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Getting Started with Wood Carving: Tools and Techniques for Beginners

11 min read

Wood Carving Tools & Techniques

Tools Techniques
Saw Smoothing
Knife Carving
Chisel Relieving
Mallet Engraving
Gouge Cutting

man doing wood carving of head in workshop

From saws to gouges, the tools of wood carving are essential for creating beautiful works of art.

Techniques like smoothing, carving, relieving, engraving, and cutting are important to make intricate works.

Experienced carvers can benefit from using the proper tools in the right way to get their desired result.

Beginners should note that the five essential tools of wood carving are saws, knives, chisels, mallets, and gouges along with the techniques of smoothing, carving, relieving, engraving, and cutting.

With these tools and techniques, anyone can become an expert wood carver.

Introduction to the art and craft of wood carving

Wood carving is an art and craft that can produce beautiful objects from the most basic of materials.

For beginners, a good understanding of the tools and techniques of wood carving is essential for successful projects.

Every project starts with selecting the right wood — each type of wood has its own properties and behaves differently when carved.

Common tools used in wood carving include chisels, gouges, files and sandpaper.

Beginners should make sure to take the time to understand how each tool works, and how to safely use it.

When planning the design, understanding which techniques you’ll be using can help produce the best results.

With a few basic tools, understanding of the different types of wood, and knowledge of carving techniques, beginners can produce beautiful pieces of woodwork of their own.

Why Wood Carving?

Possible Applications

Wood carving is a fun hobby that can have many uses! It can be used to make useful objects like furniture, kitchen utensils, and even toys.

Artistic wood carving can also be used to make beautiful, unique crafts like carvings of animals or shapes, or abstract designs.

Wood carving is a great way to give ordinary items more character, like adding decorations to door frames or creating a unique centerpiece for the dining table.

With wood carving, you can choose from a range of materials, from soft pine to hardwoods like ironwood and walnut, and create something that can be used and enjoyed for a long time.

Essential Tools for Wood Carving

Hand Tools

Chisels are essential tools for wood carving.

They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, making them great for carving intricate details, drilling holes, cutting slots, and shaping hard-to-reach areas.

Their sharp edges and pointed tips make it easier to cut into wood without breaking it apart.

Choosing the right chisel is important because it helps to create more accurate and detailed designs.

For beginners, it’s best to start with a set of basic chisels, such as a straight edge, V-shaped, and U-shaped chisel.

Also consider gouges, which are essential for wood carving and come in a variety of shapes.

For starters, a V-gouge is the most versatile.

It’s used to make long curves and grooves.

A U-gouge is best for basic carving and scooping out large areas.

An oval gouge is suitable for creating shallow concave surfaces.

A U-shaped gouge is great for cutting into corners and tight spots.

For shallow relief carving, a skew gouge is ideal.

Finally, a straight gouge is good for making grooves and long, curved cuts.

Mallets are another addition you could consider.

They come in many sizes and materials.

A small wooden mallet with a rounded end is perfect for chipping and making shallow cuts.

A medium-sized plastic or rubber mallet with a flat end can pound things into place and keep them from slipping.

Finally, a large metal mallet is usually used for heavier jobs like splitting or forcing things together.

Power Tools

Power tools are an essential part of wood carving.

Dremels are a type of power tool that come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with a rotating tip that is perfect for detailed work.

They have many uses, like sanding or polishing wood, drilling holes, and carving detailed shapes.

For more help, a power chisel can make quick work of large projects.

It uses a small motor to rapidly move a chiseling sharp tip in one direction or another.

The chiseling action of a power chisel is excellent for carving out shapes.

You can also use an adjustable power chisel to smooth out surfaces.

It has a more powerful motor and a more aggressive tip than standard chisels.

With a rotary tool, you can make shallow cuts with an easy-to-use grinder attachment.

You can also use different heads to carve curved grooves, notches, and even fine details.

Rotary tools take the strain out of delicate wood carving tasks, and make the job much faster, for a wide range of projects.

Safety Gear

When it comes to wood carving, safety gear is essential.

Wear gloves whenever you carve; they’ll protect your hands from splinters and scrapes.

Get thick, leather gloves that fit snugly and are heavy enough to protect your hands and fingers.

Make sure they have good grips, so you can handle the tools safely.

The gloves should also cover the wrists to keep them safe too.

You should always wear protective glasses while working in order to protect your eyes.

Make sure the lenses are shatter-proof and have side shields so that you’re fully protected as you carve.

Wear a dust mask as well, to keep your lungs safe.

For extra safety, use a shield to block any dust or chips from hitting your face.

Work in a well-ventilated area and never leave blades unattended.

Follow these steps and you should be good to go.

Wood Types and Selection

When starting on your wood carving journey, make sure you have all the safety gear you need.

To start off, choose a softer wood like basswood, willow, or cottonwood, which are very popular for carving.

These woods are light but easy to carve into various shapes and sizes.

