Top 10 Wood Carving Tips and Tricks for Beginners
Among the most exciting hobbies any person can start – there’s woodcarving high up as one of the best. But as attractive as it is – wood carving can also be pretty tricky.
So, if you’re a beginner who needs some wood carving tips & tricks, you’ll be happy to know that we have what you’re looking for.
Here, we’re going to teach you our favorite tricks for wood carving like an expert, even if you have low experience. You’ll learn everything from carving properly to getting the most out of your tools and being safe at all times while digging on wood.
If you want to become an expert at wood carving – then read this article further!
What Is Wood Carving?
To effectively teach you a few woodcarving tricks, we also need to go over the woodcarving concept.
In short, you could say that it refers to the activity of taking wood off logs with chisels or knives to create ornaments and decorations.
That would be a simple concept. But in fact, woodcarving is a lot more complicated than that.
Many factors come into play, from the type of wood you’re using to the kind of object you’re creating and more.
For example, using a few softwoods make the carving easier than when you use hardwoods. The same happens if you try to make something easy like a kitchen utensil, or when going for a wooden sculpture.
Overall, it is a super entertaining hobby that anyone can get into. It offers the chance to spend some time being creative while still creating things that can be both decorative and useful.
Types of Wood Carving
With a better idea of what woodcarving is all about – it is time to learn about the different kinds of carving you’ll find.
Each type on the following list is ideal for a different result, but also requires various tools than the other types.
Here are some of the woodcarving methods we’re talking about:
Do you know how people started carving on wood? Easy, they started doing whittling – a type of carving that uses a knife to create pointy objects.
It is necessary to do knife “strokes” away from the wood to cut it. This slowly starts creating a shape on wood, which translates into whatever you want to create.
The first uses for whittling were to create weapons and hunting tools. Yet, whittling allows everything from small figurines and sculptures to kitchen tools and more.
Thanks to the use of knives, it allowed sharp and textured cuts to be easy to achieve. If you need to create something edgy, whittling should be your preferable carving method.
As its name says, relief carving uses the relief of wood logs to create faces, sculptures, ornamental figurines, and the like.
To make relief carving possible, you may need to have some experience with carving beforehand, as it requires a certain level of skill. Yet, the results tend to be pretty impressive, and it allows users to put maximum creativity into the job.
For carving, you can use any type of tool going from knives to gouges, chisels, and more. The sole focus is to use a small part of a log or wooden panel to create a relief image and/or figurine without using the whole of the wood piece.
An experienced woodcarver can create amazing things with this method.
Carving in the Round
If you’re a beginner, you’ll find carving in the round is one of the easiest types you can do. It is like making clay items, but with wood.
The advantage of carving in the round is the smooth surface that it delivers. Along with the vast array of sculptures and designs possible, this method is one of the best you can get into at first.
Carving in the wood often delivers such polished results that the sculptures usually look better than the ones made with other methods. And it is still one of the easiest.
Do you know what a chisel is for? Yes, you guessed it – a tool for chip carving.
You will need a hammer as well. And if you want to have even more detail on your carving, add a knife.
This is a pretty tricky way to carve wood, and it is often left for the experts. Despite the difficulty, though, the results tend to be amazing.
It is the simple process of removing wood chips from logs, piece by piece. This adds outstanding creativity to be put into work and makes it easy to create sophisticated decorations and ornaments.
If you’re starting, this is probably not your best method. But it is undoubtedly essential to learn over time.
Last but not least, we have chainsaw carving. This is not exactly the most traditional or easiest of carving methods, but it is worth a mention.
While it is improbable that you’ll start doing chainsaw carving, we can’t leave it out because it is simply too unique.
As its name says, this method focuses on using a chainsaw to cut through wood. You will have to give shape and design to the wood.
Of course, the wood is usually a huge trunk, so the chainsaw can handle the job with no problem. But there are also small carving-oriented chainsaws available, with individual blades for carving. They’re usually helpful to carve on small pieces of woods – so there’s a lot to learn from this method.
It is not the easiest, though, and it is pretty dangerous – so leave it for when you’ve gained experience.
Types of Tools for Carving
After learning more about the different types of carving you can do, it is time to learn about the tools you’ll be using. Here are the most common ones:
A carving knife is probably the most common tool you’ll find out there. It is also the easiest to use.
