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How to Carve Wood, a Fun and Rewarding Hobby ★

Updated on March 14, 2011

The Basics of Wood Carving

The very first thing you need to know before you start a wood carving project is Safety. You will be using a knife for any sort of wood carving and this could cause a serious injury if not handled safely.

First you want to handle your knife properly. You want to use your wrist while carving and not your elbow. You will have more control of the pieces of wood that you are talking off rather then taking large chunks and sending the blade through the air. 

I always think about which way I am carving and try to carve away from my hands and body. I do not want to stab myself! You want to be cutting down and not across as you will be able to keep better control this way. You may also find that turning the wood while pressing down will mean that when you get to the side of your piece of wood the knife does not slip off. I would not recommend using the knife as a scraper as this dulls the knife, in addition prying the wood can break the tip of your blade.

If you pencil in the patter you are hoping to carve you will avoid making mistakes that are hard to erase. Drawing a centerline for your cuts helps you to keep the cuts balanced. With the carving in the picture above I did not do this, instead I let the design emerge from the wood as I went along. You may not always have a plan in mind when you start carving so using a pencil is not always necessary.

My first ever piece of wood carved art
My first ever piece of wood carved art

Different Types of Wood when Carving

There are many different sorts of wood you can choose to carve with. I think the wood I used in the picture was Alder wood. Different types of wood will have different properties that will affect what you can carve. Beginners are often advised to start out with soft woods rather then hard woods. Basswood is a good wood for beginners because it is easy to carve, the close grain holds small carved detail.

The grain of the wood is very important to determine. Having your cuts go with the grain will be much easier to keep neat and tidy. Basswood will give you an easy carve, with fine to medium grain and a light cream color. Butternut has a light brown color and distinct grain pattern and as it is soft (and dents easily) it is another easy to carve with wood.

If you are ready for a slightly harder wood to carve with Mahogany is a great one. The dark reddish color is excellent for a natural finish sculpture. The grain and hardness of the wood is medium, not a great first choice but a great choice when you are confident.

Pine is another medium grained wood like Mahogany but is a much easier wood to carve with. This wood is aromatic and a lovely cream color. It is soft and good for whittling tho the growth rings may be difficult to cut through.

Great beginners project Video for wood carving, First in series

What do I need to get started?

You do not need loads of tools to get started carving. One knife is enough to get you started  while you decide if you really want to keep on carving. An X-acto knife from any craft store is a good start, you just need a handle and a package of #11 blades. You do not want to start with a kitchen knife or pocket knife as you will dull them and with a pocket knife you will have less control, more danger of stabbing or cutting yourself. A dull knife of any sort is to be avoided as you will struggle with your cuts and may damage the wood ruining the pattern you hoped to carve.

When you are ready to buy a wood carving knife you are likely to have chosen a style of woodcarving. For whittling you can use a basic carving knife or whittling knife. You may want to add other knives as your skill improves.

Chip carving is the closest to the style I used when carving my first project. This method removes selected chips of wood to create a pattern. This is a great first style to learn as it can be free form or based on geometric shapes. I would strongly suggest this style to start with as you will only really use two or three knives of different sizes.

Another style is 'carving in the round'. This type of carving is completed all the way around and is more lifelike. Choosing the right tools for this type of carving is more involved as you will need a variety of knives, gouges as hand tools and chisels. This sort of carving is pretty advanced and as such is not something to rush into.

Relief Carving is slightly less involved then whittling or carving in the round. This type of carving is flat backed and the image is carved in 3 dimensions. Basic carving sets are fine to start with and you can add other tools as your skills improve. This seems like a great style of carving for a beginner as you can keep it simple and still produce a work of art.


A side shot of my first carving

Last bit of advice

Do not get discouraged! This is a hobby that takes time and practice to master and most people struggle with their first carving. Try instead to learn from your mistakes and use that learning in your next carving. Wood carvers are a friendly lot and its worth staying interested. Local wood carving clubs or courses will help you enjoy the art of wood carving and grow your skills into that of an accomplished woodcarving artist.


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    • Georgina_writes profile image

      Georgina_writes 7 years ago from Dartmoor

      Really interesting, informative hub. I'd love to have a go, but at the mo life is all about work, bills etc etc. My son carves wood and has some of the tools, so I should just give it a go sometime.

      The types of wood sound interesting too. I guess we have different stuff over here - never heard of Basswood.

    • kirstenblog profile image
      Author

      kirstenblog 7 years ago from London UK

      Georgina I can sympathize with time constraints and responsibilities, seems I never have time for anything anymore! I found wood carving on a camping trip, it was fun while sitting round the camp fire after dinner :). Camping has given me a wealth of stuff to write about, gonna have to think of it as a business expense lol :D

    • profile image

      C.J. Wright 7 years ago

      Wood Carving is one of my many hobbies. Its very relaxing. Nice Hub.