If you’re looking for something harder, go for oak, cherry, or walnut for more intricate carvings that need finer detail.

Be sure to have on safety glasses, a dust mask, and gloves to protect yourself since woodworking can be a messy, dusty process.

Safety first!

Basic Techniques for Beginners


Carving-in-the-Round is a wood carving method that involves carving the object from one or two sides, instead of carving from above.

This produces a sculpture which can be viewed from multiple angles.

It requires equal skill and patience, as you must specialize in gouging and relief techniques.

When carving-in-the-round, it is important to start with the finer details before the larger, more blocky background shapes and features.

This will help keep your carving looking smooth and will create more realistic results.

All it takes is practice to master the techniques necessary for beautiful carving-in-the-round.

Relief Carving

Relief carving is a type of woodworking that involves carving an image into a flat piece of wood.

The design is typically done by gouging out the material around the edges, leaving a raised design in the board.

It can also involve adding layers to create a 3D effect.

Relief carving is popularly used to decorate doors, window frames, and furniture.

It can also be used to make signs, plaques, and other home decor.

Beginners to relief carving should start with simple shapes and images using a sharp chisel and mallet.

Start small, practice and gain confidence, then build on your skills as you progress.


Whittling is the art of wood carving with a knife.

It’s a popular technique for making decorative items and sculptures out of wood.

Beginners often start with simple sticks that can be held easily in the hand, then move on to more complex designs.

Safety is the main concern when whittling - make sure to wear gloves and goggles to protect your hands and eyes.

Tools are also important; a basic wood whittling kit should include a sharp knife, sandpaper, a cutting board, and a few wooden pieces to practice on.

With patience and practice, whittling is an enjoyable hobby that can create beautiful works of art.

Chip Carving

Chip carving is the art of creating a design in a piece of wood using knives or chisels.

It’s often used as a decorative feature in furniture, crafts or architectural trim pieces.

Chip carving involves cutting shallow slots, grooves and patterns into the surface of the wood.

To begin, use a pencil to draw a design or create a pattern onto the wood.

Then, use sharp, pointed knives or chisels to cut away pieces of wood, at the end of each groove you create.

The chip carving technique adds texture and accents to its wooden surfaces, and is a great way to embellish woodwork with intricate details.

Best Practices and Tips

Sharpening Your Tools

Sharpening wood carving tools is essential for producing smooth, clean cuts.

Always make sure your tools are sharp before starting any project.

A sharp tool requires less pressure to make clean cuts, so it’s easier on your hands.

To sharpen, use a sharpening stone, stone file, or power sharpener.

Hone leather strops work great for finishing and polishing an edge.

Practice makes perfect when sharpening tools, so don’t forget to practice.

Be mindful of the angle you’re using - usually around 15 to 20 degrees is best.

Always test the sharpness before and after sharpening by dragging the blade lightly across your arm or a piece of wood.

Grain Direction

Start by inspecting the wood you’re working with.

Note the way the grain runs.

This will play an important role in how you carve.

When you cut along the wood’s grain, the blade will move more smoothly and the carving will look better.

You’ll also end up using less force, which means you won’t tire your hands as quickly.

If you carve against the grain, the blade may get stuck.

It takes more effort and can potentially damage the wooden surface.

To make sure your carvings look good, always follow the grain!

Safety Precautions

Always wear safety goggles when carving wood.

Keep the area you’re working in well lit and, if possible, use a vise or clamp to secure the wood to a stable surface.

Check your tools regularly to make sure they’re working properly.

Make sure power tools are plugged into a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlet.

Wear gloves to protect your hands from flying pieces of wood and any sharp edges.

Be aware of possible splinters and never carve in a location where bystanders could be injured by pieces of wood being thrown.

Make sure your tools are sharp and in good condition and replace any dull blades.

Always practice safety first.

Beginner Projects to Try

Simple Ideas to Get Started

If you’re a beginner, design something simple to start with.

You could start by carving a spoon or a small figurine.

Once you’re more comfortable with your tools, you could try your hand at simple relief carving or a basic slaying display.

You could also try out a rustic sign for your home or garden.

Don’t forget you can also make a simple bowl or tray.These items don’t take too long to carve and you’ll still get to sharpen your skills.

Don’t make things too complicated at first or you’ll be overwhelmed.

Keep it simple and remember to have fun.


Get Started with Wood Carving

If you’ve been wanting to get started on wood carving, now is your chance! Start with the basics of the tools and techniques you need, and then practice and experiment to make each of your pieces unique.

Get used to your tools and use them for a variety of projects.

Don’t be afraid to take on bigger projects and challenges.

It’s ok if your carvings don’t come out perfectly at first – it takes time and practice to perfect the skill.

Have fun with it and be creative.

Take simple pieces of wood and turn them into something special and memorable.

Wood carving can be a great way to bring out your creative side and express yourself.

So start carving and make something you can enjoy and be proud of.

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