the wrist, and not the elbow, should be used to direct the carving tool. Without regard to the method of slicing or the instrument employed, this holds true.
  3. 3

    Cut with the grain. Make sure to cut with the grain instead of against it at all times. Wood will splinter if you cut across the grain.

    • Take a close look at the wood and you'll notice long, parallel grain lines. Rather than being perfectly straight, these lines will be somewhat undulating and may or may not run parallel to the board's edges.
    • Downward motion along the grain lines should be maintained at all times when carving. Don't cut perpendicular to the grain, but you can carve across it or parallel to it.
    • If the wood is tearing as you carve it, you may be moving the tool in the wrong direction. To see if the opposite direction produces different outcomes, simply switch directions.
  4. 4

    Make some simple cuts in practice. Though you'll eventually become proficient in a wide variety of cuts, you should spend some time honing the fundamentals as soon as possible. [4]

    • The wood is carved out in the form of a long channel using a running cut. When using a U-gouge or V-gouge, keep the blade flush with the wood's surface and push it across the grain with even pressure.
    • Carvings made with a stabbing cut leave jagged edges on the wood's surface, casting stark silhouettes. A gouge is used by driving its cutting edge straight into a piece of wood and then pulling it out again.
    • In the context of cutting, a sweep is a long arc. An arc can be cut with a gouge by pushing in one direction while rotating the tool's handle in the opposite direction.


  1. 1

    Have your safety gear on Careless carvers put themselves in harm's way by not protecting themselves with the bare minimum of gear.

    • Always use a carving glove on your non-dominant hand, or the hand that is holding the wood.
    • Wear goggles if necessary. Even if you're wearing eye protection, wood chips will start flying, and some of them might even hit your face.
  2. 2

    Draw up the plans Before starting any cutting or gouging, try lightly sketching the shapes you want to make with a pencil first.

    • Using these lines as guides will help you maintain precision. Slipping tools are a possibility, but you won't make mistakes due to poor estimation.
    • There is no turning back from mistakes once they are made. You'll either have to make changes to the original plan to accommodate the error, or you'll have to buy new wood.
  3. 3

    Glue the boards together. Clamping it to the table or placing it in a vise are the two best options for holding the wood piece in place. This will free up both of your hands, making your work much more efficient.

    • Carving wood should never be done with the wood resting in your lap.
    • Whittled pieces and other small carvings can be held in the non-dominant hand. When using a knife, always keep your non-dominant hand behind the blade.
  4. 4

    Create the bare bones of the form First, you need to carve out as much of the block of wood as possible until you can make out the general shape of the finished product.

    • Knives and chisels can be used to create the basic form of smaller pieces. You could use a band saw or chain saw for cutting larger pieces.
    • In other words, don't be afraid to make drastic cuts. It is safe to cut along the lines you have drawn without damaging the wood. While taking your time is fine if it helps you feel more at ease, be aware that being too tentative with your tools can make it difficult to achieve even a rough outline.
  5. 5

    Fill in the blanks of the form roughly. Once the outline is complete, use large u-gouges to carve away as much unnecessary material as you can until the final form emerges.

    • Learn which planes are the largest, and focus on those shapes. Focus first on the larger shapes, and then work your way down to the finer details.
  6. 6

    Fill in the blanks As soon as the main shape is established, you can move on to the carving's finer details using the smaller tools.

    • This is a particularly crucial stage in which having sharp tools is essential. Carvings can look terrible if they are damaged by nicks in the wood from using dull tools.
    • Focus on a single section at a time. The larger and foreground details should be finished first, followed by the smaller and more subtle details in the background.
  7. 7

    Hold on to the final product If you're proud of your carving and want to keep it in pristine condition for future generations, you'll need to apply a wood finish. [5]

    • Because of its low opacity, paste wax highlights the wood's original hue. It's durable enough for decorative carvings but can wear off quickly if the carving is handled often.
    • Danish oil can slightly alter the wood's color, but it is very long-lasting and suitable for frequently handled carvings.
    • The longest lasting finishes, spray urethane and polyurethane, can withstand repeated handling of the carving for a long time. This finish is best applied in cool, dry weather, and each coat must be given ample time to dry before applying the next.


An additional question
  • Question

    Do I need to sand the wood before finishing it?

    Community Answer

    Where you end up being dependents on your goals. When you want your finished product to have a nice, even sheen, sanding is a great option. Always cut with the grain and think about working with tiny pieces and delicate tools on tiny spaces.

  • Question

    When working with basswood, what bevel angle should gouges and other woodcarving tools have?

    Community Answer

    Carving tools are held at an angle of about 17 degrees when working with soft woods and 25 degrees or more when working with hard woods.

  • Question

    When I'm younger, can I carve?

    Community Answer

    Yes, if you know what you're doing Begin with something simple, like a bar of soap. Make sure to get permission from an adult first, and maybe even have someone watch you to make sure you're doing it correctly.

Learn More Solutions

Put a Question Out There


  • Woods like basswood, butternut, and white pine fall into the "soft wood" category.
  • Tool for carving chips
  • U-shaped cuts, ranging in size
  • Several sizes of V-gouges
  • Chisel used in carpentry
  • A crooked chisel
  • This is a rubber mallet.
  • Crafting a Carving Glove
  • Glasses for protection from hazards
  • Pencil
  • Vise
  • Wood treatment (wax, oil, or spray urethane).

To paraphrase Wikipedia, wikiHow is a "wiki," meaning that many of our articles are co-written by multiple authors. Over time, this article's free-content writers revised and expanded upon it for the benefit of the wider community. There have been 150,110 views of this article.

Co-authors: 8

Updated: The 21st of December, 2022

Views:  150,110

Categories: Making Wooden Arts and Crafts

SummaryX Article

Soft wood, a sharp knife, and a variety of gouges are the tools of choice for a beginner woodcarver. Pick a wood that’s somewhat soft, like basswood, butternut, or white pine Pick a chip carving knife or a utility knife because they're both sharp and easy to hold. You'll also want to stock up on chisels, which are used with a rubber mallet, and gouges, which are curved and used to scoop the wood rather than cut it. You should make some test cuts on scrap wood before attempting a major project. It's best to avoid splintering the wood by carving in the direction of the grain. Make a quick pencil sketch of your final design before you start making it. Clamp the wood to the table, then cut out the shape with a saw. Read on to find out how to protect your hard work once you've finished carving.

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