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How to make Wood Carvings

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How to make Wood Carvings

  1. Choosing your wood
  2. Wood Grain.
  3. Knife work.
  4. Using Gouges.
  5. Roughing out.


A basic whittling or carving knife is all you’ll need to get started.  To carve efficiently, your tools must be razor sharp so be sure to buy from a reputable brand.

Wood Carving Hook Knife, 3 Knives Wood Carving Tools with Set High Manganese Steel Blade for Carving Spoons and Bowls, Carving Tools Come with Leather Strop Polishing Compound and Cloth Roll Bag

How to make wood carvings

Knowing how to make wood carvings can provide you with endless hours of productive ‘garage time’ and maximise the quality of your output. There a 4 main ways to carve wood: Whittling, carving in the round, relief carving, and chip carving. As whittling is the traditional method and requires the least tools, the following ‘how to’ talks you through some basic tips and tricks.

Photo Credit: Designlazy.com


1- Choosing your wood. It’s best to use a soft wood i.e. those from coniferous trees such as cedar, fir, and pine. Choose a piece or chunk of wood with nice grain patterning and even colouration. Make sure that the wood is dried through thoroughly!

2- Wood Grain. Wood is composed of longitudinal cells lying parallel to each other and running in a roughly straight direction from the roots of the tree to the leaf canopy. To determine the direction of the grain, look at the long cell fibers. The darker streaks of the annual rings can help indicate the direction of the grain. Carve in a downward direction onto the parallel lines of grain. Turn around and carve in the opposite direction. You can also carve diagonally across the grain and even parallel to it, but if you carve upwards against the grain, it will only tear and splinter the wood.

3- Knife work. When working on a small carving that can be held in the hand, hold the wood in the left hand (assuming you are right handed), the knife in the right. Keep the left hand behind the knife and use the left thumb on the blunt side of the blade to act like a lever to control the cut. With the thumb stationary, rotate your right hand and wrist to make the cut. In this position, if the knife should slip, you will not be cut. You can also hold the knife as though you were peeling an apple. Just be careful not to nick your thumb. If you have to exert a huge amount of pressure to make the cut, your tool isn’t sharp enough. Sharpen your equipment before you slip out and hurt yourself.

4- Using Gouges. Hold the handle in the palm of the right hand to push the gouge; hold the metal shaft with the left hand to guide the cut. Your left hand firmly holding the metal shaft of the gouge resting on the wood will can act like a brake so that the tool does not slip out of control when pushed forward. Push with your upper body weight rather than your arms for greater control.

5-Roughing out. When working on a large scale, you may wish to use a chain saw to get rid of large areas of redundant wood. The most common mistake of first time-carvers is that they are not aggressive enough in removing material. They never get past the square shape of the original block. Don’t be afraid to round out the basic shapes. Start with large U-gouges to remove the maximum amount of material. Establish large shapes first. A good way to do that is to define the major planes of the object being carved. Work from the large forms to the small details. If you have not established the large shapes, no amount of beautiful detail laid on top will save ill-defined forms.


6- Adding the Details. After the structure has been established, you can begin to put in the details with the smaller U-gouges. V-gouges and veneers (small U-gouges) help define smaller shapes. At this point, it is important to keep tools razor-sharp if you intend to leave the tool marks as the final texture. Any nicks in the tool’s edge will leave white lines in the tool’s cut.

7- Finish. Tannins or varnishes may be applied to waterproof or protect your handy work.


While applying force to push a knife or gouge through wood, tools frequently slip. Always keep your hands behind the tool’s sharp edge.

Do not hold the wood in your lap while carving.

Always try to secure the work piece on a table or in a vise so that both hands are free to control the tools. Cuts often happen when one hand is trying to hold the piece and the other hand is pushing hard on the tool and it slips. Secure the work piece, and keep both hands on the tool and behind the sharp edge.

Keep a well-equipped first aid kit handy


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