To carve wood with a knife, you just need to scratch the surface of the wood lightly and get rid of some wood in the process. But of course, it all depends on the type of carving you’re doing, and what exact procedure you’re following.
Overall, carving knives come in different shapes and sizes according to their use. Mostly, carving knives are used for whittling and direct cutting.
Whenever you need to trace around the wood pattern to get rid of inconsistencies, you should use a bench knife.
They are also perfect for scoring and for getting intricate patterns done. To use it, you follow the same process as an ordinary carving knife – but with a slightly more delicate trace.
These also come in different designs and sizes. Some bench knives also help in detailing the pieces, which makes them small and precise.
If you’ve ever seen someone carve on a piece of wood, you probably know what a chisel is.
In short words, it is a piece of metal that cuts when you hit it with a hammer. It consists of a cutting edge, usually sharp enough to cut big pieces of wood with every hammer hit. This offers the chance to get rid of a lot of wood and provides deep cuts without making much of an effort.
Sure enough, chisels differ a lot, depending on their specific use. Some are ideal for carving small pieces, and others are larger and wider, perfect for cutting wood with precision.
Overall, chisels tend to be challenging to use at first. Yet, they help to work on most types of carving – going from relief carving to chip carving, and even carving in the round.
Similar to a chisel, the gouge needs to be hit with a hammer to work correctly. Yet, this one has a slightly different shape than other types of chisels.
The concave blade of the gouge allows the carver to go deep into the wood. It also allows easy curve-making and ensures rounded cuts when going deep into the wood.
You can guess it is not the easiest tool to use for carving. But it is an essential tool, nonetheless.
This is the ideal tool for carving in the round and relief carving. It ensures extra detail and perfect holes all around.
Probably the most practical power tool you can get for carving – a rotary tool. You can do anything from polishing to cutting, grinding, sanding, and even carving without making much of an effort with one of these.
The advantage comes mainly from the ability to work with a wide array of burrs or discs. You can set a cutting disc and get rid of big pieces of wood. But you may also use it with a small burr for detailing and doing some relief carving if needed.
There’s simply no limit to what a rotary tool can offer, so it is also an essential tool to have once you gain enough experience.
A woodcarver is usually a small tool that resembles a chisel, but electric.
It does the same job as any chisel with a mallet, but way faster and easier. You won’t have to be continually whacking the chisel to get pieces of wood out. Instead, just turn it on and pass it over the wood to cut it neatly.
These electric carvers are especially useful with hardwoods where other manual tools may be too exhausting to use. It still offers the chance to give proper shape to wood pieces, achieve excellent precision, and work with different blade sizes and shapes depending on your needs.
If you don’t like using a chisel and mallet, an electric carver is the best alternative.
Want to give shape to wood without having to waste hours with a small chisel? Then you can always do so with a wood grinder.
You can achieve even more precision with a power tool like this than any manual tool. And that’s something to behold for sure.
They’re usually super powerful as well, so you can use them on hardwoods without any problem. And they’re still soft enough to be used with softwoods if needed.
Whether you want to cut or stylize a wood piece, a wood grinder can be your way to go.
Another super helpful tool you can get for your carving is a woodturner.
While it is not exactly a tool to use on your hand like the rest, it is still worth mentioning. It merely refers to the device where you can attach a piece of wood, and then make it turn at high revolutions. While the wood piece is spinning, you can then mold it just like a clay artist would mold a pot on a wheel.
You will get the chance to make a wide array of shapes and sculptures with this tool. Of course, you will also be using other tools like knives, to get the most out of the woodturner. That’s why this tool is mostly reserved for more experienced woodcarvers.
Types of Wood for Carving
Carving on wood requires a lot of patience and work. But over the work and perseverance, you need to have the ideal materials.
That’s why it is essential to use the proper wood types if you want to have a decent carving experience. Here are some of these types of wood you need to consider for carving:
When someone says softwood for carving, the first thing that should come to your mind is basswood.
It is the best softwood you will find, not only for its softness that makes it a piece of cake to carve over but also because of its strength. Despite its softness, you can use any type of carving method on it and any kind of tool without problems.
Another advantage of basswood is the creamy color it has. With a light tone, it offers the chance to get painted if needed. After you’ve finished the sculpture, ornament, graphic, or whatever – you can add some color if required.