    • kirstenblog profile image
      Author

      kirstenblog 7 years ago from London UK

      Thanks C.J. :) Glad you enjoyed.

    • profile image

      assember 7 years ago

      The only wood I ever carved was Balsa wood. We were making Flying plane models and boats. SO I guess that might be more amatuer carpentry, but this brings back those memories. nice hub

    • Jeffrey Neal profile image

      Jeffrey Neal 7 years ago from Tennessee

      Really cool, kirsten! Your first piece looks like it turned out quite well! I have not really carved wood, but I do build projects large and small with it. I love working with wood.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      I haven't carved anything in years. It is an interesting topic - Good Hub

    • profile image

      TMinut 7 years ago

      Years ago I carved a rabbit for my then one year old. It turned out great, I loved doing it. Haven't done any since (someone stole all my tools) but all I need is one knife to start, I'm going to.

    • EWS profile image

      EWS 7 years ago

      Nice job. Its not bad at all.

    • Spirit Hugger profile image

      Spirit Hugger 7 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area, California

      Interesting and informative! I am new to HubPages, and really like many of your Hubs from what I've seen so far. I'll have to look around on them more when I have more time. (I've only got one HubPage myself so far... I've got a lot of work to do to catch up with all the great Hubbers already on here, so wish me luck!) Cheers :)

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Good information from you. I like something about art and craft. And you show me the beautiful of carve wood. I learn much here. Vote this up.

      Prasetio

    • profile image

      Whittling Knife 6 years ago

      This is a really great page. Very interesting and beautiful carvings.

    • marshacanada profile image

      marshacanada 6 years ago from Vancouver BC

      Thanks Kirstenblog for this well written and illustrated hub. I started carving as I was preparing for retirement and it has become a great joy in my life. So far I have an experienced and witnesses a few bloodstains but maintain all ten fingers.

    • kirstenblog profile image
      Author

      kirstenblog 6 years ago from London UK

      marshacanada - I have had little time for carving lately but I managed to get my hands on some good tools, including a spoon knife and have managed to give myself blisters and cramp up my joints carving! I just tend to get a bit obsessed and don't realise when I have been at it too long. I guess when I manage to fit it in I must be in need of that sort of activity to get so obsessed hehe.

    • profile image

      Multiman 6 years ago

      Good article I got some interesting information I can use out of it.

    • chasemillis profile image

      chasemillis 6 years ago

      great article I think I might try this kind of wood carving out!! I am used to a different kind of wood art where the main idea is to cut out different pieces of plywood and glueing them together instead of starting with a big block of wood (or whatever else you decide to use). Check out my article, maybe you can try it out and see if it is easier or harder than your type of wood carving. And also - I don't really know if my version of it can really be called wood carving since it is very different from yours...and every other wood carving website

      https://hubpages.com/art/Wood-sculpture-Its-an-eas...

    • kirstenblog profile image
      Author

      kirstenblog 6 years ago from London UK

      chasemillis - I checked out your hub, great stuff! I am pleased you enjoyed mine and I hope my readers will pop along to yours next as you have some brilliant skills that you shared!

    • MaestroECMcCloud profile image

      MaestroECMcCloud 6 years ago from Lexington, South Carolina

      I have always wanted to learn to whittle and even done a few pieces that didn't turn out so well. Can anyone suggest a good book or video that might help me to pursue this endeavor?

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Cool! I did a little carving years ago. I'd love to take up the hobby again, but my hands are in such bad shape I think it would be futile. Anyway, enjoyed the read and voted up!

    • kirstenblog profile image
      Author

      kirstenblog 5 years ago from London UK

      habee - Carving is loads of fun but I can sympathise with the bad hands! I have a project that has been on the go for a long time now but any time I pick it up and work for a while my hands get spasms. It feels really weird! Not painful exactly but like spasms of tingles. I also like to do bead work and I get the same there, those weird spasms. I am only in my 30's! I have started trying to take cod oil for the joints in the hopes of being able to do my fav hobbies into old age without useless hands. I am also double jointed in my fingers and I know that that can cause a lot of wear on the joints. Maybe when my joints finally do give up the ghost I will have to learn the art of carving with a chainsaw! LOL

    • artliving profile image

      artliving 5 years ago from Denver, CO

      Beautiful work! I just love wood, and you have an eloquent way of describing your art process. Great hub!

    • kmaskreations profile image

      kmaskreations 5 years ago

      What a beautiful piece you've displayed! Wood carving is something I def want to try some day. I sell Cypress knees at my Ebay store, Storage Finds by Tomka. They seem to provide a good wood for carving and painting. Thanks for sharing. Voted up, interesting and useful.

    • profile image

      gepeTooRs 14 months ago

      Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you penning this article and the

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