Finally, basswood is so soft that whittling would be a piece of cake. Yet, chip carving can be a little difficult and demands lots of work. So, use it accordingly.
When it comes to hardwoods, few match the hardness of black walnut. That’s why it is one of the few types of wood that people only use power tools on.
From rotary burrs and electric carvers to grinders – you need to use one of those for black walnut if you want an aesthetically pleasing result. Yet, it is not as difficult as it seems to use carving methods like chip carving or relief carving that can be done with gouges and chisels.
For whittling, however, black walnut can be a headache. Luckily, it comes with a dark color that does not demand any type of painting or coloring after carving.
Another excellent softwood that you will find amazingly easy to carve over as a beginner is butternut. It comes with a coarse appearance, boasting a light brown tone. The wood grains are also large, which makes it even easier to carve over.
It is highly recommended to use whittling to carve over butternut, thanks to its softness and overall grain size. You can quickly achieve exceptional results, going from simple artwork to elaborate sculptures and ornaments.
You may or may not color butternut afterward, as it holds an exciting appearance nonetheless and manages to look shiny with just a little priming.
In case you want something that boasts a pink color, you’ll find cherry a fantastic choice. Its light pinkish tone, along with the dense grain makes it undoubtedly beautiful for certain types of crafts.
But cherry tends to be super hard and challenging to carve over, especially with whittling. That’s why it is mostly used with chisels in chip carving instead of whittling with a knife.
The advantage is that cherry looks beautiful on most types of sculptures and ornaments.
For those who are looking for versatile woods, nothing compares to mahogany. You can use power tools, knives, chisels, gouges, and any carving method going from whittling to chip carving, and it will still hold well enough without being too hard.
Standing between a hardwood and a softwood, mahogany is one of the favorite woods of expert woodcarvers. It even manages to have an enticing appearance with a reddish-brown tone. So, it is ideal for artistic creations of all kinds, without any post-work or coloration.
When it comes to chip carving, only a few kinds of woods work as satisfactorily as sugar maple does. The grain is usually tough and dense, yet it allows easy chipping with the right tool.
That’s why sugar maple is one of the favorite woods for sculpture makers. Those who like making big chipped pieces with wood find sugar maple ideal.
The color is a mix of light brown and white, so it allows post-coloring or priming without problems.
If you want a popular option for carving, white pine will probably be your best bet. Most people love it because it is one of the hardest softwoods, which makes it perfect for almost any kind of carving.
The medium grain and the cream color allow maximum creativity as well. So, users of all kinds love using white pine for its softness and coloring opportunities.
If you want to do some carving in the round, white pine is probably your best choice. You can mold and give shape to white pine better than many other kinds of wood – either soft or hard. For chip carving, however, you may find white pine a little softer than needed.
Last but not least, we have white oak. This is probably the most popular wood for carving that you will find, and an excellent choice for beginners.
The light color and the yellowish tone add tons of coloring advantages to white oak. Apart from that, the grain is medium-coarse, which makes it decently easy to mold and shape according to your desire.
One disadvantage is that white oak is a beautiful hardwood. So, doing whittling and carving in the round can be slightly tricky on it. Instead, it works amazingly well for chip carving.
Top 10 Wood Carving Tips and Tricks for Beginners
If you’re starting as a woodworker or just want to learn how to carve wood like an expert, you’ll be happy to discover our top 10 tricks.
Here, you will be exposed to some essential tips that are super necessary to remember, as well as some more secret tricks that will make your carving amazing.
Here’s what we’re talking about:
1. Follow the Wood Grain
The first and most important trick of carving like an expert: always follow the grain.
You’ll see that different types of wood come with variable wood grain patterns. That’s super important to know and find out before you start carving.
This makes it easy to get rid of the wood no matter the carving method you’re using. But it also allows you to prevent any unwanted damage to the wood, like cutting more than necessary or breaking the wood.
2. Sketch the Carving
Before you start an academic project, you usually begin with a draft – right? You make a small plan beforehand and come up with ideas that may or may not work before getting the project on wheels. This helps to save time, effort, and prevent mistakes.
When it comes to carving, the same applies. You’ll achieve more precision, better appearance, and more control.
Having a sketch of what you want to make will give you a better idea of how to proceed. And that will save you from making costly mistakes (if you make a bad cut, there’s no way to come back when carving).
3. Figure Out the Best Wood for the Project
Just like sketching, knowing which wood will be better for the project you want to start will save you tons of time and effort.
If you’re doing some chip carving, pick something hard like white oak. But if you’re thinking of making a figurine by whittling the wood away, then use butternut.
Do not intend to use the wrong tool and carving method on a piece of wood that won’t handle the job well. This will waste a lot of your time and effort.
4. Learn about Gouges
Before you start any job, you need to learn about the gouges. We’re not referring to the gouge tool, but the size and shape of the blade in chisels.
The curvature, for example, tends to vary exponentially, depending on the chisel. Some allow a nearly straight cut when using, and others have a wider size but with tons of curvature.
If you want to have maximum versatility when carving, we recommend getting a chisel set with as many shapes and sizes as possible. This will make it easy for you to start new projects.
5. Sharpen Those Tools
It doesn’t matter the size or shape of the chisel/knife you’re using – it needs to be sharp at all times.
Even if you’re using a power tool like a burr or grinder – you need to make sure that the blade/tip is sharp. Otherwise, you won’t get the polished or precise results you’re looking for.
The best way to do this is to get a sharpener for knives and chisels. And always have replacement blades and bits for your power tools. That will prevent you from using a dull tool that could damage your work.
6. Never Lose Sight of the Edge
No matter what carving method you’re following or what tool you’re using – it is essential always to have the edge on sight.
This is not only about where the edge is, but where it is going. If you aim the blade of a chisel towards a leg or hand, for example, you may end up harming yourself. The same happens if you’re pointing towards another part of the piece you’re working on – which could lead to a messy mistake.
That’s why having the edge on sight and calculating correctly before making a cut is so important. You’ll end up a better carver with way better results.
7. Hold Tools Properly
Are you using a power tool that you barely know how to turn on? Well, make sure you also know how to hold it properly – it will make the whole carving process safer.
It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a power carver or a burr – you need to have a secure grip and be sure of what you’re doing. Otherwise, you may end up damaging the piece you’re carving or even yourself.
The same happens if you’re using small tools like knives and chisels. You should focus on having a coordinated hand/tool movement, so you can cut precisely and without mistakes.
8. Use Gloves
If you want to prevent accidents and have an even better grip of tools and the piece you’re working with – then use gloves.
A nice set of safety or woodworking gloves will be enough. Sometimes you don’t even need to use two gloves – just one to grab the piece of wood will be sufficient to prevent accidents and have maximum grip.
You may also change the type of glove depending on what you want to focus on. If you’re primarily focused on keeping yourself safe from cuts, then use Kevlar or steel-woven gloves. But if you only want proper grip, then choose leather gloves instead. Choose accordingly, and you’ll have a far better carving experience.
9. Don’t Be Afraid to Use the Mallet
There’s probably nothing more effective for taking large chunks from wood than using a mallet with a gouge or chisel. But using this mallet/hammer is usually not easy.
Especially when you’re carving on hardwoods like oak and cherry, you should not be afraid of using the mallet. This will get the most wood out of the piece and help you carve whatever you’re creating faster.
At the same time, don’t forget about chip carving if you’re working on softwoods. Even if it can be a little dangerous and may become messy in a second, you can always use this method if needed. You just need to be extra careful, and you may end up with an even more precise and controlled cut than with knives.
10. Use a Power Tool If Needed
Don’t be scared of the power tools, either. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a rotary tool, grinder, carver, or even a woodturner – they will all help you carve faster and more effectively.
Whether you want to drive large chunks of wood out or simply give a more detailed appearance to your carvings – tools will not let you down. That’s why we recommend them in their totality.
But at the same time, it is super important that you’re aware of the danger they may offer. Before getting to use any power tool – learn how to carve correctly manually. Then, you can use one of these without problems.
So, are you ready to start wood carving? If yes, then don’t waste more of your time and put our wood carving tips and tricks into play.
Follow this guide as it is, and you will learn how to carve wood like an expert in no time. Just remember to be safe at all times and work according to your experience level. Then, you will have the chance to make exceptional wood art.
Start now and become a carving master!